Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas will be a little less sweet this year...

I meant to blog about this before Halloween.  But, you know, I have three kids. That's my excuse anyway.

I'm a Chocoholic. I mean really. I've been known to pour a handful of chocolate chips into my hand as a snack. Um, or several handfuls. If we have chocolate candy in the house it does not last long. I just love chocolate. And my oldest is the same way. We have bona-fide sweet tooths (teeth?). Let's be honest: I used M&Ms to bribe encourage my children during potty training.

But last year I learned something about chocolate: most of it is produced by slaves. CHILD slaves.  The major chocolate companies in my country (Mars, Hershey, Kraft, Nestle, to name just a few) are getting their cocoa beans from farms on the Ivory Coast and West Africa where children (children!) have to work in terrible conditions for no pay. Some have been trafficked there to work on the farms. They do not get to go to school. They live in poverty. They have bodies that are developmentally in disarray from all the hard labor they've had to do while still growing.

All that so I can have my chocolate fix. Somehow, that brings an awfully bitter taste to my beloved Kit-Kats.

Here's why I'm mad: The chocolate companies know about this. After stories about child slave-labor on cocoa plantations came out in 2000, here's what happened:

"Shortly thereafter, in 2001, Congress passed H.Amdt. 142 to P.L. 107-76, FY2002 Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Appropriations, which would have provided $250,000 to the Food and Drug Administration, to be used to develop a label for chocolate products indicating that no child slave labor had been used in the growing and harvesting of cocoa in a product so labeled.  A Senate companion bill was never introduced, in part because after House passage of the bill, representatives of the cocoa industry, the International Labor Organization (ILO), several private labor rights groups, and Members of Congress, negotiated “a comprehensive, six-point problem-solving” protocol aimed at ending the “use of abusive child labor in cocoa growing.”"
(from CRS Report for Congress, July 13, 2005).

In normal person language, that means our government was going to develop a label (and a law) so that chocolate companies could let us know, clearly, that they were not using child slave labor to make their products.  Instead of agreeing and taking immediate action to stop child slavery, the chocolate companies lobbied hard. They made sure no such law was passed and came up with a voluntary agreement that they signed saying, "oh we'll work on solving the problems and try to fix it." It's been almost 11 years. And very little has changed. The date that the companies agreed to stop using "child labor" (which is really child slavery but they conveniently use different wording), keeps getting pushed back. They say it's just too hard to reach all those cocoa plantations to make a difference.  I'm sorry...chocolate is a major industry. They have the resources to reach those plantations; they are choosing not to use the necessary resources to make the changes. CNN went to do a story there and found child slave-labor farms the FIRST day they were there. Wow- must have been really hard to find them.  Grrrrr.

This means if you buy chocolate this Christmas from one of our major chocolate companies, you are supporting child slavery. I usually buy Hershey kisses or those Dove chocolate squares and pour them into everyone's stockings. I LOVE those chocolate oranges. You know, the ones that look like real oranges and you smack 'em to get them to break open into lovely orange-flavored chocolate slices. It tastes like heaven, I tell you. It's tradition every year and I look forward to seeing it in my stocking because I know Rob's going to make sure it's in there. And I totally would NOT share it with my kids. No way.

Not this year. Yes, I love chocolate. But you know what? I hate the idea of children working as slaves even more. I will gladly give up my heaven-in-the-shape-of-an-orange. Gladly. When I get to heaven, I have a feeling my orange chocolate will be there and it won't have been made by child slaves. I'm happy to wait till then.

Please consider joining me. This year, my family will get one fair-trade chocolate bar in their stocking. It's easy to see the fair-trade label on chocolate bars and you can KNOW that no children were harmed in the making of that product.  Buying organic is 2nd best. Organic farms don't use child slave labor but most of them aren't on the Ivory Coast, so it isn't helping the problem as much.

And if you are an info-seeker, here are some great resources:
CNN did an entire story on this last January through their Freedom Project:
There is a whole series you can read through including stories about specific children and reactions from chocolate companies. It's worth clicking through and reading.

This blog lists places where you can find fair-trade chocolate:
She has this guide from 2010 as well:

Here's how you can learn more about how to be more involved:

Let's have a not-so-sweet Christmas this year!  Chocolate isn't good for us anyway. It's a luxury. I will gladly pay more and only eat one chocolate bar instead of heaping on the cheaper chocolate made by child slaves. Wouldn't you? And, you know, maybe we won't gain so much holiday weight. It's a win-win, really.

I'd love it if you'd leave a comment letting me know if you're going to go fair-trade for Christmas chocolate this year! Let's see if we can make an impact! Share this info with your friends. I'm betting most folks have no idea. Americans like to say this is one of the greatest nations in the world. I don't think it's great that our major chocolate companies are using child slave labor. That is embarrassing.  Let's step up and be a part of what's right.


  1. I just saw a special on 60 minutes within the last month - Ben Affleck is heavily involved with a company who acknowledges their prices are higher, but it's because they commit that they are giving to the communities that harvest the beans:

    4 Comments Share this Video: Chocolate that makes a difference
    December 2, 2012 8:54 AM

    Theo Chocolate owner Joe Whinney believes that customers will pay more for their candy bars if they know they are investing in improving the lives of cocoa bean harvesters in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ben Affleck is making the same bet. Seth Doane reports.

    don't fear - there are people out there who care and even it a bit more expensive, you'll be able to eat your chocolate and feel darn good about it....

    love you hon!


  2. Great post! I'm happy you mentioned forced labor as a form of human trafficking. Most people think of commercial sex work when they hear about human trafficking, but the vast majority of trafficked people going into manual labor (i.e. modern slavery). Unfortunately, so many corporations use this type of labor for manufacturing. H&M factories in Bangladesh, North Face factories in China, Foxcon in Taiwan (wage slavery is still modern slavery…). If you go deep into American farmland you’ll find lots of 14 & 15 year olds from South and Central America working in the fields.

    What’s really mind-blowing about forced labor is the $2 a day most of these people make (about 1 billion people make this or less) is still more money then what they would make if they were not part of the forced labor system! That’s messed-up! I could go on and on and on about how socioeconomic disparities drive modern slavery, but its good to see someone taking action against it!

    Great post!


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