Saturday, April 7, 2007

Bittersweet chocolate

Note to every 2-legged Easter Rabbit (sorry, just can't go the PC "Spring Bunny" route) hopping about on last-minute errands: Today's purchase of inordinate amounts of chocolate is an occasion to think about the often bitter way the sweet stuff ends up in our shopping carts.
Was reminded of the "chocolate slavery" of thousands, in countries like Mali and Côte d’Ivoire, in the superb account of contemporary slavery that Dr. Kevin Bales, author of Disposable People and head of the NGO Free the Slaves, delivered at last week's American Society of International Law meeting (more on the panel tomorrow). Bales posited 1 way corporations now turning a blind eye might be held liable: reliance Supreme Court decisions, dating from the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction, that outlawed commercial transactions on proof of a likelihood that slavery was involved. Bales said that a constructive knowledge requirement, coupled with severe sanctions, would put industry on notice that there are consequences for trading in slavery-tainted chocolate -- and other slavery-tainted goods, like carpets.
Industry self-regulation does not seem to have taken hold. In 2001, 2 members of Congress negotiated the Harkin-Engel Protocol, by which industry agreed to end labor abuses and to establish a process for certifying that chocolate was not produced at the hands of children forced to work. "Alas, the chocolate industry has yet to develop certification," trade expert Susan Ariel Aaronson wrote in a recent commentary. But there have been changes in some states -- schools for children and payments to farmers who let children study rather than work, for example, as well as stepped-up enforcement of labor laws, at times with help from the International Labour Organization. Aaronson's conclusion echoed comments that Bales too had made:

Forced child labor and slavery will only stop when companies use their market power to prod their first-tier suppliers, who in turn will force their vendors not to rely on forced labor. But policymakers in the developing and industrialized world have an important role to play here, too. They must develop strategies that address the lack of opportunities, power and education that allow individuals to be enslaved.

1 comment:

Naomi Norberg said...

Indeed, there are decisions more recent than the post-civil war era, as the anti-apartheid movement used US law in the 1970s to block imports on forced (prison) labor grounds.