The Bitter Truth and Secrets Buried Underneath Our Favorite Treat: Chocolate A small girl, age six, is carrying two bags that are overflowing with cocoa beans. One bag is on her head, and she is dragging the other. She struggles to walk, carrying the load of burden. A man trails behind her, demanding her to hurry, threatening her with his whip. Suddenly, the bag on the top of her head slides off, and despite the frantic efforts of the small girl, falls to the ground and explodes; thousands of cocoa beans scatter, a waste of her hard work. One powerful thwack of the whip and the girl falls, blood marking the spot where the whip landed.
This small girl is only one out of millions of child slaves and laborers who work hard everyday to create the sweet, luxurious chocolate that we enjoy. Each time we eat another chocolate bar, the cost is another bitter scar for the ones who produce it. Instead of being a sweet luxury, chocolate has three major bitter ethical issues. One of the three major bitter ethical issues is child slavery. The places where cocoa beans are produced the most is the Ivory Coast, which is in West Africa. Ivory Coast provides 43 percent of the world’s cocoa bean supply. Nigeria is the area where the most cocoa beans are produced.
In 2001, child slavery in the Ivory Coast was reported in 2001 by the United State Department. The International Institution of Tropical Agriculture reported 284,000 child slaves/laborers working in farms in hazardous conditions in just Ivory Coast. Most of these children are ages 12-16, but some have been reported to be as young as five years old. 40 percent of these poor children are girls. Most of them stay just for a few but painful months, but others stay all the way through adulthood. These children use dangerous tools to harvest the cocoa beans, which is the main ingredient to produce chocolate, one of America’s favorite desserts.
Some of these tools include machetes, chainsaws, and knives. All of these tools have wicked blades that are used to cut open the hard pods of the cocoa beans. But, each time the child opens one pod, there is always the risky chance that the child will slice into their own flesh instead of the pod. That’s why the majority of the child slaves and laborers that work in cocoa bean farms and factories end up with scars all over the place. The other scars come from being whipped. Whenever a child slave or laborer tries to escape, they are beaten if caught. Afterward, they are confined to prison cells.
They are also beaten if they don’t hurry enough. Every child laborer and slave have to work painfully to produce just one pod. Every day, they drag one hundred pound bags through the forest, full of hard-earned cocoa beans, each packed one by one, after working from five to the evening. Even though they work for so long and hard every day, they get little pay. The underwage they get is below the poverty line. Most children don’t even get a taste of the chocolate they work so hard to harvest. Their owners buy them the cheapest food, which is usually corn paste and bananas.
These children sleep on small wooden planks in cramped, dangerous, windowless buildings. They have no access to bathrooms or clean water. The precious amount of water that they get is unsanitary. 40 percent of the child slaves/laborers in Ivory Coast have no education of any sort, which violates the law. Child slavery and laborer is horrifyingly becoming a common thing in West Africa. As the need for more and more cocoa beans, thanks to the quickly increasing demand, the chocolate industry grows. This calls for the need of more unfortunate child slaves and laborers.
Some work to provide money to barely support their family. Other children are kidnapped by child traffickers and forced to work, while others are “sold” by unsuspecting relatives who don’t know the hardships that the children will face when working in the cocoa bean farm/factory. These young children are putting their own precious lives at risk just to produce a luxury for humans. This bitter fact that is happening right before our very own lives is escaped unnoticed by millions of the chocolate lovers out there. This horrible fact is only one bitter ethical issue.
The second major and bitter ethical issue for chocolate is deforestation. Most companies use something called palm oil. It is an ingredient in producing chocolate, like the cocoa bean. Because the demand for chocolate has increased so rapidly, the supply for the palm oil has dropped, killing thousands of innocent trees. So far, we’ve destroyed 173,000,000 square feet(or the equivalent of 300 football fields)of rainforest just to get the palm oil. A football field is about 120 yards long, or 360 feet long. If that stadium was full of trees, then that would be an awful lot of trees.
Now, that is the size of only one out of 300 football fields packed with trees everywhere. 300 football fields packed with trees is the equivalent of how many trees were destroyed so far. This slaughtering of trees has seemingly no end. This large-scale deforestation is resulting in messed-up ecosystems, making weird climate changes, and also destroying many homes nearby. When deforesting, lots of carbon dioxide is released into the air, which is not good for humans. In just 2012, we’ve deforested 2,000 hectares(about 5,000 acres) of trees just to keep up with the demand for chocolate.
The average is of 122 metric tons of carbon per hectare (54. 4 tons per acre). This much carbon dioxide that is emitted can keep a car running for almost 60,000 times around the earth. Humans don’t breathe in carbon dioxide; only plants do. We’re producing more carbon dioxide and killing the trees that breathe it in and breathe out oxygen for us. And we’re still cutting down the trees just so we can produce chocolate. If we keep on going like this, we’re going to run out of a species of trees just because we are unaware of the effects of chocolate.
Deforestation is yet another big and bitter ethical issue for chocolate. Lastly, a major and bitter ethical issue for chocolate is the harmful substances in the chocolate we eat everyday. Palm oil is commonly referred to as “vegetable oil” so that people will think it’s healthier due to the vegetable part in the name. Genetic modification, or more commonly known as GMO, is in most chocolates. GMO is used to produce crops faster so that the supply of crops keeps up with the demand for the crops, but GMO is a bad chemical that have many side-affects for a person’s health.
It can cause deadly serious health problems, and affect the central nervous system, kidneys, and immune system. For instance, 93 percent of soya, 88 percent corn, and 90 percent of sugar beet were produced using GMO. Also, chemicals are sprayed on the cocoa trees in tropical regions, like West Africa, to fend off pests, usually by a child slave/laborer, who aren’t given protective clothing during that time. The chemical sprays sometimes get into the cocoa beans, which are used in chocolate, which we eat. Another dangerous thing is that there’s lead in our chocolate.
Lead can be fatal, if not poisonous. The area where cocoa beans are produced the most is in Nigeria. Nigeria still uses lead-based gasoline. The lead eventually spreads into the air. A problem is that cocoa beans’ soft outer shell can easily soak in the lead in the air, since the outer shell is highly absorptive. This process of the outer shell absorbing lead happens during the cocoa bean’s growth, packaging, and even shipping. The terrifying fact is that some brands have 12 percent of the acceptable consumption of lead in one single bar.
The average American eats 11 pounds of chocolate per year, and twelve percent of that chocolate may have lead. Also, many cheap ingredients are used in chocolate, like artificial sweeteners including maltitol and sucrose. There are many ways to solve these troubling problems. The first thing is to spread the word about these dangerous chocolate ethical issues. Then, try to buy chocolate with labels that say Fair Trade, Organic, Ethical Trade, and/or Rainforest Alliance. Fair Trade means that the chocolate has no traceable source of child slavery/laborer.
Organic also has little evidence of child slavery/laborer, and is healthier than most chocolate because it is not artificial. Ethical Trade means that the chocolate was made by workers who were respected. Rainforest Alliance is a sign that the chocolate was made by respecting the workers, community, and environment. Buying only products with these labels will help convince some of the cocoa bean farms/factories to switch to respecting the workers and using good substances if they see that the farms/factories who respect the workers and use good substances earn more than the ones who don’t.
To conclude, chocolate has many hidden bitter ethical issues that remain hidden for many people. The major ethical issues are child slavery, deforestation, and harmful substances. These impacts are so big that it is horrifying that many people don’t know about it. People need to know what they’re missing out on. Chocolate isn’t such a sweet thing after seeing through its appearance; it has too many bitter truths and secrets.