Cartoon: Chocolate and Child Labor

Click on the cartoon to see a larger version…

I really don’t like the way the art came out in this one; the figures look stiff and overworked. Oh, well; the next one will be better. (I hope.)

This entry posted in Cartooning & comics, Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, International issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

32 Responses to Cartoon: Chocolate and Child Labor

  1. 1
    Dianne says:

    I don’t see the problem. The expressions are great, the dialogue pointed, and the issue important.

  2. 2
    Sailorman says:

    Nice cartoon.

    stupid me, though: I haven’t seen anti-chocolate press since the nestle baby formula debacle, I don’t think. What am I missing?

  3. 3
    Thene says:

    Sailorman – it’s at least in part a continuing trade barrier issue. Raw cocoa isn’t taxed at the border much, whereas prepared, packaged chocolate bars are…so guess what, the price of chocolate is rising while the price of cocoa is staying level: the manufacturers here in the rich world are failing to pass their profits down to the growers, and the growers can’t beat them by making the chocolate themselves then exporting it because of the tax barrier.

    Great cartoon, Amp, but it makes my head hurt, because the same logic applies to most everything I can afford to use.

    [EDIT: There’s a bit about chocolate and trade justice here.]

  4. 4
    Bjartmarr says:

    Something about this cartoon kind of bugged me.

    After thinking about it for a while, I think it’s that the cartoon seems to villify the woman (who just wants to eat her damn chocolate), and treats the child-enslaving, puppy-beating man as a blameless force-of-nature.

    I recently went shoe shopping. (For me, this happens about once every 18 to 24 months.) I spent several weeks, off and on, looking for shoes that 1) weren’t astoundingly ugly, 2) were solidly made, and 3) were not made in a third-world country. Oh, and they had to fit my budget, which was around $200 maximum. That should be plenty for a pair of shoes, right?

    After weeks of looking, I gave up and bought a $50 pair from China.

    The problem wasn’t that I was unwilling to pay middle-class adults to make the shoes. The problem was that there were no middle-class-adult-made shoes to be had.

    Okay, so maybe the other thing that bothers me is that I chose to help enslave children rather than go barefoot. Yeah, I ate the chocolate. But at least I feel guilty about it.

    EDIT: Oops…I last reloaded the page before Thene’s comment. I didn’t realize there was an actual issue with chocolate; I thought it was a metaphor.

  5. 5
    Les says:

    I didn’t eat chocolate for years for these reasons, but then, when I went to do more in depth research, I found conflicting information. I had read a statistic in a newspaper that 40% of chocolate is picked by slave labor, but the stat was unsourced, and I couldn’t find a source for it. Sharfenburger (not a disinterested party, but at least this is before hershey bought them) claimed the statistic was totally false.

    So if you’ve got a source on this, please share it. I’d also like to know what’s up with central american chocolate and labor practices.

  6. 6
    ferg says:

    I never liked chocolate.

  7. 7
    Ampersand says:

    Dianne and Sailorman, thanks. I’m glad you liked the cartoon.

    Les, I’m away from home right now. If I haven’t responded to you in a few days, remind me, and I’ll post some refs.

    Thene and Les: Personally, I still eat chocolate. I love chocolate. I think the real solution isn’t for individual consumers to stop eating chocolate, or to feel guilty; the real solution (hinted at in the inset to the last panel) is to organize to change the political institutions that are at fault.

    Bjartmarr, did you know I was an Obie? I’ve been wondering that every time I see your email address.

    That aside, I actually have a lot of sympathy for the tattooed person (who I thought of as male, but it’s fine to interpret the character as female too). I’m sorry you thought it was vilifying him/her; that wasn’t my intention. I was trying to get at the feeling of helplessness that even well-meaning Americans feel in the face of problems like child labor in chocolate production.

  8. 8
    Silenced is foo says:

    My wife recently brought home a $2 bar of central American fair-trade spiced dark chocolate.

    It was freaking awesome. Ethics never tasted so good. And really, chocolate is a rare enough treat for me that paying triple price is totally worth it.

  9. 9
    Bjartmarr says:

    Amp, yeah, I knew you were an Obie.

    The part that seemed villifying is in the last panel, where he seemed to imply that the whole slave-labor thing was okay, as long as he didn’t think about it. Now that I look closer, though, he does seem to be sort of hanging his head, as if to say, “I hate the injustice that has gone into making this candy bar, and I want to work towards stopping it…but is it okay that I still like chocolate?.” Which is, I guess, sort of how I feel about the subject.

