We talk a lot at Kitchen Stewardship about shopping locally, but there are a few food items that most of us can’t possibly buy local.
Chocolate, perhaps the most often recommended real foodie dessert (in the form of very dark chocolate), is one of them.
Even though I can’t get chocolate at my Farmer’s Market, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still be asking the question: Where does it come from?
Most chocolate in the world is farmed in Africa and some in South America, far, far from where I live. So far, in fact, that it’s easy to be removed from chocolate’s origins and just be happy to have something without artificial colors and junk that will melt in my mouth after a meal.
Unfortunately, there needs to be more thought put into it.
There are some subjects I’ve never looked into in my journey as a kitchen steward, in my journey to real food via a frugal, green avenue.
Fair trade chocolate is one of them.
I’m looking into it today, thanks to a request from our sponsor VanZeek, which sells premium chocolate brands such as Santa Barbara Chocolate and paid for this post on ethically traded chocolate. (I do love when companies are willing to help educate consumers on important issues, like this one of human rights. Bravo!)
Like what many commenters chastised me about when I admitted I bought non-organic strawberries, the nutritive benefits of the food are only one side of the coin. On the other is the dignity of the producers.
Chocolate’s Journey from Africa to Your Mouth
More than 30 developing countries produce cocoa, supporting more than 14 million people.1
Africa’s Ivory Coast exports 43% of the world’s cocoa beans. It’s big business – Americans alone spend $13 billion a year on chocolate.2 (Raise your hand if you participate in that number! I’m raising two. I love chocolate.)
Most cacao bean farms are small, family-owned enterprises. They work from October through June to grow, harvest, and dry cacao beans for the world’s chocolate industry.
Workers use heavy machetes to chop the large cacao pods out of trees, then carry 4-foot-tall bags of of cocoa beans, which are sold to major producers like Nestle, Hershey’s, and more.
The Catch: The Face of the Workers
In the cocoa industry, many of the "families" working the farms are made up of children, often boys ages 12-14 but even as young as 7 years old, who have been enslaved by the plantation owners and forced to work without pay.
"Human trafficking” is a euphemism for kidnapping. Some children are literally nabbed from the streets, while others are sold by their own family members or lured by the promise of a paying job. A plantation owner can buy a child for just 200 Euros, including transport by traffickers.5
But it’s much worse than even acknowledging that this is kidnapping in the worst form – not only are children forcibly or via trickery being taken from their parents, but they’re put into slavery, working long hours in horrid conditions:
- very long hours, 12+ a day
- not paid living wage, or at all
- not fed properly – often only corn mush or bananas
- poor conditions; locked up at night
- far too crowded for sleeping
- some are beaten; very few are able to escape
- sources: TED case studies, The Dark Side of Chocolate, CNN
Screenshot of bags of cacao beans from "The Dark Side of Chocolate"
If you’ve ever read a work of historical fiction about American slavery, watched a documentary or read history books and thought, "Thank goodness that’s all been taken care of and doesn’t still happen in our country today," it’s time to take the blinders off and broaden our horizons to the American habits that are enabling slavery to continue in our global society. It takes more than a village to raise (and protect) a child these days.
Let this sit with you:
Drissa, a recently freed cocoa slave who had never even tasted chocolate, experienced similar circumstances and when asked what he would tell the people who eat chocolate made from slave labor, he replied that the people enjoyed something that he suffered to make, adding: “When people eat chocolate they are eating my flesh.”" 6
Do any of the Big Candy Companies Use Fair Trade Chocolate?
In 2001, major international manufacturers and countries signed a protocol saying they won’t use chocolate harvested with child labor. There were plans for better tracking of workers and crackdowns on child labor. However, in the first ten years afterward, hardly anything was accomplished.
It sounds like there’s some headway being made because of petitions and outcry from consumers since 2012, but until a big company like Nestle or Hershey’s publicly states “fair trade” and writes it on their packaging, I don’t think they’ve made a big enough commitment. In this case, a step in the right direction really isn’t good enough.
They are getting there – Hershey says that by 2020, their chocolate will not be a product of child labor/slavery. In the meantime, I don’t want to wait seven years for chocolate. (So far a few of their subsidiaries, Dagoba and Bliss, according to a reader, are fair trade, but I didn’t confirm that note.)
The issue is a bit of a blight on the chocolate industry. For example, "The Story of Chocolate" lists plenty of major companies, describes sustainable chocolate farming, and lauds efforts being made to educate and fairly pay families who farm cocoa…but no mention is made of child labor, slavery, or trafficking.
Fair trade cocoa and chocolate can be found, and VanZeek.com is one retailer that requires UTZ Certified Cocoa Beans and prioritizes ethically sourced chocolate.
I, for one, have a lot to chew on today. I know that my best dark chocolate is ethically sourced. I also know I just bought some indulgence chocolate treats at Costco yesterday that are burning a hole in my conscience after this research. Perhaps "source only fair trade chocolate" is my latest baby step. Many would say "boycott companies who participate in child slavery" is even more necessary.
If you are looking for a source for fair trade chocolate, I’m happy to offer a code for a $5 credit at VanZeek – use SWEET5 one time, expires Sept. 30th. You might also follow their Facebook page, although I’ll warn you that a chocolate company is a bit of a dangerous follow. I just wiped copious amounts of drool off my keyboard after perusing their timeline. (But at least it’s not child-labor-driven drool.) I’ve tried the Santa Barbara line of their chocolates – divine. They’re the star in this sweet and salty snack mix.
In this week when we have discussed the frightening increase in obesity in America, why am I even talking about sweets? One way of looking at the chocolate issue: if you prioritize fair trade chocolate over cheap junk, you have to have self-discipline on the amount you eat, since it costs a gajillion more dollars than a Hershey bar. But it’s a gajillion dollars to protect kids from slavery, which is money well spent – and an incentive not to overeat junk.
What’s your chocolate philosophy?
Share with friends who are in the dark about their dark chocolate!
- Over a year ago a reader shared the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate on YouTube with me and hoped I’d write about fair trade chocolate. Now thanks to VanZeek, I finally have.
- What is Fair Trade?
- One list of no-child-labor chocolate
- Another thought-provoking post: How Much is Too Much?
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. See my full disclosure statement here.
Photo courtesy of VanZeek.