Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Oppression: The true price of your chocolate

I love chocolate and human rights. Unfortunately, the two don’t overlap as much as you would think. Human rights abuses related to the chocolate industry are all too common, and more often than not involve children under the age of 14 that work in the industry. Alice Bagley

Child labor is implicated in many international industries, but the chocolate industry is relatively unique in the number of these children who have been coerced, kidnapped or otherwise forced into this sort of backbreaking, dangerous work. The U.S. State Department estimates that 15,000 children under the age of 12 are “enslaved” on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Most European and American candy companies are aware that much of the cocoa that they use in their confections is from farms that use child labor. The companies claim that they are not responsible for the child labor problems because they do not own the plantations on which the cocoa is grown.

The companies are certainly not free of blame though. European and American chocolate companies, by demanding large quantities at low prices, have made it nearly impossible for small cocoa farmers to stay in business without resorting to unfortunate practices. In fact, for a 60 cent chocolate bar the cocoa farmer will get less than one cent. Those sorts of prices do not leave a lot left over for paying wages to the people that work in the fields.

Of course, in a free market economy, we as the consumer are also complicit in this tragedy. The chocolate companies are certainly making a fantastic profit, but they are also providing us with a product at a low cost. A delicious product that many of us enjoy to a ridiculous degree that has comforted more than one person at the end of tough day and that makes café mochas possible. We have also grown accustomed to this luxurious product coming to us at a price that makes it not a luxury at all but rather something we might actually eat every day.

Fair trade chocolate and coffee are very popular right now, and I doubt there is a Whitman student who does not know at this point what fair trade is and that it is, for some reason, the right thing to buy (even if it is not how they choose to spend their money). Very few of us remember why it is the right thing, though, if we ever really knew at all.

Fair trade products allow, in the case of chocolate, cocoa farmers to be paid an amount for their product so that they can cover their costs and are able to afford to pay field workers an appropriate wage. The most often advertised way that fair trade companies do this is by cutting out traders and buyers in the middle. Farmers organize into cooperative groups so together they can sell large quantities of cocoa together without having to go through a buyer.

The less often advertised but equally true way that fair trade works is by charging a slightly higher price to the consumer. This is obviously not as great a selling point as the happy fair trade cooperatives funding schools and hospitals in impoverished villages, but it is what makes those things possible. Foods from far and away exotic places are luxury items, and somebody needs to pay the price. It can be Whitman students (and other Americans and Europeans) paying a few extra cents for chocolate ice cream or a child in Mali can pay for it with their small life after being sold to a farm in Cote d’Ivoire.

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