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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 19, 2011 at 05:12 PM
[Re-posting with less venom] @Kim: Your statement that non-Fair Trade chocolate is "...*probably* harvested by a small boy aged five to 12 who was stolen from his family in Mali" (emphasis mine) seems exaggerated. I am certain that the practice is not as prevalent as you suggest. Young children in the African desert face a pretty terrible plight, but it is not because I enjoy an occasional Snickers bar. It is because they were born in the African desert....
Tony Rodriguez December 19, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Was prepared to dismiss this, but surfing for few minutes indicates there is a there there. Will research more and decide whether to alter buying. Fair trade, shade, etc., I tend to shrug off (full Bay Area rights are retained, however, because of the gazillion gallons of organic milk we have bought). But if I can reward a supply chain that doesn't have these features, I will.
Kathleen December 19, 2011 at 05:31 PM
And unfortunately, we can't even be sure that a product labeled fair trade is truly slavery-free. This article in yesterday's Chronicle describes what is essentially slave labor for harvesting cotton for a clothing product that claims to use free-trade cotton. [http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/18/BU4J1MCRA3.DTL] Perhaps the chocolate industry has better monitoring.
Chris Nicholson December 19, 2011 at 05:38 PM
T-Rod: there is a there there, it's just not very common. You will find that even the most vocal ADVOCACY groups struggle to claim that "up to 5%" *may* use some form of child slavery--- with these stats based on the population of minors NOT living with parent while working (with the inference being that they are potential "slaves"). I think the broader issue is child labor. At some level, a 10 year old sent to work by his parents is almost as much a slave as someone "sold" as a worker (kid doesn't get the money in either case). Child labor is not pretty, I just think it often beats the alternatives (e.g., death by starvation). If you have a "zero tolerance" policy for injustice in the supply chain, you may need to go off the grid.
X December 19, 2011 at 06:14 PM
Chocolate, at least in the US, is one example of a gender segregated food. Since far more US women tend to crave chocolate than US men and since women are (so I'm repeatedly told) naturally designed for child rearing then the drive to combat the problem of child slave labor should be led by women. Shall I be able to count on women to return any chocolate they receive on Feb. 14, 2012, that's not been certified as slave labor free? Here's your chance to organize a movement, Ladies. If the people consuming the majority of chocolate are also the leaders at rearing children and if they don't have a problem consuming chocolate produced by slave labor, then why should those of us who don't consume chocolate find this issue to be relevant? And, if the Ladies of America surprise me by starting an initiative to change consumption patterns, what shall become of these children? Will the growers all of a sudden begin paying them? Or will these children simply be shuttled off to perform some other labor? Perhaps the solution isn't attacking the chocolate industry but finding solutions to the conditions (social, political, and economic) that encourage child labor practices. But, hey, if I skip a Hershey's bar I can feel virtuous about helping protect children. Maybe I'll stop by the mall instead. I wonder if Kathy Lee makes any clothing for men...
Tony Rodriguez December 19, 2011 at 06:54 PM
C-Nich, I think you've done what you sometimes fault others for doing: define away the issue. You have done that by (1) deciding the broader issue is child labor, and (2) suggesting that I have a "zero tolerance" policy for "injustice" (my quotes), so I may need to go off the grid (which isn't going to happen). As I said in my post, I am not the guy to go to when you want to pitch non-crunchy granola ventures as superior to Big Business simply because they are not Big Business. I do distinguish between child labor and treatment that qualifies for the term slavery, and I won't lump in the latter with the former. I do understand there is messy stuff in the world, but I have no problem doing something that gives me a 100% chance, assuming no fraud, at not paying into a business that gets raw materials from a work force that has some child slavery. My decision, however, will depend on what my research reveals. I will consider the source when I read things. I think it is certainly worth looking into. I will do so. Should I conclude there is child slavery in a segment of the industry, I will avoid that segment as best I can, and I won't forfeit being on the grid as a condition of making that choice. Can I root out all "injustice" -- no, of course not -- but I won't let that stop me from changing my spending on this front, if the facts justify that course to me.
