A drumbeat of negative news stories describing reports of child slavery and bondage in the cocoa fields of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) continues to erode the confidence that consumers feel in the morality of consuming chocolate. Since 2000, the year the first stories about slavery broke, the European and American news media have periodically revived such stories, centered around the plights of young Malian men who had spent years imprisoned, shackled, whipped, and forced to pick cocoa, much of it ending up in American confections. Such reports were followed by the efforts of Senator Tom Harkins and Representative Eliot Engel, who together with representatives of the American chocolate industry and other concerned parties wrote the Harkins-Engel Protocol to establish a slave-free certification system for cocoa originating in the Côte d’Ivoire. Most recently, in response to the apparent dearth of actions by the chocolate industry, a lawsuit was filed against Nestlé, ADM, and Cargill. (Thys & Athreya, 2005) (Collingsworth et al., 2005).
The contention of this author is that all efforts at redressing labor problems in Côte d’Ivoire probably will fail unless root causes are confronted. The fact is, 75% of the total weight of American chocolate comes from Ivorian beans and we Americans are the world’s largest consumers of such beans. Meanwhile, we pay more attention to CocoaVia, Mars’ latest attempt to grab marketshare by pushing the medicinal benefits of its specially made chocolate. Excitement grows around this new development related to our personal health while the farmers who picked the beans for the chocolate continue to languish in poverty. Stories of child labor abuse will probably continue to emerge so long as the farmer cannot support his or her family.
The research behind this article originated in a sabbatic taken by the author during the fall and winter quarters of 2005-6. His interest in this topic began in August, 2003, when he visited Kuapa Kokoo in Kumasi, Ghana and interviewed farmers in the villages of Edumfe and Dadease . Convinced that fair trade represents a viable alternative to current cocoa trading systems, an alternative that can help the cocoa farmer economically and socially, he revisited Kuapa Kokoo as well as Kavokiva (Côte d’Ivoire) and Macefcoop (Cameroon) in August, 2004 . In April, 2005, he became part-owner of a Fair Trade/Organic chocolate business, Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates (www.sweetearthchocolates.com). He returned to Côte d’Ivoire and to Kavokiva in August, 2005, delivering a check to Kavokiva in exchange for the rights to use the picture of one of Kavokiva’s farmers on several chocolate labels. In February, 2006, the author, together with two others, established Project Hope and Fairness, a charitable organization whose mission is to help the West African cocoa farmer (see www.projecthopeandfairness.org.) Project Hope and Fairness has distributed a freezer, three cocoa scales, and 50 boots to three villages in the western cocoa region of Côte d’Ivoire. In August, 2006, the author and his Ivoirian assistant, Evariste Prégnon, purchased 200 boots and 100 sharpening files in Abidjan and distributed them to five villages in the regions of Issia and Daloa.
These are small efforts tackling an enormous problem; there are 800,000 cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. Currently, they receive only 125 CFA per Kg, which amounts to 25¢ per Kg or less than 12¢ per pound. In neighboring Ghana, farmers receive 9,000 cedis per Kg, which amounts to $1.25 per Kg or about 60¢ per pound. What accounts for the disparity? That is essentially the subject of this article.
This article lists and describes ten factors that are based on the author’s interviews of cocoa farmers and others involved in the cocoa value chain, officials of the government and NGO’s. It is ironic that much attention has focussed on debt relief and other forms of aid to Africa, that many studies have been made, and yet there continue to be child labor abuses in Ivory Coast, the root of which is poverty. It is also ironic that as Americans continue to enjoy their M&Ms, their Snickers, and their Hershey’s Kisses, which are made largely of Ivorian beans (Regan, 2005), news media coverage of the plight of the cocoa farmer is minimal.
The article begins with a short history of the political situation in Côte d’Ivoire, particularly as it impacts the cocoa trade. It then builds on the history of Côte d’Ivoire, considering ten reasons why the cocoa farmer is so poor.
This article is dedicated to the West African cocoa farmer, who labors long and hard that we in the United States and Europe may eat our chocolate. While we debate about issues of economic policy and of appropriate foreign aid, the cocoa farmer cannot afford a bar more than once per year (Cocoa Farmer, 2004), much less an elementary education for his or her children.