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Stay On the Sunnyside of Chocolate

Learn how to avoid the dark side of chocolate this holiday season and shop for a better world.

Before slipping those chocolate bars into your children’s stockings, or picking up a bag of chocolate coins for your dreidel game, or baking some holiday cookies and treats, please take a moment to consider the consequences of buying the cheapest chocolates you can find. Unfortunately, there’s a very dark side to chocolate. Cheap chocolate is cheap because it is harvested by slaves, child slaves to be exact.  

Every mindless purchase of Nestlé, Toblerone, Perugina, Dove, Mars, and Herseys, continues the cycle of child slave labor in West Africa, where 70% of the world’s chocolate is grown.  If instead, you would like to see this practice actually eliminated, as opposed to simply talked about (as in the 2001 Cocoa Protocol that all major manufacturers signed), it’s time to put your dollars to work in the right place.

Actively seeking out fair trade certified chocolates is a start, but one must be careful, as Nestlé and Toblerone, have tried to skirt certification requirements by only swapping out 1% of their production and then labeling it as slave free under an in-house label. If it doesn’t carry the official Fair Trade Certification, is not organic, doesn’t state its origin on the label, then it was probably harvested by a small boy aged five to 12 who was stolen from his family in Mali.

The undercover documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate, exposes the outrageous lies of the chocolate manufacturers who are in deep denial about the reality of slavery in their supply chain. Also, that despite laws, public outcry, political action, the fact remains that child slaves are harvesting those cocoa pods with machetes against their will and beaten if they do not comply. After watching that movie I will never purchase a Nestlé or Herseys chocolate product again. This is a documentary that is definitely worth 45 minutes of your time.

I want to avoid the bitter taste of slavery in my chocolate confections.  Is it possible to do that? Yes, in fact it is! There are companies who are actually paying adult workers to grow and harvest their cocoa. They receive a fair wage and are treated ethically. Those companies charge more for their chocolate and ground cocoa. The sweet taste of social justice is worth the added cost.

FairTrade USA, the official certification organization, which is based in Oakland, has a list of of 55 different chocolate companies that are not relying on children to pick the beans.  You can check their website here.  Additionally, if you want more clarity, check out this UC San Diego site on how to stop chocolate slavery.

Ellis Jones, whom I mentioned in my   has a pretty clear cut grading system on chocolates based not only on their use of slaves, but additionally how they treat the environment. Not surprisingly, the companies who are treating people as disposable, are treating the rainforest the same way. Nestlé comes out on the bottom of his list too. His corporate hero among chocolate makers is Endangered Species which sources its chocolate from small family owned farms, has a LEED certified production plant in addition to only selling fair trade, organic, certified slave free chocolates. Oh, and by the way, their chocolate tastes amazing too. My children love their milk chocolate bars, while I love their Extreme Dark Chocolate bar. To each her own.

Another favorite ethical chocolate producer, Divine Chocolates, where according to their website and FairTradeUsa,  “Not only do the Kuapa Kokoo farmers’ receive a Fair Trade price for their cocoa, but they also own 45% of the company, and therefore have a direct influence over how the company is run and share in the profits from the chocolate,” is another A+ company.

Why are the biggest companies using slaves when smaller companies are not? According to John Robbins,  “Companies like Mars, Hershey, and Nestle often say that there is no way they can control the labor practices of their suppliers. But there are other chocolate companies who manage to do so, and it would seem that if the bigger companies really wanted to reform problems in the supply chain, they have the power and ability to do so.” With profits in the tens of millions per company, it would seem that some of that money could in fact be spent to actually pay the laborers to pick the beans.

“At present, no organic cocoa beans are coming from Ivory Coast, so organic chocolate is unlikely to be tainted by slavery. Newman’s Own Organics is one of the largest of the slavery-free companies. The company’s chocolate is purchased through the Organic Commodity Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It comes from Costa Rica where the farms are closely monitored.” Also according to John Robbins.

Cocoa bean harvesting is particularly dangerous for children to be doing, not only because of the machetes they must wield, but the enormous amounts of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that are dumped on the non-organic plantations. Buying organic, fair trade chocolate is far better for our world than any cheap candy bar will ever be, and will undoubtedly mean happier holidays for the workers as well as your family.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Chris Nicholson December 20, 2011 at 04:44 AM
My dad can beat up both your dads. You guys should chill and have some chocolates. If we can't decide which candy is morally permissible to eat, we're not going to save Africa. That said, in complex situations, I favor individual effort and responsibility instead of hand-outs based on guilt for prior sins. Therefore, I have just used Kiva to grant $1000 in microloans to family-run cocoa farms (one in Africa and one in Peru). I hope they don't use too much of my money to buy slaves.
dave in moraga December 20, 2011 at 05:32 AM
Thank you for the interesting conversation.
Chris Nicholson December 20, 2011 at 05:33 AM
@Peter and other rational philanthropists: Kiva.org is what I was referring to. Some criticize it because it is a "backfill" loan platform, that focused too much on the *impression* of helping specific people instead of running an *actual* efficient operation. Microplace (owned by PayPal), which I also support, is a more "pure" form of micro finance, but doesn't have as many options. Unrelated to micro finance, but I also really like Donorschoose.org, which is a direct giving platform for classrooms. Awesome way to invest dollars directly in underprivileged kids.
X December 20, 2011 at 05:43 AM
Well, whatever folks decide about chocolate production we can thank the See's family for strengthening community property rules. Apparently, chocolate doesn't prevent divorce.
Kim Curiel January 13, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Want to know more about this subject? The CNN Freedom Project sent correspondent David McKenzie into the heart of the Ivory Coast - the world’s largest cocoa producer - to investigate what's happening to children working in the fields. Chocolate’s Child Slaves premieres Friday 20th January 2012: 8.00pm GMT, 9.00pm CET. http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/12/chocolates-child-slaves/

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