Hard Child Labor is Behind the Chocolate

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Chocolate, a sweet treat consumed by millions of Americans each day whether they are happy, sad, or even in celebration of a special occasion. However, one never asks how the chocolate they are consuming, came to be the final product that it is. Behind the joy that this sweet treat brings us, is the forcible labor done by stolen and deceived children. The problem lies within the question of do consumers keep allowing children to be forced to harvest cocoa and receive harsh conditions for the sake of our personal chocolate gain, or does the consumer have a moral obligation. I take the stance that the consumer has a moral obligation to demand a change for the conditions these children are forced to work in and the mistreatment that follows. Throughout this essay I will examine this moral question to see how the two ethical theories, act utilitarianism and the categorical imperative would respond to the question presented while also discussing some alternatives to this practice.

To understand this issue one must first know the background on chocolate production and labor practices. The labor force who harvest and pick the cacao beans that gives us the sweet treat Americans enjoy, are young African boys typically between the ages of twelve and fourteen who are sent to the Ivory Coast. These young boys are acquired in one of two ways, the first being deception. The parents of these young boys are often living in extremely poor and impoverished conditions, so to make ends meet they send off their children to child traffickers who make them believe that their children will be doing honest work that will in turn generate revenue that will be sent back to them. However, once their children arrive in the Ivory Coast, the work they do is anything but honest. The second method in acquiring these young boys, is just simply stealing them from their families. Traffickers go into villages and outright take these boys from their seemingly poor situation just to put them in a situation that is even worse than the one that they believe they have just miles away from their homes (Robbins). In the scenario of traffickers deceiving, the parents of these children are being taken advantage of. The traffickers know that these families are already living an impoverished lifestyle and wish to find a way out, making them easy to manipulate and convince that by sending off their children to do “honest work” they are making the best possible decision for their family. In the scenario where the children are being stolen is outright cruel in my eyes, to take a child from their home is an action that I view in no way morally permissible.

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Whichever way these young boys are acquired, they are sent miles away from their homes to the Ivory Coast where they are met with a life of long hours, dangerous work, and poor conditions. According to an investigative report done by the BBC these young boys are forced to do manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week, forced to work with machetes, paid nothing, barely fed, and beaten regularly (Robbins). Many will never see their families again and no matter how much they work they will never get the money promised to their families by traffickers. This is essentially slavery in the modern world. They share numerous similarities of African American slaves from the earlies of years in the sense that they are paid nothing to do extremely laborious work while also facing brutal treatment that their owners see as fit. To understand just how cruel these children were treated take into consideration the mentioning of a freed child laborer who asserted to a BBC reporter that if someone were to fall while carrying bags of cocoa beans they were beaten until they got up (Robbins). Clearly these children are forced to set their childhood and innocence aside to appease their masters who in turn appease the firms that purchase their cocoa and at the end of this vicious chain, the consumers. This abundance of cheap and basically free labor is what keeps prices of chocolate at a low price, but that cost is filled with the pain and suffering of young boys who ought to be pursuing an education and having a youth rather than harvesting cocoa that benefits them in no way.

It comes to a point where something must be done, children cannot simply be forced to suffer and endure a life of misery for the sheer happiness of consumers, therefore consumers have a moral obligation when it comes to the problem of chocolate production. This moral obligation can be explored through many philosophical lenses, but Act Utilitarianism is one worth taking note. Act utilitarianism judges the morality of an act based on the outcome of how many people are happy in the end and in turn is the best balance of good (Nall, slide 2) . Looking through the lens of this philosophical theory one would agree that child labor is morally unjust because its results in the happiness of consumers and firms, but it is worth taking note that the number of young boys who are basically enslaved to do this work far outnumbers the people who are the heads of these firms. To put things into perspective, about two million west African children make up the labor force used in the production of chocolate (O’Keefe). Therefore, while child labor being used to produce chocolate makes consumers and firms happy, act utilitarianism views this act as morally unjust because it isn’t a practice that produces the most happiness overall. For the act that would produce the most happiness would be a solution that includes not only the happiness of the consumers, but the happiness of the child laborers used in the production of chocolate as well. This in turn makes this act morally unjust through the eyes of an act utilitarianism and makes consumers morally obligated to act. One way for this to be done is for consumers to push firms to engage in fair trade instead of free trade and certify their products. Fair trade unlike free trade primarily benefits people in less industrialized countries instead of multinational corporations. Free trade makes businesses offer producers a generous amount of financing, fair prices for the goods that they are purchasing, and higher labor standards (Fair Trade Network). If consumers were to push companies to engage in fair trade, the laborers employed in the production of chocolate would receive better conditions as well as compensation for the work that they are doing. Demanding that a company also certify their products would allow for consumers to know that companies are paying a fair price from producers who promote positive working conditions as well as fair compensation to their laborers and their communities. This would be a way to appease the consumer knowing that these products are being produced in a fair way and would elevate the conditions in which the laborers are working in, therefore making a solution that produces the maximum amount of happiness and overall good.

Another lens one can look through when assessing if consumers are morally obligated to respond to this practice is the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative entails that an act is morally acceptable if it can be universalized and one would be willing to let everyone act take part in this act. To see if the act can be universalized it goes through a two-step process with the first being plausibility and the second being tolerability. Plausibility is essentially testing if the act could be widely accepted by society and tolerability tests whether a person would want to undergo the act that is being committed (Nall, slide 2). Child labor is the topic of discussion and is in blatant terms slavery, a practice that was abolished in the united states in the year 1865 and in many other countries across the globe in following years. The production of chocolate through child labor fails the plausibility test because people worked so hard to abolish slavery and the cruel treatment that follows, so it is unfathomable to even suggest that a country would be okay with bringing back a practice that brings so much misery to so many people. The production of chocolate through child labor also fails the second test of universalization involved in accepting an act according to the categorical imperative because no one would truly be willing to be the victim of forcible labor and mistreatment. Therefore, one who sees things through a categorical imperative lens would reject this idea because the act is not morally permissible and therefore goes against this ethical theory. A person looking through this ethical lens would feel morally obligated to act against this practice because the practice itself goes against what they view as morally permissible. Another way consumers can act is by boycotting chocolate products until things truly change. Boycotting has proven to be effective in the past because when companies are no longer receiving revenue generated by consumers they suffer financially and do what they can to satisfy their consumers so that they can go back to generating the revenue they once did.

Both act utilitarianism and the categorical imperative and two ethical theories that come with different ways of thinking, but both ethical theories come to the common conclusion that the production of chocolate through child labor is unjust and agree that consumers have a moral obligation to respond to these practices. I agree that consumers do have a moral obligation because although they are not harming these children directly, they are doing so indirectly by accepting the practice in place. Consumers are using their privilege to ignore or not be curious about what is going on behind the scenes and it is truly saddening. Consumers play a part in what is going on and they should feel morally obligated to act against this act because the conditions these children receive and the way in which they are treated is ethically and morally wrong, it is a modern day form of slavery that forces these young boys to give up the years in which they should be learning and figuring out who they are instead of being given a life of abuse.

Overall, if one is to think through the ethical lenses of act utilitarianism and the categorical imperative one would find that child labor used in the production of chocolate is morally unjust. Both ethical theories view consumers as morally obligated to respond to these practices and I agree with this conclusion as well that consumers should feel morally obligated as they could be the ones to play an instrumental role in changing the way that things are. To bring about change one must ask themselves the role they play in the the continuation of this practice and from there recognize that they are apart of the issue at hand.

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Hard Child Labor is Behind the Chocolate. (2021, Oct 27). Retrieved from


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