He is a "chocolate slave," one of approximately 2.1 million West African children who engage in the dangerous and taxing work of harvesting cocoa. Many of them live and work in the Ivory Coast, a former French colony. Ivory Coast produces around two-fifths of the world's cocoa, with 60% of its revenue coming from exports of that crop. While terms like "slavery" and "enslavement" carry with them specific historical meanings, many human rights workers - both inside and outside the Ivory Coast - note that many aspects of "chocolate slavery" echo the conditions faced by enslaved workers on plantations in the Americas.
Child workers on Ivorian plantations work from early in the morning until nightfall. They use dangerous tools such as machetes and chainsaws. They are beaten if they work too slowly or if they try and escape. They are either sold into enslavement by their families, trafficked from relatively poorer countries like neighboring Burkina Faso or Mali, or kidnapped. Many times, these children and their families are lied to by traffickers, who lie to them about wonderful job opportunities in the rather more affluent country of Ivory Coast. Many chocolate slaves never see their families again.
While these patterns are all too familiar to anyone who has been enslaved, both historically and in the present day, there are parallels for people who want to fight enslavement as well. During the days of the Transatlantic and Internal Slave Trades, abolitionists often refused to consume cash crops grown by enslaved labor or wear clothing spun from cotton grown on plantations in the US South. Likewise, modern day abolitionists opt to buy fair trade products such as Equal Exchange and Theo, both of which produce chocolate.
Historical abolitionists also educated themselves about the evils of chattel enslavement. If you want to learn more, think about planning a trip to Cincinnati in early October. On October 4th 2018 at 6PM, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will be participating in the Insights Lecture Series sponsored by the Cincinnati Museum Center. The topic is chocolate, and this particular lecture is in celebration of the Cincinnati Museum Center's temporary exhibit, Chocolate: the Exhibition. You can learn about not just the history of this food, but also the current plight of those who grow it and how to fight for their freedom. Of course, you should also visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which houses Invisible: Slavery Today, the world's first museum quality permanent exhibit on modern day enslavement.
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