The UK consumes more confectionery than any other country in the world, almost £4 billion (or £63 per year per person). 70% of the cocoa comes from West Africa. However, many West African cocoa growers live in severe poverty, earning less than £170 a year.
The BBC exposed the rampant abuse of child labour in West African farms, and the use of child slaves in 2000. Then in 2001, The US State Department reported incidences of child slavery on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. In the same year The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture found that child slavery was limited, but that at least 12,000 child cocoa workers were purchased in human trafficking, and 284,000 children worked in hazardous conditions using machetes and pesticides without vital protective equipment. Many received no education because poverty forced them into the job.
The multinationals involved in trading chocolate, of course, make massive profits. The Multinationals (e.g. M&Ms/Mars & Nestle) manipulate the market to keep profits high while producer incomes stay low. The International Monetary Fund's "structural adjustment" policies have worsened the poverty in many countries by demanding cuts in wages, agricultural deregulation and cuts in public services. This of course helps sustain nice low purchase prices for the big producers of chocolate, allowing them to retain all of the profits from the trade of chocolate. The free market seems to apply when we want to rip off poor chocolate (and other goods) producers, but not when we apply protectionist policies to European and American goods!
Following the reports by The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, the US State Department and others, a "protocol to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in the growing and processing of cocoa beans." The only problem is that, (as usual) there are no minimum price guarantees. Until it is possible to make a small profit, or at least break even, using adult labour, there will always be child labour and it will by its nature involve abuses towards children. We should remember that in Victorian Britain, child labour was a natural result of the severe poverty that afflicted hundreds of thousands of people. Many children suffered broken limbs picking pieces of fluff from machinery, or developed horrible diseases from working in perilous conditions such as mines and chimneys. For some time, the supposedly "moral" Victorians didn't consider this to be wrong. Now, we find the idea abhorrent - in the West. So why is it acceptable to exploit children from developing countries? In this day and age, it should not be acceptable to profit from the misery of any child.
It is really simple. Pay a fair price to producers, and stop telling them to scrap healthcare and educational facilities to become more "efficient" (i.e. cheap).
Fair Trade chocolate guarantees a minimum price per pound, prohibits child slavery and forced labour, and ensures that children can go to school. There are many fairly trade products (anything with the fair trade symbol). Yet again, the Co-op has been leading the way in the UK by guaranteeing that ALL of their chocolate is fair trade (November 2002). The Co-op has promised
- A fair price for their cocoa harvest - always above the market norm and one that covers the cost of production and a basic living wage
- To provide schools, water wells and vital medical facilities for impoverished communities
In doing this, they have challenged the other large retailers to step up their fair trade efforts, or risk looking uncaring. Nestle and Cadbury, Kraft (suchard) and Masterfoods all refused to comment to the BCC when the Co-op made the announcement, and all claim that free trade not fair trade is the only way - true capitalists.
The Industry has been making noises for a while about improving the situation. Cadbury, for example, have a project to build wells in some remote farms. However, at the end of the day, the prices paid by these companies do not allow a living wage. They argue that paying above the level set by the market would cause a surplus, and refer to the Common Agricultural Policy (applied to protect the incomes of farmers in countries which already have a developed infrastructure of educational and health facilities). This comparison is not fair even if it sounds logical at first. CAP was set up to make sure that European farmers did not lose out in competition with producers in the developing world - i.e. protecting the rich from the poor. The Fair Trade association sets certain standards and guarantees prices well above the market level because the low market level is determined by the poverty of the producers! This is protecting the poor against the rich.
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