Documentary reveals child abuse in African cocoa industry

Directed by U Roberto Romano, “The Dark Side of Chocolate” unveils the kidnapping and child labor involved in the cocoa plantations in Africa.  (Photo provided by thedarksideofchocolate.org)
Directed by U Roberto Romano, “The Dark Side of Chocolate” unveils the kidnapping and child labor involved in the cocoa plantations in Africa. (Photo provided by thedarksideofchocolate.org)

Imagine being taken away from your family and all that you know, and thrown into a foreign land with empty promises of wealth and prosperity. Imagine being 11 years old and being forced to work on plantation for little to no money with the sad reality that where you are can very well be where you’ll remain. Your thoughts are the reality of the young children trafficked into child labor in the Ivory Coast everyday.

On Oct. 28, the sociology department, alongside the sociology club, conducted a screening of the documentary titled “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” by U Roberto Romano and Miki Mistrati. The film featured a behind the scenes look into what happens on the other side of the chocolate industry. Romano took on the dangerous task of going undercover to find and reveal the truth following the ongoing rumors of trafficking and child labor on the African cocoa plantations.

Romano began his investigation in Germany at the biggest chocolate industry gathering, where Romano spoke to different representatives from leading chocolate distributors. He found that many of these industries receive their chocolate from the Ivory Coast but none admitted to having knowledge of the illegal trafficking or child labor. In 2001, the world’s leading chocolate manufacturers such as Nestlé, Mars, Cargill Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc. to name a few, signed a joint statement on child labor to be witnessed by the International Labor Organization in prohibition of child labor until 2008. This document verified that all those who took part in the use of children workers would be unable to sell their goods in the U.S. Nevertheless, Romano found that children are not only still being trafficked for this kind of work, but are being taken from bus stations in Zegoua, Mali, a town just miles away from the Ivory Coast border.

Mariam, a 12-year-old girl from Mali, was rescued by Idrissa Kentè ,a bus driver in Zegoua, from almost being smuggled. According to the documentary, a nameless woman told Mariam that she would be making an abundance of money to support her family if she followed her on the bus. In Mariam’s economic state, she believed the woman, and if it weren’t for Kentè, she would have walked right into her demise. Kentè had been a faithful bus driver and is fully aware of the trafficking that takes place. He kept a list of all the boys and girls he saved ranging from the ages of 11-14. In 2006, he saved 132 children, in 2007 140 and over 100 more in the years 2008 and 2009.

Kentè told Romano that traffickers try to take 10-15 kids at a time using the same plan: one trafficker lures children to the bus stops to take them to the border of the Ivory Coast, while another trafficker is waiting by motorcycle to take the children across the border and to the plantations. Many children leave Zegoua and few return.

Students viewing the film had the ability to see little boys walking barefoot on the various Ivory Coast plantations in tattered clothing holding machetes the size of their bodies. The CEO of SAF CACAO, the world’s third largest chocolate delivery manufacturer, told Romano that the child labor and trafficking rumors were all untrue and he had no idea what anyone was talking about, he referred to the Ivory Coast as a “place for vacation  and resorts.”

The documentary revealed that not only was that a lie, but he was also aware of the situation months prior, when Ivory Coast police reported to have saved 65 children who were from Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Naija who had been trafficked to those same plantations.

Students and professors who viewed the film were in awe of the number of children that are currently still undergoing these brutal lifestyles, and the fact that there are so few people taking action                                               against it.

“I was just thinking to myself, my sons are those ages,” said professor William Rose, of the sociology department. “My kids are the same ages as some of those kids, it’s horrible.”

Krystal Rondan, a junior and treasurer of the sociology club, said she had no idea what was going on in the Ivory Coast and had even less knowledge about the heavy influence Nestlé and the other major companies had on chocolate. Michelle Winkelman, a sophomore and member of the club said that the film was beneficial in showing people how they can get involved.

“It sucks that these companies can pledge that they would protect and prevent the expense of these children but then do whatever they want,” Winkelman said. “It just shows that we have to get to them, because they have the money.”

“The Dark Side of Chocolate” is just one way to spread the word about the injustices taking place in Africa. The road to ending the trafficking and child labor can begin and end with us. Students can be the influence and change that they wish to see, beginning with buying chocolate with labels that are verified to have come from child labor free facilities. These products may be more expensive, but worth it.

“You all can speak up and use your voice, you’d be surprised how far it goes,” Rose said.