Yesterday I wrote a ridiculous post about deciding on a new place to buy my coffee . . . a place where the prices were really low because the store relied on children to work for little money. My intention was to point out how selfish it sounds for someone to willingly turn a blind eye to social injustices just because we want to pay less for something we like, and how shallow our justifications sound. I used coffee as an example because it’s one of those indulgences that people claim they can’t live without. But it’s another indulgence that I want to talk about as Halloween approaches. It’s chocolate.
The picture below is a photo of a young child gathering pods to harvest cocoa beans. There are hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa who do this work. And they are working for most of the mainstream chocolate providers in the USA. A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other African countries estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions. Many of them have been taken from their families, or sold as servants. U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't own them. This includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the US division of Cadbury . . . who collectively represent pretty much every snack-size candy bar that will be available in stores this Halloween.
The connection between most major candy bar manufacturers and child slavery is one of the world’s best kept secrets. It has been going on for years, but I only learned about it last year. The US government is currently being sued by the International Labor Rights Fund for failing to enforce laws prohibiting the import of products made with child labor, and the chocolate industry has blown by numerous deadlines set by Congress for regulating. A few major chocolate companies have done a great job in the last year with some smoke-and-mirror campaigns . . . either offering an obscure fair-trade chocolate bar or making a show of giving to charities that support farmers. But these actions do not change the fact that they don’t want to be accountable for human rights abuses of children.
But honestly, what concerns me even more is that we, as consumers, are not demanding that this be stopped. People continue to buy chocolate even after learning about these human rights abuses. I’ve heard excuses from people in my own life that sound pretty similar to the ones I made in the coffee post. We rationalize that we can’t afford fair-trade. We joke about how addicted we are. We justify that we can’t change everything. And I think secretly, we don’t relate because these are kids in a far-off country, and not our own. It’s okay as long as we don’t have to see it happening right in front of us.
Well, I’m here to ruin it for you. Now you know. We can’t keep looking away. If we choose willful ignorance on this one, then we are no better than the caricature I painted yesterday. I’ve embedded a BBC documentary about this issue below. Even the first ten-minute segment is eye-opening, but the whole thing will wreck you . . . and you will be better for it. Bookmark this and watch it later. Watch it with your kids. Jafta saw this last year and despite his love of chocolate, he is the most fervent fair trade advocate I know after seeing this. Share it with your friends. Blog about it. We’re breaking up with commercial chocolate, or buying fair trade. I hope you will, too.
*Linn at PeaceLiving has a great post about finding affordable Halloween alternatives.