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National Chocolate Day

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Evidently, it is National Chocolate Day. So this is a good time to remember that your beloved chocolate is produced by children working in horrific conditions and that if you want to enjoy your desserts, maybe you should do something about it.

But what you may not love, or even be aware of, is the reality of what it takes to get our delicious cocoa to market. As is the case with most agricultural commodities, in the cocoa industry it’s the people on the front lines of the supply chain — the farmers — who get the least return. Cocoa farmers in West Africa, where 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from, can earn as little as $0.25-$0.50 a day, and are stuck in deep cycles of poverty.

The systemically low prices in cocoa have drastic consequences for farmers and their families. More than 2 million children in the Ivory Coast and Ghana are being deprived of their childhoods, either working in extremely hazardous conditions or working in lieu of going to school, so that we can get our chocolate fix. And even as demand for cocoa increases, as it has over the last five years, dependence on child labor has shown little sign of improving. In fact, according to a study conducted by Tulane University, the number of children involved in hazardous work in cocoa increased by 46% in the Ivory Coast between 2009 and 2014.

Why Does Child Labor Happen?

Child labor doesn’t happen because cocoa farmers don’t want a bright future for their kids. More often than not it’s simply a means of survival.

Three main factors contribute to the prevalence of child labor in the West African cocoa industry:

Poverty – Farmers don’t make enough to support their business. Cocoa prices are low, yields are low, and farmers are unable to pay for adult laborers, thus leaving them with no choice but to use their children as labor.

Limited Access to Education – There is a dramatic shortage of schools and teachers in West Africa. Even where schools exist, many families can’t afford necessary school-related expenses such as tuition, uniforms, and books.

Lack of Enforcement – While there are laws prohibiting child labor in West Africa, the extreme prevalence of child labor, combined with overextended governments tasked with addressing many difficult issues, truly limits enforcement of these laws.

Fair trade chocolate is great and all. But ultimately, the only real way to ensure that chocolate is not made by kids is to hold the chocolate companies legally accountable for their supply chains. If Hershey’s buys chocolate from a source and doesn’t ensure that it is not using child labor, then Hershey’s should have to pay a big ol’ fine. It’s not like Steinway can use elephant ivory for their piano keys after all, so the idea that supply chains are impossible for companies to control is obviously completely ridiculous. They simply choose not to because it is easier for them. That has to change. Only legal accountability at the top will fix the problem. Demand that on National Chocolate Day.

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