Chocolate Paves the Path to the Dark Side

by Angela Longerbeam

When the Easter Bunny visits your house this year, will he be complicit with the slave trade? Before delivering treats to more fortunate children, did he hop on over to Africa’s Ivory Coast and make sure trafficked children weren’t harvesting his cocoa? That Easter Bunny. We love him, but he sure is a slacker sometimes. 

News has swirled around for awhile now regarding labor practices in the chocolate supply chain. In spite of signing the Cocoa Protocol back in 2001 and thereby promising to move toward slave-free chocolate production, companies like Hershey seem to be okay with kids farming their cocoa. It is heavy labor in and of itself, unsuitable for children, and made infinitely more exploitative with no pay and a daily serving of abuse. They either support these labor practices directly, or else they support it indirectly, by looking the other way. 

Eating chocolate is bliss, and so, of course, is ignorance. 

The demand for transparency and ethical business practices have surfaced through petitions and organized boycotts. Fair trade chocolate brands are becoming more prevalent and popular all the time. But we, as concerned consumers, only have as much knowledge on the subject as chocolate companies allow -– and no company in its business-sensed mind is going to make itself look bad. 

That’s why a journalist from Denmark, Miki Mistrati, has gone undercover to see what’s really happening on the Ivory Coast’s cocoa farms in a new documentary called The Dark Side of Chocolate.  

Brave man, considering how closely guarded operations are there, and the potential repercussions of being discovered. (Ever hear of Guy-André Kieffer? Um, yikes.) Staking out the country where over 40% of the world’s cocoa is produced, Mistrati finds that indeed, small children work on the plantations there in exploitive conditions. From the film’s teaser, it is almost certainly conclusive that our favorite chocolate suppliers are not living up to their end of the 2001 bargain. 

The documentary will air in other countries first; meanwhile, negotiations are under way for a U.S. showing. When it does air here, will it help to mainstream the issue of slave-labor in the chocolate supply chain, or will you and I –- the proverbial choir -– be the only ones watching? Let’s hope for the former option, because current consumer outrage levels are apparently not substantial enough to turn heads. The money we, the opposed, spend on chocolate isn’t talking quite loud enough yet. 

You can keep tabs on The Dark Side of Chocolate’s U.S. appearance through their page on Facebook. In the meantime, check out the International Labor Rights Forum’s Chocolate Company Scorecard 2009, a nifty publication that ranks each big chocolate company’s current standing in respect to eradicating child labor in its cocoa supply. How does your favorite brand taste: bitter, semi-sweet or sweet? 

Photo credit: Waponi


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