April 6, 2011
I’ve been putting this post off for a long time. Truthfully, it’s a bit overwhelming. The subject matter is overwhelming, as is the amount of information that is available. So, instead of writing a dissertation (I know you’ll thank me), I decided to give you just the information that you need to make better purchasing choices.
It’s horrific. The whole thing. Chocolate is one of the dirtiest foods that we consume in terms of human cost.
Forty-three percent of the chocolate on the open market is touched by child slavery. Ivory Coast is known for its chocolate. It’s a heavy producer, and the cocoa beans are known for being very high quality. Sadly, many children are trafficked to Ivory Coast (often from Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo) and then kept as slaves picking and processing cocoa beans. According to Wikipedia, they are lured by promises of “paid work, housing and education”. I don’t want to inundate you with horrific stories just for the shock value. I’ll just mention a few key facts. Children (mostly aged 12-16) are forced to work up to 100 hour weeks. When they don’t work hard enough, they are beaten. To quote one child, “the beatings were a part of my life”. Children as young as 11 years old are forced to carry heavy bags of cocoa beans, often resulting in sores all over their shoulders. I’ve read several different sources that stated that there were more than 15,000 child slaves in Ivory Coast working in cocoa production. Another common statistic that I’ve read is that there are 200,000 child laborers in Ivory Coast.
According to Wikipedia, “the major chocolate producers such as Nestle buy cocoa at commodities exchanges where Ivorian cocoa is mixed with other cocoa.” When asked about slavery in their supply chain, they claim that they can’t control the cocoa beans that come into the commodities market. My heart pounds when I think about this. It makes me so angry- because it’s a cop out. The product that they’re selling is profitable, and they are choosing to look the other way. There was lip service given when many of the chocolate manufacturers signed the Harkin-Engel protocol in 2001, which aimed at ending the worst of the abuses. But, no substantive changes have come to date. Many deadlines have been missed. The industry, as a whole, doesn’t seem to be very serious about implementing the protocol. According to Media Freedom International as of October 2010, Hershey’s “still has no certification system in place whatsoever to ensure that its cocoa isn’t tainted by labor rights abuses”.
What you need to know is that it is possible to get chocolate that is cruelty-free.
The two categories of chocolate that are considered to be slavery-free are Fair Trade and Organic. According to chocolatework.com, chocolate companies who buy from Fair Trade collectives pay prices that bring a living wage to workers, plus money that goes back to the collective. Often, the monies that go back to collectives are used for education and/or healthcare. “Because organic farms are subject to an independent monitoring system that checks labor practices, organic chocolate is also considered slave free”.
This is an area where, as consumers, we can have an impact. First, we can stop supporting companies that aren’t serious about ending slavery in their supply chains. Then, we can choose to support companies that are serious about making ethical chocolate. Organic and Fair Trade chocolates are more expensive, to be sure. For our family, it’s worth it. We eat less chocolate. But, when we eat it, we can be sure that it’s cruelty-free. In the next few days, I’ll be telling you about two chocolate companies that I recommend.