originally published in The Age, September 18, 2007
Chocolate is regarded as a treat, a sweet luxury often given as a gift. But that is only part of its story. The rest is more sinister. Two hundred years after the British Empire abolished the slave trade, nearly half the world's chocolate is made from cocoa grown in
A 2002 study estimated that at least 284,000 children were trapped in forced labour in the West African cocoa industry, the majority of these — some 200,000 — were to be found in
These children are forced to apply pesticides without protective clothing and to work for up to 12 hours a day on the plantations for little or no pay. Their toil helps the giant chocolate makers produce the chocolate we find on the shelves of our stores.
Parliamentarian and social justice crusader William Wilberforce, whose life-long crusade resulted in the abolition of the slave trade — which then formed a critical part of the economic foundations of the
Human trafficking generates $A37 billion annually and enslaves at least 12 million around the globe. Some estimates even put the number of people enslaved as high as 27 million. And the epicentre of today's slave trade is in
The tragic nature of this industry is evident when you realise that the average age of a girl locked in sexual slavery in
However complex this trade in people, it is inescapable that there is a strong and foundational link between poverty and modern-day slavery. People who are poor are more vulnerable. We can't fight slavery without fighting poverty.
Overseas aid is critical to developing better public justice systems but it is also important in providing livelihoods for emancipated slaves.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, people trafficking is the world's fastest-growing crime, already bigger than the international drug trade and second only to the illegal buying and selling of arms.
But action is being taken. Stop The Traffik, the organisation I founded three years ago, now has more than 600 member organisations in 60 countries around the globe determined to raise awareness of the problem and to demand action at all levels to bring it to an end. One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is as consumers. In 2000, the chief executives of the major chocolate makers were hauled before the US Senate and a bill was proposed that would require the chocolate industry to certify all their chocolate as "slave-free".
The cocoa industry successfully lobbied against this, arguing that the supply chain for cocoa was complex, with middlemen buying the beans and mixing them before selling them on to conglomerate buyers.
But such major companies control the market and they can determine under what conditions they buy their cocoa beans. Unless the industry can guarantee that our chocolate is not made from beans picked by trafficked children, then we will never make progress. Industry must be able to tell people which farms beans are from and must guarantee no trafficked labour.
Consumers for their part should buy chocolate only from those companies that give this guarantee. It is a practical way we can all contribute to today's crusade to end modern-day slavery.
Human trafficking is a global problem that requires a global response. At the end of his life William Wilberforce referred to the battle against slavery as "unfinished business". Today, working together, we can complete the task.
Steve Chalke is founder of the global Stop The Traffik campaign.