There is nothing better for cold winter evenings than a mug of hot chocolate. The sweet, cocoa-based drink provides not only warmth, but aids the release of endorphins, stimulating happiness. However, there is a dark, bitter secret hidden behind many of our favorite cocoa-based treats, including the Christmas cherished hot chocolate. Indeed, the cocoa industry continues to struggle to address the issue of child slavery and child labor.
The 2020 report “Assessing Progress in Reducing Child Labor in Cocoa Production in Cocoa Growing Areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana”, produced by the National Opinion Research Center
Furthermore, the report found that, “Over the assessment period (2008/09- 2018/19), the proportion of children engaged in hazardous child labor in agricultural households in the cocoa growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana increased 14 percentage points.” However, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Mighty Earth, Be Slavery Free, Green America, Freedom United, and Fair World Project, have raised concerns about the accuracy of these reports, suggesting that the true figure is even higher than reported. According to them, “despite decades of hype and voluntary corporate efforts, child labor had increased to 2 million children.”
This issue could be further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated economic impact. Earlier this year, shocking data emerged accompanied by various reports, including a report by the International Cocoa Initiative, which highlighted how changes in income affect child labor. The research found that, “when household incomes or earning opportunities unexpectedly drop, child labor tends to increase. An example from Côte d’Ivoire shows that a 10% fall in income, due to a drop in cocoa price, led to an increase in child labor by more than 5%. Furthermore, cocoa farmers – like everyone else – face risk of infection, which would affect their ability to work. Children of sick parents or children with only one living parent could therefore be relied upon for all the farm work for their family’s survival.” However, the report further indicates that, “Multiple studies show that child labor is driven not only by poverty, but also by earning opportunities, supported by the finding that in some situations, child labor increases with income. Overall, various types of activities to increase smallholder farmer incomes have not been rigorously evaluated with respect to their effects on child labor: more research on these interventions is needed, as is more research specific to the cocoa sector.”
Apart from the issue of child slavery and child labor, the cocoa industry is further stained by inhumane working conditions and low pay. NGOs emphasize that, “Chocolate is a $100 billion per year industry, and yet most cocoa farmers live on less than $1 per day. To this day, there is no industry-wide commitment to pay farmers a living income.” In response to these issues, NGOs have been calling for “the enactment of mandatory human rights due diligence laws worldwide”, “the increase in payments to cocoa farmers to attain a living income”, “increase child labor monitoring and remediation programs to reach 100% of cocoa growing communities and children” and “reduction of toxic pesticide use and other environmental harms as part of a commitment to ending deforestation and instituting earth-friendly agroforestry practices.”
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Calories should be the only guilt we experience when sipping hot chocolate, and not the guilt of complicity in child slavery, child labor. The bitter truth behind cocoa and hot chocolate may be difficult to swallow. However, ignorance does not help. The least we can do is to ensure that the products we purchase this Christmas are ethically sourced.