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Follow your labels: Feeding chocolate lovers at low, or no, wage

Solo was virtually a slave on a cocoa farm that supplies US chocolate producers.

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An Ivorian farmer tends his cacao seedlings. More than 50 percent of cocoa used in American chocolate comes from Ivory Coast. This story is part of the cover story project on the global food and clothing chain in The Christian Science MonitorWeekly issue of July 22, 2013.

Kelsey Timmerman

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I freed a slave in Ivory Coast. Well, at least I thought he was a slave. The line between exploitation and opportunity blurs in extreme circumstances. He may have just been a guy who was having second thoughts about working for a year on a cocoa farm for $300.

Solo was alone. He had followed false promises from Ghana to work on a cocoa farm in Ivory Coast, the West African nation that, according to the US Department of Agriculture, supplies 52 percent of the cocoa in American chocolate products.

His bare, cinder-block room on the farm wasn't really his. He owned nothing himself. It was his "master's" room. He ate his "master's" food once a day. Each time Solo said "master," a shiver shot down my spine.

Solo was possessed by another human being. He was property, used to tend the cacao trees, harvest the pods, and split them open with a machete.

Solo, age 20, had worked on his master's small farm for four months when I met him, but he hadn't been paid. He had asked to leave and hadn't been allowed to. The dense forest that surrounds the remote village was a virtual prison from which he couldn't afford transport to leave. Even if he could have, he didn't have a passport. He had come here from another cocoa farm in Ivory Coast. He'd been lured to that first farm by a woman who arrived in his village in the neighboring nation of Ghana and promised him an opportunity to make $300 for a year's worth of work.

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