herald

Wednesday 20 September 2017

The dark side of chocolate

It tastes so good but children are suffering to produce sweet treats, writes suzy belton

FASHION is the industry most often associated with child labour, yet for those of us who love nothing more than to unwrap our favourite chocolate bar, it's becoming hard to ignore the misery of children working as slaves in cocoa-producing countries.

An estimated 100,000 children work in cocoa bean fields in the Ivory Coast and other cocoa-producing countries, many of whom are thought to be working against their will.

The rich scent of chocolate is a favourite smell for many of us, yet this simple life pleasure has consequences, and now a campaign surrounding the protection of children working in the chocolate business is building steam, in the same way there are moves afoot to protect young children working in garment factories.



smuggled

Some children working to produce chocolate are believed to be the offspring of cocoa farmers, but many others are thought to be smuggled into the Ivory Coast from Mali and Burkina Faso to work on cocoa plantations.

Not buying chocolate would affect the huge number of talented people working in the confectionery industry, and deny them wages. However, supporting the rights of child chocolate workers can only make our choccie treats sweeter.

Cocoa beans are the most important ingredient in making chocolate. Once the beans have dried, the shells are removed and the central part, or 'nib', is ground. This process produces a lot of heat so it melts and becomes cocoa liquor.

Dark chocolate has the highest amount of liquor so chocolate lovers who want a real chocolate-y hit buy this variety.

Cocoa butter is the residue from the pressing process, what's left once the liquor has been extracted. The second most vital ingredient for chocolate, it also makes a good moisturiser for skin.

Sugar is essential in order to turn the chocolate into a sweet treat. Milk or milk powder gives chocolate a creamy taste and paler flavour. While vanilla is primarily added as a flavouring and is present in most bars of chocolate, to a greater or lesser extent.

The West African country Ivory Coast is the leading supplier of cocoa beans, accounting for more than 40pc of global production.

Low cocoa prices and a need for lower labour costs is one of the explanations given for why farmers employ children to harvest cocoa beans and extract the cocoa liquor.

The US Department of State estimates that more than 100,000 children in the Ivory Coast's cocoa industry work under "the worst forms of child labour", and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement.



dangerous

The International Labor Rights Forum believes that "cocoa children" work long, punishing hours, use dangerous tools and face frequent exposure to dangerous pesticides. In a country where more than half the population is illiterate, the child workers are denied even the most basic of educations.

The Ivory Coast's economic problems worsened following its civil war from 2002 to 2004, and some chocolate exporters and manufacturers insist the war and its aftermath have hampered their efforts to eradicate child labour.

In 2001, major cocoa companies came together and made a voluntary commitment (the Cocoa Protocol) to certify their cocoa "child-labour free" by July 2005. The deadline was then extended to certify 50pc of farms "child-labour free" by July 2008.

The cocoa children of the Ivory Coast struggle for a basic quality of life, often come from poor families, they can be sold by their parents for a few dollars.

For more information on the campaign to support cocoa children, log onto www.laborrights.org

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