Chocolate and Slavery
"Tell them, when they are eating chocolate, they are eating my flesh" - Vincent, an enslaved cocoa worker in the Ivory Coast.
Chocolate is one of the most popular luxury foods in the world. In Britain the average person eats 7kg of chocolate per year. But how many of us realise the amount of suffering that goes into producing our chocolate. From the African plantations via our local sweet-shop, chocolate carries slavery into our homes. What's more, the international market in cocoa and chocolate helps create the conditions that lead to slavery, and when our pensions or savings are invested in companies that produce chocolate, we profit directly from the work of slaves.
In West Africa boys and young men are enslaved to tend the cocoa trees and harvest the cocoa beans that go into making the chocolate that we buy. Mostly teenagers like Drissa, they come from poor neighbouring countries in search of work. Drissa was offered what sounded like a good job on a cocoa plantation in the Ivory Coast. On accepting it he found himself trapped into slavery. Drissa, and his fellow slaves worked from dawn to dusk in unbearable conditions. Often given only braised banana to eat for months at a time.
When Drissa tried to run away he was savagely beaten. Those attempting to escape were usually caught, tied up and viciously whipped as an example to others. The beatings continued, twice a day, for several days. Some didn't survive. Those that did were sent back to work as soon as they could walk. They had to rely on the maggots feeding on their flesh to clean the wounds and save them from gangrene. The brutality, the fear, the isolation, the hunger and the exhaustion all combined to break the spirit and will of Drissa and his fellow captives, locking them into years of slavery. The plantation owners can afford to be so brutal because slaves are cheap and disposable. In the Ivory Coast, a healthy young man can be purchased in the market for about £20.
This is the face of Drissa,
the man who grows cocoa for
And this is the rest of him
Images supplied by True Vision Productions Ltd at www.truevisiontv.com
But how can the owners justify slavery? The answer lies both in their greed and in the conditions that all of us help create in the global economy. In 1999 the United Kingdom imported more than £50 million worth of cocoa just from the Ivory Coast, which produces half the cocoa on the world market. Until recently all the cocoa grown in the Ivory Coast was bought by the government there for a fixed price, so the plantation owner could be sure of what he would make on his crop. But the Ivory Coast carries a huge international debt and like many Developing Countries has been forced by Western governments and banks to grow 'cash crops', such as cocoa, so that they could repay their debt. As more countries produced cash crops the market became flooded and prices fell. The cash crops therefore, were unable to make enough to pay back the debt, let alone improve the lives of the people who by now were growing cash crops instead of food for themselves. In time the debtor countries had to take out new loans in order to pay the interest on their old ones; essentially they were bankrupt. Today the Ivory Coast owes more than $14 billion and has to spend five times more on debt repayments than it can spend on health care for its people.
To get the new loans the government was required to implement economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) which meant they had to stop buying cocoa at a fixed price and allow the cocoa buyers of the world market direct access to the farmers. This caused the price of cocoa to fall even further and the farmers couldn't afford to pay their workers; many turned to slavery. Today 90% of the plantations in the Ivory Coast use slaves.
There is a clear link between debt and slavery. One half of all countries with high international debt have extensive slavery, compared with only 13% of countries with little or no debt. For information on the campaign to cancel the unpayable debt of the world's poorest countries contact:
New Economics Foundation,
6-8 Cole St.,
London SE1 4YH.
Tel: (44) 207 089 2853
Fax (44) 207 407 6473
The unacceptable reality of all this is that up to 40% of the chocolate we eat may be contaminated with slavery. How can we avoid this? Simply by buying chocolate that carries the Fairtrade Mark that not only ensures there is no slavery behind it but also guarantees that the farmer gets a fair deal.