On this Valentines Day, a chocolate heart or some creamy chocolate truffles can say "I Love You", but they can also remind us of a human injustice halfway around the world.
On the west coast of Africa, there is a tiny nation called Ivory Coast which is the world's biggest producer of cocoa. The beans grown and picked there make up 80 percent of the worlds cocoa used to make the chocolate we love so much. The problem is, according to human rights activists, most of the cocoa beans are picked by children under the age of 15 and they make so little, if anything, that most consider it slavery. According to UNICEF, nearly a third of the children in Ivory Coast are forced to work in the fields or the processing facilities.
This kind of forced child labor, according to the national children's relief agency, leads to trafficking in children. It says it has reports of children being kidnapped in neighboring countries and taken to Ivory Coast to work. One report says the lucky ones make the equivalent of 80 cents a week to do hard labor and carry 50 pound bags of cocoa beans until their tiny shoulders give out.
It takes 400 beans to make one pound of chocolate. To get those beans the children cut down the pods, slice them open, scrape out the beans and put them in baskets or bags and they carry them out of the fields. When they get to rest, they get lunch which is corn paste and bananas. When they must work again, some say they are beaten to motivate them.
This is all very hard to hear about on a day when we equate love with the chocolate gifts we bestow on our sweethearts. Now you know the hidden ingredient in the box of candy or the chocolate cupcake we share. The irony is that the children who work so hard under brutal conditions to bring us the beans to make the sweetened, cream chocolate, have never tasted it.
The American companies who buy the beans to make the chocolate say it's hard for them to do much about this human injustice, because beans from the Ivory Coast are mostly mixed with beans from other cocoa growing regions and then sold on the commodities markets. So, boycotting, they say, would hurt the entire industry.
The job of fighting for these slave children is left to the human rights agencies worldwide. They say, in the end, money wins. The cheap child labor allows the Ivory Coast to prosper as a nation.
It's a trade-off, they say, they are so far willing to endure.
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