There is a 2013 Update for the article HERE. Please visit the Chocolate and Child Slavery 2013 Update, which contains all the same information below plus any new developments since this was originally written.
As a devoted chocolate lover, I was horrified to discover that many of my favorite seasonal treats – treats that bring so much joy to children here in the US – are produced using cruel, abusive child labor. The bigger the brand, the more likely it is to contain chocolate harvested with the sweat and tears of child slaves / child slavery.
Boycott Hershey’s, Mars, Reese’s, and (in the US) Cadbury this year, and instead choose from one of the many brands devoted to ending this horrifying practice (see the list at the end of this post).
I was disgusted to discover that according to an investigative report by the BBC, hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents, or outright stolen, and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work once they arrive in Ivory Coast and then send some of their earnings home. But that’s not the reality. The terrible reality is that these children, 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are barely fed, are beaten regularly, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.
Over a decade ago, two Congressmen, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, attempted to remedy this issue. They introduced legislation mandating a labeling system for chocolate. After the deep pockets of the chocolate corporations protested, a compromise was reached that required chocolate companies to voluntarily certify they had stopped the practice of child labor. The certification process would not involve labeling products “child-labor-free,” as initially proposed. In my opinion, the movement lost its teeth at that point.
Instead of the “Child Labor Free” label, it called for public reporting by African governments, establishment of an audit system and poverty remediation by 2005. The deadline had to be extended to 2008 (read Fortune Magazine’s report on the state of the protocol in 2008) and again to 2010. Today, many aid groups say some of the provisions have still not been met, and it is the biggest corporations who refuse to comply.
Why should they? Child slavery allows them to sell cheap chocolate to a clueless US American public. Heaven knows I was a sucker for Reece’s Pumpkins and Easter Eggs before I found out about this epidemic of slavery – not to mention a cookies and cream bar once in a while (this was also before I quit dairy). The CEOs of these corporations make millions upon millions of dollars off of children suffering and dying. And so many people are completely unaware the problem even exists.
So the next time you reach for a candy bar, when you go to buy candy to hand out to trick or treaters or to stock your holiday candy dishes or include in your cookies, consider the price thousands of children are paying to bring you that chocolate.
Am I telling you to swear off chocolate? Absolutely NOT! Thank heavens! All you have to do is be aware that your dollars have a voice, and your support of various brands sends a message. Make that message a positive one, and buy chocolate from an ethical source. There is a whole list of chocolate companies who use ethically sourced chocolate below, or you can simply look for Fair Trade or Equal Exchange on the label.
Not a fan of chocolate slavery, child slavery, corporate douche-baggery, and what-have-you? Here’s what you can do (some of these are excerpted from Is There Child Slavery in Your Chocolate?):
* Purchase chocolate products from companies who only use cocoa that has definitively not been produced with slave labor. These companies include:
Chocolove Dark Chocolate bar
Chocolove Cherries and Almonds Dark Chocolate Bar
Chocolove Crystallized Ginger Dark Chocolate Bar
Chocolove Orange Peel Dark Chocolate Bar
Chocolove Raspberry Dark Chocolate bar
Dagoba Organic Chocolate
Denman Island Chocolate
Green and Black’s
John & Kira’s
Kailua Candy Company
L.A. Burdick Chocolates
Newman’s Own Organics
Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company
Rapunzel Pure Organics
Sweet Earth Chocolates
The Endangered Species Chocolate Company
Sure, some of these brands can be a little more expensive than chocolate provided by slaves (not exactly a shocker there), but the extra few cents is worth it every single time. If I can’t find ethical chocolate, I will just not have chocolate. It’s not worth the price otherwise. And if you order in bulk, you can save a lot. We recently ordered a TON of Equal Exchange chocolate miniatures for Halloween that even come with little cards about the benefits of ethical chocolate, and we’re encouraging everyone we know to hand out cruelty free candy this year.
A few weeks ago when MacGyver gave a lecture about Ethical Eating, during which I also spoke, one of the topics he covered was the chocolate slave trade. A week later a friend of ours who had been at the lecture walked up to me and said, “I hate you. I was going to grab a chocolate bar in the checkout line this week, and I remembered those poor kids and I just couldn’t do it.” I think I’m totally ok with her hating me for that!
* In addition or alternative to ethical chocolate, consider purchasing something from this cruelty free candy list:
Brach’s Cinnamon Hard Candy
Brach’s Hi-C Fruit Slices
Brach’s Hi-C Orange Slices
Brach’s Root Beer Barrels
Brach’s Star Brites
Hubba Bubba bubblegum
Jolly Ranchers (lollipops and hard candy)
Laffy Taffy (some varieties)
Mary Janes (regular and peanut butter kisses)
Mike and Ike
Smarties (U.S. Brand)
Sour Patch Kids
* Hershey has asked the public to give feedback on their corporate responsibility via an online survey. Let them know what you think. They’re asking for it. Urge them to work toward Fair Trade certification of their chocolate products. Tell them there’s nothing sweet about manufacturing 80 million Hershey Kisses a day, using cocoa is often produced using abusive child labor.
* Get a free DVD copy of the film The Dark Side of Chocolate, along with information about Fair Trade, from the dedicated people at Green America. Watch it, show it to your friends, and spread the word.
* Tweet about this article, pin it, and post it to your facebook page. Tell your friends to read this article and 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 for its actions.
* EDUCATE YOURSELF AND OTHERS. Here are some excellent resources to read and share on the topic of chocolate and child slavery:
Is There Child Slavery in Your Chocolate?
The Bitter Truth About Chocolate
The Human Cost of Chocolate
Equal Exchange Farmers - the way it should be done
Tulane University Assessment of Child Labour in the Cocoa Supply Chain
The Dark Side of Chocolate – Spread the Word, Host a Screening with this Free DVD and Kit!