    The tats are a nice detail. Is it just my imagination, or is the eye opening as the comic progresses?

  10. 10
    Stentor says:

    the real solution (hinted at in the inset to the last panel) is to organize to change the political institutions that are at fault.

    It’s interesting that you say this, because when I read the comic it sounded like you were belittling those kinds of actions as cop-outs. I think it’s because in all the main panels refusing to eat the chocolate is presented as the clear moral action, and because I’m used to tiny-lower-right-corner-thingies echoing the comic’s conclusion (thus creating an implied parallelism between “forget this conversation” and “write my senators,” especially since the chocolate-pusher seems quite happy with the situation).

    But my reading may be idiosyncratic, and as someone who’s no good at multi-panel cartoons I’m not going to tell you how to draw your stuff.

  11. 11
    MFB says:

    >60% cocoa, please!

    Also, I think the man looks harsh and unrelenting (sort of hard-line leftie) whereas the woman looks gentle and rather feeble (sort of liberal Democrat). Was that what you intended?

  12. 12
    Antigone says:

    Yeah, between “earing”, longish hair, and the hips (particularily with the contraposture stand) I read “woman” as well.

  13. 13
    Magniloquence says:

    I also thought that was a woman. I think it’s the posture in the second to last panel that does it for me. Of course, now that you said the character was intended to be male, I can see that too.

  14. 14
    Ampersand says:

    Also, I think the man looks harsh and unrelenting (sort of hard-line leftie) whereas the woman looks gentle and rather feeble (sort of liberal Democrat). Was that what you intended?

    Not at all, regarding the man in the suit. I was thinking of him as the smiling, happy face of evil corporatism. I never even considered the interpretation you’re suggesting here, although now that you mention it I can see it.

    The “woman” — who in my mind is a man — I was thinking of as kind of a squishy liberal.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    Huh. It never even occurred to me that people would think that guy was female. I did consciously make him a bit emo, though.

    Sentor, I don’t think the inset panel has to be amplifying the cartoon as a whole, but that’s certainly one way of using it. You can also use it to bring in a different point or perspective.

    That said, I really think this cartoon isn’t one that I fully agree with, because — as you say — it makes “refusing to eat the chocolate” into the high moral ground. What I was really trying to get out is the way that Americans find it easier to rely on our ignorance to keep ourselves from recognizing our moral responsibility towards the rest of the world. But although that was where I wanted to go with this cartoon, it’s not where I wound up.

  16. 16
    Acheman says:

    Amp, I’d suggest that the reason why your cartoon didn’t wind up where you wanted it to is that there’s a genuine conflict here between moral intuitions and what one might argue was morally necessary, and a genuine conundrum about the extent to which one can control one’s emotional reactions to things. The conflict comes because the way we learn morality allows it to be integrated with strong emotional reactions. You see someone getting hurt, and it upsets you, and you go and stop it from happening. And that feels like the right way for things to happen, because the morality we learned doesn’t require us to seperate emotion and ‘reason/thought’ at the level of immediate thought. It does, however, allow that thinking about a matter might modify our emotional response because we learn to see it differently – but not in a way that discounts the validity of emotional responses, rather in a way that allows that immediate responses might be based on a misapprehension of the situation at hand.

    But when you realise how the world, as it is, is, and realise that there is injustice going on every day and that it’s likely that every mouthful of food you eat was at the expense of the impoverishment and oppression of someone else – whether it was exploitatively-farmed overseas or local organic produce that skews the market towards parochialism so that an overseas farmer goes out of business – then this model breaks, because there isn’t anything straightforwardly illegitimate in responding with horror and grief to that apprehension that one’s entire environment, ones every action, is poisoned by grotesque suffering and injustice. It can easily come about that the only way to act is to ‘overcome’ that emotion, but not through rational means, because there are no rational means for dealing with it – just through suppressing it as counterproductive and not useful. This forces a split between thought and emotion which wasn’t originally present, and which may be experienced as fundamentally false.

    The conundrum is whether this is even possible, and how it’s possible. It isn’t that one can’t control ones emotions per se: at issue is the way one does it. If I’m angry with my friend, and I want to stop being angry, I’ll think about the ways in which the things he did were actually understandable, about the fact that his being as a person is larger than just a few actions, and about the fact that I care about him more than I’m angry. I direct my attention, that is, to other salient features of the situation. I don’t deny the legitimacy of the anger out-of-hand. We don’t expect people not to feel grief, although it might well be unproductive to feel it, because we see that there’s no way not to feel sad in certain situations. And I don’t think that there is an *easy* way to make guilt irrational and avoidable in the situation you’re describing.

