The dark side of chocolate

As Christmas nears, spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of children in Ghana and the Ivory Coast who are forced to work as slave labourers.

They are kidnapped, taken from their families and their schools. They are sold as slaves.

Some are sent far away; some forced into prostitution. Some are forced to march as child soldiers in armies of mercenary thugs. Thousands upon thousands are forced to cut cocoa used in the production of chocolate.

Some of these children are as young as six.

While three of my four children play junior football and their most painful challenge involves finishing homework before they can watch television, children the same age in Ghana are forced to work 80 to 100 hours a week, enduring beatings and malnutrition.

They must cut the cocoa plants with large machetes. Many lose fingers and grow up with brutalised hands. Many don’t get the opportunity to grow up at all.

The Reverend Tim Costello and World Vision have been playing a role internationally in trying to highlight the appalling situation of child slave labour that is producing cocoa in countries such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana. They are running a campaign called Don’t Trade Lives: What Is The Real Cost Of Chocolate?

This is a difficult issue to address. The extreme poverty of the regions means that simply boycotting all non-Fair Trade products would have dire consequences for farmers.

Confectionary manufacturers have been making some progress in eliminating the use of child slaves in production, and ensuring that cocoa farmers receive a fair price for their product, but there is more to be done. Any child forced to work as a slave is a tragedy.

I have been promoting a simple idea that could have a profound impact. I’ve written to the Prime Minister and premiers urging them to use the buying power of government departments to stock only chocolate that has been certified as having not been made by slaves. This would affect tens of thousands of vending machines, snack bars and cafes across a gamut of schools, hospitals, departmental buildings and enterprises.

Placing this chocolate in vending machines within government offices may seem like a small act, but it would raise awareness about the campaign, and it would send a message to manufacturers who purchase cocoa beans that they must work harder to reduce the use of child slavery in production.

It is also a practical policy direction that governments could achieve tomorrow if they wanted to, simply by announcing that from now on every new contract signed with suppliers would have these conditions.

To date the Rudd Government has shown no interest in pursuing this idea. However, it would seem that this flies in the face of the groundswell of public support that exists for the campaign.

In November in my Adelaide electorate of Sturt, I held a “Walk Against Child Slavery” arranged with the support of many concerned organisations. It was a tremendous success, attended by hundreds of residents, many of whom previously had no idea that something like chocolate, which we take for granted, could be harvested by children.

I’d urge any concerned individual or parliamentarian to consider holding a similar event with their local community. Raising awareness of the issue will lead to changes in people’s consumer behaviour, which will make manufacturers take notice.

As we batten down the hatches in preparation for the global financial storm that is beginning to sweep our country, it is human nature to focus on our own needs, rather than the needs of our brothers and sisters overseas.

In our appropriate concern for our family’s wellbeing we must not lose perspective that there are children who aren’t allowed to finish school, are ripped away from their families, and have their lives utterly destroyed.

I am in regular contact with members of the Rudd Government encouraging them to take the initiative and use the Government’s buying power to support this cause.

You can do the same. Email, write to or phone your local member of Parliament and ask that they encourage the Prime Minister to address this issue, not after a review or summit, but by simply changing the chocolate in government vending machines.

Credit: Christopher Pyne

Source: The Sun Herald

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