Chris Nicholson December 19, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Please do report your findings (without regard to my framing of the issue). I suspect that you will conclude that the "slave labor sourced" content of an average Snickers bar to between "undetectable" and "de minimis." I would also humbly submit that the economically efficient (as well as morally right) thing to do would be to satisfy your chocolate cravings according to your palette and wallet, and send the savings (versus the much more expensive PC-compliant product) to a reputable charity fighting for economic development of third world economies. I am not saying that this conclusion will always apply to this type of situation, but here the signal/noise ratio from a Snickers boycott seems particularly bad.
Tony Rodriguez December 19, 2011 at 07:41 PM
All that brainpower, and you always go to the crutch of the "PC" line. Fine, apply it to the products sourced from organic farms with hemp-wearing workers who sit in the shade ten minutes every hour and receive micro-lending courses in Esperanto. Do I get that my various gadgets aren't coming out of factories where the workers whistle while they work, yes. But if there is a country that is the source of 1/5 to 1/4 of the raw materials at issue, and that has a known (TBD) child slavery component in obtaining those materials, I'm happy to try to avoid it -- as you might say, my preference is to starve the beast, while rewarding other market participants. PS to P Whitbeck, I have that tape (yes, tape), and it's great. But Ethiopia is 3000 miles from Ivory Coast, and Ivory Coast is not in a desert.
Chris Nicholson December 19, 2011 at 07:52 PM
I think I have more time than brainpower. PC was meant to cover mainly the other Litany of Liberal Logos that appear on these products. I did not mean to assert that actual child slave labor is merely a "PC" issue. Also, the article claimed that the slaves in Ivory Coast come from Mali, which is (at least in part), in the desert....
c5 December 19, 2011 at 08:41 PM
are twizzlers ok? i think they are made of plastic....:)
Chris Nicholson December 19, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Nothing is safe: http://news.change.org/stories/celebrate-fair-trade-month-in-october-sugar-edition
CJ December 19, 2011 at 10:23 PM
One thing all this discussion fails to relaize is that much of this country was built on child labor. Why did farmer's have so many children. To work on the farm! I would characterize rural Africa to be in the same or worse position from a viable labor market perspective and they are surviving the best way they have. Their and their offspring's own labor. Just because a child working doesn't convince me it is some evil crime against humanity. It may be the only way those kids eat. But sitting in the comfy evironment of some over capitalized non-profit in some trendy high rise in NYC the perceived injustice is calculated and sold to the PC/Liberals in this country to fund their $250K a year Director's post. And the victimization industry marches on...........
Eileen December 19, 2011 at 11:21 PM
FYI, Peter. Ethiopia is not a desert. You'll love to learn the real forces underlying their poverty, from Wikipedia: Historically, Ethiopia's feudal and communist economic structure has always kept it one rainless season away from devastating droughts. Ethiopia has great potential to be a producer, as it is one of the most fertile countries in Africa. According to the New York Times, Ethiopia "could easily become the breadbasket for much of Europe if her agriculture were better organized."
Eileen December 19, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Thanks, Kim, for the article. Santa brings our kids Droste chocolates, from The Netherlands mostly. I didn't find any reference to them in your links or using Google. Any more info on smaller European producers? (Droste is owned by the Hosta group.)
Kim Curiel December 19, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Eileen, I found this link http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/chocolate-letters/ that mentions Droste chocolates. It looks like you can buy fair trade Droste cocoa and chocolates.
Tony Rodriguez December 20, 2011 at 12:03 AM
I think I know what you are getting at, but forgive me if I think you are painting with too broad of a brush. If this statement is true --"child slaves are harvesting those cocoa pods with machetes against their will and beaten if they do not comply" -- that is different from farm families having and using family members to run the family farm, and it is different from a scenario to which "just because a child is working" might apply.
