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Chocolate's dark side, hundreds of children a year are enslaved to harvest cocoa

Unidentified children harvesting cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast
Unidentified children harvesting cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast
Screen grab from the documentary "The Dark Side of Chocolate"

In 2010, a presidential proclamation was given to designate Jan. as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. As such this article is being written to hopefully raise people's awareness about human trafficking.

The trafficking of humans has been a problem for thousands of years. Slavery is not a crime of the past; it's in the modern age and should be considered a crisis for humanity.

It's an organized criminal activity that has victimized millions worldwide. Slavery in the past was about owning people, but today it's about using people as a disposable means to earn a quick dollar

Today’s slavery is about earning profits from lives that are considered cheap by traffickers. Human trafficking comes in many different forms. It can be the forced and compelled labor of sexual exploitation, the prostitution of children. It can be debt bondage or forced labor, and child soldiers.

According to the U.N., approximately four million people are trafficked every year. Some are used as forced labor while a disproportionate number of them are used in the sex trade.

Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world
reaping an estimated $32 billion in the trade of human beings. The high demand for cheap goods and commercial sex puts children around the world at risk of becoming the “supply,” according to UNICEF.

UNICEF estimates at least 50 percent of all victims trafficked in the world are children. It's also estimated that two-thirds of those children are forced into the sex trade, two children are sold every minute.

This article will focus on the human trafficking crisis of forced child labor. In particular, we will be dealing with children in Africa being sold into slavery to work on plantations on the Ivory Coast cocoa plantations.

Three million tons of chocolate are consumed every year, half of it in Europe. The following information comes from the documentary titled, The Dark Side Of Chocolate produced in 2010. It was produced by Danish journalist Miki Mistrati who investigated the use of child labor and trafficked children in chocolate production. It is filmed by U. Roberto Romano.

Because of the dangerous nature surrounding the investigation, the makers of the documentary had to go undercover with hidden cameras and assumed identities.

The filmmaker's journey started in Cologne, Germany, where several chocolate companies were gathered to sell and promote their product. Several companies were approached and asked about human trafficking in the harvesting of cocoa beans on the Ivory Coast.

Cocoa plantations in Ghana and the Ivory Coast provide 80 percent of the world with chocolate, according to CorpWatch. The cocoa is then sold to big chocolate corporations such as Nestles, Mars, Cargill, and Kraft. The chocolate industry has been accused of covering up that children are trafficked to plantations where they buy their cocoa beans from on the Ivory Coast.

The Swiss company Barry Callebraut is the largest supplier of cocoa mass for the chocolate industry. Patrick Hautphene vice president of Callebraut's north European branch confirmed that most of their cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast. He also said that out of Callebraut's 7,500 employees almost 1,000 are in the Ivory Coast.

When Hautphene was asked about human trafficking being used on the cocoa plantations he said, "to be honest I don't know if it exists. I don't know if these trafficks exist, and if it exists I presume it's the exception in those origin countries. But if it exists it's clear it should be condemned."

When the chocolate companies were confronted on the issue of child labor most of the corporate representatives of these companies didn't want to believe the rumors of child labor and trafficking. However, Mistrati's investigations have brought to light the continued abuse of children on cocoa plantations.

The trafficking of children should not be possible because the largest chocolate manufacturers signed an agreement in 2001 called The Harkin–Engel Protocol.

It's also called the Cocoa Protocol and is an international agreement designed to end child labor. This is according to the International Labor Organization's Convention 182 and forced labor according to ILO Convention 29 in the production of cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate.

The protocol states that child labor and the trafficking of children in the cocoa industry is considered illegal after 2008.

After the filmmakers left Cologne they traveled to Mali, Africa to document the trafficking. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, with little to no exports. Children from various African countries ranging from the ages of 12-15, are smuggled across the border into the Ivory Coast. Then they are sold into slavery by traffickers as forced labor to harvest cocoa beans.

Nestle and other chocolate companies wouldn't accept an invitation to watch Mistrati's documentary and to answer questions.

Human trafficking is a major problem around the world and many people can become overwhelmed by it. We often feel helpless because the problem is so huge what can really be done about it? Listed below are some ways we can help end human trafficking;

  • Be a conscientious consumer.
  • Join or start a grassroots anti-trafficking coalition.
  • Meet with and/or write to your local, state, and federal government representatives.
  • Distribute public awareness materials available from the Department of Health and Human Services or Department of Homeland Security.
  • Donate funds or needed items to an anti-trafficking organization in your area.

You can visit the State Department's website for more information about how you can help by clicking here.

Another powerful tool in the arsenal to help combat human trafficking is prayer, for those of us who believe in this. Pray that God would protect the children, that the traffickers would feel pricked in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong. Also pray that the plantation owners would also feel pricked in their hearts and wouldn't use children to harvest cocoa beans.

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