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.
BITTER Chocolate Stories
The exhibition BITTER at Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, running until 1 Septemeber 2019, shines a light on the cocoa industry from the perspective of Valerie, Mohamed, Catherine, Bassirou, Sarata and Issaka. They are just six of the more than 2 million children working on cocoa plantations in Ghana and Invory Coast today. Their personal experiences are paired with those of their parents, cocoa farmers, and people who strive to end child labor.
BITTER Chocolate Stories was launched in 2017 in the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. The portraits and stories of the 15 children were displayed in the middle of the Exhibition Hall. These were 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.
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
‘I don’t think a cocoa plantation is any place for a child’
BITTER Chocolate Stories tells the stories of 15 former child labourers in the cocoa industry27 September 2017
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? 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?Read more
BITTER wins ADCN Award19 April 2018
On April 17, BITTER Chocolate Stories won a bronze ADCN Award for best editorial design. Many congratulations to the designers Kummer & Herrman, our partner Tony’s Chocolonely and the entire team!Read more
BITTER at Tropenmuseum5 September 2018
On 20 September, BITTER Chocolate Stories will open at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Developed by Paradox in collaboration with photographer Joana Choumali, journalist Marijn Heemskerk and Tony’s Chocolonely, BITTER shows ‘the other side’ of the international chocolate industry. We associate chocolate with celebration, comfort, romance. But do we ever associate it with the farmers, and often...Read more
Paradox at Unseen11 September 2018
Now in its seventh edition, Unseen Amsterdam (20-23 September) showcases emerging talent and new developments in photography. With great joy Paradox once again participates in the Unseen Book Market, bringing you recent publications including Hans van der Meer’s Time to Change and Joana Choumali’s BITTER Chocolate Stories. If you’re interested in meeting the photographers and...Read more
BITTER Chocolate Stories at De Fundatie, Zwolle22 June 2021
In BITTER Chocolate Stories Dutch journalist Marijn Heemskerk and prize winning Ivorian photographer Joana Choumali interview and picture 15 children who have managed to escape forms of child labour on cocoa plantations in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. More than 2 million children there, continue to be the victims of the mechanisms of poverty as well as...Read more