Chocolate, a sweet treat consumed by millions of Americans each day whether they are happy, sad, or even in celebration of a special occasion. However, one never asks how the chocolate they are consuming, came to be the final product that it is. Behind the joy that this sweet treat brings us, is the forcible labor done by stolen and deceived children. The problem lies within the question of do consumers keep allowing children to be forced to harvest cocoa and receive harsh conditions for the sake of our personal chocolate gain, or does the consumer have a moral obligation. I take the stance that the consumer has a moral obligation to demand a change for the conditions these children are forced to work in and the mistreatment that follows. Throughout this essay I will examine this moral question to see how the two ethical theories, act utilitarianism and the categorical imperative would respond to the question presented while also discussing some alternatives to this practice.
To understand this issue one must first know the background on chocolate production and labor practices. The labor force who harvest and pick the cacao beans that gives us the sweet treat Americans enjoy, are young African boys typically between the ages of twelve and fourteen who are sent to the Ivory Coast. These young boys are acquired in one of two ways, the first being deception. The parents of these young boys are often living in extremely poor and impoverished conditions, so to make ends meet they send off their children to child traffickers who make them believe that their children will be doing honest work that will in turn generate revenue that will be sent back to them. However, once their children arrive in the Ivory Coast, the work they do is anything but honest. The second method in acquiring these young boys, is just simply stealing them from their families. Traffickers go into villages and outright take these boys from their seemingly poor situation just to put them in a situation that is even worse than the one that they believe they have just miles away from their homes (Robbins). In the scenario of traffickers deceiving, the parents of these children are being taken advantage of. The traffickers know that these families are already living an impoverished lifestyle and wish to find a way out, making them easy to manipulate and convince that by sending off their children to do “honest work” they are making the best possible decision for their family. In the scenario where the children are being stolen is outright cruel in my eyes, to take a child from their home is an action that I view in no way morally permissible.
Whichever way these young boys are acquired, they are sent miles away from their homes to the Ivory Coast where they are met with a life of long hours, dangerous work, and poor conditions. According to an investigative report done by the BBC these young boys are forced to do manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week, forced to work with machetes, paid nothing, barely fed, and beaten regularly (Robbins). Many will never see their families again and no matter how much they work they will never get the money promised to their families by traffickers. This is essentially slavery in the modern world. They share numerous similarities of African American slaves from the earlies of years in the sense that they are paid nothing to do extremely laborious work while also facing brutal treatment that their owners see as fit. To understand just how cruel these children were treated take into consideration the mentioning of a freed child laborer who asserted to a BBC reporter that if someone were to fall while carrying bags of cocoa beans they were beaten until they got up (Robbins). Clearly these children are forced to set their childhood and innocence aside to appease their masters who in turn appease the firms that purchase their cocoa and at the end of this vicious chain, the consumers. This abundance of cheap and basically free labor is what keeps prices of chocolate at a low price, but that cost is filled with the pain and suffering of young boys who ought to be pursuing an education and having a youth rather than harvesting cocoa that benefits them in no way.
It comes to a point where something must be done, children cannot simply be forced to suffer and endure a life of misery for the sheer happiness of consumers, therefore consumers have a moral obligation when it comes to the problem of chocolate production. This moral obligation can be explored through many philosophical lenses, but Act Utilitarianism is one worth taking note. Act utilitarianism judges the morality of an act based on the outcome of how many people are happy in the end and in turn is the best balance of good (Nall, slide 2) . Looking through the lens of this philosophical theory one would agree that child labor is morally unjust because its results in the happiness of consumers and firms, but it is worth taking note that the number of young boys who are basically enslaved to do this work far outnumbers the people who are the heads of these firms. To put things into perspective, about two million west African children make up the labor force used in the production of chocolate (O’Keefe). Therefore, while child labor being used to produce chocolate makes consumers and firms happy, act utilitarianism views this act as morally unjust because it isn’t a practice that produces the most happiness overall. For the act that would produce the most happiness would be a solution that includes not only the happiness of the consumers, but the happiness of the child laborers used in the production of chocolate as well. This in turn makes this act morally unjust through the eyes of an act utilitarianism and makes consumers morally obligated to act. One way for this to be done is for consumers to push firms to engage in fair trade instead of free trade and certify their products. Fair trade unlike free trade primarily benefits people in less industrialized countries instead of multinational corporations. Free trade makes businesses offer producers a generous amount of financing, fair prices for the goods that they are purchasing, and higher labor standards (Fair Trade Network). If consumers were to push companies to engage in fair trade, the laborers employed in the production of chocolate would receive better conditions as well as compensation for the work that they are doing. Demanding that a company also certify their products would allow for consumers to know that companies are paying a fair price from producers who promote positive working conditions as well as fair compensation to their laborers and their communities. This would be a way to appease the consumer knowing that these products are being produced in a fair way and would elevate the conditions in which the laborers are working in, therefore making a solution that produces the maximum amount of happiness and overall good.
