“Eatable Marshmallow Pillows. Lickable Wallpaper for Nurseries. Hot Ice Creams for Cold Days. Cows that give Chocolate Milk. Fizzy Lifting Drinks. Square Sweets that look Round.”― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
By: Ji In Erin Lee | English Columnist
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl offers a rare glimpse into the secrets of chocolate production. Chocolate bars, candy canes, and lollipops are made in the Chocolate Room, a colorful, enchanting space led to by the Pink Sweet Boat floating across the Chocolate River and the Wonkamobile powered by Ginger Ale. Oompa Loompas, the main workforce in the factory, cheerfully sing and crack jokes while helping Willy Wonka produce sweets in exchange of cacao beans. The sugary, delightful scenes in the film adaption of this classic are what most people expect chocolate production to resemble.
The reality is, however, not so sweet.
Today, the main raw material for chocolate, cocoa beans, are produced through the use of child labor in West Africa. Young boys, whose ages range from 12 to 16, are sold into labor and forced to harvest cocoa beans under inhumane conditions and extreme abuse. West African countries including Ghana and the Ivory Coast use such labor to provide cocoa beans to more than 70% of the world’s cocoa market, supplying giant international companies such as Hershey’s, M&Ms, Mars, Nestlé, Kraft, and Toblerone.
Children in West Africa live in abject poverty and begin working at a young age to support their families. A lot of these children are sold to cocoa industries, where they may not see their families for years or forever. Although some children get to leave the industry after a few months in very rare cases, most end up staying as a laborer through adulthood. A typical day of a child working at a cocoa farm begins at sunrise and ends at sunset with working hours similar to or longer than those of an average employee in America. During the day, the children are forced to climb cocoa trees and cut bean pods using machetes, heavy knives dangerous even for adult use. Once enough cocoa bean pods are collected, children pack the pods into large, bulky sacks and carry them across the forest. A former cocoa slave, Aly Diabate, told BBC News that if they didn’t hurry during this process, they were beaten and abused for many hours.
Cocoa labor has brutal effects on the lives of West African children. Children end up with physical scars and severe health issues from the constant beatings they receive, the inhumane conditions they live in, and the starvation farmers force upon them. Moreover, children are constantly exposed to toxic agricultural chemicals in the cocoa farms, but are not given any kind of protective clothing or gear to keep themselves from being intoxicated. Children subjected to cocoa labor are as severely affected psychologically as they are physically; they stay emotionally isolated, fearful of others and unconfident about themselves throughout the rest of their lives.
Yet as a huge fan of chocolates myself, I do not mean to dissuade people from purchasing chocolates completely. There are companies that make an effort to purchase only fair trade cocoa from South American farms instead of West African ones. These companies, including Green & Black’s, Global Exchange Chocolate, and Clif Bar, create organic, high-quality chocolate bars that distinguish themselves from the slave-made, mass-produced cheap chocolate. Although these chocolate bars are more expensive, they show support of labor rights, children’s rights, and human dignity, making them worth their price. Looking for fair trade certifications on the packaging of chocolate bars is an easy way to differentiate fair trade chocolate from slavery-produced ones.
Children in Africa suffer their entire childhood in order to produce cocoa for the chocolates we consume so easily every day. Each and every one of us purchasing slave-made chocolates contribute to the profit made by companies exploiting child labor. Before deciding to purchase chocolate in the future, stop and think. Ask yourself if the treat in your hand, offering no more than momentary satisfaction, is worth the blood and tears of the 2 million child slaves in Africa.
The answer should be obvious.
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
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