Opinion | I don’t care about the de-sexification of M&Ms, let’s talk about child labor

By Livia LaMarca, For The Pitt News

The green M&M has lost the one thing that made her sexy to every person around the world — her high-heeled boots.

Demoted to a lower pair of heels, the brown M&M gets to at least keep her fashionable glasses while her green counterpart has been downgraded to wear arguably the most hideous looking shoes of them all — sneakers. How could Mars, the company behind this decision, desecrate such an enticingly good-looking candy? My week, if not my entire life, has now been ruined because of this world-shattering news.

Even in my attempts to make jokes about the situation, the whole ordeal remains simply strange. Mars made a move to remove the stereotypical femininity of these two M&M candies as a way to promote inclusivity and embrace “self-expression.”

While Mars seems to be happy with this change, Twitter and media outlets across the country have been wildly debating this fresh topic. Even though Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson seems to be heavily distraught that no longer wants to “have a drink with any one of them,” there are tons of people across the internet who are poking fun at this outlandish marketing move.

In this new frontier of brands and businesses trying to be as woke as possible, Mars is not the first company to do something odd with their marketing strategies, nor will they be the last. But in all of this nonsense about the de-sexification of the green and brown M&Ms, we are completely ignoring that a federal lawsuit stated Mars and other major chocolate companies are profiting from the worst forms of child labor in order to source their cocoa. Instead of focusing on the newly “androgynous” candy caricatures, can we please turn our attention to a lawsuit that alleges a blatant violation of human rights.

Now, if you didn’t know, and I hate to break it to you, a good majority of the chocolate we eat is probably sourced by unethical labor. Around two-thirds of the cocoa the three major candy companies — Mars, Hershey and Nestle — receive comes from west Africa. Child labor is most likely at the center of the candy we all know and love.

The Ivory Coast, where most of these farms are located, is home to the estimated 2 million children who have to complete the dangerous farming of our beloved cocoa beans. Cocoa farming is an incredibly labor intensive industry where children and exploited trafficking victims, sometimes as young as 10 or 11 years old, have to use machetes to cut down the cocoa beans, spray dangerous pesticides and carry 100 plus pounds of cocoa beans day in and day out. Along with the dangerous job requirements, the young workers are kept in vile conditions with little access to food, water and education, where they are paid only cents a day for their tedious labor.

These major companies made a vow back in the early 2000s to stop participating in unethical labor practices by 2005. With pressure from Congress, top companies were supposed to eliminate, and lead the fight against, the use of child labor in the cocoa industry. Unfortunately, little progress was made and none of the companies fulfilled their agreements.

As of 2019, Mars can trace about 24% of its supply back to farms suspected of child labor, which is the less than the other two major chocolate brands. Hershey can trace less than half while Nestle can trace a whopping 49% back to these same farms.

When you actually take a look at the world, you’ll find how frightening reality truly is. It’s not always a bad thing to highlight the trivial or less important news to break up a more somber news cycle every now and again. I love when channels share segments of good news, and I even enjoy reading the nonsensical banter of online debates such as this one. Yet, when human lives are risked and companies are not held accountable for their actions, even if the Supreme Court ruled they aren’t liable, it’s time to switch our focus and change the narrative to a more serious one.

It would be a disservice to every child who is suffering on the cocoa farms to not start a serious conversation about this tragedy. The public should be outraged that little children who were trafficked into the system with no escape are likely harvesting our beloved chocolate.

Instead of focusing our attention on the female M&Ms who just wanted a more comfortable pair of shoes, let’s focus on the children who are being mistreated so that we can fully enjoy chocolate without the fear that someone was mistreated to produce it.

Livia LaMarca mostly writes about American politics and pop culture. Write to her at [email protected].