Another lens one can look through when assessing if consumers are morally obligated to respond to this practice is the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative entails that an act is morally acceptable if it can be universalized and one would be willing to let everyone act take part in this act. To see if the act can be universalized it goes through a two-step process with the first being plausibility and the second being tolerability. Plausibility is essentially testing if the act could be widely accepted by society and tolerability tests whether a person would want to undergo the act that is being committed (Nall, slide 2). Child labor is the topic of discussion and is in blatant terms slavery, a practice that was abolished in the united states in the year 1865 and in many other countries across the globe in following years. The production of chocolate through child labor fails the plausibility test because people worked so hard to abolish slavery and the cruel treatment that follows, so it is unfathomable to even suggest that a country would be okay with bringing back a practice that brings so much misery to so many people. The production of chocolate through child labor also fails the second test of universalization involved in accepting an act according to the categorical imperative because no one would truly be willing to be the victim of forcible labor and mistreatment. Therefore, one who sees things through a categorical imperative lens would reject this idea because the act is not morally permissible and therefore goes against this ethical theory. A person looking through this ethical lens would feel morally obligated to act against this practice because the practice itself goes against what they view as morally permissible. Another way consumers can act is by boycotting chocolate products until things truly change. Boycotting has proven to be effective in the past because when companies are no longer receiving revenue generated by consumers they suffer financially and do what they can to satisfy their consumers so that they can go back to generating the revenue they once did.
Both act utilitarianism and the categorical imperative and two ethical theories that come with different ways of thinking, but both ethical theories come to the common conclusion that the production of chocolate through child labor is unjust and agree that consumers have a moral obligation to respond to these practices. I agree that consumers do have a moral obligation because although they are not harming these children directly, they are doing so indirectly by accepting the practice in place. Consumers are using their privilege to ignore or not be curious about what is going on behind the scenes and it is truly saddening. Consumers play a part in what is going on and they should feel morally obligated to act against this act because the conditions these children receive and the way in which they are treated is ethically and morally wrong, it is a modern day form of slavery that forces these young boys to give up the years in which they should be learning and figuring out who they are instead of being given a life of abuse.
Overall, if one is to think through the ethical lenses of act utilitarianism and the categorical imperative one would find that child labor used in the production of chocolate is morally unjust. Both ethical theories view consumers as morally obligated to respond to these practices and I agree with this conclusion as well that consumers should feel morally obligated as they could be the ones to play an instrumental role in changing the way that things are. To bring about change one must ask themselves the role they play in the the continuation of this practice and from there recognize that they are apart of the issue at hand.
