Blood Chocolate: The Seedy Underbelly of Luxury and Capitalism


Metamodern Cuisine: Blood Chocolate

“Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing.”
– Dodie Smith

By Gerald Kusack
Image (above) from Plainpicture

Millions of people from around the world find sweet refuge in their chocolate. The cocoa bean is processed and manufactured in many forms, from candy and beverages to pastries and pies. We are compelled to think back on our childhood, remembering Halloweens of Trick or Treating, or a time when we would sneak into kitchen and filch a brownie under the cover of darkness. How many grown-ups, who find such satisfaction in this delectable treat, are even aware that this sweet commodity is procured through human trafficking and the outright enslavement of children.

We hear about blood diamonds from the activists in Hollywood and we are enraged. But what about blood chocolate? In 2001 the major chocolate producers signed an agreement known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol prohibiting any and all child labor and human trafficking in the chocolate industry by 2008. Kudos to Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative Eliot Engel of New York for attaching one of those insidious riders to an agriculture bill, only to have it shot down to a voluntary protocol by the big players. Almost ten years later, child slave labor and human trafficking still occur in the cocoa fields of Africa’s Ivory Coast.

It is estimated that there are 168 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 recruited for labor in industries and supply chains worldwide. Now the United Nations isn’t good for much, but they do a fairly good job of collecting statistics. Many of these children, as many as 5 million, are forced into slavery, debt bondage, trafficking, prostitution, pornography and harvesting cocoa for one of the happiest foods on Earth.

This is the seedy underbelly and the reality of free-market capitalism. Hardly a Libertarian Utopia. As a matter of curiosity I found a list of Commodities Produced by Child or Forced Labor from a Department of Labor report. The list is staggering.

In food alone:

bananas • beans • blueberries • Brazil nuts/chestnuts • broccoli • cashews • cattle • chile peppers • citrus fruits • cloves • coca • cocoa • coconuts • coffee • corn • cucumbers • cumin • eggplants • fish • garlic • goats • grapes • green beans • hazelnuts • hogs • lobsters • manioc/cassava • melons • Nile perch • olives • onions • palm oil • peanuts • pineapples • poultry • rice • sesame • shellfish • shrimp • strawberries • sugar beets • sugarcane • sunflowers • tea • tilapia • tomatoes • vanilla • wheat • yerba mate and more.

Many of the delicacies and luxuries we enjoy are produced by supply chains that employ children and young adults through forced labor. Admittedly some experts from the West will say that children who work in these sweatshops and cocoa fields are fortunate to have the opportunity to earn a living for themselves and their families. This is complete and utter hogwash. A vast majority of these children are forced into labor by an impoverished existence and largely ignored by the rest of the world to begin with. Added to that are the chemical burns from the pesticides they carry to treat the cocoa plants against fungal and insect infestation. Exploitation is by no means an example of “equality through opportunity” and none of these working or living conditions would be tolerated by anyone living here in the US.

It can be a challenge to find affordable food that hasn’t been over processed, or cultivated with incorporated slave labor. Here’s a list of ethical chocolate makers from whom to acquire some guilt free chocolate and a documentary to watch while you’re enjoying it.


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