Monday, April 11, 2011

Was your chocolate produced by a child slave?

Last February I wrote about how shocked I was to discover that much of the world's chocolate is farmed by child slave labor. I vowed to start buying free trade chocolate, and I've been faithful to that commitment as much as possible. However, I have not forbidden my kids from eating Halloween or Easter candy, as much as it pains me to think about its origin. I hope that someday I will not have to be faced with taking chocolate out of my kids' hands because I fear for how it was produced.

The Ivory Coast provides 43 percent of the world's supply of cocoa beans. According to a BBC investigative report, hundreds of thousands of children are purchased or stolen from their parents, and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. These children typically come from poor countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo. The children (usually 11 to 16 years old but sometimes younger) are forced to work 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are barely fed, are beaten regularly, and are viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most never see their families again.

Last weekend Kieran and I saw a documentary about the continuing abuse of children in the chocolate business, called "The Dark Side of Chocolate." Various organizations, Equal Exchange, and one of my favorite local stores, Topanien, sponsored the showing of this film at the Multnomah Arts Center. (We took the opportunity to buy some delicious free trade chocolate, of course!) After hearing rumors about trafficked children in connection with chocolate production, danish journalist Miki Mistrati decided to go undercover to investigate. He traveled to African countries such as Mali and the Ivory Coast (the world's biggest producer of chocolate) and filmed with a secret camera. He found children as young as 7 working on chocolate plantations. These children were either trafficked or never paid for their work. They are modern-day slaves, all for the rich world's voracious appetite for chocolate.

Chocolate companies are well aware of the abuses going on. In 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to set up a labeling system so consumers could be assured no slave labor was used to produce chocolate. The American chocolate industry mounted an intense lobbying effort to fight off legislation that would require “slave free” labels for their products. However, because of this pressure, that year the major chocolate companies signed an international protocol agreement, committing to put an end to child labor in chocolate production by July 2005. Here it is, seven years after their deadline, and they have not met the key promises of the protocol.

Fair trade organizations and activists are targeting the largest chocolate producers to make the most impact: for example, the "Raise the Bar" campaign against Hershey. Hershey purchases chocolate from countries and chocolate foundations that practice forced labor, human trafficking, and child slavery. This enables Hershey to keep its costs down and its profits up. In 2010, Hershey saw its profits increase by 54 percent because of "improved supply-chain efficiencies." Meanwhile, Hershey's CEO, David J. West, makes $8 million a year while child slaves produce the company's cocoa. Some chocolate companies have taken steps to reduce or eliminate child labor and slavery, but Hershey has done almost nothing. Although smaller chocolate companies in the U.S. purchase only Fair Trade-certified cocoa, Hershey claims that this is not possible for a company of its size.


Then there's the case of Nestle, famous for flagrantly promoting baby formula in developing countries (and boycotted for years). (Babies on formula in poor countries are much more likely to become sick and die than those who are breastfed.) Nestle has a "fair trade" KitKat, for which it is has garnered lots of publicity. The fact is that only 1 percent of Nestle's chocolate is fairly traded. (Hershey issued a "Corporate Social Responsibility Report," but it was just another example of a highly funded PR effort.) These techniques are just another form of greenwashing.

If Cadbury Dairy Milk in the UK can commit to make its chocolate Fair Trade certified, why can't Hershey and Nestle do it? (No surprise that the British are ahead of the Americans on this issue!) Ben & Jerry's agreed to achieve Fair Trade certification for all its cocoa by 2013. Even Kraft Foods and Mars, Inc., hardly icons of social responsibility, have begun to purchase cocoa certified by the Rainforest Alliance to be free from the use of forced labor, child labor, or discrimination.

Here are some simple steps you can do to help end the use of child slavery and labor in producing chocolate:
  • Buy chocolate from companies who only use cocoa that has not been produced with slave labor, such as Clif Bar, Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Denman Island Chocolate, Divine Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Gardners Candies, Green and Black's, John & Kira's, Kailua Candy Company, Koppers Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Montezuma's Chocolates, NewLeaf Chocolates, Newman's Own Organics, Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, Rapunzel Pure Organics, Shaman Chocolates, Sweet Earth Chocolates, Taza Chocolate, The Endangered Species Chocolate Company, and Theo Chocolate.
  • Give Hershey feedback on its lack of corporate responsibility by reading the report and taking an online survey. Urge Hershey to work toward Fair Trade certification of its chocolate products. Remind the company that there's nothing sweet about manufacturing 80 million Hershey Kisses a day using cocoa that may have been produced with abusive child labor.
  • Get a free DVD copy of the film The Dark Side of Chocolate, along with information about Fair Trade, and host a screening. Watch it, show it to your friends, and spread the word.
  • Share this information with your friends via e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook. Tell your friends to take the Hershey online survey. The more people who do, the greater the chance Hershey will realize that the time has arrived for it to take responsibility and change its practices.
Help spread the word to end child slavery and labor for the purpose of supplying the developed world with cheap chocolate. Fair trade chocolate does cost more, but it tastes so much better! And it won't leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth when you know you are supporting fair trade and justice.

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