Many of us have a weakness for chocolate. I do. I try and eat local as I can, but I have not even considered giving up chocolate. Could you?
I do keep my eyes open for organic fair trade chocolate and buy a bunch when I see it. But it is not widely available and I usually have to go to specialty stores like Planet Organic to even find it.
Sometimes when I am feeling hungry in the afternoon at work, I will go down to the corner store and pick up a chocolate bar. Not organic, not fair trade, just a regular chocolate bar. Sometimes I will look on the back label, and see “palm oil” listed and feel another stab of guilt. I know that massive rainforests have been ripped down to plant palm oil trees, biodiversity and climate change be damned. Most high quality chocolate does not have palm oil, but most of the regular stuff does.
But there is even more to the story.
Several months ago I started thinking differently about the things I bought. So much so, that I had a mind-blowing experience in Wal-Mart that bordered on a panic attack. I looked all around me, and just saw boxes and boxes of stuff that seemed to go on forever. I looked up at the fluorescent lights, the rafters of the ceiling, down at the polished floor and wondered what I was doing there. What was everyone else doing there? Why did we all need all this stuff, and more importantly, where did it all come from? We have no idea about the story behind a toaster, or a blender or coffee maker or our next pair of jeans. If we knew, if we really and truly knew about the lives of the humans that touched these items, and how they lived so that our toaster could only be $15.99 at Wal-mart, would we buy it? If we saw the parts of the Earth that are now forever changed, forests peeled back, mines left open, would we reconsider? If we knew the true carbon footprint of the item, in the context of the specific lives that will be forever damaged due to climate change, would we stop and think?
It is with this context, that I watched a “Chocolate: The Bitter Truth“, a BBC documentary that aired on CBC tonight, also available on YouTube:
The long and short of it is – most cocoa farmers are so poor, they use child labour. These children are not paid, they are trafficked children, taken away from their mamas and sold. They work as slaves, long hours, using machetes, with no family, no one to love them, no one who cares. It is estimated that the area in West Africa that produces 60% of the world’s chocolate, employs 15,000 trafficked children.
As a result, the cocoa is cheap, and my chocolate bar down at the corner store is only $1.25. Is it worth that or should it be worth a lot more? What is the true cost, the human cost?
When you buy a chocolate bar that has the fair trade logo, there is a better chance that your chocolate did not involve child labour. But it is not guaranteed. To get the certification, the cocoa dealers have to keep records on the farmers that they get their beans from, and then these farmers are periodically audited to make sure that there are no children working. The entire system is much more transparent. However, sometimes the farmers fail the audit, and are suspended from the certification.
Put another way, if the chocolate bar you eat does not have the fair trade logo, it is pretty likely that child labour was used to produce your chocolate bar.
In the backdrop of a cocoa farming village in West Africa, the narrator of the film sums it up the best:
“Do we pay a fair price for our chocolate? And there has been a lot of number crunching about it in the West. But actually the answer lies here, in the reality of the situation in West Africa in the cocoa farms here, and the grim reality of life where they don’t have shoes to wear, they don’t have electricity, they don’t have running water. And all that begs another question – are we in the West prepared to pay a little bit more for our chocolate, so that they can enjoy a decent standard of living? And more importantly, so they don’t have to use child labour?”
I can’t eat that kind of chocolate again; I just cannot be a part of it. Why is this happening? Why don’t we demand better? Chocolate is a luxury item, a decadent item, something we like but do not need. Why can’t we pay more for it, why can’t we pay a fair price?
Sometimes the world we live in just makes me so angry.
How dare the chocolate companies let this continue. How dare our governments in the West not hold these chocolate companies to task for selling products that involve child labour. Why is it even sold here? Why does this seem like yet another example where corporate profits and low consumer prices take precedence over human lives?
Now for Halloween – do they even sell fair trade Halloween candy? Time to find out!
- This Halloween, consider slavery-free chocolate (halloweeninvirginia.wordpress.com)
- The Dark Side of Chocolate (fionatschaut.wordpress.com)
- Candy Bars and Child Slaves – One of the World’s Best-Kept Secrets (friendseat.com)