Slavery in the Chocolate Industry
The forced labour of children in the Ivorian cocoa farms is at a distance from the glamourised candy producers such as Mars and Nestlé, and a universe away from the day-to-day consumers of chocolate. That such a quixotic market shares a commonality with the more exposed diamond market, for example, whose implication in the sale and involvement of guns in tribal cleansing has long been documented, drives home the reminder that our modern prosperity, usually reached and used with the best of consumer intentions, if not also the corporate, and even our harmless, insignificant indulgences sometimes owe themselves to an extremely complex source ...view middle of the document...
It is not only slavery but the slave trade itself that continues to exist in this region; the labour is smuggled in from adjacent West African states, an operation facilitated by poorly secured state lines and corruption among border police and customs officers alike (51).
Governmental commissions (e.g. the United States Department of State), the international community (United Nations Children's Fund, International Labour Organisation) and even free media segments (Knight Ridder) gave official accounts of the abject and inhumane situation of the child labourers. Much as was the practice in medieval West Africa they are captives or abductees of mercenary dealers (children being the easiest targets) who for payment supply them to plantation landlords. From then on, the landlords' labour offers profit without expense; they treat their grim cargo essentially as beasts of burden, working them with no regard for their health or lives, giving them the bare minimum of food and shelter – and refusing them even that if they are uncooperative – and shutting them in like cattle when a day's work is done. The fact that the children are kept in isolation, and in any case are foreigners ethnically and linguistically, that their families are helpless or even complicit in their sale, and finally the fact that the most brutal possible abuse of recaptured escapees is used as a deterrent (51) all ensure that the vast majority are never heard from again, alive or dead, by the outside world.
Despite penetration into the atrocities by official lines, the horrific reality was not driven home to the public until the turn of the millennium when a television programme released insider footage of what life was like in the Ivorian cocoa plantations (51). The footage ran on national channels in several Western countries including the United States and ignited outrage at the world's leading chocolate-product corporations – all implicated in the storm of controversy (51, 52).
The first, the systemic ethical issues raised by this situation are that slavery and indentured servitude have long been held ubiquitously to be an evil. This is, however, a perception; in a theoretical analysis it is important to make no assumptions and a wealth of definitions. We will discuss the pragmatism of this perception.
We must, of course, bear in mind the 400-year-old theoretical and practical foundations of our continental economy – a minimum of government interference in commerce, the benefit of competition in lowering prices and raising quality for the consumer, and what Velasquez calls the pursuit of profit (37). Any business's survival must steer toward cost cutting and breakeven or net revenue. Smith's theory of free markets and utilitarianism (135-138) reminds us that this realpolitik approach to business is what drives our individual welfare, which we want (137). Social Darwinism goes further to associate capitalism with the summative advancement of society (141) though...