The dark shadow of slavery and chocolate

March 25, 2007 at 1:04 am 1 comment

Flickr photo by PhoodphightAs regular readers (do I have any?!) of my blog know, I am doggedly against Western consumerist society, the insane pursuit of “beauty” at the hands of today’s witch doctors (aka doctors wielding the botox syringe and scalpels) and disturbed by what we’re doing to this beautiful planet and its many exquisite (and dwindling) species. I have now come across something else that horrifies me – the modern slave trade.

Although I’ve heard of slavery still existing, it wasn’t until I decided to investigate for myself the reality and the scale of things that I stumbled across the fact that modern slavery takes place in so-called democratic countries. Considering that March 25, 2007 is the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade in Britain, you would think that slavery in all its forms is a thing of the past – something we only see in sepia tones. Not so it seems.

Human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world today, just behind arms and drugs dealing – but it is the fastest growing. Figures vary, but around 27 million people worldwide are currently slaves. A further breakdown shows an estimated 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year; approximately 50% of all victims are children; there are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers involved in over 30 areas of conflict worldwide, some younger than 10 years old.

Debt bondage is the most common form of slavery today where a person becomes a slave to work off a debt, which might be the cost of having to buy a sick child some medicine. The length and nature of work is not usually defined, so it becomes a never-ending cycle with the debt being passed down to the children thereby enslaving offspring.

Contract slavery is another common form. A contract of employment is offered for a factory, sweatshop or domestic position, but the contract tricks them into slavery usually because the person is unable to read the contract in the first place.

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms“. And in 2000, the United States unanimously voted 95 to 0 for legislation to protect women from trafficking and domestic violence and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 came into effect. Between 45,000 and 50,000 women are trafficked into the US each year.

So what is the cause of all this suffering and inhumanity? An average slave in the American South in 1850 cost the equivalent of £40,000; today a slave costs only about £60, which means today’s slave is a cheap and disposable resource in the global consumerist market for ever-cheaper goods and luxury brands.

When you pick up that next piece of rich, glossy looking chocolate and can’t wait to scoff it down, consider this statistic – nearly half the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa grown in the Cote D’Ivoire in Africa and 12,000 children have been trafficked into working on these cocoa farms. How many hours of exploited labour went into the block of chocolate we just bought or the Easter chocolates we’re about to give?

We can choose to buy Fair Trade goods, including chocolate. It is estimated though that Fair Trade chocolate represents less than 1% of the world’s roughly $60 billion chocolate market. Chocolate lovers like me can check out Stop Traffik’s Good Chocolate Guide on their MySpace page.

March 25 2007 is Freedom Day and we can all do something to address the shocking fact of modern slavery. Download Stop Traffik’s Freedom Day organiser’s pack. Sign the petition to End Modern Slavery, which will be presented to the US Government and global leaders. Go see the newly released film, The Amazing Grace, based on the life of anti-slavery pioneer William Wilberforce. Read Andrew Crofts’ book, The Little Hero: One Boy’s Fight For Freedom (2006), the story of Iqbal Masih, a 4 year old boy who was sold to a carpet maker by his half-brother, who was getting married and needed money. Or read Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy; or this short story from BBC News.

Watch this video on YouTube to see the many faces affected by modern slavery – but only if you think you can stand it.

In our fast-paced consumer bubble, it’s easy to lose sight of the plight of millions of fellow humans but we can be inspired by 15 year old Zach Hunter, a modern day abolitionist who, at the age of 12, decided his life’s mission was to abolish modern slavery. And when your thoughts next to turn to chocolate, remember Fair Trade and send a message to the chocolate companies who exploit children.


Entry filed under: Chocolate, Modern slavery, Reflections.

What in the wiki? Butterfly effect

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Josh  |  September 7, 2007 at 2:32 am

    Ah! You’re right! There is modern slavery (which is illegal) but there is subtle slavery (which is apparently, quite legal)!

    We have to work to pay off our debts – credit slavery!

    We have to work in order to get money in order to buy shelter and food to live. If we don’t work, we don’t get any money to buy food and we die.

    Who came up with this system of things? It’s true slavery – having one human being working for another in order to live. Shouldn’t everything be free – or at least, shouldn’t we start to think of a basic means level that governments should provide for free to all of it’s citizens?

    We have the technology, if we really wanted to, we could….



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