Is Your Sweet Tooth Contributing to Modern Day Slavery?
With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, many of us will be quick to indulge in our sweet tooths. It will become difficult to resist the tantalizing candy bags that fill the shelves of just about every convenience store; especially when that bouquet of chocolate flowers is priced at less than $5 and within our reach. However, what most people do not realize is that the indulgence of such a sweet tooth may be contributing to the enslavement of children.
Nearly $18.2 billion is spent on Valentine’s Day in the U.S., totaling around $136.57 per person, a sum equivalent to the purchase of over 40 bags of Hershey kisses. It is safe to say that the average American finds comfort in not only love but in satiating their chocolate cravings during this time of holiday splurging. Behind an innocent appearance, however, such kisses hide a dark story that can be unearthed when looking at their production.
Companies like Hershey and Nestle rely on cocoa that is produced by slave labor in the low-income areas of West Africa. Such slave labor afflicts the lives of nearly 2 million children who dwell in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. As young as 8 years old, these slaves are faced with the brutal task of working 80+ hours a week with little to no pay. They are forced to spend hours splicing the pods of the very cocoa beans that will find their way into our shopping carts, and eventually, our stomachs. Their work environment is anything but sweet, contrary to what is being produced in it.
A report released by the Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University revealed that, over the past couple of years, there has been a 51% increase in the number of children enslaved by the cocoa industry--and this problem is exacerbated elsewhere. Other companies that produce wildly popular sweets, such as Haribo gummies, have been charged with the exploitation of children on Brazilian plantations. In Brazil, the slaves’ health and dignity have been grossly overlooked as the children are forced to sleep outside and are denied the right to clean drinking water.
"Over the past couple of years, there has been a 51% increase in the number of children enslaved by the cocoa industry"
Many global candy-producing companies have assumed responsibility for their role in exacerbating the plight of these children. In 2010, such companies signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, pledging to reduce child labor by 70% in regions such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast by the year 2020. Despite their efforts to combat the issue, these companies have failed to substantially reduce the number of child slaves.In fact, only about 5% of chocolate around the world is currently produced ethically. The other 95%, unfortunately, is contingent upon the perpetual enslavement of children. The global candy market is subsequently entrenched in a system of capitalism that prioritizes profit over the guarantee of basic human rights.
"A small effort on our part will ensure that we do not create the demand that is vital for fueling companies who earn their profits by exploiting the most vulnerable populations."
Companies like Hershey and Godiva thrive off of American consumerism. Their existence is dependent upon customers like us. That is why it is crucial for us to be conscious consumers who selectively choose the brands we purchase. A small effort on our part will ensure that we do not create the demand that is vital for fueling companies who earn their profits by exploiting the most vulnerable populations. We need to have the attentiveness and compassion in our hearts to make sure we do not arbitrarily aid and abet the involuntary servitude of millions of children.
Here are some tips on how to satiate your sweet tooth in an ethically responsible way:
Shop from these ethically-sourced brands:
Avoid shopping from these unethically-sourced brands:
Four tips to be a better consumer of candy:
Be aware that you may have to pay a higher price for candy to ensure that it is made ethically.
Keep an eye out for fair trade labels when choosing which products to buy. And encourage others to do so!
Join a fair trade campaign in your state. This will allow you to voice your concerns and help raise awareness in your community.
Encourage your friends and loved ones to be responsible consumers of not only candy but all products they buy.
About the Author
Sarah Beech is a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin who is studying psychology and government. She is most passionate about fighting against the various human rights abuses that occur around us. In her free time she likes to watch Netflix, hang out with her friends, and try new restaurants. Her favorite quote is, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game" (from A Cinderella Story).