Sweet Promises

The world now has purple M&Ms, but hold your applause for the little chocolates until the West African cocoa fields are rid of child slavery. According to UNICEF, as many as 200,000 children are traded each year as illegal field workers, especially in C"te d'Ivoire and Ghana. In response to reports documenting child and slave labor and the threat of chocolate boycotts, the cocoa industry and the International Labor Organization established a foundation to ensure that cocoa growers eliminate these illegal labor practices by 2005.

What is missing from this sweet deal is implementation of fair trade practices to address the basic issue of prices for small farmers. Chocolate prices are half of what they were a decade ago, but if the $13 billion industry would commit to purchasing at least 5 percent of their cocoa as Fair Trade Certified, then small farmers could afford to pay decent wages and child slavery could be effectively eliminated. The human rights organization Global Exchange has launched a campaign on this issue that targets M&M/Mars. In 2001, Forbes listed Mars as the fourth largest private company in the United States; the three Mars sister companies have a combined net worth of $27 billion.

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