Last weekend I had the privilege of inviting some friends over to watch a documentary on child slavery in the chocolate industry, discuss what we can do about it, and indulge in some delicious dark chocolate (well-sourced of course).
You may be reading this and thinking "Slavery in the chocolate industry?! How could this be and why don't I know about it??" I strongly encourage you to read on: familiarize yourself with the problem and learn some VERY practical ways you can ensure you do not support this injustice with your purchases.
Alternatively, you may be familiar with this problem. And my question for you is simple: are you doing anything about it yet? No judgment or accusation intended, just a simple question that I encourage you to honestly ask yourself before reading on. It has been really striking to me recently that in the age of the internet - with an abundance of articles on any topic we desire to learn about - we are inundated with information about what is wrong with our world, without connecting with it on a personal level.
I believe that personal connection is the difference between knowing about a problem in the world, and feeling compelled to contribute to solving that problem. Reading an article about something is different than listening to those affected sharing their stories, which is also different than visiting them to experience it.
So my goal with sharing these reflections is to connect myself to the problem of slavery in the chocolate industry on a personal level, and encourage you to do the same.
If you haven't seen the documentary, check it out here. It's a 45-minute YouTube video, and does not have any graphic content. Everyone will react differently, but in my opinion it is minimally emotive.
Here is a brief synopsis of The Dark Side of Chocolate
- In 2001 most major chocolate manufacturers (including Hershey, Nestle, and Mars) signed The Harkin-Engel Protocol, which stated that child slavery in the cocoa industry would be eliminated by 2008.
- The Ivory Coast is the largest exporter of cocoa beans in the world. In this documentary a journalist goes undercover to discover whether children are still working as slaves on cocoa plantations.
- He conclusively learns that not only is child slavery still a common occurrence in the Ivory Coast but that business and political leaders alike are either unaware of this or attempting to cover it up.
So what can be done?
- Buy chocolate from companies you know and trust. I encourage you to research a few chocolate companies who source directly from farms, audit those farms, and prioritize sharing this information transparently with their customers. Even better would be to buy from one of these companies local to you! Some companies I like are Tony's Chocolonely (OR), Creo Chocolate (OR), Woodblock Chocolate (OR), Chocolove (CO), Theo's Chocolate (WA), and Equal Exchange (MA).
- Buy Fair Trade chocolate. There is much debate over whether all Fair Trade certified companies are improving living conditions for the workers, and this is why I always think our best option in purchasing is to buy from companies we know and trust, rather than relying on a certifying organization to review them. However I do think that - despite its faults - supporting Fair Trade certified companies will continue to pressure the industry as a whole to prioritize slave-free farming.
- Don't buy non-Fair Trade chocolate. I believe this point is different than #2. It is not enough to usually buy Fair Trade and otherwise buy conventional chocolate. If you are new to this, then it is a good first step to start buying Fair Trade, even if it's only some of the time. But as that becomes habit, I encourage you to consider refusing to buy chocolate that is non-Fair Trade. This is much easier to do with chocolate than other foods... No one ever died of chocolate hunger! :)
- Tell your friends about this. We underestimate the value of talking one-on-one to promote change. From a business standpoint, sending an email newsletter is almost never as effective as talking to someone personally (yes, I realize it is ironic that I am telling you this as I send an email newsletter!). This is true of making change in our communities too - individual or group discussions are the foundation of change.
The last comment I want to make is that I think this topic is so relevant to anyone interested in improving their nutrition. The more I learn about food and farming, the more I realize that what is better for our nutrition is better for our environment, and for farmworkers' rights, and economically. Without exception. And that list could go on.
What are your reactions to this information? Do you have other ideas of ways we can fight this injustice? Please share with me in the comments section below - I'd love to hear your thoughts.