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.

The International Fairtrade Certification Mark

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!


23 thoughts on “Chocolate

  1. I agree with you, Sherry. It’s hard enough being a mom and trying to find the best products for our money, and worrying about quality, without also being concerned about who was harmed in the manufacture. We assume the candy manufacturers are responsible about the cocoa they purchase, but for years they were not, and now I feel they are only paying lip service about really protecting the rights of children (also some adults are also forced into these labor situations). Thank you for raising awareness about this important issue so we can increase pressure on these manufacturers to do the right thing.

    • It is hard, to navigate what to buy, what is bad, what is good, what is ethical, what is fair trade, what is organic. For example for coffee, there is organic, fair trade, rainforest alliance, shade grown. It is almost impossible to find all 4 of those things in one product!

      We would like to assume that corporations and our governments do the right thing, but left to their own devices, they just don’t. So it is up to all of us, as individual consumers, to vote with our dollars and change the system. We can do it!

      • This is semi-related, but coffee sold at Transcend, Credo, and Three Bananas (in Churchill Square) is all Direct Trade, meaning the company (Transcend, or in the case of the other two cafes, Intelligentsia) sends people direct to the coffee farm to form a relationship with the farmer, check out the conditions on the farm, ensure the quality of the beans, work out a price, etc. In terms of coffee-buying, I think this is the best way to go. Especially as many farmers are too poor to afford the organic and fair trade certifications (they cost money to the farmer). Companies like Transcend and Intelligentsia (and Phil & Sebastian in Calgary) pay farmers WAY more than Second Cup or Starbucks would, and they’re able to establish a direct business relationship with them. That’s why it costs $16-18 for just a half-pound at Transcend or Credo. It’s worth it, in my opinion, not only for the quality of the product, but for the decent, ethical way in which it was procured in the first place.

        • I was thinking about Transcend – buying direct from the farmer and checking it out yourself! Do you know if Transcend buys organic too (even if it is not certified organic)?

          It is time we started paying a fair price!

  2. Earth’s General Store opened in 1991 and about 90% the chocolate we carry is Fair Trade Certified and certified Organic. This is a passion for us. When companies stop being Fair Trade Certified we drop it (this is the case for Endangered Species chocolates) or that they are bought out by companies that do not have the right ethics (Green and Blacks though they are credited in bringing the first organic and Fair Trade chocolate bar to market, then were bought out by Cadbury and then Kraft Foods. I AM pleased that Green & Blacks have finally moved to have their whole line to be FT and organic certified instead of the only one bar – Maya Gold). Last year when I was at a trad show the people at the Theobroma Choclate bars were displaying their chocolates. I told them that I world not carry their products until it is FTO (Fair Trade Organic). This year when I went back to the trade show the fellow grabbed me and said that their whole line is FTO certified so then I brough in the line. We have power to create change. We can do this by our purchasing choices and by contacting companies and let them know that we want them to have certified FTO ingredients in their products. Mind you if these are made by unethical companies then I think it is misguided.
    The documentary that you blogged about last night is great information and I hope that it inspires more people to choose Fair Trade and Organic chocolate, coffee, tea, and whatever and wherever possible. When I am giving presentations on Fair Trade I will quite often ask the audience whether they like to be respected and to be paid what they think their work is worth. They of course answer yes. So I challenge them with the comparison – why then should the producers of these product be expected to receive less. Disrespect for one is disrepectful for all.
    Last year when this documentary was airing I promoted it on my blog at and a blog I wrote for last Halloween –
    Thanks for promoting FTO products.

    • Next year I will have to go to Earth’s General Store some FTO Halloween candy! I was not very sucessful at finding anything, and opted for sugar candy instead of chocolate this year. I just cannot buy it anymore unless it is FT.

      BTW, thank you for being such a driving force for positive change in Edmonton! It is people like you who are leading the way! Thanks for giving us the choice so that we can all choose better, and do better. 🙂

      I agree that people can make a difference, and the whole system can change if we act. No more regular chocolate!

  3. Well said, Sherry! I often quote the (half-joking but close enough to the truth to hit home) line from Raj Patel (author of “The Value of Nothing”), about preferring my coffee and chocolate without the blood of little children in it!
    And here’s another thing – turns out climate change is imperiling cocoa production. First wine, now chocolate! Surely this will get the Yuppies out there up in arms and demanding action!

  4. Also, if you have a MCC “Ten Thousand Villages” store in your city, they usually have fair-trade chocolate. I’ve bought fair-trade chocolate “coins” there that could be given out on Halloween.
    Or failing that, there’s always gum! I’ve always given out cans of pop and freezies, none of which is local or fair-trade or even good for kids, but at least it’s not chocolate!

  5. I don’t each much chocolate, but that’s hardly a testament to conscious consumption–I just don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I do, however, own a smartphone, and it’s likely some of the metals used to make it were purchased from militant groups who used the money to oppress.

    This standard of living–highest throughout history–was built on the back of the third world. I believe redemption can be found only by railing against that face–challenging it, as you’ve done in this post, and trying to change. I’m going to start thinking more about where my food comes from, too.

    • When you stop and consider what went into everything we buy, it really is mind blowing. That is mostly why I don’t buy much of anything anymore. I cannot take take take anymore.

    • Awesome! The more people that knew about it, the better. I knew that cocoa farmers were poor, but I had no idea how much child slavery was involved. Now that I know, I will change. I think most people who would find this out, would also change. So we need to keep spreading the word!

      Earth’s General Store and Planet Organic sell Fair Trade in Edmonton. I also see the odd Cadbury bar with the FT logo, but not too many.

  6. Ugh, I know, it’s depressing to think about the real cost of chocolate. It bothers me that some of the best brands, the high quality ones that make you want to say goodbye to cheap brands forever, can’t afford to source their cocoa beans more ethically!? I would be happy to pay more – I’d just eat less. That’s what I’ve been doing with meat and dairy for the past year.

    • I would be happy to pay more too. I think a decent quality of life for a child is more important that an extra couple bucks for a chocolate bar that is supposed to be a treat to begin with! Spread the word!

  7. Here’s the background and FAQ of Kerstin’s Chocolates:

    Kerstin is an Edmonton local chocolatier. While she doesn’t say her chocolate is certified organic or fair trade, she is able to be reasonably certain that it is due to its high quality and knowing where it comes from (apparently single-origin cacao is a similar commodity to coffee, and the best chocolate manufacturers buy from the best farms, which are primarily small farms with wild trees, as opposed to large plantations with questionable labour practices). Just thought I’d mention it, in case you didn’t know that someone was making delicious chocolate products locally.

  8. I’ve had the same freak-out experience in Walmart but I confess, I’ve never given chocolate a lot of thought. I’ll watch the video you suggested.

  9. Pingback: Dear Grocery Store | One Earth to Live

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