It’s a big weekend for kids and candies, ghosts and ghostbusters. But there’s a tragic side to the mountains of chocolate that American children gobble up every Halloween.
The US Department of Labor reports that more than 1.5 million children work in the cocoa industry in Ghana and Ivory Coast, two West African countries that produce 60% of the world’s annual crop. of cocoa.
More than 40% of these children are exposed to hazardous working conditions, including chemicals, burning fields and carrying heavy loads.
In 2011, eight of the biggest companies that produce and sell chocolate – including Hershey Co., Kraft Foods, Mars and Nestlé – pledged $2 million and pledged to work with the International Labor Organization to fight against the child labor in the cocoa industry in West Africa.
But more than a decade later, child labor, human trafficking and other human rights abuses remain rampant.
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Last year, the United States Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought against Cargill and Nestlé USA on behalf of six men from Mali who said they had been trafficked as children on plantations in cocoa in Ivory Coast. The court ruled that the men had no legal status because the exploitation had occurred outside the United States and there was no evidence that the business decisions of the companies in the United States had contributed to forced labor.
But a court ruling cannot deny the suffering of children as young as 10 working long hours in dangerous conditions on cocoa plantations. And that doesn’t change the fact that companies like Hershey’s and Mars couldn’t assure Washington Post reporters in 2019 that their chocolate was produced without child labor.
Forced labor in the cocoa industry, however, is only part of the problem. An estimated 40.3 million people are victims of the human rights crisis known as modern slavery, including 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor and 15.4 million trapped in forced marriage. According to the United Nations, one in four victims of trafficking is a child.
And human trafficking generates an obscene amount of profit – around $150 billion a year – for the individuals and companies that exploit children, women and men from Bangkok to Brussels, from Lagos to Los Angeles.
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While trafficking exists in all countries and affects people from all walks of life, women, migrants and people living in extreme poverty are disproportionately exploited. Human trafficking occurs in construction, manufacturing, textiles, agriculture, fishing, sex work, and many other industries.
The lack of action is distressing
As a teenager who has spent the past few years campaigning against this crisis, I have found the endemic inaction, apathy and lack of understanding deeply distressing. That said, I am not without hope.
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As modern slavery continues to expand and corporations reap billions of dollars from supply chains marred by forced labor, there is little doubt about what needs to be done:
►We must hold our companies accountable.
►We need efforts at all levels of government to help survivors and those most vulnerable.
►We must provide better access to education for young people and safer pathways for migration to reduce human trafficking.
►And we, as individuals and as nations, must not look away from the horrific abuse and exploitation that millions of people, including children, suffer every day.
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As you celebrate Halloween this weekend with your family and neighbors, think of those kids forced to harvest the chocolate we love so much. Then commit to holding business and government leaders accountable for ending the exploitation of children in the cocoa industry forever.
Lela Tolajian founded the International Coalition Against Modern Slavery. Follow her on Twitter: @ltolajian