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Bittersweet: Unwrapping The Hidden Side Of Chocolate

1389 words - 6 pages

People have always had a sweet tooth. In the mid 17th century, the sugar cane was introduced to the New World by the Dutch, who, using slaves, seized this opportunity to make a profit in the British West Indies. Sugar, as well as slaves, played a vital role in the Atlantic Triangular Trade among the Americas, Europe and Africa. Slaves were the working force in this trade network because they harvested the cash crops that circulated around the Atlantic Ocean. A form of slavery very similar to those in the sugar plantations of the Caribbeans is child labor in the modern cocoa industry. Cocoa trees only thrive in humid regions near the equator, which is why two West African countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, supply well over half of the world’s total cocoa. In order to keep up with the demand for cocoa, farmers in Africa have employed some 15,000 boys ages 12 to 16 who have been sold into slave labor to harvest and process cocoa beans “under inhumane conditions and extreme abuse” (Chanthavong 1).
In Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, the process begins when businessmen called “locateurs” scout villages for lone children who appear to be lost or begging and trick them into a “great job” that is promised to bring them money for their families. Overnight, they are kept in a locked warehouse from where they are transported the next day and distributed to farmers for a low price of around $35. The boys, who at first are suspicious and uncertain that they have been sold, immediately begin working the next day, from 6 A.M. to 6:30 P.M., cutting cocoa beans from cacao trees, slicing them open, scooping out the beans, spreading them out on mats, and covering them to ferment. They are not properly paid, fed and up to 18 boys are crammed into a 24 by 20 feet room with inadequate air. In addition, they receive daily beatings by the farm’s overseers. At the end, the boys have both emotional and physical scars that remain much like those described by Frederick Douglass in his autobiography The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Douglass). Most are afraid to escape, but those who do, such as 12 year old Aly Diabate, alerted Ivorian authorities to the situation, who have since put in effort to boost awareness of anti-slavery laws (Raghavan).
Cote d’Ivoire, a third of whose economy is based on cocoa exports, has long been a country reliant on exports of coffee, cocoa, and cotton. The same still holds true today; farmers are dependent on cocoa to support their lives, but there is one serious downside: cocoa is one of the most unstable crops, and because of its fluctuating price, farmers are constantly on the lookout for cheap labor, which leads them to enslave children (Chanthavong 4). The remote locations of the cocoa plantations contribute to the secretiveness of child slavery. The trading process leaves behind very little evidence, and the conditions of modern slaves are the exact same of that of their ancestors: “they aren’t paid,...

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