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Are You Supporting Child Slavery with Your Chocolate Addiction?

Are You Supporting Child Slavery with Your Chocolate Addiction?

Did you know that there are currently 10 to 30 million slaves in the world today? That’s more than there were during the transatlantic slave trade!

There are sex slaves in Cambodia, labor slaves in India, plantation slaves in Africa, and even domestic slaves in upscale American suburbia (like a 10-year-old girl smuggled from Egypt to work as a domestic slave for a well-to-do Orange County couple). Bottom line: Slavery is all around us—it’s just harder to see.

But here’s the worst part: We are supporting slavery with our sweet-tooth.

The Bitter Facts

Americans spend approximately 13 billion dollars on chocolate each year, and over one third of all chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast in Africa. Now here’s the shocker: Over one million children work on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations. Of these, an estimated 12,000 to 200,000 children are enslaved, forced to pick cocoa for our chocolate bars.

They work in deplorable conditions. They labor 80 to 100 hours a week and are given little food, no pay, and no access to medical care. On top of being forced to work, they are regularly beaten. “The beatings were a part of my life,” Aly Diabate, a freed slave, told reporters. “Anytime they loaded you with bags (of cocoa beans) and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.” One former child plantation slave showed a BBC reporter the scars from his beatings and the reporter shared, “There wasn’t an inch of his body which wasn’t scarred.”

These children are typically 12 to 14 years old. However, some, like Abdul, began as young as seven (Watch his story here).

Some kids are kidnapped from neighboring countries (Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo). Others are sold out of desperation by their poverty-stricken parents. Some parents send their children with the traffickers in genuine belief that their child will find a good job send some money home. However most parents never see any of the promised earnings—or their children—again.

The Chocolate on Our Shelves

The truth is our local grocery stores are teeming with slavery-tainted chocolate. Hershey’s, Cadbury Ltd., Godiva, Kraft, and Nestle all use cocoa from the Ivory Coast, which is almost certainly made with child labor.

For example, in 2012, Hershey’s said they would try to be slave-free by 2020. Eight years is a ridiculous and inexcusable time frame! Are we supposed to be okay with child labor and child slavery in the meantime? I think not.

Perhaps Hershey’s doesn’t care to speed things along because consumers continue to buy their inexpensive, slavery-tainted chocolate. It’s time to stop supporting companies that violate human rights. We need to be responsible consumers.

We need to hit these companies where it hurts: their pocketbooks. How?

1) Learn More

The more you know, the more your passion will grow. Watch the 2010 documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate which exposes child labor in the supply chains of major chocolate companies. It’s a harrowing, yet remarkable, film that takes you behind the scenes with hidden cameras. You’ll watch children being bought and subsequently trafficked across the borders to cocoa plantations. You’ll even see cocoa harvesters trying chocolate for the first time (most cocoa plantation workers have never seen or tasted a chocolate bar!).  

2) Stop Purchasing Unethical Chocolate

Yep, those popular brands tempting you at the checkout stand—Hershey’s, Mars, Cadbury, Godiva, Kraft, Nestle, and Dove—stay away from them! If you’re in doubt check out The Better World Shopper’s Chocolate Guide or Green America’s Chocolate Scorecard, which rank chocolate companies based on social and environmental responsibility.

3) Let Companies Know Why You’re Unhappy 

Just like it matters where you spend your money, your voice also matters. Write a letter to one of the mainstream companies through Slavery Footprint. This website allows you take a quick survey, so you can see how many slaves work for you, and then allows you to search for companies that you would like to email. They have a form letter set up and the emails of the companies on file. So, to make your voice heard, all you have to do is add your name and click “send.” It will only take you a few minutes, so pass the word around because the more of these emails we send, the better.

4) Request (and buy) Slave-Free Chocolate at your local supermarkets

Purchasing ethically-sourced chocolate is not always easy when the chain grocery stores don’t carry them. But stores like World Market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Amazon, and health food stores usually sell them. However, keep in mind that you can make changes at your local grocery store. Most grocery stores will stock an item if they receive enough requests and it continues to sell—all we have to do is ask (and buy)! Together, we can make slave-free chocolate more accessible to our communities.

5) Support the Good Guys

One of the easiest ways to spot ethically sourced chocolate is by small labels like Fair Trade and Equal Exchange. However, just because a brand doesn’t have one of these labels on it doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t slave-free. Look up the company online to see their chocolate sources. Another thing you can look for is an organic label. Most organic cocoa is grown in central and south America where slavery is not an issue. Here’s a short list of some wonderful chocolate that you can purchase with a clear conscience: Alter Eco, Coco-Zen, Divine Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Green & Blacks, Newman’s Own Organic, Shaman, Sjaak’s, Theo Chocolate…and many more!

6) Tell your Friends

Host a chocolate sampling party. Watch The Dark Side of Chocolate and share with your friends where they can purchase slave-free chocolate. If you are a teacher or parent, Global Exchange has created a curriculum to teach children about fair trade chocolate.

Wrapping It Up

It might take a little more research and cost a little more to purchase this kind of chocolate, but isn’t it worth it to know that we’re doing our small part in ending slavery? Our ethical chocolate purchases can actually change lives for the better! But most of all, let us remember that we are not fighting slavery because it is trendy or makes us feel good, but because it is what the Bible calls us to do—to be a voice for the oppressed! (Isaiah 1:17)

So, will you join me in prayer and in action? You can start by helping your Crosswalk community out. Add any ethically-sourced chocolate you’ve researched to the comments below. I look forward to reading your recommendations!

Felicia Alvarez lives in Southern California and loves avocados, sunshine, and serving her Savior. Currently, she teaches dance to over one hundred students and is working on her second book. Connect with Felicia on her blog or Facebook—she would love to hear from you.

Publication date: June 6, 2014