The Dark Side of Chocolate

Many people all over the world share their love to chocolate. This is one of the most popular delicious sweets of all times. We know that as early as centuries ago chocolate was more believed to be not just a sweet but a special type of medicine which was used by early doctors to heal people from various illnesses. It was served as a drink made from the cacao bean by Aztecs and Mayans. But even today, chocolate is produced in the form of bars.

Every day many of us buy chocolate products, try their delightful taste and keep enjoying chocolate more and more. We give our family members, sweethearts and closest friends chocolate gifts on birthdays, holidays, special events, or just because we want to bring a smile on the faces of our kids. But this is only one side of the chocolate story many of us know about. The other side of it looks dark and terrifying.

A long way of a chocolate bar starts in a far West Africa. It is the world top producer of cocoa which is a chocolate's prime ingredient. Generally, it produces more than 71 per cent of cocoa over the globe but, going to the statistical data in particular, we see that 45 per cent of cocoa comes from Ivory Coast, or Cote d’Ivoire, 15 per cent from Ghana, 7 per cent from Nigeria and 4 per cent from Cameroon (Chidiebere, 2007). The world market demands cocoa at low prices. As a result, farmers are in instant need of low  labor costs. For this reason, cocoa in West Africa is being produced with the use of child labor.

Just in Ivory Coast, the United States Department of State has found that more than 109 000 children are put to work on the cocoa plantations. Another interesting fact has shown that over 10 000 of them are victims of human trafficking and enslavement. But the report of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture made in 2002 has given even worse data. According to it, there are 284 000 children in West Africa who work in the cocoa farms, and 200 000 of them are in Ivory Coast only. These numbers impress and, at the same time, terrify as many kids do suffer in slavery these days.

These children who work for the cocoa demand of the world market are not even 15 years old yet, and they have never seen a school classroom. They can't read, write and count but they have already been going through hard working hours, knowing nothing but a bitterness of life. Maybe, it was thought as normal a hundred years ago but today, in the world where democracy rules are known, there is no place for any kind of slavery and use of children as workers or for any other wrong purposes. I'm sure that we all do believe that a kid should have a happy childhood before he enters a real life.

Though some of these children work along with their families in order to support  and help them to earn some money, there remains a great number of those who are forced to work in the cocoa farms because they have been sold by their own relatives into slavery, and this is the reason why they just must work. Farmers have bought them for only $5. This is a bright example for us to see and understand that no one up there really values a child as a human being who has his own rights to life and liberty and, is surely not born to be a slave (UN, 1948). It is a direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it can't be understood, accepted and considered as being something normal. But these things keep happening at the present day.

Lack of education and intense poverty all around makes a great influence on children's perception of the world and their understanding of it. They are born in these conditions and keep living like that.  When they are sold, or just put to work by relatives who sold them to farmers or traffickers, or by farmers themselves, they lose any chance to breakthrough, to be able to make any change and start to live another way. At this point, a bar of chocolate should be priceless in the market because it doesn't cost money but tears of a child, and his broken life.

Once a child is taken to a cocoa farm, he starts to work hard with no day-offs. There is a tiny chance that he will ever see his family again (ILRF, 2012). Sometimes his relatives may come, although mostly not because of a desire to see and give a hug to their child but to get the money that this child earned during his staying over in the farm. Unfortunately, people do not understand the dangerous situation they put a child in, and the consequences that are up to come.

A usual workday of a child in such farms begins early in the morning and ends almost at night. He climbs the cocoa trees with a machete in his hands. This is a large, heavy knife which is always used for cutting the bean pods. Being on the tree, he cuts them, and then goes down. All the pods are packed into large sacks. After this, he has to carry it to the place. Sometimes the sacks full of cocoa are taller than a child himself. He can't carry it, so two people put the bag on his head (Radhavan, 2001), Another important thing is that a child should always hurry, otherwise he is beaten.

Then a child sits and starts to strike every single pod with the machete. He pries it open with the blade tip exposing the bean. This activity may lead to severe injuries like a loss of fingers or even hand. The fact is that every child who works on the cocoa farms has deep scars on his hands, legs, shoulders because of the accidents with this type of knife.

Another dangerous thing for a child is agricultural chemicals that are used on the cocoa farms. Every year tropical regions in West Africa are attacked by large populations of insects. That's why they choose to spray the cocoa pods with industrial agricultural chemicals that are not meant to be used without special protective equipment. But this is exactly how children spray them.

The farmers feed children with bananas and corn paste. They sleep on wooden planks. They have no access either to water or to any kind of bathroom. They wear old dirty rags. In fact, there is no one to protect and support them (Food Empowerment Project, 2011). They are all alone and all by themselves with no way out. So, this is not just called “being a slave” but this is actually its worst form, and they are just kids aged 7 to 12 years who live in these awful conditions for a long time.

Going back to the history, in 2001 there were made several attempts to stop using of child labor in the cocoa farms. The US Congress wanted to mandate all chocolate companies to print a description on every single bar of chocolate they produce that it is made with the use of child labor. That's why all chocolate manufacturers promised to stop it. But many years are gone from that time, and, as we can see and understand, nothing has been really changed.

All the projects and programs which were developed specially for the purpose of stopping the use of child labor in the cocoa farms and make children free, and let them live the life they deserve to, have brought no results because none of them was followed. There are many reasons why. For example, it is absolutely economically unprofitable for the chocolate companies. Therefore, the issue remains unsolved. This day and this minute children in a far West Africa are forced to cut the cocoa bean pods for you and me to buy a chocolate bar in stores next day. Isn't it heartbreaking?

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