Bitter Chocolate | The Loot and The Slavery


Chocolate - A smooth, sweet and creamy texture that satisfies both our mouth and mind.
Children may have a special affinity towards this silky-smooth food item as it brings immense joy to them, but grown-up adults are no less attracted by its charm. The global chocolate confectionary market was sized at 208 billion USD in 2021. Demand of chocolate products shoots up during various global holiday seasons like Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. Belgium is the largest exporter of chocolates. Other European and North American countries like Netherlands, Switzerland, UK, USA and Canada are among the top 10 exporters of the world.

But do we know the real cost of chocolate production? Who actually supplies the main ingredient of chocolate i.e., cocoa? Who toils on the fields and grinds the supply chain to bring the cocoa powder and cocoa butter inside the gates of the ultra-modern chocolate factories of these rich nations? Does it come as a surprise that the poorest of the poor people of mostly West African nations and millions of child labors work as slaves in such cocoa plantations. The pictures below give of a glimpse of the dark reality of the chocolate industry. Does the reality change the feeling of sweetness into bitterness?

Chocolate Production Steps

Chocolate production begins at the cocoa farms. Cocoa beans grow inside the fruits, also called pods, that hang from the cocoa trees. When the pods are ripe its color changes from green to orange. Then these pods are harvested and seeds, also called beans, are taken out from it. The beans are then fermented for five to eight days before these are again sundried. Then these beans are shipped to the factories of the chocolate manufacturers. The more expensive the chocolate, the higher is the percentage of cocoa in it compared to other additives.

Unfortunately, today’s exploitative mercantile system not only pays the cocoa farmers meagre pennies but also disproportionately rewards the stakeholders of the large chocolate manufacturers. It seems that these farmers are treated no different than slave laborers. Do you know the annual income of the CEO of the Mondelez Inc, the parent company of the Cadbury brand? It was $42.4 million in 2017. Now, are you curious about the income of the cocoa farmers? $0.78 a day i.e., $285 a year, well below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 per day.

Cocoa Producing Countries

Over 60% of the world’s cocoa comes from two countries in West Africa – Ivory Coast and Ghana. According to the Global Slavery Index 2018, thousands of children today are trafficked and forced to work on the cocoa farms. It's estimated that 1.56m children work on cocoa farms just in Ivory Coast and Ghana. In a lawsuit, it was found that they are forced to work 12 to 14 hours per day. They are kept under armed guard while they sleep, in order to prevent them from escaping, and are paid little beyond basic food. Children, as young as six or seven years old are given dangerous tools like power saws. They are beaten to work with heavy scars on faces, hands and feet. Studies found that children are forced to work under hazardous conditions; using sharp tools, lifting heavy loads and strenuous work like land clearing.

A large portion of the produce is exported to America and Europe and the farms are contracted under large multi-national giants. The farmers are forced to live in terrible conditions. To make matters worse, when the price of cocoa fluctuates thousands of miles away in London or in the New York Stock Exchange, their earning fluctuates as well. Yes, cocoa is a tradeable commodity. Greed and speculation in such 'legal casinos' determine the livelihood of people living somewhere else. Due to this volatility, farmers in West Africa are likely to earn 21% less in 2022 compared to the last year. Whereas cocoa futures have risen by around 10% between the end of October 2020 and the end of October 2021.

Top Cocoa Importing Countries and Top Chocolate Manufacturers

The exploitation of the African continent for natural resources has been running for decades. It started since the European colonizers set their foot on this vast landmass. In the recent past, when the cocoa prices were high in 1970s, farmers used to get 50% of the final consumer price of a chocolate bar. It fell to 16% in 1980s and now at dismal 6%. Large multinationals have been doing everything at their disposal to continue with this system in the name of free market in order to keep boosting their profit. When authorities in Ivory Coast and Ghana introduced Living Income Differential (LID) in 2019 to pull the farmers above the poverty line, it increased the price of cocoa by $400 per ton. American companies like Mondelez and Hershey took various steps to avoid paying this extra price.

In 2001, some of the chocolate manufacturers have pledged to stop child labor and improve the living conditions of the farmers. But decades have passed. Hardly any change has come. Rather last year, in June, the US Supreme Court blocked child slavery lawsuit against the chocolate firms citing that the case had no standing because the abuse did not happen on the US soil. The judgement said that the American companies, Nestlé USA and Cargill, made no decision in US that led to the men's forced labor in Africa. It is like saying the British Queen and the Prime Minister had no role to play in the exploitation of half of the world as loot and torture were carried out by other people in their colonies! It seems modern day imperialism is no different.

There is also a video on this topic. You are encouraged to watch it and share it, if you like.

1 comment:

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