Your chocolate bar contains beans picked by child slaves.
June 25, 2001 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Your chocolate bar contains beans picked by child slaves. From the Philadelphia Inquirer. Part of an excellent report into the Ivory Coast cocoa trade. Awful stuff, especially for a corporation like Hershey Foods, which exists for the benefit of a school for disadvantaged children. Apparently boycotts won't help. If we shouldn't boycott, can't take direct action, what can we do? (Via TurksHeadReview.)
posted by ftrain (25 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Told that some American children spend nearly as much every year on chocolate as he was paid for six months' work harvesting cocoa beans, he replied without bitterness:
"I bless them because they are eating it."

Gotta love the media... "Slave labor" is a very relative and provocative term. I wish I could send them some Toblerone...
posted by fooljay at 6:21 PM on June 25, 2001

christopher hitchens was talking on c-span awhile ago at rutgers and someone asked him a question (i forget what it was) and he started talking about when upton sinclair wrote the jungle people reacted more in disgust than in outrage, "he aimed for the public's heart but by accident hit it in the stomach." and then he went on to say that's when sinclair realized the US was at its core a consumer society. the meat-packing industry got relatively better because people didn't like the way their meat was prepared, not because of any appeal to improve the working conditions at the packing plant.

i think it's kind of similar with the cocoa industry, except it's more distant (NIMBY), not consumed in the place it's produced, not subject to regulation and from what i understand safe for consumption. sort of perversely, if it was cocaine, you'd see the gov't send money/arms/troops and helicopters to spray the plantations and try to end production. you kind of just hope on this side of the atlantic the issue gets raised to a high enough profile that those buying cocoa from the ivory coast are pressured into ensuring that it's not picked by "slave labor" (or what have you) because they don't want to be labeled irresponsible corporate citizens.
posted by kliuless at 7:09 PM on June 25, 2001

I feel like I spend so much time reacting to stories like this, not only here, but elsewhere in my life that I haven't actually had a good chocolate bar lately. A good chocolate bar. . .now where could I find a good hunk of chocolate?

But as with most things of this nature to most people: What really can you do? -shrug- That's business.

What can possibly be done? I have no idea. The story's been logged, as have thousands of others. But what changes? What really changes? Sadly, I think nothing. Token PR moves by corporations (though I can't at this time blame Hershey etc.) that mitigate consumer ill-will. Millions of "That's too bads".

I'm no angel. I'm as guilty as the next guy--as what is there really to do?
posted by crasspastor at 7:46 PM on June 25, 2001

This same article was on the front page of today's Detroit Free Press. What I found ridiculous about the whole thing is they dedicate four pages to this story, then sum it up by saying boycotts probably wouldn't change anything, it's nearly impossible to tell which chocolate companies are using the Ivory Coast chocolate, and it's extremely difficult to prosecute the slave-owning farmers.

So, basically, there's nothing that can be done....what was the point of running the article, then?
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:49 PM on June 25, 2001

there's nothing that can be done....what was the point of running the article, then?

To inform? I always thought that was what newspapers are supposed to do.
posted by kindall at 7:53 PM on June 25, 2001

Oriole you missed my point. Check my posts, my website, you'll know whose side I'm on. There are just so many battles to wage. It's pathetic.
posted by crasspastor at 8:10 PM on June 25, 2001

Shit somehow my self importance led me to believe you were responding to directly to my post Oriole. . .whoops guess not. It's just I equated my final sentence up above "what is there really to do" with what you wrote. . .and very erroneously!
posted by crasspastor at 8:13 PM on June 25, 2001

(mmmmm...chocolate....) For my money, it's hard to beat a Cadbury Fruit-n-Nut bar. Don't particularly care where or how it's made, as long as there are no Oompa Loompas involved - no problem with them, per se, but rather with the creepy songs they sing. :-)
posted by davidmsc at 11:01 PM on June 25, 2001

I love my Hershey's. But c'mon, if we can demand dolphin free tuna there is no reason we can't get slavery free cocoa beans. Perhaps it is time my friends for another Mefi Mailbomb.
posted by roboto at 11:14 PM on June 25, 2001

"Hershey's: Child slavery never tasted so sweet."
posted by kindall at 11:21 PM on June 25, 2001

I'm not convinced that boycotts won't work. They aren't an immediete solution; but a boycott could make it more profitable for Hershey's only to buy from decent growers, and subsequently force growers to make their product decent.
posted by skyline at 12:20 AM on June 26, 2001

What, boycott, and put countless child slaves out of their jobs?
posted by sudama at 1:45 AM on June 26, 2001

I guess that that was my point as well sudama (although I think you were being sarcastic). The piece was not a great example of balanced writing. It was written to inflame and sensationalize. We don't really know what these people's lives would be like otherwise.

