‘I don’t think a cocoa plantation is any place for a child.’
Valerie, 18 years old. From Burkina Faso.
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.
Stories of 15 children
Portraits and stories of 15 children 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.
Exhibition in the Beurs van Berlage
From 13 October – 22 November BITTER Chocolate Stories will be on show at the Beurs van Berlage (Amsterdam, NL). Visitors will experience the power of being surrounded by monumental portraits of the children that harvest the cocoa for the chocolate they love so much. They discover how are we seduced by advertising slogans to consume a product with a bitter truth: forced child labour in West Africa is still on the increase. Bitter Chocolate Stories will allow visitors to experience different sensations. From the simple pleasure of flying over West African cocoa plantations to the touching of real cocoa beans. From the harsh reality of children working on plantations to their dreams expressed in drawings.
Photo book with interviews and background information
Bitter Chocolate Stories addresses the harsh realism of child labour in cocoa plantations in an unconventional manner. Dutch freelance journalist Marijn Heemskerk made interviews with former child slaves 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 (not) taken to fight the worst of child labour practices in the industry. The book is available in Dutch and English for €29,50. For every book sold, €5 will be donated to the Tony’s Foundation, which supports projects in cocoa-growing communities in West Africa including the training centre in Burkina Faso.
Tony’s Chocolonely and Paradox
Tony’s Chocolonely and Paradox created 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.