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Opinion

Fair Trade products prohibit child labor

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September 25, 2009

When you chomp into a bar of chocolate, gulp down a coffee, or sip some sophisticated tea, how many times do you think about where it came from? More likely, you’re thinking of your next class, your irritating hunger or your un-tied shoelace. And that’s fine, you’re obviously a very normal student that should avoid the stairs until you tie that knot a little tighter next time. In reality, industry in these foods such as chocolate, coffee, and tea is surprisingly bitter.

When I hear “blood diamonds” I can’t help it when Leonardo DiCaprio leaps across my mind before the horror of it hits me. Yet when I hear “blood chocolate,” I don’t have a handsome buffer… just the stark reality of malnourished children brimming with tears and bearing the scars of abuse.

There are an estimated 6,000 unpaid child workers with no family ties in the chocolate industry today, and the number is growing. Most are located in rural areas surrounding the west of Africa and the Ivory Coast.

Child trafficking rings kidnap children or buy them from impoverished families for an average of $35 US dollars. For the price of a tank of gas, these children are thrown into a life of hard slave labor.

Blood chocolate is encouraged by big cocoa corporations such as Hershey’s, M&M/Mars and Nestle. With greed leading decisions, big corporations such as those mentioned are buying cocoa from a seller that purchases their cocoa from several small farms (too small to sell directly to Hershey’s and the others) for less money than it takes to grow the crop then combines the cocoa beans into one large lot.

This forces farmers to be continually working themselves into debt. As a way to stay afloat, some farmers look to child labor for a cheap alternative to adult paid workers. If these large, popular companies were to buy Fair Trade, these farmers would instead rise out of debt, purchase proper equipment and develop their communities.

These children would not live in fear but rather attend school, eat properly, and stay with their families.

A Fair Trade symbol represents that certified company’s dedication to fairly-purchased goods. The farmers were paid justly; there was no trace of child labor, and the quality of the products high. The seal is usually displayed on the wrapper or carton.

Dagoba, Ithaca and Divine chocolates are all Fair Trade and can be found at the Whole Earth Grocery Co-op located on Main Street here in River Falls. There you can also find Fair Trade coffee and tea.

It’s easy to shrug some of this grave detail off since it’s not in America, not right in front of our face.

Instead, we see a delicious chocolate bar with a familiar name. Yet we cannot really agree that that moment of sweetness is worth an eight-year-old’s starving frame, can we?

While I focus on the matter of Blood Chocolate in this column, we cannot ignore the similar tragedy cof- fee bean and tea growers also face.

There’s something we can do to help make things right, to make things safe, to make ourselves stop cringing at the blood products in the convenience store. Just don’t buy it. Buy Fair Trade items instead.

The feeling you get is completely worth the effort. The next time I gulp my coffee, you better believe it’s Fair Trade. And you can bet that chocolate bar is, too. And my tea time is as Fair as it can get. Trust me. It’s a cause to know about. Be aware.

<b>Laura Krawczyk</b> is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.