When someone from an industrialized country writes about conditions in another country, they do so from their own vantage point. To us, that's slave labor. To them it's a job, and one that, by the quote, they are "happy" to do.

If the conditions are like that, that doesn't make it okay, but we must avoid trying to compare others situations to our own. The problem is much wider than the cocoa farming industry, it's the poverty of the third world countries. You fix that, and you'll find that the level of acceptable working conditions changes drastically. At that point, you can call it slave labor. Until then, it's called escape from death.
posted by fooljay at 2:15 AM on June 26, 2001

The problem is much wider than the cocoa farming industry, it's the poverty of the third world countries.

Yes. Rather than trying to boycott the offenders, buy from places that don't offend. (Their thoughts on "trading fair" are also well worth reading.
posted by holgate at 2:46 AM on June 26, 2001

"..if we can demand dolphin free tuna.." Dude, I think dolphins are really cute and I agree they deserve to live on this planet and all that shit, but I never demanded dolphin-free tuna. And if my taste buds never knew the difference, or if dolphins taste good, I doubt I'd care very much. That's heartless? No. It's honest. I personally simply can't save the world from itself. I'm getting too old to join any more crusades cuz they never do any good.

We are a consumer society. When people started attacking Kathi Lee Gifford because she happened to own a company that had child slaves in a foreign country, I almost felt sorry for her. I mean she probably had no idea until it was brought to her attention, and once it was, what was she supposed to do about it? Of course, that scandal was part of what caused her downfall. Was making her life hell a win against child labor? No. It just helped to ruin a single woman's career. Those kids, or kids like them, are still working in unjust conditions.

Anybody ever see the end of Michael Moore's The Big One? He talked to Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, who reluctantly admitted that yes, he has shoe factories outside of the U.S. because he says, American workers don't want to make shoes. Actually what he means is this: American workers don't want to be underpaid and overworked and create product that makes some complete stranger rich while he's sitting in a fancy office highrise being interviewed before a video camera by Michael Moore.

Roger Ebert had a thing or two to say when talking about Michael Moore's lackluster sequel to Roger and Me. Ebert comes to the defense of the Average Joe American Worker by saying: "Most of them don't even work for the companies..., but for temp agencies, and one of the movie's startling statistics is that the largest employer in America is not AT&T, not GM--but Manpower, the hourly temp agency." So Ebert's saying we shouldn't give employees of big companies a hard time cuz 1) they're just doing their jobs, and 2) they're not working for the company they're working for, but for a company that the company they're working for paid them to work for.

Confused yet? Good.

Why has Big Business learned to hire from temp agencies instead of directly? Because they've learned it's better to keep their employees from thinking they're a part of the company, cuz when they start thinking that, they start wanting a chunk of the profit. Big Business realized not too long ago that if you do ask your employees to care, and give them good reason, they will care, but they'll start caring too much. Then they'll figure out how much money you're making, and they'll want some of that money, too. Then they'll start wanting to do something about whatever bad stuff is going on, and maybe you like some of that bad stuff. Maybe it's the reason why you're actually making a profit instead of filing for bankruptcy.

Hey! Put yourself in Phil Knight's shoes. If you have the choice of paying nosy and greedy American workers what they're actually worth, or paying people in another country less than half what they're worth cuz they're ignorant of their true value, wouldn't you go with the cheaper deal? If you say no of course not, think again. Remember the last time you were at a supermarket and you saw two different brands of a product that are almost identical in every way but price? You went for the cheaper one, didn't you? Same thing's happening here. I ain't sayin' it's right. I'm saying it's why people like Phil Knight have made the decisions they made. Saving money means more profit. That's true with your checkbook just as it is true with his.

