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Slavery And The Production Of Chocolate

Updated on September 17, 2016
Photo Credit: Flickr Thart2009
Photo Credit: Flickr Thart2009 | Source

How Is The Cocoa Bean Involved In Chocolate Production

Chocolate is popular in every area in the world. It’s one of the worlds most beloved foods. In order to make chocolate, there is one essential crop: the cocoa bean.

The Cocoa Bean: Harvesting, Fermentation, Roasting

The way chocolate is made is that cocoa beans are harvested and then go through a process of fermentation and drying. The cocoa beans can’t simply be taken from the pods and turned into chocolate. They need to be dried and aged.

The fermentation process and drying process is crucial in order to remove liquid and age the beans. The most popular method for drying out the cocoa beans is to leave them out in the sun. In some countries they cover them with palm fronds. While artificial drying is becoming more popular, in many places the traditional methods still are used. This is the cheapest and can be done without the assistance of any machines.

The next step in the process of turning cocoa beans into chocolate is to roast the cocoa beans. This gives them the deep flavor that chocolate fanatics love. The beans are then treated further. The cocoa beans are heated and they turn into cocoa liqueur (it’s not alcoholic) cocoa butter, and cocoa cake. None of this stuff is sweet. It doesn’t get sweet until sugar is added.

Finally you get to the sweet stuff. So, as you can the production process is very involved. Most importantly, none of this stuff is done using machines. The harvest of cocoa beans is very labor intensive. This is where the problem of slavery comes into the equation.

The Harvesting Problem

The harvesting process is that one that is the most dangerous. Cocoa pods are removed from the trees using machetes. This can be dangerous for adults, but when you put these tools in the hands of young children who are taken from their families, then you have a serious safety concern. The cocoa bean harvesters often times get cuts, and while those cuts might not be too severe as far a cuts go, they often lead to dangerous infections.

Slavery And Chocolate: A Story Of Location

Chocolate is only grown in certain climates. It’s not grown in India, China, North America, or Europe, for instance. Most chocolate is grown around the global equator. This means that areas in Africa, as well as Brazil, and the other countries in the north of South America, as well as Central America and parts of the Caribbean. In recent years, the Dominican Republic has become a promising center for cocoa bean growth.

By far the countries with the highest production of cocoa beans are the countries in West Africa. In particular, the Ivory Coast and Ghana are the world leaders in cocoa bean production. However, there is also a concern over the use of child labor in Malaysia.

As mentioned above, the concern is that the harvest of the cocoa beans can be dangerous for young children. Some reports have documented the high number of infections due to cuts the labors suffer when they are cutting the cocoa bean pods with machetes. It's a rough process and made even more dangerous because there is so little oversight or concern for the workers safety.

Some of the child labors are working these jobs because they and their families are incredibly poor, and they need to find some sort of work to help support their families. They are not just from the Ivory Coast, but they are also from neighboring countries such as Mali. Other times they are sold to the farms. While some of the child labors are able to attend school, there are reports that only 10 percent of the labors in Ghana are able to attend school, and only 40 percent in the Ivory Coast are able.

Does This Mean All Chocolate Is Tainted By Slavery?

No, thankfully not all chocolate is tainted by the slave trade and forced indentured servitude. Some places such as Peru, Ecuador, and places in the Caribbean such as The Dominican Republic have very reputable cocoa bean harvesting policies. You should look for chocolate that has been labeled ethical and fair trade.

Fair trade chocolate comes from companies that ensure that the cocoa beans were not harvested by slave or indentured and exploitative labor. Also, there are chocolate farms that are in West Africa that don't exploit, so just because the origin of the chocolate is West Africa doesn't mean that it's bad. But, a good rule of thumb is that you should want an ethical label on any chocolate if you're concerned about the issue.

There are many NGO organizations dedicated to eradicating the use of slave labor in chocolate production. As a chocolate lover, you should make sure you choose a fair trade labeled chocolate brand.


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