On Valentine’s Day we show our love through flowers, poems, and chocolate. Some chocolate, though, comes with blood in it.
A great deal of chocolate is grown in northwestern Africa, in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Guinea, and Burkina. Some of it is harvested with child slave labor. Children are abducted from their homes and communities and driven several hundred miles away. These children are totally dependent on their captors for survival. Once in unfamiliar territory, they are put to work harvesting and splitting the large cocoa shells for the fruit inside. The companies claim these children are there because their families send them, but this is true only in some cases. The majority are kidnapped and forced to work under penalty of beatings.
Naturally, the companies involved have denied using child slave labor, but one look inside the cocoa forests killed that lie. Then these companies stated that these children were of the minimum age for child labor, 12. Watch The Dark Side of Chocolate, and tell me what you see. The children in that film look closer to 6 or 7 than to 12. They look frightened as they work silently and swiftly lest the overseer catch them slacking off and beat them.
Nobody wants to express love this way. There are alternatives. Look for the labor label on the product. If the product is certified Fair Trade, that means no child labor was used. It also means that workers were allowed to organize for fair, negotiable wages. Fair Trade means 100% compliance with these standards. There are a number of companies who make Fair Trade chocolate, Equal Exchange, Sjaak’s, Divine, Evolla, Altereco Foods, Sweet Riot, Madecasse, and Loving Earth among them. Another label of quality in labor is Fair for Life. Fair for Life means that at least 50% of all ingredients used meet Fair Trade standards. These chocolates include Theo Chocolate, Bernrain, Lake Champlain Chocolate, Vigneauti Chocolatier, and Zazubean Chocolate.
The corporate giants of the sweets industry don’t show much concern for their workers. The top five chocolate companies to employee child labor are Hershey, Fowler’s Chocolate, Nestlé, Godiva, and Mars. Granted, Kraft and Mars carry the Rainforest Alliance certification. This means no child slavery was used on 30% of the primary ingredients. But the other 70% could be produced by child slavery. There is no minimum price for cocoa beans required through this certification. Below this lies Nestlé, which is UTZ-certified. UTZ requires that farmers receive a minimum wage after their first year of certification. If they don’t survive the first year, they don’t get the minimum wage. UTZ forbids slavery and workers can organize, however, all prices are set between the buyers and each individual farmer. No collective bargaining is allowed. At the bottom of the heap squats Hershey. There has been progress, sort of. The Raise the Bar direct-action campaign of 2011 led to Hershey announcing plans to “source 100% certified cocoa” by 2020. At this point, it looks as if the certification will be by UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, or Fair Trade. Until then, Hershey’s profits roll in laced with the tears of children.
Valentine’s Day is coming. How sweet are the sweets you’re buying? Check it out first, and then enjoy a truly loving Valentine’s Day.
Rebel Fagin writes for the Sonoma County Peace Press and gcml.org