This is what Ross Perot was trying to warn us about with NAFTA, folks. When he was talking about that sucking sound being all the American jobs flushing down to Mexico, this is exactly what he was talking about. And we all thought he was a lunatic. ...Well, he's still a lunatic but he was also being prophetic.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:52 AM on June 26, 2001

...but hey, if this is all REALLY bothering you, get the patch and you can boycott and quit eating those kissies. It's probably healthier to quit anyway.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:26 AM on June 26, 2001

Good explaination here on the whole situation and a suggestion to try and find ethically produced chocolate (easier in Europe than the US from the links I can find).
You don't have to boycott, just show that you prefer to buy chocolate from a reliable, sustainable source where the workers aren't enslaved.
Fairtrade choclate (and coffee) is out there if you look for it, I can even get mine delivered to work if I buy it from Waitrose (UK grocery chain).
posted by Markb at 6:02 AM on June 26, 2001

Hey Zach
There was a time when we did have a choice between two identical cans of tuna. Tuna certified dolphin safe was much more expensive for the same basic product. Maybe you continued to buy the cheap stuff, but so many people did make that choice to vote with their dollars that other tuna producers felt the hit in their profits and followed suit. Now dolphin safe tuna is ubiquitous.
Do I think NAFTA and the WTO suck? YES!
Will I throw my hands up and roll over like a lapdog? Hell NO!
posted by roboto at 12:23 PM on June 26, 2001

Great. I already boycott Nestle, now I have to boycott good old "home grown" Hershey's too? ::whimper:: While I break out the stationery and start the letter writing, does anybody have any data on the provenance of Ghiardelli's cocoa beans?
posted by Dreama at 12:35 PM on June 26, 2001

Chocolate processed by slave labor, U.S. and half of Metafiter shugs collective shoulders.

It's depressing but not surprising.
posted by dr. zoidberg at 8:49 PM on June 26, 2001

I dare say that most of what you are wearing and most of the things you have in your house is made by "slave labor" as some wish to define it.

Anyone making something for someone else's profit—be it a company or one person—which they themselves cannot afford. Is this what you consider slave labor? It's a slippery slope, and I don't think that people have collectively shrugged their shoulders. I think people are aware and are talking about boycotts and such.

I'm just not convinced that this wasn't sensationalistic writing. The media has trained us (or at least me) well that everyone wants to be Upton Sinclair.
posted by fooljay at 10:07 PM on June 26, 2001

I just received an email from Hershey's PR

Thank you for expressing your views about child labor practices on cocoa
farms in the Ivory Coast. We share your concern about these abusive working
conditions and we are taking immediate action to address this serious issue.

Here's what we're doing.

With M&M/Mars, Nestle and other members of the Chocolate Manufacturers
Association, we are implementing an action plan - a plan that we've been
developing over the past few months as news reports about this issue have
appeared. Specifically, we are funding a program designed to help eliminate
child labor abuses, establish acceptable labor standards and monitor the
cocoa export pipeline in West Africa.

The program will be based upon the findings of an industry-funded study of
working conditions on 2,000 farms in the Ivory Coast and 1,000 farms in
Ghana. Because Hershey and other chocolate manufacturers buy cocoa from
commodities exchanges in New York, London and elsewhere, rather than
directly from small farmers in West Africa, we need to better understand
local agricultural labor practices in order to ensure lasting change.
Conducted under the auspices of the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) and the West African International Institute for
Tropical Agriculture, the study will begin immediately, and the program put
into place as soon as possible.

Solving this problem, unfortunately, will not be quick or easy and it will
require the cooperation of the local West African governments, the
international community, the chocolate manufacturing industry and others.
That's why we're implementing an action plan with other leading chocolate
manufacturers. And that's why we're extremely reassured by the Ivory Coast
government's recent efforts to identify the source of the child trafficking
and to arrest and prosecute those responsible.

Again, we thank you for sharing your concern and we welcome any further
comments or thoughts you might have. Please be assured, our goal is to do
everything possible to eradicate abusive labor conditions in cocoa growing.

Hazel Moyer
Consumer Representative
Hershey Foods Corporation

posted by roboto at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2001

Good for them! I hope they succeed.
posted by fooljay at 3:35 PM on June 27, 2001

So.. does that mean we can eat chocolate now? Or do we still have to boycott it until they get all this done? I'm confused.

I don't do chocolate much anymore anyway, but I was just wonderin'.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:03 AM on June 28, 2001

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