“When I am there [on the farm] I like to feel the fresh air, and when we are harvesting and cutting open the cacao, it’s a very beautiful thing … When I am in the cacao trees I feel very happy. With all it has given us, it’s a very beautiful thing.”
-Abel Quezada de la Cruz
Abel Quezada de la Cruz, 12, lives in Yamasá, Dominican Republic. His parents grow cacao (the main ingredient in chocolate products) and are members of CONACADO co-op, one of Equal Exchange’s farmer partners. Abel likes to spend time on the farm with his family, where he can walk among the trees and help harvest the cacao pods. For him, cacao farming is “a very beautiful thing,” but for many children in cacao-producing areas, it’s quite a different experience.
Children work on some of the world’s two million farms that grow the cocoa needed for the busy Halloween chocolate season. Some of those children work on their own family farms, but many other children are not working in their home communities, or even in their home countries, but rather have been trapped into situations where they’re forced to work against their will, often under dangerous and abusive conditions.
The problem of forced child labor in the cocoa (the term used for cacao after it has been processed) industry has been especially prevalent in West Africa. The region grows 70% of the world’s cacao, with Ivory Coast alone producing about 40%. Its beans are mixed into almost every brand of mass-produced chocolate, and a handful of western corporations control approximately 85% of Ivorian cacao exports – companies like Hershey’s, Mars, Nestlé, Russell Stover, Cargill, and ADM.
In 2007, Cristian Parenti, a journalist writing for Fortune magazine, traveled to Ivory Coast and also found little evidence of a serious effort to tackle the problems of forced child labor and chronic poverty among the region’s cacao growers.
“I found it really easy and meaningful,” said Anna Morrison, whose family participated in Reverse Trick-or-Treating last year in their neighborhood in Durham, N.C. “I think it is important to allow ourselves, as Americans, to be exposed to these injustices that seem to be taboo topics. It is good to talk with our children about how the world is not-so-perfect and present to them, in tangible ways, how they can help people being treated unfairly.”
We’d love for you to join Anna Morrison, Equal Exchange, and others in this effort to raise awareness about child slave labor and help us promote the alternative – sourcing from families like Abel’s, using Fair Trade practices. Hopefully, as more is done to discourage child slave labor in the cocoa industry, more kids will enjoy their time among the cacao trees – and for them, too, it will be a very beautiful thing.
- Sign up for a Reverse kit
- Get more information on child slave labor in the cocoa industry
Rodney North contributed to this article.