I just finished reading an extensive but very accessible article on forced child labor used in the production of chocolate and coffee. “Quite simply, much of the coffee and chocolate improving our health is simultaneously jeopardizing the freedom and lives of hundreds of thousands around the world including many children.”
“Participants in the chocolate industry can no longer honestly deny or plead ignorance to the prevalence of child labor and trafficked, slave child labor in its supply line. A U.S. government-backed study by Tulane University concluded, in March 2011, that more than 1.8 million children in West Africa continue to be involved in cultivating cocoa…”
By far, those of us in the US who buy products with a concern for those who produced them are in the minority. We are, by and large, trained to be consumers who are concerned with two things: getting what we want at the absolute cheapest price possible. Still, even though this is our mindset, most US consumers are good and decent people who would not purchase a product that we knew with certainty was produced using slave child labor. This is one very important reason that I am a severe critic of capitalism. Our brand of capitalism is so concerned with giving business a “free” market that it provides no accountability for businesses or consumers. The market might be free, but the children who surrender their childhood and bodies to work in the fields are not.
Here are more excerpts from the article:
“71 countries make 130 goods that are produced with child labor or forced labor. Agricultural crops most prominently utilize child labor. Both coffee and sugarcane are among a short list of common agricultural goods produced by children….
“Even when coffee is not produced with child labor or slave labor, it is generally cultivated with exploited labor. Most of the world’s 25 million coffee growers receive less than one-percent of what most consumers pay for their daily cappuccino and only about 6-percent of the price paid for coffee in the supermarket…
“According to Global Exchange, workers on coffee plantations are generally paid between $2 and 3 dollars a day. Guatemalan plantation workers must pick 100 pounds of coffee in order to get the minimum wage of just under $3 a day. Workers are often forced to bring their children to ensure they meet their quota. Meanwhile small family farmers earn between $500 and $1,000 a year. Family farmers’ low earnings are typically a result of their being forced to sell their product to middlemen at sometimes half the market value…
But there is good news and something we can do:
“When foods are certified fair-trade it means workers are paid fair wages, free from abusive, exploitative labor practices, work in healthy and safe conditions, and use environmentally sustainable methods… However, the demand for fair-trade products is still too low for such farmers to sell their entire crop at fair-trade prices. By buying fair-trade chocolate we increase the demand for products free of abusive child labor and slavery….
“Buying fair-trade products is not “donating” to a cause, it is merely doing the decent thing: paying people a reasonable sum for the work that they are doing for you….
“At the end of 2011 a rift emerged between fair-trade organizations. The main American fair-trade organization, Fair Trade USA (formerly TransFair USA), announced that it would lower its standards allowing corporate coffee and chocolate companies product grown on estates and plantations to be eligible for certification. In the past only cooperatives could receive the seal. In response, Fairtrade International (FLO), an organization comprised of 25 groups responsible for setting international Fairtrade standards and supporting Fairtrade producers, objected to these proposed changes. FLO states that the decision to allow coffee grown by corporate giants conflicts with salient principles of the fair-trade movement….
“For some, ordering online may well be the best option. Organizations such as Global Exchange and Equal Exchange are leaders in the fair-trade movement, and they offer a wide assortment of products.”