While customers at See’s Candies on Shattuck Avenue crammed in line to purchase valentines for their sweethearts this year, protesters outside drew attention to the bitter reality of child slavery half a world away.
The protest, together with 31 similar events across the nation, launched the San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Cocoa campaign to help end child slavery and poverty wages in the cultivation of cocoa.
43 percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from Africa’s Ivory Coast, where the U.S. State Department estimates 15,000 children between the ages of nine and twelve are
working as forced, unpaid laborers.
Like "fair trade" coffee, now widely available at establishments such as Starbuck’s, Global Exchange wants to promote "fair trade" chocolate- chocolate produced on farms that
insure fair wages, environmental sustainability and safe working conditions within the local context.
"We want See’s to sell five percent fair trade chocolate," said protest organizer and U.C. Berkeley Development Studies junior, Bridget Meyer, 20. "We in U.S. are the
consumers for this chocolate, and so it’s up to us to demand fare wages."
Although See’s, along with other chocolate manufacturers, has signed on to a plan to improve the status of children and end slave labor by 2005, protester’s contend that the
plan will do nothing to address the fundamental cause of child slavery: record low cocoa prices.
"There’s a glut in the market," said nationwide campaign organizer Deborah James, "due to IMF and World Bank policies which have forced these countries into production for
export to pay off their national debt." That glut, she says, has driven down the price of cocoa so that farmers can no longer afford to hire workers. Instead, they enslave them.
With fair trade chocolate, farmers are insured 80 cents a pound, versus the 40 cents a pound regular farmers receive. At its height, chocolate fetched nearly $2.50 a pound. Since
1996, the price of chocolate has gone down 25 percent, a savings largely pocketed by the chocolate companies.
Organizers launched the campaign at See’s because of its high sales and visibility on Valentines Day. But, says campaign director Deborah James, Global Exchange plans to
extend the pressure to all major U.S. chocolate producers. Their next event will target chocolate giant M&M/Mars over the Easter holiday.
Widespread news of child slavery reached the United States in the summer of 2001 when the Knight Ridder news paper chain published a series of exposes documenting the
use of forced, unpaid labor by children as young as nine. They were enticed to cocoa farms by promises of work to help their impoverished families. Once lured, often far from
their homes in neighboring countries, the children were forced to work up to 12 hour a day, received frequent beatings, and slept, locked up at night, on wooden planks.
Protester Joshua Grossman, a Berkley entrepreneur, first learned of the issue from reading a New York Times profile of a young boy who had been enslaved.
His participation, he said, "is a little Valentine to some 13 year old kid I’ll probably never meet. But if I can do something here to improve his life, I figure that’s worth my lunch
See’s workers distributed flyers prepared in anticipation of the protest. The flyers stated that while See’s was concerned about slave labor, there was little the company could do
due to "remoteness from the problem." Company headquarters in South San Francisco declined a request for further comment.