Child Labor In Nineteenth Century
Throughout the nineteenth century, there were many changes occurring within Europe that ultimately led to a period that is referred to as the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization was a period of fundamental patterns of production, manufacturing, and work being transformed; changing the world from an agricultural world to one flourishing with manufacturing. Ultimately, there were 5 factors that promoted industrial growth. These 5 factors were coal, an engineering culture of constant, competitive innovation, financial innovations that made capital easily available, agricultural productivity, and state support (Grafton and Bell, 603 and 604). Without these factors, industrialization would not be as advanced as it is today. Industrialization affected different parts of Europe at many different times and rates. For example, the Ruhr region of Germany was filled with hundreds of mills and foundries producing textiles, while southern France remained heavily agricultural during these years (Grafton and Bell, 609). With this in mind, industrialization ultimately began in Great Britain due to the fact that its rich seams of coal were more easily exploitable. Financial innovation also originated from Great Britain because between 1836 and 1845, stock exchanges were founded in most major British provisional cities (Grafton and Bell, 604). France and Germany industrialized as well but at a slower rate than Great Britain did. Throughout France, the people conquered and transformed craft production so they could mass produce. Germany, a latecomer to industrialization, concentrated on heavy industry which led them to industrialization. With innovation, just like any other change, there also comes consequences. There were primarily three main types of consequences coming from industrialization and they were economic, social, and political consequences. Industrialization’s main consequences that were economic, social, and political were innovations that led to a prosperous economy, harsh working conditions of the factory workers and child labor, and the spread of political parties.
Industrialization throughout Europe made the country flourish due to its many inventions that made manufacturing faster and more efficient. Up until the Industrial Revolution, the major forms of energy people relied on were their own muscle power, the muscle power of animals, wind, and burning wood. When the revolution finally came about humans replaced their sources of energy with new power systems like power water and steam. One of the most known inventions, the invention that ultimately sparked the Industrial Revolution, was the steam engine. The steam engine, invented in 1698 by Thomas Newcomen, is what ultimately led to new means of transportation in today’s society. The steam engine made railroads and steamships possible, which resulted in faster and denser patterns of transportation and communication. For example, in 1840 some eighty steamships were being used full-time to bring Irish cattle and dairy products to England (Grafton and Bell, 607). Another invention that was important during the revolution was the steam loom created by Edmund Cartwright in 1785 England. The steam loom allowed for greater quantities of cloth to be made at a faster pace than how cloth was made previously. It also weaved the cloth more uniform. In Richard Guest, The Steam Loom Guest states, “The best hand Weavers seldom produce a piece of uniform evenness.” He also states, “In Steam Looms, the lathe gives a steady, certain blow, and when once regulated by the engineer, moves with the greatest precision from the beginning to the end of the piece.” The Industrial Revolution boosted the economy due to the production of materials increasing dramatically and has ultimately led to the important innovations and discoveries we have even to this day.
While the inventions throughout Europe were positive consequences of the Industrial Revolution, there were also negative consequences such as harsh working conditions for the factory workers and child labor. In Europe during this time, work itself became divorced from natural rhythms, with factories sometimes operating twenty-four hours a day to achieve greater efficiency (Grafton and Bell, 608). In The Sadler Committee, Elizabeth Bentley talks about her experience working in the factories. She said she began working at six years old where she worked from five in the morning until nine at night. She described how workers were “strapped” if they were too fatigued to keep up with the machinery; a strap was used to hurt workers excessively. In the article, she talks about how the factory was very dusty which affected her health. She stated, “Yes, it was so dusty, the dust got upon my lungs, and the work was so hard; I was a middling strong when I went there, but the work was so bad; I got so bad in health, that when I pulled the baskets down, I pulled my bones out of their places.” The working conditions of the factories were inhumane, especially for children. Child labor came about because factory owners claimed the children’s small fingers were necessary for more delicate work. But repeated investigations showed children working exhausting hours in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. This led to Parliament having to pass a series of Factory Acts, in 1819, that put strict limits on working hours for children (Grafton and Bell, 608). Nowadays, historians have justified child labor by realizing that child labor was normal and accepted in pre-industrial Europe. The main reason for industrialization was to keep children out of the workforce and give them an education. In the short run, child labor negatively affected children but in the long run, it positively affected them. Child labor and harsh working conditions were two major consequences of the industrialization that directly affected the people of Europe socially.
