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The darker side of chocolate – what will you eat this Easter

Rev Tim Costello in Ghana with cocoa workers (from left) Cynthia (14) and Louis (15).
Chocolate is a luxury that adds to our waistline and often makes us feel guilty. Yet if people knew about the exploitation and dangers kids in the cocoa fields are forced to endure, chocolate would also make them feel sick.

It is estimated that in the West African nation of the Ivory Coast alone more than 600,000 children work on cocoa fields.

Research in the Ivory Coast and Ghana – which together make up 60% of the world’s cocoa – reveal up to 80% of children in the cocoa fields are being exposed to dangerous practices such as unprotected use of chemicals, carrying heavy loads, brush burning and using machetes. About half of these children do not go to school.

There is also evidence of children being trafficked. The study estimated up 12,000 children had been trafficked for cocoa in West Africa. Police in the Ivory Coast have liberated more than 200 children in just 12 months. In one case children were smuggled in to the country in a fake ambulance.

World Vision Australia has launched a major campaign to highlight child exploitation and trafficking in the harvesting of cocoa for chocolate. The focus on chocolate is part of World Vision’s new “Don’t Trade Lives” campaign, designed to focus public attention on the modern day trafficking and enslavement of people across the world.

More than 200 years after British parliamentarian and committed Christian William Wilberforce successfully campaigned for the abolition of state-sanctioned slavery – slavery still exists today. Indeed across the world there are more people trapped in slavery today, by some estimates up to 21 million, than during the whole 400-year trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The Christian Social Reformers (Wesley, Wilberforce, Booth) had a theology of redemption that included not only salvation by grace through faith in Jesus but also salvation from the social systems and institutions, which would inhibit the living of life to the full now.

Salvation is not only individual, personal, and spiritual, it was also corporate, social, and physical. The hymn “Amazing Grace” by former slave trader John Newton is a hymn of tribute not just to a soul saved but to a life lived for social and political transformation.

Jim Wallis in recently released his book “Seven Ways to Change the World” claims that spiritual renewal will likely be a necessary part of social change and that perhaps only genuine spiritual revival can spark social and political transformation.

As it did for the Abolitionists and Christian social reformers, the modern slave trade calls us again to a gospel which is not just about what happens when we die nor how close we feel to Jesus in our worship; it is a gospel which seeks salvation from the systems which would dehumanise children and promote disparity between the rich and the poor. It is a gospel where our own salvation is so rich and freeing that we are provoked into actions. It is a call to do justice, show mercy and walk with God. It is a call to a new way of living, which can change everything.

The chocolate industry is a powerful illustration of inequity and injustice. The head of Mars is worth $US10 billion. Yet much of chocolate’s profits are earned off the backs of these children.

The world’s major confectionary companies agreed to a certification process that included an audit of the child exploitation problem and proposed action to tackle it which covered at least 50% of cocoa production by 2005. They failed to meet this deadline and a new deadline of July 2008 was set. It is critical that we hold chocolate manufacturers accountable to meeting this deadline.

We don’t want people to stop eating chocolate or to boycott some brands that will only further hurt the children we are trying to help. But consumers must send a message to chocolate makers that they are watching how they respond to issues of exploitation and the looming certification deadline.

We would also encourage people to seek out fair trade chocolate, which under the Fair Trade Labeling Organisation carries a child-slave-free guarantee.

To find out more about the real cost of chocolate and what you can do – visit http://www.donttradelives.com.au

Photo : Rev Tim Costello in Ghana with cocoa workers (from left) Cynthia (14) and Louis (15).