Monday, June 12, is the day recognized by the International Labor Organization as World Day Against Child Labor. Every credible organization working on the issue agrees that child labor remains a crisis for humanity, with most estimates that more than 200 million children are in the workforce, and many of them are working in the supply chains of major international companies. With these overwhelming numbers, it is too easy to say, “what can I do?” and then do nothing except click on some Facebook page to show your disapproval for child slavery. Well, there is plenty that all of us can do, and today I am asking you to do just one, simple, relatively pain-free thing on June 12: Boycott chocolate products that are not certified to be child labor free. Here’s why: Much of the chocolate sold in the world is made from cocoa harvested in Cote D’Ivoire. The cocoa industry in Cote D’Ivoire is notorious for its reliance on child slaves, trafficked mainly from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
In 2001, facing serious threats of industry boycotts and trade sanctions for selling products made with child slavery, industry giants like Nestle and Cargill agreed to a “voluntary protocol” to phase out the use of child slaves in the harvesting of their cocoa. The companies established the International Cocoa Initiative to oversee the project. Now, the fact that this was termed a phase out meant that all participants acknowledged they were necessarily using and benefiting from child slavery, and they would gradually end it. There is no candy-coating this – companies including Nestle and Cargill, agreed to keep using child slaves until they could end the practice. Well, guess what happens when you let large multinationals “voluntarily” end a practice that they make enormous profits from? In 2005 my legal team visited Cote D’Ivoire and found that nothing had changed and children not only were still harvesting the world’s cocoa, they were physically restrained and tortured if they tried to escape. As a result of our findings, I filed a lawsuit against Nestle and Cargill on behalf of six child slaves who did manage to escape. That case is still pending and you can learn more about it at our website, here. Shortly after we filed our case, a film team returned to document that the companies had done little or nothing to stop profiting from child slavery, and they produced the film The Dark Side of Chocolate. In 2009, journalist Christian Parenti returned for another review of how the companies were progressing in their pledge to stop profiting from child slavery and wrote a scathing article entitled, Free the Truth: A Response to Kevin Bales, which criticized Mr. Bales', the founder of Free the Slaves, claim that his organization had largely halted the use of child labor in West Africa.
As part of our ongoing case, I just returned from Cote D’Ivoire where I was shocked to find that we could still, 16 years after the 2001 protocol was signed, walk onto plantations and see young children performing hazardous labor harvesting cocoa. While there, I interviewed a group of seven boys, all around 12 years old, who were trafficked from Burkina Faso and were in their second year of working in Cote D’Ivoire. We have photos and film of our investigation and I am working with Miki Mistrati who produced the Dark Side of Chocolate to make a new film showing the horrible conditions that still exist. We are also focusing on our legal efforts to bring Nestle and Cargill to justice for their admitted and ongoing crimes against humanity. Furthermore, we are going to file a new case under the recently amended Trafficking Victims Protection Act and renew efforts to bring a trade case to block the importation of chocolate to the U.S. that is made with child slaves. We will prevail in the long run, but in the short run, the companies are churning out chocolate for the consumers of the world and raking in profits. The only force they will bend to is profit. If we can unite for just one day, June 12 – World Day Against Child Labor, and boycott tainted chocolate products, we can send a strong message that consumers have the power to demand change. For true chocolate addicts, I can recommend both Equal Exchange and Divine Chocolates as two companies that have demonstrated their products are child labor free. Please help with this one simple thing.