In the midst of the economic and social consequences of the Industrial Revolution, there were also political consequences such as the spread of political parties. Within this time period, party systems began to spread to Europe. The principal political factions that we can split the parties into were reactionary, radical, conservative, and liberal (Grafton and Bell, 623). Reactionaries and political radicals were on the extreme side of the spectrum. Reactionaries wanted to return to how the world use to be. For example, reactionaries wanted a full return to pre-Revolutionary social and political order. This was the complete opposite of political radicals. For example, political radicals hoped for expansion of suffrage to all adult males and social and economic reforms (Grafton and Bell, 624). On the less extreme side, the Industrial Revolution brought the political parties of liberalism and conservatism. Liberal politics were more concerned with individual rights such as the right to vote. They also campaigned for legal protections for freedom of speech and religion and promotion of free markets (Grafton and Bell, 623). On the other hand, conservatives stressed the need for tradition and social order. They warned that too rapid change, and too great an emphasis on individual desires and rights, could destroy the bonds that held nations together (Grafton and Bell, 624). Ultimately, these four political parties came about in Europe as a result of industrialization.
Within nineteenth-century Europe, the main consequences that came about because of industrialization were innovations that led to a prosperous economy, harsh working conditions of the factory workers and child labor, and the spread of political parties. Within these consequences, there were good consequences such as the spread of political parties and a flourishing economy because of faster and more efficient production. Alongside good consequences, there were also bad consequences such as child labor and harsh working conditions in the factories. Therefore, in conclusion, there were plenty of economic, social, and political consequences of industrialization that ultimately laid the starting grounds for how the world is today.
Child Labor In United States
For some, a picture is just a beautiful work of art, but for Lewis Hine, photography was a way to present a specific message to the world. At the point when Hine was educated with the process of how photography works, it was not yet fully establish. This being stated, photojournalism was additionally developing as a technique to convey information through images. With an end goal to better his photography abilities, Hine started to photo the people immigrating to Ellis Island, than advanced to producing image depicting child labor and the working people. He had exceptionally strong feelings towards social change and mirrored this in his work.
According to the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society, “His most sustained and influential body of work consists of over 5,000 photographs made between 1906 and 1918 for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) publicizing the prevalence and harshness of child labor in the United States.” Hine’s dazzling photographs motivated social change in America for the people working to support their families. Lewis Hines was born on September 26, 1874 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to Sarah Hayes Hine and Douglas Hull Hine. His mother was an educator while his father was a civil war veteran, meaning he was born into the working class. When he was 18 his father died forcing him to need to help in generating income for his family. “His first job was in a furniture upholstery factory; he worked 13 hours a day, 6 days a week and earned $4 per week” (The International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum).
After his first job, he continued to take on many other jobs to support his family for many years. Due to his first hand experience of the exploitation of young workers, Hine was determined to escape this horrible reality of life. Once he decided he was done putting up with it, he went to college expansion courses where he met the principal of the Oshkosh State Normal School, Frank Manny. With Manny’s consolation, Hine in the end turned into an instructor at the school. Then in 1901, Manny moved on to be the director of the Ethical Culture School that was located in New York and Hine came with. Hine was instantly named as the sociology teacher and was also requested to become the photographer for the school. This is where Hine learned that his passion was photography. He soon understood the power that photography needed to uncover truth and reality, which had a consistently enduring effect on him. He imagined photography’s potential as an instructive device.Hine’s enthusiasm for social reform and change drove him in to start his first documentary in 1905 highlighting the Ellis Island immigrants. In 1908 he stopped educating to wind up working for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) as a photographer and investigator.
While working with them, he traveled around the United States attempting to get insight on child labor. Hine would figure out how to go into the sweatshops and industrial facilities where kids were utilized, and after that, in the event that he could, take photographs of what they were working on. Hine persuaded his way into manufacturing plants by posing as many different things. If he gained access, Hine rapidly take as many pictures as he could without getting caught and was open to chatting with the kids in regards to their living conditions, the conditions under which they worked in, and their age. In the midst of hordes of on edge workers, Hine needed to find his subjects of his next photos and set the shot while having to deal with the possible language barriers present with the workers. He needed to set up his 5 x 7 view camera on its feeble tripod, center the camera, pull the slide, and do many other things before the image could be taken.
