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Polymerase chain reaction is a cornerstone of molecular biology research. Using short pieces of single-stranded DNA called primers the previously invisible becomes tangible.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What's in your chocolate peanut buttercup?

Yes, two great tastes that taste great together.  However, there is quite probably a much less great, if not universally repugnant taste in that and many other chocolate treats.  That taste is child slave labor.

A little over ten years ago, Raghavan and Chatterjee reported in Knight Ridder Newspapers on the story of two boys trafficked from Mali to work on a cocoa farm in the Ivory Coast.  A US State Department report on human rights a year prior to this story stated that as many as 15,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 had been sold into slavery to work on farms in the northern Ivory Coast.  At the time, the Ivory Coast supplied 43% of the worldwide production of cocoa beans used to make chocolate.  Today, that number approaches 50%.  Raghavan and Chatterjee detailed how the boys were lured from their families by the promise of $20 a month and a bicycle.  When the boys reached the farm, they received no money and no bicycles.  They were locked in shacks at night with only baseball-sized air holes in the walls.  They were beaten with tree branches and, ironically, bicycle chains if they worked too slowly, dropped bags of beans, or tried to run away.

At first “Big Chocolate” said they were not aware of these types of abuses.  Then they said they had no way to control slave-harvested cocoa beans from getting mixed with non-slave-harvested ones.  In 2001 the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed by the US Congress to eliminate child and/or slave labor from the production of chocolate.  To date “Big Chocolate” won’t name their suppliers and have certified only small fractions of their products as being free from ingredients derived from child slave labor.

A decade has passed and these abuses are still happening.  So what can we do?

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