Child Labor, Forced Labor and Chocolate

As the Promoter of Justice for the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids, I am charged with organizing my efforts and those of our Sisters, Associates, and friends around several justice issues including immigration, care of earth, human trafficking and others, while keeping in mind the root causes of racism, poverty, and violence.  As I write this, Earth Day and the Annual Forum of People for a Racism Free Community are the “anchors” of thought and action while other issues float in and out of my consciousness.  As a block of time frees up today, the “floater” is “I promised a blog.  Start writing.” But the question is, “On what?”   So in reading recent blogs, I found the item “Closing the Loophole” – discussing a New York Times article that reports new U.S. legislation forbidding imports produced by forced labor has been signed, sealed, and delivered.
My immediate reaction was “Yes – signed and sealed.  But will it be delivered?”
Last January during Trafficking Awareness Month, the Dominican Sisters did displays, workshops, and prayer services around the problem of labor trafficking.  One project was tracing the use of forced and child labor in the chocolate industry with a particular interest in Hershey, Mars, M&M, and Nestlé.  These and other companies have signed pledges and made promises to stop labor trafficking for decades, like the Harkin-Engel Protocol, with little effect.  Of these companies, only Nestlé is bound by a legally binding treaty that prohibits the economic exploitation of children through forced or unsafe labor because Switzerland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the ChildThe U.S. has not ratified the treaty.  Switzerland, however, has chosen NOT to control and regulate the activities of its transnational corporations because the children involved are no Swiss citizens.

Nonetheless, this January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Nestlé with other companies can be held legally accountable for aiding and abetting human rights violations by purchasing cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire in full knowledge of that country’s child slavery problem. The companies are being sued for using unpaid children to harvest cocoa. This case probably will return to its original court for trial.  We can only hope the rule of law will protect the children of the cocoa farms.
TAKE ACTION:  While there does not appear to be any current/active boycotts to join, there is no reason why we cannot individually and organizationally refrain from buying chocolates from the most egregious chocolate companies.
  • Check out Green America’s Chocolate Scorecard to find the best and worst companies and boycott those that exploit children.
  •  Download the food empowerment project “Chocolate List” mobile app so you can check which chocolates are safe to purchase while grocery shopping.
  • Gather concerned people for a screening of “The Darker Side of Chocolate”
  •  Join us in sending Godiva – who earned the grade of “F” on Green America’s Chocolate Scorecard – a message to show support for the workers in its supply chain. Godiva needs to trace its supply chain to prevent child labor and ensure cocoa farmers earn their fair share. 

 Sister Mary Brigid Clingman OP, MSW is a promoter of justice for the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids.  The Sisters and Associates have justice committees on Human Trafficking, Immigration, Peace and Security, Economic Justice and Care of Earth.  They also work on issues of racism and homelessness.