Once an exposure was taken, a second exposure was practically impossible; one shot was all he had so he had to make it just right. In the event that Hine was not granted permission to a factory, he would hold up outside the entryways and take pictures of the kids as they left and came to work. “Hine’s photographs and narratives told of the children’s physical and emotional abuse, their exposure to physical hazards and the dangers of the red-light district, including smoking, alcohol, and prostitution. He gave voice to the children forced into labor before many of them could even tie their shoelaces, recite the alphabet, or spell their own name. His work stirred the public conscience and undeniably contributed to the eventual passage of child labor laws…Hine once said, “There are two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected. I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.” That he captured the harsh conditions in which his subjects lived and worked was notable, but that he showed their beauty and resilience was remarkable, and his body of work turned the forgotten into the unforgettable” (Lockett). He thought that if individuals could see with their own eyes the misuse of young work, they would request laws to end those disasters.
In a considerable amount of photos that he took while working for the National Child Labor Committee, he used a sensational method of portrayal within them. The presence of Melodrama was not just there so he could highlight child labor and to tell a story through his workings but to also emotionally move whoever viewed his photos For him, the best photographs were the ones that stimulated sensitivity and sympathy towards his subject. Lewis Hine was not impacted by a solitary individual, but rather all Americans. He felt the need to achieve social change. Hine trusted that if individuals could see with their own eyes the misuse of kids at work, they would request laws to end those indecencies. He impacted America to assume responsibility and come up with improvements. He likewise impacted the enthusiasm for America to comprehend what was happening behind shut doors. Lewis Hine prompt the improvement of documentary style photography. Hine demonstrated to other artists that they could utilize their subjects and pictures to make a difference in the society.
Hine, from the earliest starting point, considered his photography as an instructive device as well as a work of art. For him, the craft of photography is to translate the regular world, that of poverty, work, family and much more. He didn’t choose to signify humble subjects; he didn’t signify magnificence or individual articulation. He chose to to imply the realities of how individuals lived. He wanted his photographs as raw as he could get them. As indicated by Hine, the craftsmanship and excellence of photography lay with the general population and recording reality of them. Pushing the limits of the prospect of the time, he positioned his subjects so they would be directly looking into the camera. One who saw the picture would have to look most of Hines subjects straight in the eye. This sort of encounter was brave, yet powerful. Hine set new benchmarks of thought, and numerous others started to see the energy of these pictures and started to take after his impact. Hine picked up acknowledgment and was soon appointed for other work. However, Hine did not gain full popularity until he was already dead. Many things have been said about his work including, “Hine never tried hard for a single effect; he was usually not pictorially dramatic and many of his photographs appeared flat – not shocking enough for his contemporaries. The people in the photographs communicate directly to us as if they were still alive. They spill out of their historic reality to become part of our present. We see them and think we are about to know them.” (Gutman). Apparently, “Hine once said, ‘There were two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected; I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated’. His records of child laborers were stark proof of what needed to be corrected and his following project sought to bring out the dignity in work. He spent all of 1930 documenting the construction of the Empire State Building, taking hundreds of photos of the workers and work conditions. In 1932 he compiled his records into an exhibition and a book titled Men at Work” (Aperture).
In my opinion his exceptionally strong feelings towards social change was mirrored this in his work. He used photography to present a specific message to the world. I love his photographs and the messages behind them. They are extremely powerful and motivating. I love how Hine was not impacted by a solitary individual, but rather all Americans. I applaud him not only for his photographs but for the risks he took to expose the corrupt companies using child labor. His photos represent a moment in time which I think is very special. Although it is bad it is part of american history so it needs to be accepted. It highlight s a time period in which our country was not in a good place. His work shows passion, dedication and hard work, so I was glad I had the opportunity to reach him for this project. His photographs have depth and purpose with is why I think I enjoyed them so much.