Guilty Pleasure Hurts Children

Deborah San Angelo, Staff Writer

In bar, bonbon or bunny form, chocolate is more than a popular food.

Chocolate is a booming $90 billion-a-year industry, according to research firm Markets and Markets. Its value is larger than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 130 nations.

Even in a slow economy, the National Confectioners Association expects Americans to spend more than $700 million on chocolate this Valentine’s Day. Almost twice that is sold during Easter and even more on Halloween.

Sales soar as chocolate becomes even more popular today and consumption steadily rises. Cocoa contains flavanol, an antioxidant found in a variety of foods. Studies demonstrating the health benefits of flavanoids add to chocolate’s popularity.

Gourmet chocolate is the fastest growing segment of the industry. Consumers and retailers eagerly seek dark, artisanal, organic and enhanced varieties of chocolate.

Opportunities in chocolate abound for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Like most food specialty businesses, few barriers exist for a chocolate company start up. Costs are low and in many states, it’s possible to start in a home kitchen.

Western Africa produces more than three-quarters of the world’s chocolate. Europe consumes about 50 percent of it and North America another 25 percent, while all of Africa only accounts for about 3 percent of consumption.

Cocoa trees take five to eight years to mature and yield about five pounds of chocolate a year. The average American eats 10-12 pounds of chocolate a year. The average Swiss eats 21 pounds a year. To accommodate  high demand, plantations grow cocoa trees. About 1.8 million children work on cocoa farms in Africa.

Poverty is the main reason for child labor. Child labor also stems from big companies wanting to increase their profits by exploiting and underpaying.

About 246 million children are used for labor around the world, according to UNICEF. In many countries with child labor, no laws are enforced to protect them. Some of these countries ban trade unions so no one guards the children’s rights, who often are abused.

We’ve heard about child labor since childhood. But there’s still no accepted definition of “child labor” in this so-called civilized world. Individual governments define “child” according to their own criteria.

The chocolate industry has made trillions of dollars. According to the watchdog group Stop the Traffik, only 0.0075 percent of the money is invested into improving the working conditions for children in West Africa.

Before the Industrial Revolution, only the wealthy had chocolate available. The steam engine made mass production possible, making it accessible and affordable to everyone. But classism still surrounds chocolate.