Eileen December 20, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Does no one else find Peter's assertion that Africa's problem is "it's [sic] people...and that will continue despite well-meaning efforts from afar" offensive for its racism and seeming ignorance of meaningful differences among countries in the social, political and economic "infrastructure" left in place by the different European colonizers? Or the socio-political challenges that arise when new national borders are drawn by outsiders, with little regard for how they (do not) respect longstanding tribal lines? Or the influence Cold War politics played in propping up corrupt regimes and the difficulty countries have had in reversing that damage? Peter is painting with a ridiculously broad, and IMO, racist brush and ignoring all of the above in the process. And, yes, Peter, I too have spent time in Africa and have friends who work in business, medicine there. If anyone is interested at a more informative take on the current state of affairs in Africa, check out this piece from The Economist magazine just a few weeks ago: www.economist.com/node/21541015
Chris Nicholson December 20, 2011 at 02:40 AM
Eileen: what percentage of the current state of affairs in Africa do you "blame" on Africans versus outsiders? From what I can tell, Africa is the most racist continent on Earth (how many limbs were hacked off in America over race in last 50 years?), is possibly the most corrupt (measured on % of wealth/aid that is accessible by the people), and certainly has cultural/social/sexual habits that are finely tuned for self destruction (GMO corn is poison, female genital mutilation is cool, raping children cures AIDS, the best lubricant is dirt, condoms are unmanly, white people's farms should be appropriated and we should kick them (and their knowledge) out, etc, etc). In the last few decades, I think many of their ailments have been self imposed. Am I a racist? Are facts racist?
Eileen December 20, 2011 at 03:11 AM
My points about colonial and Cold War histories influencing the present state of affairs in many African (and other) countries are entirely fact-based. You need only do a bit of reading to discover that. To illustrate: While the English established colonies in what are now Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, to extract resources and encourage global trade, they felt obliged by the "white man's burden" to build some level of social, political infrastructure (that included schools and a functioning civil bureaucracy) that survived the end of colonialism and has generally benefited the locals long afterwards. The French were somewhat of the same mind and brought some of the same, albeit of lower quality, to their colonies (e.g., Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire). The Portugese and Belgians were of a different mind and essentially viewed their colonies (e.g., Angola and the former Zaire, respectively) as resource-filled areas to be pillaged. They cared little about establishing any kind of meaningful infrastructure, and the locals suffered the loss later on, when independence came. Then comes the start of the Cold War and then the various movements towards independence among the colonies. The US and USSR pick their favorites and many corrupt regimes are given life support. This did not only happen in Africa. To deny that modern day Africans do not face unfair challenges imposed upon them by colonial governments and their Cold War successors is not realistic.
Eileen December 20, 2011 at 03:15 AM
What's more, to suggest, as Peter seems to, that no matter the starting off point, that Africans cannot improve their lot, simply because they are Africans, is indeed racist. Filipinos, Indians, Indonesians, Chileans, Czechs, Slovaks, Estonians, among others, have been improving their lot economically, socially, politically, in the last decade or two. To suggest that Africans cannot do the same, simply because they're African - and, mostly, black - is, again IMO, racist. And that was what Peter implied.
Eileen December 20, 2011 at 03:59 AM
@ Peter, you're the one who painted all Africans as hopeless and at fault for a zero-growth future, in your prior posts. You're the racist. Own it.
Peter Whitbeck December 20, 2011 at 04:09 AM
Eileen - you don't know a thing about me but you're pretty quick to throw around the toxic insults aren't you? This discussion says a whole lot more about you than it does me.
Eileen December 20, 2011 at 04:14 AM
Actually, Peter, my posts in this comment stream complement others I've made and are generally viewed, by friends and strangers alike, as supporting global development, rather than not. You're the racist and bigot. My friends will agree.
Eileen December 20, 2011 at 04:19 AM
Following your logic, as men are, generally, the consumers of sexual services performed by underage, trafficked girls and boys, should we rely, Kenny, on men to lead the global charge against sex trafficking? I'll assume that this is a rhetorical question and continue on with me chosen NGO's work (largely women-led) to end trafficking.
X December 20, 2011 at 04:23 AM
They certainly taste like plastic.
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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