Date of publication: February 6, 2006
Chocolate makers are trying to replicate the success of Fair Trade coffee by coming up with a system to tell consumers that their chocolate has been produced ethically. Jeff Tyler has the story.
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DATE: February 6, 2006
CHERYL GLASER, anchor:
This is MARKETPLACE from American Public Media, and I'm Cheryl Glaser in for
A lawsuit goes to court in LA today against three big food companies: Nestle, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. They're accused of aiding and abetting child slavery in West Africa. Poor children are sold into slavery to help harvest cocoa beans, the main ingredient in chocolate. The International Labor
Rights Fund brought the case on behalf of three former child slaves who escaped in 2001. Here's one of the plaintiffs talking about how he was treated on a cocoa plantation on the Ivory Coast or Cote d'Ivoire.
Unidentified Man: (Through translator) If anyone said anything about salary, they would beat them. They would take us to a place and show us graves. They told us if we run away, they would catch us and kill us and bury us there. The boy who arrived with me, they beat him to death.
GLASER: The lead attorney for the plaintiffs is Terry Collingsworth. We asked him if this was just an isolated case or is it an example of a bigger problem in the cocoa industry?
Mr. TERRY COLLINGSWORTH: Well, given that about 70 percent of the world's cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast and that the industry there is saturated with trafficked child slaves, it is a very, very large problem for the cocoa industry.
GLASER: Any idea of the actual number of children who might be involved in this?
Mr. COLLINGSWORTH: The number at any given time varies, but we estimate that approximately 10,000 children will be covered by our lawsuit which is seeking class-action status to represent the children who have been forced to labor.
GLASER: And these are children who are literally working five, six, seven days
a week for no pay whatsoever.
Mr. COLLINGSWORTH: Yeah, they're working seven days a week, and they're not being paid. In addition to being forced to work, the children are brutally treated and punished severely if they try to escape or if they don't work fast enough.
GLASER: Why are these three particular companies--Nestle, Cargill and Archer
Daniels Midland--being singled out and held responsible?
Mr. COLLINGSWORTH: We estimate that at least 50 percent of the cocoa coming out of Cote d'Ivoire touches one of these three companies. If you want to stop a practice as heinous as--as child slavery, you've got to go to the people actually who have the power to do something about it. And that is the three companies.
GLASER: We should clarify, though, these companies don't actually own these farms. They only buy from them, right?
Mr. COLLINGSWORTH: Yes. But that needs to be stated in the context of saying they've known about the child slavery and the child trafficking for years and years and years. So they don't get to say that they are innocent purchasers of this--this cocoa.
GLASER: The companies say they've been working to come up with a voluntary industrywide standard. Have they done that? And if not, why not?
Mr. COLLINGSWORTH: Well, they probably have some paper that they produce in
Geneva, but they've done nothing yet to implement anything on the ground. They took a period of five years to discuss and study this problem, knowing that while they were doing that very slowly, very deliberately, that absolutely nothing was changing on the ground for child slaves. And we sent back two of our researchers in December 2005, just two months ago, and they confirmed that child slavery is alive and well in Cote d'Ivoire while cocoa industry's asking us to be patient.
GLASER: This is an issue that has a very long and sordid history in the chocolate industry that dates back, literally, for decades.
Mr. COLLINGSWORTH: That's correct. In the early 1900s, literally like 1902, 1903, there was a great, great public debate about Cadbury, the British chocolate company, because they were caught using slave labor from West Africa to produce their beans. And their defense at that time was the same defense that Nestle and Cargill and ADM are using now. That they are mere purchasers of the product. The people didn't buy it a hundred and some years ago, and we're not buying it today. These companies do have the ability to change the way the industry operates, and Cadbury used its influence more than a hundred years ago to change the practice there.
GLASER: Terry Collingsworth is executive director of the International Labor Rights Fund. Thanks for joining us.
Mr. COLLINGSWORTH: Thank you for having me. I appreciate your interest.
GLASER: We contacted Nestle, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland for comment, but the companies did not return our phone calls before airtime.
CHERYL GLASER, anchor:
The industry says labor is a hard problem to fix. But labor activists disagree. For more than 20 years now, they say the Fair Trade model has been used to track working conditions overseas. So, could it help reduce forced child labor? MARKETPLACE's Jeff Tyler has that story.
JEFF TYLER reporting:
The chocolate industry acknowledges that slavery in West Africa is an ongoing problem. This 13-year-old boy was interviewed in Ivory Coast two months ago.
Unidentified Boy: (Through interpreter) I work five days on the plantation. I get two days off when I pick wild food in the jungle. I'm not paid by the farmer. With the wild food I pick on my days off, I can earn one or two dollars a week.
TYLER: The chocolate industry says tremendous progress is being made. Susan
Smith is a spokesperson for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. She points to industry funded campaigns to educate farmers about labor standards, but Smith says it's tough. There's a smoldering civil war in Ivory Coast and farmers often live in remote, rural areas not easily accessed.
Ms. SUSAN SMITH: There are places where cocoa is transferred from person to person to person until it eventually gets to a road or to a buying station.
That kind of bean, that kind of cocoa is very, very difficult to trace.
TYLER: Third party observers say the beans don't have to be hard to trace.
Let's start at a chocolate factory in Switzerland. The machine puts wrappers on chocolate bars to be sold in the US under the brand name Equal Exchange.
They cost a little more, 35 bucks for a pack of 12. The premium pays for Fair Trade certification. Consumers are buying the reassurance that purchasers don't support slavery.
Fair Trade monitors the supply chain for various commodities like coffee and cocoa. So I can track the beans that went into my chocolate from Switzerland back to the Dominican Republic. In this small mountain village, locals practice to be the next Sammy Sosa on the baseball diamond adjacent to the cocoa co-op. Inside the warehouse, workers rain dried beans from burlap sacks to create mini mountains of cocoa. Forty-seven-year-old farmer Felix Ortega joined the co-op a few years ago.
Mr. FELIX ORTEGA: (Through translator) Since I've joined the cooperative, I've been able to purchase my own home, buy a motorcycle for myself which I have never had before, and I have all three kids attending university.
TYLER: In the past, Ortega sold his cocoa to middlemen, crooks, basically, who paid him less than the market value. He simply didn't have enough information to realize they were taking advantage of him.
All around the world, cocoa farmers face the same problem. Paul Rice is CEO of
TransFair USA which certifies products as Fair Trade. He says corruption is especially bad in West Africa.
Mr. PAUL RICE: The middlemen dictate price. There's no real negotiation there.
It's a take-it or leave-it situation. As you can imagine, those prices typically are way, way below international market prices. They often are even below the cost of production.
TYLER: The Fair Trade model was recently introduced to the Ivory Coast. Fair
Trade monitors make surprise inspections and conduct rigorous audits. And because the system is set up as a co-op, Rice says the whole community has a stake in keeping the supply chain slave-free.
Mr. RICE: There's a level of social pressure, if you will, a scrutiny of neighbor to neighbor, in which everyone knows that a violation by any one member of the co-op would, in fact, be punishable with decertification of the entire co-op.
TYLER: The chocolate industry says it doesn't need co-ops to fix the problem.
Spokeswoman Susan Smith says chocolate companies are setting up their own certification system.
Ms. SMITH: It's to take a picture to gather information once a year about what is happening with regard to children and labor; to have a commitment to have that in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, across 50 percent of the cocoa sector by
TYLER: Fair Trade proponents say the industry could adopt an established independent system for certifying labor practices starting today. I'm Jeff Tyler for MARKETPLACE.