by Anastasia Cojocaru
Do you like chocolate? What about cigarettes? I know I adore chocolate myself. You might wonder why I am asking you this today, on World Day against Child Labour. Well, Western African countries, mostly Ghana and the Ivory Coast, supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa. The same one you are probably craving and enjoying in day to day life. Usually cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line, which often makes them resort to using child labour to keep their prices competitive.
After watching The Dark Side of Chocolate documentary I am much more careful when it comes to which chocolate I choose to buy. Why so? Children in Western Africa are surrounded by intense poverty, and most of them begin working at a young age to support their families. Some end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and traffickers tell them that the job pays well. Still, when they arrive on the cocoa plantation the reality they get to experience is much more different than what they were previously promised. Other children are “sold” to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives, who are ignorant of the dangerous work environment and the lack of any provisions for an education that the children are to be affected by. Traffickers frequently abduct the young children from small villages in neighbouring African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, two of the poorest countries in the world. Once they get to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever. This is not the most heart-breaking truth about child labour on cocoa plantations. In The Dark Side of Chocolate, when asked if they know how chocolate tastes like, previous victims of child labour said that they are oblivious of its taste. Think about the pleasure you get when you open a chocolate bar: the way the wrapping sounds like when you tear it apart together with the excitement you get from it, and the way your first bite of the chocolate tastes like in your mouth. They never get to experience that!
On a similar note, smokers are frequently reminded of the associated health risks that smoking produces. Most are unaware of the reality that, far from harming only themselves, their toxic habit is slowly killing underage children involved in the production process. Nicotine poisoning is one of the toxic dangers of tobacco harvesting. The handling of the leaves is usually done without protective clothing, child workers absorbing up to 54 milligrams of dissolved nicotine daily through their skin, the equivalent of 50 cigarettes, according to a study done by Prof Robert McKnight, of the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. This is currently happening not only in countries like Malawi, but also in US tobacco fields. So both underdeveloped and developed countries are involved.
What is the solution then? Limiting our consumption could be a first step, but a crucial step would be strengthened policies that not only protect children who might become victims of these processes (e.g. prioritising education over joining the workforce) but that also improve working conditions on the plantations.
First photo: wilderutopia.com
Second photo: iloblogdotorg.files.wordpress.com