Child Slavery May Help Produce Popular Chocolates Sold on Campus
If you have ever bought chocolate or candy from the DeCafé, it is likely that you have indirectly supported slavery in West Africa. Though it is hard to imagine that slavery still exists in this day and age, it is epidemic all over the world, even in the United States. It makes its way into coffee, clothing, carpets, paperclips and the cocoa we consume right here at Oberlin College.
The Ivory Coast produces 43 percent of the world’s cocoa supply, but overproduction and the falling price of cocoa have led many farmers to cut costs by using slave labor. Most of the slaves are children who work 80 to 100 hours a week; they are given minimum sustenance and suffer severe beatings and exposure to dangerous pesticides, according to the BBC.
Because the Ivory Coast produces so much cocoa, slave-farmed cocoa has found its way to the biggest chocolate companies in the world: Hershey’s, Mars and Nestlé. Nestlé is the third largest buyer of cocoa from the Ivory Coast; it has processing plants and storage and export facilities in the country, and it has admitted knowledge of conditions on the cocoa farms.
According to CorpWatch, an organization that monitors corporate violations of human rights, the three companies deny culpability for the labor conditions of their suppliers, claiming that it would be impossible for them to control the situation on the farms.
In 2001 the chocolate industry agreed to the Harkin–Engel Protocol, sponsored by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), which outlined a date-specific plan for eliminating slave labor in the West African cocoa farms by imposing certification standards and accountability. However, the agreement expired in 2005 and efforts have only recently been revived.
Many staff and students are unaware that the chocolate at DeCafé comes from such sources and were shocked and dismayed to discover that they have inadvertently supported the slave industry.
Assistant Manager of DeCafé Brian McHugh was startled to find out that slavery in the chocolate industry exists. “It stinks. It shouldn’t be,” he said.
Gina Fusco, Building Manager of the DeCafé and Rathskellar was similarly surprised. Fusco supports the many causes of Oberlin students and accommodates them as much as possible. “I’ll put anything out once,” she said, referring to products requested by students.
Fusco explained that chocolate sales are determined by students’ buying decisions. “People won’t buy [organic chocolate]. People don’t want to put their money where their mouth is,” she said of the popularity of the less questionable products.
On the other hand, since she has held this job, Fusco says the conventional candy section (including Snickers, M&M’s, etc.) has shrunk significantly, organic sales have grown, and now 40 percent of Decafé goods are purchased locally.
She also brought up the issue of student affordability. “I don’t think there will be a day where you don’t see [chocolate from these companies] here at all…it’s economics.” She explained that candy from commercial sources is more affordable than organic and fair trade products. Eliminating products made by Nestlé, Mars and Hershey’s from the DeCafé could prevent students with money concerns from being able to grab a chocolate bar when they want one.
There is no organic cocoa farming in the Ivory Coast. Clif Bars, Newman’s Own Organics and the Endangered Species Chocolate Company are certified slave-free and available for purchase at DeCafé.