By Rebel Fagin
Valentine’s Day is coming; a day when we celebrate our love for one another through poems, flowers, and chocolates. Many people think chocolate comes from Holland or Switzerland. Actually, chocolate is grown in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Guinea, and Burkina in northwestern Africa. Some of the farmers there use child slaves to harvest the cocoa. Forced child labor is the term used for slavery.
Children are abducted from their homes and driven several hundred miles away. Once in unfamiliar surroundings 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. In some cases this is true. In others, the children are kidnapped and forced to work under penalty of beatings. These children are totally dependent on their captors for survival.
When this first came to the world’s attention, the companies involved denied using any child labor. A quick look inside the cocoa forests killed that argument. Then they stated that these children were there voluntarily and all were of the minimum legal age for child labor, 12-years-old. I watched the documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate and many of the children I saw looked closer to 6 or 7 than 12. They looked frightened as they worked silently and swiftly lest the overseer catch them slacking. None of them were paid for their labor. That’s slavery.
Valentine’s Day is coming; a time to express love. Here’s a way you can do that and still enjoy chocolate. It’s simple; look for the labor label on the product. These are labor labels, not food quality labels. If it says Certified Fair Trade, no child slavery was used. It also means that the workers were allowed to organize for fair, negotiable wages. The Fair Trade label ensures 100% compliance to these standards. There is also the Fair for Life label. They too adhere to strict labor guidelines, plus 50% of all their ingredients must be Fair Trade. The chocolate labels that use 100% Fair Trade include: Alter Eco, Green & Black, Coco-Zen, Dagoba Conacado Bar, Divine, Shaman, Sweet Earth Organics, and Sjaak’s. Both Equal Exchange and Theo Chocolate sell Fair for Life chocolate bars.
From here sweet goes sour. Kraft and Mars chocolate bars carry the Rainforest Alliance seal, which means no child slavery was used. However, only 30% of the primary ingredients need to be certified. The other 70% could be produced by child slavery. There is no minimum price for cocoa beans required through this certification.
Below this lies Nestle, which is UTZ certified. UTZ requires that farmers receive a minimum wage after their first year of certification. If they don’t make it a year, they needn’t receive a 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. They don’t bother with a labor standard label. It’s as though they don’t care about people. That’s consistent, considering that it was the dairy fields of Hershey, Pennsylvania that receive all the radioactive water released by the Three Mile Island cooling plants during the near meltdown in 1979.
Valentine’s Day is coming. How sweet are the sweets you’re buying? You can learn more by exploring the following
sources: fairtradetownsusa.org, greenamerica.org, fairtradehealdsburg.blogspot.com, and The Dark Side of Chocolate (a video).
Rebel can be read at the Sonoma County Peace Press & the Daily Censored