Bitter Chocolate

By Adrienne Fitch-Frankel
Monday, February 8, 2010

There are so many things to consider on Valentine’s Day: the reason you and your beloved were first attracted to each other, the amazing date you’ve planned, the perfect gift to express your affection. And, if you’re like most Americans, you’re thinking about buying chocolate. U.S. consumers purchase hundreds of millions of dollars of chocolate for their sweeties in the week leading up to February 14. With that in mind, here’s one more thing to consider:

Child slavery.

Yes, child slavery. It’s rampant in the cocoa industry.

Though the industry promised in 2001 to fix the problem, it hasn’t. Abusive child labor and slavery still makes your chocolate a bit bitter. A report funded by the State Department and others estimate that in West Africa, the source of 70 percent of the world’s cocoa, hundreds of thousands of children as young as five years old toil in the cocoa fields, with scores of them enduring the worst forms of child labor. These kids clear fields, spray pesticides, and carry heavy sacks across vast distances.

Not so sweet, huh?

But there’s a way to give the perfect Valentine’s Day chocolates without perpetuating child abuse. The solution lies in fair-trade certification.

Fair-trade certification ensures that cocoa producers meet stringent labor and environmental standards, stipulating that the crop is produced without forced or abusive child labor. Fair trade also guarantees that farmers are paid a fair price for their crops, allowing them to pay the costs of inputs to their crops—including labor—and purchase necessities they often can’t afford when prices are left to the market’s whims.

Chocolate, jewelry, and other gifts worthy of being a token of your love can be found at your local store carrying fair-trade goods or online at Global Exchange’s fair-trade store. You can even pair your gift of fair-trade chocolate with fair-trade certified flowers and wine. And then, there is the ultimate Valentine’s Day chocolate gift: a trip to spend a week with the fair-trade cocoa farmers in the Dominican Republic…an experience every chocolate lover should have. Fair trade gifts are often accompanied by the story of the worker cooperative it supports, which is sure to win the heart of your beloved, all over again. You can learn more about these options at www.globalexchange.org/cocoa, a website my organization created.

Helping to end abusive child labor and slavery, and ensuring fair prices for farmers and other producers, doesn’t have to stop there. Individuals, schools, congregations, and communities around the country are uniting to educate their neighbors about fair trade, using fun and creative actions. For example, educators nationwide will participate in a National Valentine’s Day of Action by teaching schoolchildren about fair-trade cocoa. You can also visit our website to find out how you can help promote fair trade and press Hershey’s, World’s Finest Chocolate, and other cocoa industry leaders to end the intolerable shadow slavery casts on our cocoa supply.

By the way, choosing another popular Valentine’s Day gift doesn’t resolve the problem. Diamonds, without proper certification, are nobody’s best friend. Conflict diamonds, blood diamonds, hot diamonds: The names all point to the glaring problem in the industry. Most diamonds come from regions of the world embroiled in conflict, where the sale of diamonds finances arms purchases, and violent groups resort to forced labor and brutal violence to keep the money flowing.

Even flowers may be tainted. Many flower-production companies, generally operating in Africa or Latin America, pay wages below subsistence levels and threaten the health of workers through toxic exposures. Further, these companies often prevent workers from forming unions to secure their rights.

Valentine’s Day is supposed to be sweet. Let’s sweeten it for everyone by supporting the fair-trade movement and helping stamp out child slavery and other abusive labor conditions.

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Adrienne Fitch-Frankel is Global Exchange's fair-trade cocoa campaigner. www.globalexchange.org


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