Non-Slave Chocolate for the Holidays

How to get slave-free chocolate for the holidays

Cocoa_farmer_David_Kebu_Jnr by Irene Scott-AusAID

Image from Wikipedia Commons by Irene Scott/AusAID

It’s been awhile since I’ve written for Social In about human trafficking. I took a hiatus.

But now I’m jumping back on the Social In team with a festive holiday article about slave chocolate.

I know, you probably don’t want to think about slave chocolate at this happy time of year. Who wants to think that chocolate, one of the happiest-making things and a staple of the holidays (and my diet), might come from slave labor? Nobody wants that to be true. But a great deal of commercial chocolate sold in the US is sourced from farms run by forced labor, including the forced labor of children.  

Watch this documentary about slave labor in cacao production

In the film “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” a team of filmmakers go to Africa, specifically the Ivory Coast, to investigate the rumors they’ve heard about children being forced to work on cacao plantations. They talk to people who say it’s all just rumor, and people who say they’re involved. At one point in the film, the owner of a bus service in Mali (Africa) talks about how traffickers get children across the border to the Ivory Coast, where a lot of commercial chocolate is grown.

“Traffickers transport 10 to 15 children at a time by bus to Korogho, the Ivory Coast, where they have a place. Here the children are kept and sold to farmers in the area. Trafficked children generally come from rural areas. Traffickers take them to the border by bus. Then they use motorcycle taxis to bring the children across the border.”

Then they actually go undercover into the cacao plantations, and sure enough—there are kids with machetes hacking down the cacao beans. I didn’t find it on Netflix, but as I’m writing, this film is available on YouTube for free. Find it here. The film shows child trafficking as a pervasive problem in the Ivory Coast. Filmmakers were even able to talk to a self-identified trafficker, who explained amiably how many people could be involved in trafficking a single child. Smiling at the interviewer, he said, “If people on the border say they don’t traffic children, they’re lying.”  

cocoa-bean-280110_640Maybe we should have some legislation around this? . . . Nah!

In 2001, several US Congressmen (Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY) introduced a bit of legislation trying to get chocolate companies to label their products “child labor free.” Apparently, this was a problem for the chocolate companies. The industry fought this legislation so hard that getting certified as “child labor free” was made optional, and the prospect of labeling products was abandoned. Optional? Are you kidding me? How the hell did that meeting go?

Choco-Chairman: Okay, let’s all sign this agreement not to use child labor!

Chocolate Bob: Ah, Mr. Chairman, I’d like to propose that signing the agreement be optional.

Choco-Chairman: …Okay, Chocolate Bob, you’re an asshole. But whatever.

A version of the legislation was eventually passed, but it was really watered down, and hasn’t done much to actually reduce child labor.

I’m disturbed when food companies aren’t willing to put their ingredients or practices out there for everyone to see. Especially when it’s a sentiment that everyone should be able to get behind. (Sentiments such as, “Our chocolate should not be produced by the slave labor of children.” Can we at least all agree on that sentiment, Chocolate Bob? Yes? Then WHY won’t you put it on your candy bar labels?)

They’re not disclosing their practices because they know adding an extra layer of guilt, on top of the whole calories and sugar thing, would be really bad for chocolate sales. Then they’d have to change their practices, which would mean raising their prices, which would mean consumers wouldn’t buy as much.

Is it possible that the big chocolate companies can see through what we SAY we want (slave-free chocolate) to what we REALLY want (chocolate, chocolate, cheap and delicious guilt-free chocolate, in our dessert, in our milk, in our coffee, in my mouth right now)? Maybe.  

But if you really do want non-slave chocolate, how do you get it?

It’s appalling how difficult it is to find slave-free chocolate at popular grocery stores. Whole Foods has it, if you know what to look for.

One good sign is if a chocolate company steps up and proudly states that they are slave-free. I’m willing to give some chocolate companies the benefit of the doubt when they say they don’t know anything about child labor being used in the production of their chocolate. I doubt most of the people in candy-land know everything about the production of all their candy.

But I do think it’s each company’s responsibility to investigate those things, and make sure that the rumors aren’t true. (Remember when Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line was found out to be created in sweatshops, and she was horrified? I can forgive her ignorance to an extent, but it was her responsibility to be in the know about her fashion line.)

(Oh, and remember when IBM equipment was being used by Nazis, and IBM claimed to have no responsibility over how their products were used, but it was clear that they consciously sold to the SS? Yeah, that sucks, too.)

One of the best signs is a short supply chain. If you can find something like “from bean to bar” on the chocolate, then there’s a good chance that the company has gone out of their way to avoid forced labor practices in their chocolate. The more middle-men there are in the production system, the more likely it is that slave labor is sneaking past somebody’s nose.

Looking for Fair Trade chocolate is also a good option, but getting Fair Trade Certified can be expensive for small farms. Here’s a list of good companies. And here’s another article about finding ethical chocolate. Also, we could ban together and sue Nestle: US Court Rules OK to Sue Chocolate Firms Over Child Slave Labor

I’m not going to be able to eat a Hershey bar again without feeling complicit in slavery. I’ll gladly shell out the extra dough for the good stuff.


L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her book “Working Girl: 132 Somewhat Moral Values I Learned from a Sex Worker,” go to fight human trafficking. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick. © L. Marrick 2014. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.

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