Blood & Chocolate

This is not a post on how to make a creepy chocolate bar gag gift for Halloween. It’s about how the fair trade movement can make you distrust the longest, most faithful and comforting boyfriend you’ve ever had: chocolate.

Did you know October is Fair Trade Month? Because I did not. I innocently thought I’d check into it and then…oh no, my eyes! I can’t now not know ¾ of the world’s cocoa is supplied by Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where child labor and even child slavery—through a trade with the child’s relative or kidnapping — is employed. These are not just teenagers doing this manual labor for little or no pay, but also children under 10 years of age. Food is Power has a detailed and substantiated article on this practice.

I read through quite a few blogs on the subject and grew more and more resigned to the fact that this practice is not something Jane Consumer can turn around, and also: Halloween is going to be a bummer. Am I going to prevent my kids from eating their chocolate in the interest of fare trade? Is there any chocolate I can buy for Halloween, guilt-free?  Every blog, it seemed, fell back on the same familiar saw: buy fair trade chocolate. Here are my issues with this tactic:

  1. You can buy bars at Whole Foods and other specialty stores, but if you want to buy small chocolates, you probably need to buy them online.
  2. Fair Trade chocolate is pricey. So, only those who can afford to buy it can eat chocolate without supporting child labor? Because NOT eating chocolate? Off the table.
  3.  I am skeptical that it tastes awesome.

I wanted to write a post about it, but I didn’t feel like I could offer up any ideas that I can really get behind. To my great relief, Forbes published an article this week that asks, “Is Your Candy the Product of Child Labor?”  E.D. Cain, bless his heart, voiced some of my own concerns and followed up with ideas for old-fashioned citizen action: pester the companies.

The answer to this from many quarters has been fair trade – but is fair trade a viable solution? I suspect not. If prices for fair trade goods are higher than prices for non-fair trade goods, all this will do is lead consumers with more purchasing power to buy the fair trade goods while most consumers stick to cheaper brands

If consumers can’t exactly vote with their feet, and free trade itself is a net good for the developing world, than what can we do about things like slave labor in Africa being used to provide cocoa to candy manufacturers in the Western world? Consumers can and should pressure corporations to adopt more ethical business practices and labor standards. Activists and journalists can write about injustices across the developing world.

Here are links to the contact pages for the top chocolate producers in the U.S.—Mars, Hershey, Ghirardelli, Nestle,  Kraft Foods and the Curtiss Candy Company  if you want to encourage them to support fair trade chocolate. Meanwhile, I’ll think about switching my secret chocolate drawer contents to fair trade chocolates. But only if it tastes awesome. I’ll do a taste test and report back.

Do you have a fair trade chocolate you can recommend to me? What other steps can I take to support/encourage fair trade practices in chocolate manufacturing?


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