If you've met me at a market or at a course, you know that I often talk about child labor . There's no way to make it pretty: Children are often used to work in dangerous and exploitative conditions on cacao farms. Cacao is a key ingredient in chocolate, and the global chocolate industry is worth billions of dollars. Does this mean the children get to enjoy this money? Unfortunately not.
A big problem with child labor in cacao farming is that it is often hidden and difficult to track. Many cacao farms are located in remote areas, making it difficult for outside organizations to monitor and regulate working conditions. Also, many producers have conveniently made the supply chain for cacao extra tricky, with beans often passing through multiple intermediaries before they are processed and sold to chocolate manufacturers. This makes it difficult to trace the origin of the beans and ensure that they have been produced ethically.
This is why small companies focus on visiting producers themselves. So there are happy things as well and we're all trying to make a change!
Another happy thing is the will to address child labor in the cacao industry. In 2001, a group of major chocolate manufacturers formed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which aims to eliminate the worst forms of child labor from the cacao industry. The protocol established a set of guidelines for chocolate manufacturers to follow in order to ensure that their products were not produced using child labor.
Sadly, the implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol has been slow and uneven, and child labor remains a serious issue in the cacao industry, with over 2 million children estimated to be working in hazardous conditions on cacao farms in West Africa. If you try to find information, everything seems a bit circular, and big companies aim to set a date (2020 the latest one), but this isn't a problem that has been erradicated.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) gave an update in 2011, but doesn't seem to be giving much information after that. The goal was to end this by 2020. But now in 2022, ILO (part of the UN) released a report for possible solutions in West Africa. You can be sad with me and read it here.
If you don't want to read it, I'll quote the ending, and their recommendation:
Beyond cocoa, what is seemingly missing in the agricultural commodity trade financing space are clear principles/standards and expectations for financial institutions to adhere to and use as foundation for further action and collaboration to address salient human rights issues like child labour, as well as environmental challenges. Such principles would serve as a useful platform to deepen financial sector involvement in environmental and social issues in cocoa, but also in other agricultural supply chains with similar challenges."
Yes, politics are a problem, capitalism is a problem, global warming is a problem, but perhaps the question that we don't ask often enough is: how am I as a consumer part of the problem? I'm sorry to break the happiness bubble, but if chocolate makes you happy, it should also bring happiness to the people who have produced it for you.
Thanks for reading! I'll respond to all the comments :)