Documentary connects chocolate, trafficking

“The Dark Side of Chocolate,” a film screened by St. Olaf Leaders Abolishing Slavery SOLAS on Thursday, April 24, drew attention to the negative practices involved in production and distribution of chocolate.

SOLAS provided free chocolate and coffee for those who attended the short documentary screening. In the film, Miki Mistrati, a Danish journalist, went to West Africa to investigate if child trafficking is still happening. Companies like Nestle, Barry Callebaut and Mars all signed a petition called the Harkin-Engel protocol, pledging that child trafficking would no longer occur in the production of the cacao plant for chocolate. However, Mistrati did find that child trafficking is still happening, especially in Ivory Coast, a country in western Africa.

Mistrati uncovered the inner workings of child trafficking in his documentary. Children are bused to the border of Ivory Coast and surrounded by traffickers on motorbikes. These traffickers would take them into Ivory Coast by a back route. Once across the border, more traffickers would sell the children to cacao farmers. A child would sell for up to 230 Euros, without negotiation. This price includes transportation and unlimited exploitation of the children, who very rarely get paid.

Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, and over 40 percent of cocoa is produced on plantations throughout Africa. Considering that people consume about 3 million tons of chocolate a year, cocoa production is a big part of Ivory Coast’s economy.

Mastrati met with Ali Lakiss, CEO and owner of Saf-Cacao, the largest cocoa exporter in Ivory Coast. Lakiss claimed that child trafficking was no longer happening because it is illegal.

“No children work in the plantations,” Lakiss said in the documentary. “Committees have investigated and shown that no children work on the plantation. It has been confirmed.”

Mastrati met with Tohe Malick, chief secretary of the Department of Labor in Ivory Coast. Malick claimed that the transportation that Mistrati was seeing was children vacationing with their families in the summer, since Ivory Coast is a tourist destination. Malick also believed that child slavery was no longer a problem.

Additionally, the documentary brought forward ways in which chocolate companies make a huge profit while producers of the cacao earn a fraction of this amount. The disparity could be one of the reasons producers turned to child slavery in the first place.

At a cacao plantation, the cacao plants are harvested and dried in the sun. They are then bought by intermediaries at one Euro per kilo. These intermediaries sell the plants to national exporters. The beans are washed, packed and sold, now at two and a half Euros per kilo. The companies turn them into cocoa powder or cocoa butter. One kilo of beans, which earned a farmer one Euro, can be made into 40 chocolate bars.

One of the takeaways for SOLAS is to be aware of the products that everyone uses. There are many companies that are beginning to raise awareness of how their supplies are made, but many others turn a blind eye to the injustices being done. At their presentation, SOLAS served Divine chocolate and Peace coffee. Both of these brands are Fair Trade companies, meaning the companies are aware of where they are getting their raw materials. Other companies, like Nestle, are leaders in using cocoa from suppliers who have child slaves.

“We are just asking you to keep in mind where your products came from and how they were made when you purchase something,” said Sarah Kretschmann ’15, one of the leaders of SOLAS. “Try to purchase Divine chocolate, which can be found in the bookstore, over Nestle products if you can.”

At the end of the screening, leaders of SOLAS had computers available for people to sign a petiton found on to stop chocolate companies from using slavery in production.