Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are You Consuming Child Labour?

Are you consuming Child Labour?

In 2004, reports surfaced of children working on sugarcane plantations in El Salvador.

Why should you care? These children were working to provide you with Coca Cola.

The Child labourers were employed by a local El Salvadorian company to chop down sugar cane. The main beneficiaries of this were said to be The Coca Cola Company. When these reports surfaced, it was estimated that there were approximately 20, 000 Salvadorian minors working without proper safety equipment to provide its employers with sugarcane. Although Coca Cola was not employing these minors, they were purchasing off the contractors, Central Izalco. In 2004, you would think that a major company such as Coca Cola would know better than to participate in the purchasing of child laboured sugarcane.

“Food” for thought

“Cutting sugar cane is back-breaking and hazardous work for a variety of reasons. The most common tools are machetes and similar sharp devices, and both the monotony of the work and the fact that it is usually conducted under direct sunlight make for frequent accidents, even among experienced workers.” - (1)

The Human Right Watch (HRW) called Coca Cola out on the findings and ordered the company to take more responsibility for what was happening. Over the years, the HRW has been responsible for many studies and investigations into child labour. It has not been the first time that Coca Cola came under the microscope. (Coca Cola Exec. Workers were investigated in Colombia for murdering employees that attempted to unionize). Furthermore, the HRW has stated that off all the agriculture work that children do in the world, cutting sugarcane is the most dangerous.

Much like the other large corporations, Coca Cola tried to deny any claims of purchasing sugarcane harvested by child labourers. They did however own up to not knowing how socially responsible their contractor Central Izalco was. Just this tidbit of information is enough to make me question my purchasing decisions. I hope it does the same for you. How do you feel about Coca Cola? Is it wrong for Coca Cola to continue to purchase the sugar?

(1) http://www.organicconsumers.org/corp/coke061304.cfm

For the Record

Coca Cola has since co-founded a corporation to oversee who exactly is picking their sugar. The Corporation has many members, some of which were covered throughout “The Corporation” movie. For more information on what they are doing to combat child labour, check out:


“The Global Business Initiative on Human Rights (GBI) exists because today there is a pressing need to ensure that corporations respect human rights and in turn benefit from a “level playing field” in relation to their social responsibilities.”

Did you know? In 2000, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that 211 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 were economically active worldwide.

Time for Chocolate?

It’s almost that time of the year, Easter! That means many of us will be bombarded by chocolate. Chocolate sales soar during this time of the year, which means there is more demand for cocoa. Do you know where the chocolate you eat comes from? Over half of the chocolate in the world comes from West Africa, where many farmers employ children. These children are often bought by the farmers and not paid. They’re only given food and shelter in exchange for long hours picking cocoa pods.

Countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria (West Africa) are all very dependent on cocoa as a main export. Most chocolate that are in your favourite candy bars come from this part of the world. I never really gave much thought as to what I was consuming. When you unwrap that delicious candy, the only thing going through your head is how delicious its going to it. For me, things have changed. I have recently watched a short documentary on CBC about the “Bitter Truth of Chocolate.” This documentary has had a huge impact on the way I see chocolate companies and chocolate itself. Since watching the documentary, (1 month ago) I have yet to consume any chocolate at all. The information was astounding and quite depressing.

Plot Line

The documentary was built around a journalist who looked to infiltrate the West African cocoa market in an effort to buy child labour picked cocoa. The Journalist planned on purchasing a large quantity so that he could sell it to one of the large chocolate manufacturers back in the USA. He discovered that much of the chocolate that is purchased by Cadbury, Nestle, etc has in fact been picked by children. These children ranged in age, and many had no choice other than to work. They had been sold by their family so that they could have food and shelter. These children did not get any money and were not able to attend school.

This documentary was shown on the CBC’s “The Passionate Eye”. It was entitled “Bitter Sweet: the dark side of chocolate”. This mini documentary helped to inform me of where the chocolate we consumed was coming from and who was picking it. It changed the way I see big corporations such as Nestle and Cadbury and also changed my decision when it comes to consuming chocolate. If you’d like to know more, I highly recommend watching this documentary.

For more Information check out:


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