For as long as time began large chocolate manufacturers have stood behind the sweet rich tastes of their products and have “forgotten” to inform its consumers of the detrimental effect poorly traded chocolate has on child labour and poverty.
We associate chocolate with celebration, comfort, romance. But do we ever associate it with the farmers – and often children – who literally make the product possible? West Africa produces almost three-quarters of the world’s cocoa, 70% of which is consumed in Europe and North America. More than 2 million child labourers work on cocoa plantations in Ghana and the Ivory Coast alone. Who are these children and why do they do this work?
We were lucky enough to come across the exhibition in Amsterdam titled “BITTER Chocolate Stories” which sheds light on these questions. Combining portraits of 15 former child laborers and interviews with the children and other actors in the industry, the exhibition and book provide an insight into the complexities of a product many of us take for granted.
BITTER Chocolate Stories tells the stories of Bassirou, Valerie, Augustin, Sarata, Mohamed, Cedric, Ghislain, Issaka, Bèbè, Kassoum, Laeticia, Alexis, Cathérine, Josias and Edyon, who all worked as child labourers on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. Originally from Burkina Faso, the children now live in a shelter and training centre in the capital Ouagadougou, where Joana Choumali (Ivory Coast, 1974) photographed them in an improvised studio. The result is three portraits of each child: one from the front, one from the back and one of their hands. Journalist Marijn Heemskerk (The Netherlands, 1980) interviewed the children about their experiences on the plantations and their dreams for the future. She also spoke to other actors in the industry in order to present a nuanced understanding of the many factors that lead to child trafficking and child labour.
The exhibition is open now at the Amsterdam conference center, Beurs van Berlage and runs until 22 November 2017 – 18:00.
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