Monday, March 9, 2015

Why Fair-Trade Chocolate is so Important

With Easter right around the corner, I want to touch on the importance of fair-trade chocolate. What is fair-trade chocolate?  Well, there are several fair-trade organizations with their own set standards but essentially they are ensuring that workers and farmers are getting paid fairly for their time and product. Today, demand for chocolate is at an all time high. This should equate to a tidy profit for the cocoa farmer but in Western Africa, where 70% of the world's chocolate comes from, they are making less than $2 a day. Demand for cheap chocolate from industry giants like Hershey's, Nestle and Mars Inc., shady African governments and too many middle men has the cocoa farmers getting the short end of the stick. However, the true victims in all this are the West African children.

Western Africa is rife with intense poverty. Children are forced into labor just to help keep their families afloat- and many of them forgo school for their familial responsibility. 10% of child laborers in Ghana and 40% in the Ivory Coast do not attend school at all. A 2011 study done by Tulane University cited 1.8 million children working in the cocoa (chocolate) industry and that the majority of them were not paid. CNN estimates that 200,000 children are used as slave labor. Slave labor comes into play with the rampant child trafficking in the cocoa industry. Relatives, desperate for money, are selling children to work in the cocoa trade or traffickers are outright abducting young children from small villages in surrounding African countries. Burkina Faso and Mali are two of the poorest countries in the world where some of these abductions are taking place. These people do not have the resources to protect their children.

Child laborers are forced to work twelve hour days and use dangerous tools like chainsaws, machetes and agricultural chemicals without protective gear. Many of these children have scars and injuries from the machetes that they use to cut down the cocoa pod from the tree or to open the pod to extract the cocoa beans. The pods, once cut down, are placed into sacks that can easily weigh over 100 lbs and then must be carried or dragged through the forest. One account of a former slave detailed how it took two people to lift the pod bag onto her head and how she was beaten if she didn't move quick enough with her load. Whippings are cited as another form of punishment used on child laborers. Once the work is done for the day, the children go to sleep in windowless rooms on wooden planks. They do not have access to fresh water or sanitary bathrooms.

This reads like a slavery novel based in the 18th century but these atrocities are happening right now to children that we can have sixty-cent candy bars!

Over ten years ago, these disgusting practices came to light and huge pressure was put on the chocolate giants by consumer advocates and Congress to put a stop to forced child labor. Due to intense lobbying by the cocoa industry, a law was unable to be pushed through. Instead, in 2001, a voluntary Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed by the chocolate companies promising to end child slavery issues by 2005. To date, the chocolate companies now have a new goal of 2020 to end child labor practices.

So, if you are asking yourself how in the world did this get pushed back 15 years... then let me tell you:  money talks. If you want child slavery to stop then you have to stop buying chocolate unless it is fair-trade certified. Period. You can also look for these labels to avoid slavery chocolate as well:

  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Fair Trade label
  • UTZ Certified
  • Certification Capacity Enhancement

I personally feel that my children's enjoyment should not come off the backs of other childrens' torment. Fair-trade chocolate is delicious and there are so many great companies out there. Stores like Meijer, Whole Foods and other local groceries should carry some and you can find a wide variety online with a simple search. With Easter four weeks away, there is still plenty of time to place an order. I will soon have a follow-up post with a recipe for some homemade, filled chocolate eggs, too! Remember that together, change is possible.


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