Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chocolate You Can Believe In

I love chocolate. It’s not an uncommon viewpoint among women. We purchase 75 percent of the stuff. We consume more than 2.3 billion pounds of it in the U.S., spending nearly $12 billion dollars each year. That means that we are powerful chocolate lobbyists. Why is that important?

Like most things that give us pleasure, there is a down side to chocolate. More than 60 percent of the world’s cacao is grown in Africa. Africa has been cited by the International Labor Rights Forum and others as the country with the highest use of child labor, child slaves and trafficked children on cacao plantations. Boys, ages 12 to 16, are taken from their homes and trafficked to the Ivory Coast and other West African nations where they are sold to the owners of cacao plantations. If they try to run away, they are beaten. A UNICEF study found that 200,000 children are trafficked yearly in West and Central Africa.

Like most parents, I find the exploitation of children very disturbing. So what can we do? Give up chocolate? Actually, that’s not necessary. The way to make a statement is to boycott chocolate that was produced by child slavery. Oddly enough, that is simple to do. Make sure the chocolate you buy has the Fair Trade Certified stamp. That ensures that 100% of the chocolate that’s making your eyes roll back was farmed without child labor. It is important NOT to confuse this stamp with the Rainforest Alliance certification which only guarantees that 30% of the chocolate came from plantations that do not victimize children. Only 30%? Lame.
If your chocolate doesn't have this
Fair Trade stamp, it may have been
produced with child slavery.

Who are the most common abusers when it comes to making confections with ill-gotten chocolate ingredients? Sadly, the large manufacturers seem to be most at fault. Hershey, M&M Mars and Nestlé were listed by the Huffington Post as the major culprits ignoring the use of child labor, child slaves and trafficked children. According to a 2002 report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, 284,000 children were working in hazardous conditions on African plantations. Apparently, the International Labor Rights Forum filed suit against Nestlé, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, on behalf of a group of children, alleging trafficking, torture and forced labor. Children who testified spoke of severe beatings and the inability to leave the plantations at will. Nestlé's response? They weren't responsible because they only buy the chocolate, they don't own the plantations. Bad call, Nestlé.

Who are the good guys? Remember, if you do not see the Fair Trade stamp on the chocolate you buy, all bets are off. Here’s a partial list of Fair Trade/sustainably farmed organic chocolates, but still look for the stamp because some manufacturers have Fair Trade as well as uncertified product lines:

Alter Eco
Dagoba Organic
Divine Chocolate
Endangered Species
Equal Exchange
Green & Black's
Grenada Chocolate Company
Ithaca Fine Chocolates
Seeds of Change
Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates
Terra Nostra Organic

Everything we do in life makes a difference. Time to start lobbying, Ladies. Sink your teeth into some Fair Trade chocolates and take a stand for a better world.

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