14th of February: Valentine’s day… a day dedicated to love and romance. Tomorrow, thousands of people all over the world will buy their loved ones little pluche teddybears, red roses and of course delicious chocolates. In Japan, the tradition is that women give chocolates to men and there are even different kinds of chocolates with different meanings attached to them. But this article is not about love or the taste of chocolate. Because while many people worry about the effect of the received chocolates on their figures, most people do not consider the humanitarian consequences of their spendings.
It is worth considering where these chocolates, shaped in the forms of cute little hearts, come from. 70% of cocoa, which is the main ingredient in chocolate, is grown in West Africa. You can find huge cocoa plantations in for example Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Working on these plantations is hard work: chopping down cocoa pods with machetes, breaking these pods open with knifes, carry the heavy loads of cocoa beans to the storage. Sounds like a good job for a strong muscled man right? However, the tasks described above are not carried out by adult men, but by children of about 5 or 6 years old.
A 2011 study by Tulane University found that 1.8 million children in the Ivory Coast and Ghana work in the cocoa industry and that the vast majority of them are unpaid. These children are unable to attend school and suffer the risk of severe injuries. The study also found evidence of child-trafficking, forced labor and other violations of internationally accepted labor practices.
There have been initiatives to bring the child labor in the cacao industry to an end. One of these was by the International Labor Organization: the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The aim of the protocol is to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70% across the cacao sectors of Ghana and the Ivory Coast by 2020. It has resulted in important changes within the labor practices and a public certification system was implemented in the West African countries.
Critics however, claim that the steps taken are not sufficient to tackle the problem. They also stress the need to expand the Protocol to other countries as well, especially Latin America and Indonesia, where child labor in the cocoa industry is a problem as well.
Of course, all this problems seem so far away from us. But we can make a difference. When buying chocolates for you loved one, opt for products that have been certified to promote worker rights. The exploitation of little children in Ghana, Colombia or Indonesia in the name of love, should be brought to an end.