    The problem, of course, is that this is the kind of hard problem that we really don’t want to be dealing with at a time when there’s an obvious need for real action. It seems like fussing around about ones own feelings rather than dealing with the real issue. I really honestly don’t know what the answer is. But I wonder how many people – I suspect it’s a great many – ignore this stuff, or get into Libertarianism so that they can justify their own position, or do any number of other avoidant things, because that’s the only way they can see not to be completely destroyed by certain kinds of knowledge. A lot of white people probably dismiss racism because they don’t know how they’d cope with the thought that everything that’s good about their life – their security, their self-worth, their social standing – was at least partly bought at someone else’s expense. Writing to your senator just doesn’t seem like a proportionate response under those kinds of conditions.

  17. 17
    RonF says:

    The problem wasn’t that I was unwilling to pay middle-class adults to make the shoes. The problem was that there were no middle-class-adult-made shoes to be had.

    For 5 years I was in charge of our Council’s Klondike Camporee. It’s held every year on the weekend of the week that bridges January and February (just before the biggest holiday of the American year, Super Bowl Sunday). With any luck there’s at least 6 inches/15 cm of snow on the ground, and the temperatures are a few degrees below freezing. The kids spend all day outside, dragging gear around on a dogsled they’ve made and getting tested by having to demonstrate various kinds of Scouting/outdoor skills. After lunch (the only time they are in a building all day, and it’s not heated much) they drag those sleds on a 1.5 mile (~2.2 Km) race. The temperatures are generally below freezing all day, and a lot of them camp out in tents and sleeping bags the night before.

    These are a bunch of Chicago suburban kids. They’re not used to being outside in the cold for that long. They don’t realize that this kind of thing is actually more dehydrating than if they were doing this in June (that’s summer here for you Kiwis). So one thing we make sure we do is to get a bunch of fluids into them, and because of the temperature and the fact we’re dealing with kids, we use hot cocoa.

    About my 3rd year, I was horrified when I came to realize that the odds were about 50:50 that the beans ground to make that cocoa were picked by slave labor. I didn’t know what to do! I was going through about 50 lbs/25 Kg of cocoa mix on the weekend. It’s imperative to get fluids and lots of them into the Scouts; kids who don’t pound fluids end up hypothermic for various reasons. That’s not hypothetical. We saw it a lot the first year, so I had the kitchen mix up literally 30 gallons/120 liters of hot cocoa to start the day, distributing it in insulated containers thoughout the camp, and keeping them filled all day. That put almost a complete stop to it.

    I couldn’t come up with a substitute for a hot fluid that the kids would drink, so we kept on using cocoa. But I didn’t like it.

  18. 18
    outlier says:

    I rather like this cartoon. I thought they were both male, tho I had to look twice at the tattooed character to make sure. For me, it’s the jawline that reads female.

    I also particularly like the postures in the center bottom panel.

  19. 19
    Katie says:

    What’s the fixation with determining the right-hand character’s sex? Or how she/he “reads?”

    It seems excessive. Anyone else feeling that?

  20. 20
    Mandolin says:

    Well, if the character is read as female and feminine,there are certain possibly negative ways to interpret those traits as mapping onto a character who chooses to eat chocolate in ignorance, and who finds international politics overwhelming.

    (I read the character as male, but I was chatting with Barry when he was coming up with the cartoon. I think he may have asked me whether I thought he should use a male or female figure.)

  21. 21
    Sailorman says:

    The character looks fairly feminine to me. Which is to say, i though em was a she, but if em’s a he then he’s an incredibly manly and sexy man (who doesn’t beat his wife.) ;)

  22. 22
    Kevin Moore says:

    You are too hard on yourself. This cartoon looks great! And it’s one of my favorites.

    Oh, and: I read the character as female, but did not read any implications of her gender to the issues the cartoon addresses. That may be because I am used to reading Barry’s cartoons, where men and women appear in various gender (and gender bending) attributes.

    That said, the corporatist guy is consistent Barry’s past portrayals of evil white guys in business suits – thus betraying his bigotry against rich white businessmen. Don’t be a hata, Barry.

  23. 23
    Tapetum says:

    I definitely read the tatooed person as male.

    Good cartoon, and I didn’t find the figures stiff at all, though I’m far from an expert on the subject.

  24. 24
    Adrian says:

    RonF, it is possible to get FairTrade cocoa and chocolate from Green & Black’s, and probably from other suppliers. It’s most expensive than buying from other sources, and that may put it outside your price range. But there are more choices to consider than “chocolate picked by slave labor” and “no chocolate.”

