The UK spent over £400 million on Halloween this year and consumed an eye watering amount of sweets. Many of these sweets and chocolates are undoubtedly of the brand Nestlé. This food brand made an annual revenue of 91 billion Swiss Francs (over £71 Bn) in 2018 and is famously one of the ten biggest multinational corporations and owner of more than 2,000 brands in 189 countries. And as cheap as our confectionery may be, we have to ask ourselves, what is the real price?
Imagine the outrage, then, when it is revealed that the producer of our much-loved chocolates faces lawsuits in U.S. federal courts for child labour, trafficking and slavery in its cocoa production. Such incidences have been documented numerous times and this is not a recent or new phenomenon. This year, the brand could not guarantee their products did not involve unjust labour practices such as child slave labour as they could only trace less than half of their purchasing back to the farm level – in places like the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The labourers said they didn’t know what chocolate is, let alone what cocoa tastes like.
Nestlé’s exploitation in Africa dates back decades, with the 1970s ‘Nestlé Boycott’ against the baby milk scandal having disturbed the pages of (modern/recent) history for generations. And clearly, its recent failure to assure an eradication of child slave labour from its supply chains shows their 2001 commitment to achieve such eradication in four years by 2005 and later by extended deadlines of 2008 and 2010 is long overdue, to say the least. Though, given Nestle have had three lawsuits filed against it in the U.S., we clearly cannot hold our breath waiting for change.
Us westerners justify our consumption of unethically sourced goods, be it animal products, cheap clothes, electronics parts, and now even chocolate, by telling ourselves it’s a ‘catch 22’ where buying the product reinforces the exploitation, and in this case literal forced child labour, but boycotting puts the (so-called) workers out of work. What a dreadful dilemma we face… It surely does not bare thinking about.
Globalisation has been praised for establishing interconnected markets and allowing the spread of wealth, technology, goods and labour. But as we can see, this new type of capitalism is simply an evolved form of colonialism in disguise where the self-proclaimed superpowers of the world exploit our fellow humans so that we can live in sheltered luxury. It’s high time we burst that bubble.
From the foods we eat and the clothes we wear, to the media we listen to and politics we subscribe to, our society is embedded with strings pulled by corporate power. The people who decide where to source our resources, goods and labour have a shared goal with the those that tell us what news they deem ‘important’ and what politics should be considered mainstream. That mutual goal is to uphold the status quo. If things stay as they are, we will continue to consume without questioning how our products made it to the shop floor, and we will continue to believe that we must ‘get our house in order before we help others’ and we won’t think there’s anything we can do to help the child slaves of Côte d’Ivoire.
But that isn’t how things need to be. We need to realise that our ‘power as consumers’ is a fallacy and that our real power lies in joining as a collective instead of holding on to isolationism. We have to use our power as a western country to severe the strings of dependency we installed in developing countries for our own gain and help the people of those countries lead their nations to prosperity. When people march in solidarity and demand change, those with power – be that governments or multinational corporations – have to listen. If not us, then who?