Reflections by Eva Marie Wüst Vestergaard, Assistant Communications Officer at WFTO-Europe
Badou is a village in Western Togo close to Ghana, a region that produces cocoa and coffee. A company Gebana is investing here to raise awareness about organic and Fair Trade productions. Last summer, I came to Badou in an old mini bus full of locals. We drove up and down the twisty mountain roads. The roads went through rainforests passing small villages of clay houses. We arrived in the center of Badou and from there we had to take motor bikes on sandy bumpy paths, also through the rainforest. Every time we passed a small village, local children playing outside would sing “Yovo Yovo Bonsoir” and wave at us. We stopped by a mountain where we met a local man in tall rubber boots. The owner of a cocoa plant who was going to show us his small industry. We went by foot into the forest, passed rice fields and began to see cocoa- and banana trees. The owner proudly explained us when cocoa fruits were ripe and he plugged one that was too old. We had to cross small streams and rivers with slippery stones. As I was nervous, the owner carried me when crossing. On the way up, we met some local children and parents happily hiking. The farmer plugged mini bananas that cannot be compared to the ones I have had in Europe. On top, more families were playing by a waterfall. Many of them seemed to be visitors to the area. We went down again, where we saw a school and small tree houses in which the cocoa was stored.
I was with a friend, a local who was born and raised in Badou and had made his way to the capital of Togo, Lomé, to go to college. If it wasn’t for him, I would not have had the pleasure to have this unique experience. What was so special about this place was the feeling of community. Everyone took care of each other, everyone took care of me as their guest.
I will probably never be able to visit the other kind of cocoa plants that West Africa hosts. The reality here is very different and so heart breaking that I could never be aloud access to witness it with my own eyes. But many of us have watched the documentary “the Dark Side of Chocolate” which reveals how cocoa slavery in Ivory Coast is a reality and not just a rumor as excused by companies and government officials.
In these cocoa plants, you will find human rights violations starting with child labor. Not only are children employed and prevented from going to school, losing their childhood. They work with unsafe tasks such as climbing trees, doing heavy lifting, working with dangerous tools and pesticides often injuring them. The work is hard and lasts all day. They are beaten and whipped. The food is cheap and doesn’t provide the right nutrition. They don’t receive any payment.
The documentary shows how children end in these situations through human trafficking. Children will be tricked into coming to work in the plants with fake promises, or the children’s families are tricked into selling their child. In some cases, children are even kidnapped. Those who try to escape are being beaten.
This is slavery.
Fair Trade chocolate is slave free chocolate. Fair Trade chocolate adheres to the Fair Trade Principles: No child labor, no forced labor, good working conditions, fair payment etc. You make a massive difference when you buy chocolate from organizations that are guaranteed by WFTO such as GEPA and Bouga Cacao.
Yet, I have too often heard people state that Fair Trade chocolate problematically is more expensive. Even though this is not always correct, I have to ask: You will might save a euro but does it provide more value?
There is slave chocolate and there is slave free chocolate. Which value do you prefer?