    Other hot beverages kids like are hot cider and hot lemonade. Some local kids I know also like herbal teas…peppermint, or what Celestial Seasonings calls “dessert teas.” It might be a gamble with kids in your area, though.

  25. 25
    JenLovesPonies says:

    I agree with some of the other posters that this really could apply to most things I purchase; in fact, it is my belief that unless you can personally vouch for something either as the people who makes it or as the friend of someone who makes it, it is nearly impossible to know the conditions under which most of the things in our homes are made.

    I recently purchased a craft kit from a woman in Texas who likes to stress her company as an independent, USA and therefore local company. I paid the large shipping fee to help support her local, independent company. THe package came in the mail, and the parts were made in India, Sri Lanka, Spain, and at least one other place. I assume she was honest about these; some of the stuff was repackaged with her label.

    Personally, I work at a place that makes our money in part from chocolate- the slave labor, dirt-cheap kind as well as the more expensive varieties, though, so I probably can’t have my opinion trusted. That said, if we raised our prices on these things, people would refuse to shop at my store, and some of our 200 employees would be fired… and the extra money probably still wouldn’t benefit the slave labor.

  26. 26
    Dave says:

    I was shocked to find out that a lot of chocolate was made from cocoa picked by slave labor. I don’t eat much of it myself, but I hope it won’t be a mortal sin to eat a few chocolate chip cookies. I must also confess to being addicted to Oreos, but the chocolate in them is probably fake. I don’t know how morally upright one is supposed to be in these things. Also the issues here are considerably more complex than presented. See

    I was surprised that the crops are for the most part grown by small land owners. This sounds good. Land is in the hands of local farmers, not big plantation owners. But this very fact makes monitoring what’s going on difficult. The problem gets confusing.

    Apparently there were instances in the Nineties when children from Mali were hired under false pretenses and transported to serve as slaves by some of these farmers. They worked along side of the farmers own children so it was hard to find out how common this was. So now the complaint shifts. The children should have been in school. They should not have been handling pesticides and dangerous machetes.

    Well in the rural US in the past children helped apply pesticides and plant and harvest the crops along with hired hands. What were the moral overtones of eating those crops?

    The main problem now seems to be that there is ethnic strife, war and corruption so even people who did own the land have been denied their livelihood. Things familiar to Africa, tribalism, kleptocracy, the theft of natural resources such as diamonds, oil and now cocoa are happening. Would be local dictators engage in wars finances by stolen resources and commit, atrocities. So if you are going to quit eating chocolate you should also stop using gasoline and buying jewelry. There are also organizations like the one whose website I visited that pressure companies to not deal with those who are guilty of violations of human rights. They certify that the product is produced fairly. That seems the best way to go but I don’t know if this is really effective.

  27. That’s funny!

    In part, this (and perhaps the thread even more) plays directly into a constant theme of mine ( touched on here tho I don’t mean to try and compare to your original work here, my linked comic is a photoshop remix/cutNpaste job made of old stock comic images) in that any single contribution to the system, really, can be seen as helping to perpetuate it. So what to do if so much of what the system is doing is harmful to many? It’s a real dilemma to me at too many moments. I don’t want to help harmful things happen to people. I mean, you know, unless they are cutting me off in traffic or talking too loud on their cell phone.

    I like the comic. I also understand your own comments on it throughout this thread, and some other comments, if I try. I think it is brave to regularly post work like this and open the floor to all critique. I find feedback on my work very helpful at times. In the wrong instances it can be terribly distracting or a hindrance. Either way, I admire that you do it so easily.

  28. 28
    Taylor says:

    America’s economy is Capitalism at it’s finest. Why pass the benefits down, when you can pocket them for yourself?

    Capitalism isn’t a fair system, it’s a system allowing the most wealth to be made in the shortest amount of time. Machiavelli would’ve *loved* Adam Smith’s ideas, because unlike Smith, he would’ve seen how it plays out on a personal level.

    Machiavellian Capitalism: Saying “Fuck You, I’m Keeping the Money” to the world since 1776

  29. 29
    donna darko says:

    The character looks fairly feminine to me. Which is to say, i though em was a she, but if em’s a he then he’s an incredibly manly and sexy man (who doesn’t beat his wife.) ;)

    Now we know there are lawyers with zero reading comprehension skills.

  30. Pingback: …here’s a whosit » Blog Archive » The not-so-sweet side of chocolate

  31. 30
    Silenced is foo says:

    Larger version link is broken.

  32. 31
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks for the heads-up; link is now fixed.