Phillip Minton M.D.

Chocolate and Social Consciousness: It Can Be Complicated

In fair trade on May 27, 2012 at 3:55 pm

It is easy for us, consumers, to blame the government or big corporations for things we don’t like, and to demand that they “fix it”. The problem is, that sometimes these issues of moral and social concern are far more complex than we consumers realize. Because of that complexity, remedying the problems can take longer than we may wish. Nonetheless, informed consumers can make a difference.

Let’s take cocoa industry for instance. A large percentage of cocoa bean production occurs in two West African countries, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, the beans are produced in social and cultural environments that can harbor forced labor and child labor. We, western consumers, demand that these practices be stopped, and it appears that they are gradually being discontinued, albeit more slowly than we may wish. The core reason for such a slow change is the ingrained social and economic issues in both countries.

The following article on child bondage in the region gives us some idea of the complexities involved.

SONS FOR SALE

by Sarah Left
guardian.co.uk, 03/22/2007

As the world marks the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade, Sarah Left says Ghanaian boys as young as four are still being sold as cheap labour.

Kofi Azadavor is sitting stiffly on a bench under a mango tree on his family’s compound, getting up every so often to tend the fire in the open-air kitchen. He looks smart in his school uniform of brown shorts and a blue-and-white checked shirt, but both school and family life are still fairly new experiences for the 10-year-old.
Kofi only returned home to his village near Sogakope, a small town in south-eastern Ghana, in June. When he was just four years old, his mother sent him and his older brother, Mawuta, to live with their uncle in a fishing town 250km away. It was the end of Kofi’s childhood and the start of his life as a slave.

Kofi explains that while living with his uncle, he and Mawuta would get up very early in the morning, wash dishes and sweep the house, then head straight out onto Lake Volta to fish. They would spend the day casting out the heavy fishing net and checking for the catch.

When the net snagged on the branches and stumps at the bottom of the lake, Mawuta was made to dive into water to untangle it. It was a dangerous and delicate task, and the boys’ risked drowning, contracting the disease bilharzia, and, if they damaged the net while setting it free, a beating from their master.

“My uncle would beat us sometimes,” Kofi says. “If he said we should go to fish or farm and we said we were too tired, then he would beat us.” When asked if he likes his uncle, Kofi just silently shakes his head.

This Sunday marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act, an event being commemorated in Ghana at Elmina castle, the country’s most notorious slave trading fort, and in a series of events around the UK.

But across Ghana, and most stubbornly in fishing communities on Lake Volta, Ghanaian children are still being sold for as little as 200,000 cedis (£12) into a life of forced labour, malnutrition, physical abuse and no schooling. Click anywhere on the red text for further reading.

What can we do to prevent child labor? Always remember that as consumers we have a powerful voice. In the past decade there were multiple examples where corporate giants corrected there unethical manufacturing practices because of the consumer’s outrage. Every single time we buy something we cast our vote. I hope your votes will go for ending child labor in Africa.

@2012 Phillip Minton, M.D.

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