The Dark Side of Chocolate

In other words, the diamond in my ring might have been placed there by a child, chained to a life of slavery, poverty and illiteracy. I have chosen not to replace my diamond for now.  

To be fair, I don’t wear much jewelry, so this isn’t a big sacrifice. Where it does hit closer to home is with my love of chocolate.

The truth about your Valentine’s candy is probably going to bring more guilt than its calorie count.

Hundreds of thousands of children work in the worst forms of child labor, and many have been sold into slavery to work on the cocoa farms of West Africa. And more than 70 percent of the world’s chocolate starts on these farms.

Just like the diamond industry, awareness of the problem is helping to bring change. A few cocoa cooperatives around the world are working hard to put  “Fair Trade” practices in place. The hope is that the general public will be willing to pay more for their chocolate if they know the workers are treated and paid fairly.

Unfortunately, progress is slow. The chocolate giants – Hershey’s and Nestle – take baby steps when forced, but our economic system allows these companies to purchase their cocoa on international exchanges where it is impossible to know the cocoa’s origin. 

“Fast Company” magazine reported that Hershey’s “has no policies in place to purchase cocoa that has been produced without the use of labor exploitation, and the company has consistently refused to provide public information about its cocoa sources…No information is available from Hershey about how the money it has invested in various programs in West Africa has actually impacted reductions in forced, trafficked, and child labor among the suppliers of its cocoa. Finally, Hershey’s efforts to further cut costs in its cocoa production has led to a reduction in good jobs in the United States."

The magazine is quoting from the Global Exchange Report, which goes on to say that a high percentage of Hershey workers are victims of human trafficking, regular abuse, and, in the case of children, are working without their parents or any legal guardians.

The bitter truth is this: The vast majority of the chocolate in our mouths begins in the hands of children and slaves working in terrible conditions. Ironically, Valentine’s Day does more to promote human trafficking than it has ever accomplished in advancing romance.

So what do we do? Well, the ultimate response would be to boycott all diamonds and chocolate originating in slave labor until we solve the crisis. The market thrives only in response to what we buy, not the other way around.

But don’t let me lose you with that radical suggestion. You can do something to help by supporting those companies trying to make a difference. 

Look for the “Fair Trade” or “Slave Free” logo on your chocolate labels. Companies such as Green & Black’s, Newman’s Own, Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Whole Foods Market Private Label and Dagoba are your best bets. They may cost a bit more, but these bars taste so much better than mass-produced chocolate anyway.

The world is a crazy place. Millions of dollars are spent each year to promote humane practices in our chicken and cow slaughterhouses. Food activists bend over backwards to make sure animals are treated with respect before we eat them.

But what about how we treat each other? I have to believe that if you and I were standing on a river bank in Sierra Leone, watching a young boy beaten until he can produce a diamond for his slave owner, we would never want to wear one again. If we visited the Ivory Coast and watched women work 18-hour days to harvest our cocoa beans, then perhaps our chocolate cake wouldn’t be quite as tempting.

We have removed ourselves so far from the origin of our food, clothes and luxuries that we assume if it’s on our shelves – if we can legally buy it – then it must be OK.

Now you know it is not. 




re: The Dark Side of Chocolate

This is exactly why Ivory Coast should follow the example of Egypt. Gbagbo and Ouattara won't be able to play the world's fears and concerns for the people there, and they have as much right to be free from slavery and exploitation as any nation/state/population, such as Tunisia, Egypt, or even the United States. I will not eat chocolate again until this disgrace is ended and justice prevails.

thank you

re: The Dark Side of Chocolate

FYI- Do not try to contact Leigh Vickery at the Tyler Paper. On a phone call 2/25/11 after being transferred 3 times with no comment we were informed that Leigh is no longer employed by the Tyler Paper.It was stated that this was completely her decision?? All of her prior wonderful articles appear to have been removed from the website.
Let's continue to base our comfort in the status of our country on what we read and hear in the media. We know that only the complete stories will always be revealed because that is what REAL reporters and journalist are there for. After all, why would they not want to tell "the rest of the story." You tell me. Have a Blessed Day.

re: The Dark Side of Chocolate

Leigh Vickery should not have been dismissed for this article and responsible reporting.

re: The Dark Side of Chocolate

Nigeria allows freedom of the press--apparently unlike Tyler, TX at times. Check out Nigerian Muse and On This Day. Sometimes they complain about conditions in their country. President Obama made his speech to Africa from Ghana--a country known for good governance.