Most of us would never knowingly buy a product whose production involved child slavery and abuses against children including starvation, beatings, and sometimes even death, especially if that product was a luxury item. But sadly, anyone who purchases slave-farmed cocoa products (and this includes all of the widely available chocolate treats produced by Hershey, M&M/Mars, and Nestle - in other words, the vast majority of the chocolate consumed in this country) is doing exactly that.
Slavery has a long and tragic history in Africa (not to mention in the good old US of A), and unfortunately, slave conditions still exist in Africa, largely concentrated on West African cocoa farms. Those of us in the United States who purchase products that originated on these farms are complicit in enslaving children just as surely as plantation owners in the 1800's were. The fact that the connection is less visible to us due to complicated modern supply chains and crafty chocolate company advertising campaigns does not make it any less so.
In my mind, this issue is even more disturbing given the fact that chocolate is a non-necessity. I know, I know, it's hard to imagine a world without chocolate - but seriously folks, if you have to choose between a bag of M&Ms and preventing a child from being beaten to within an inch of his life for trying to escape a slave plantation, it seems like kind of a no-brainer to me!
Fortunately, there are slavery-free alternatives - lots of them! That's where fair trade comes in. To be fair trade certified, a company must not engage in forced and abusive child labor, they must pay cocoa farmers a price that is adequate to meet their basic human needs, and they must employ environmentally sustainable production methods.
It bears mentioning that there are undoubtedly some slavery-free chocolates available that are not fair trade certified. For various reasons that I will get into in a later post, some companies do not want, or are not able, to become fair trade certified, yet they do make serious commitments to ethics and sustainability. If you have the time to research individual companies to determine which ones seem reputable, great! But if you see the fair trade label, that gives you instant assurance with no research required that you're making a responsible choice.
To everyone who reads this post, I'm asking you today to make a promise to the enslaved children suffering in Africa right now - a promise that you will no longer contribute to their pain, and a promise that you will do what you can to lift them out of slavery. All you have to do commit to buying exclusively fair trade chocolate. It's that simple. You can even enter to win some free chocolate right here on this blog. :-)
If you feel motivated to do more than just that, awesome! Please consider spreading the word to your family and friends by hosting a fair trade chocolate tasting party at your home, church, school, or workplace. Enjoy delicious fair trade chocolates, cookies, brownies, cocoa, etc. while you show a film about modern day slavery. Educate, educate, educate...
The following links offer a lot more information, including ideas for taking further action, and lists of sources for fair trade chocolate.
Read all posts on this blog about chocolateThis is a topic that I feel passionately about, so I'll be following up in future posts with a lot more information about the chocolate industry, including information about specific companies, lists of some of my own personal favorite chocolates, and more. If you have any specific questions you'd like me to research, please feel free to comment below.
Read about some of my favorite sources for fair trade chocolates and find out where to buy
Fair Trade Cocoa Campaign through Global Exchange
Fair Trade & Slave Free Chocolate by Penny Schafer
Your Easter Chocolate Supports Slavery by Julie Clawson
Stop Chocolate Slavery
Chocolate Company Scorecard 2009
Focus on Chocolate, Part Two: Chocolate Scorecard
Focus on Chocolate, Part Three: What To Eat
Focus on Chocolate, Part Four: Party Time!