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? BITTER Chocolate Stories sheds light on these questions. Combining portraits of 15 former child labourers 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.

Tony’s Chocolonely and Paradox created and developed BITTER Chocolate Stories to raise awareness about child labour in the cocoa industry. Everyone in the chocolate chain – cocoa farmers, chocolate companies, retailers, governments and consumers – has a responsibility to tackle child labour, according to the organisers, and informing a wide public of the problem is the first step to achieving that.

Authors

Joana Choumali (1974) is a visual artist/photographer based in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast. She studied graphic arts and worked as an art director in an advertising agency before embarking on her photography career. She works on conceptual portraits, mixed media and documentary photography. Much of her work focuses on Africa and what she, as an African, learns about the innumerable cultures around her.

In 2014 Choumali won the POPCAP 14 Award and the LensCulture Emerging Talent Award. In 2016 she received a grant from the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund and the Fourthwall Books Photobook Award in South Africa. Her book HAABRE was published in Johannesburg in 2016.

website

Marijn Heemskerk (1980) is a lawyer turned award-winning freelance journalist. She began investigating human trafficking, or modern-day slavery, as a lawyer and continues to do so as a journalist. She prefers to address this complex topic through personal stories. In 2016 Marijn won the Sex and Media Prize from the Nederlandse Wetenschappelijke Vereniging voor Seksuologie.

website

Platforms

Valerie, 18 years old.
Valerie, 18 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Valerie, 18 years old.
Valerie, 18 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Issaka, 17 years old.
Issaka, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Edyon, 18 years old.
Edyon, 18 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Ghislain, 17 years old.
Ghislain, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Ghislain, 17 years old.
Ghislain, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Kassoum, 17 years old.
Kassoum, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Laeticia, 17 years old.
Laeticia, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Laeticia, 17 years old.
Laeticia, 17 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Cedric, 15 years old.
Cedric, 15 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Cedric, 15 years old.
Cedric, 15 years old.
© Joana Choumali
Pop-up photo studio in the shelter centre where the photos of the children are taken.
Pop-up photo studio in the shelter centre where the photos of the children are taken.
Joanna Choumali at work at the improvised studio in Burkina Faso
Joanna Choumali at work at the improvised studio in Burkina Faso
BITTER Chocolate Stories at Beurs van Berlage, 2017.
BITTER Chocolate Stories at Beurs van Berlage, 2017.
© Marieke van der Velde
Valérie, one of the fifteen children from BITTER Chocolate Stories.
Valérie, one of the fifteen children from BITTER Chocolate Stories.
© Marieke van der Velde
Sarata, one of the fifteen children from BITTER Chocolate Stories.
Sarata, one of the fifteen children from BITTER Chocolate Stories.
© Marieke van der Velde
BITTER Chocolate Stories at Beurs van Berlage, 2017.
BITTER Chocolate Stories at Beurs van Berlage, 2017.
© Marieke van der Velde
BITTER Chocolate Stories at Beurs van Berlage, 2017.
BITTER Chocolate Stories at Beurs van Berlage, 2017.
© Marieke van der Velde
BITTER Chocolate Stories at Beurs van Berlage, 2017.
BITTER Chocolate Stories at Beurs van Berlage, 2017.
© Marieke van der Velde
Opening 'BITTER Chocolate Stories' on 12 October 2017.
Opening 'BITTER Chocolate Stories' on 12 October 2017.
© Marieke van der Velde
Photographer Joana Choumali and journalist Marijn Heemskerk receive the first copy of the photobook during the opening of the exhibition on 12 October 2017.
Photographer Joana Choumali and journalist Marijn Heemskerk receive the first copy of the photobook during the opening of the exhibition on 12 October 2017.
© Marieke van der Velde

BITTER Chocolate Stories

The exhibition will run from 13 October to 23 November 2017 in the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. The portraits and stories of the 15 children will be displayed in the middle of the Exhibition Hall. These will be accompanied by the slogans of major chocolate brands, providing a sharp contrast between the pleasure of chocolate consumption and the harsh reality of its production.

Around the edge of the hall, a timeline will take visitors through the history of cocoa and its development as a global commodity. The design of the exhibition is intended to reflect the complexities of the industry in the physical space: the children are literally ‘stuck in the middle’. At the same time, by exposing visitors to the world behind their chocolate bars, the exhibition aims to highlight how their consumption choices impact an industry and, in turn, the lives of countless children.

BITTER Chocolate Stories Photobook English - front cover
BITTER Chocolate Stories Photobook English - front cover
Design: Kummer & Herrman
BITTER Chocolate Stories Photobook English - back cover
BITTER Chocolate Stories Photobook English - back cover
Design: Kummer & Herrman
BITTER Chocolate Stories Photobook Dutch - front cover
BITTER Chocolate Stories Photobook Dutch - front cover
Design: Kummer & Herrman
BITTER Chocolate Stories Photobook Dutch - back cover
BITTER Chocolate Stories Photobook Dutch - back cover
Design: Kummer & Herrman
Spread Issaka: 'I was hoping to make some money, but that didn't happen. I earned nothing, even though I had to work really hard.'
Spread Issaka: 'I was hoping to make some money, but that didn't happen. I earned nothing, even though I had to work really hard.'
Design: Kummer & Herrman
Drone photo of the children at the shelter and training centre.
Drone photo of the children at the shelter and training centre.
Spread of Cedric: 'It's very important that you swing the machete away from your body. In the beginning, I couldn't do that very well and would chop my shin.'
Spread of Cedric: 'It's very important that you swing the machete away from your body. In the beginning, I couldn't do that very well and would chop my shin.'
Design: Kummer & Herrman

Photo book with interviews and background information

Bitter Chocolate Stories addresses the harsh realism of child labour in cocoa plantations in an unconventional manner. Children who worked on cocoa plantations were portrayed in a pop-up studio by one of the most talented African photographers, Joana Choumali from Ivory Coast.

Dutch freelance journalist Marijn Heemskerk made interviews with former child labourers and wrote background texts. Together with infographics, they provide insight into the history of the production of cocoa, the economic and social conditions for farmers in West Africa as well as the initiatives taken to fight child slavery and child labour practices in the industry.

The book also includes drone shots of the plantations as well as words taken from advertising for chocolate. Images taken from international media show that the issue has been in the news regularly. Yet, we proved not to be insensitive to the many calls that were made.

For every copy of Bitter Chocolate Stories sold, 5 euros will be donated to GRADE-FRB’s shelter in Burkina Faso, where the children featured in this book were photographed. Located near Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), GRADE-FRB serves as a rehabilitation and training centre for children who have been saved from forced labour situations. Order the book and contribute to stopping forced child labour on cocoa plantations.

Buy
  • Title: BITTER Chocolate Stories
    Author: Marijn Heemskerk
    Photos: Joana Choumali
    Design: Kummer & Herrman
    Production: Paradox & Tony’s Chocolonely
    Language: Dutch & English
    Price: €29,50

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  • Book: BITTER Chocolate Stories

    New Dawn Paper Read more »
  • Het bittere verhaal achter onze chocola tentoongesteld

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General Credits

Tony's Chocolonely, Kummer & Herrman

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