Chocolate. Mmmmm. Melt in your mouth, sometimes in your hands, usually in your pocket, chocolate. The good stuff. You know what I’m talking about. Brownies. Chocolate chip cookies. Snickers bars. Dove. Cookies and Cream. Moose tracks ice cream. Mint chocolate chip. You name it, we all know it and love it. It’s really hard to believe that there could be a dark side to chocolate. None of us wants to think that what we’ve been enjoying at birthday parties or weddings has a sad and hidden past. It’s hard to say, but it’s true. In this case, ignorance is most definitely not bliss.
Whether we know it or not, most of the chocolate we eat is harvested on the backs of preteen slaves in the Ivory Coast of Africa. These children are taken from their homes, lured by false promises of money or toys. Most children come willingly because they have been tricked. They come from impoverished families and truly believe that they will earn a decent wage and be able to send money back home. Parents pressure children to go because they think it will help them, or they are offered money for them. By the time the child figures out what is happening, it’s too late. They’ve crossed borders and are heavily watched. Their pockets are empty, and their backs are tired. These children make 25 to 50 cents a day if they get paid at all! There are few that escape.
One would hope that the large candy companies would refuse to use this chocolate. Back in 2001 when the news of this slavery became public knowledge, candy companies such as Nestle, Hershey, Cargill, ADM, and Barry Callebaut signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol stating that they would meet certain standards to avoid child slavery and ensure proper wages for workers. This protocol was signed “by the 8 largest companies, two US Senators, one US congressman, the Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, and a few NGO and industry alliance representatives.” They promised to create advisory groups to investigate as well as implement a specific timeline to remedy the issues. It is over a decade later, and the “candy companies [that] have admitted accountability and promised to remedy this situation [have not]. Sadly, 14 years [have] passed since this agreement and little has changed.”
So even though laws have been put in place and protocols have been signed, things are not changing. Children are still trafficked, and those who are seeking to make it known are harmed. I watched a documentary titled The Dark Side of Chocolate, and as I watched minute upon minute of this industry being revealed, I became more and more burdened for these people. It has over 2 million views, and I hope that those 2 million people have vowed not to buy chocolate unless it is properly sourced. This documentary records top executives at major chocolate corporations saying there is no problem. That they know about the child workers and that they are handling it. They speak in vague terms and cannot guarantee that the issue has been resolved. They continue to say that there is a law against it, but quite obviously, there is no one implementing the law. When the documenters visited the plantations to verify that the law is being upheld, they knew what they would see before they even arrived.
Ten-to-twelve-year-old boys are carrying machetes, hauling bags of cocoa beans out of deep forests. They work twelve-hour days. These children were bought for 230 euros or snatched from bus stops. The sight of these boys reminds me of the first time I heard about the slavery surrounding chocolate. My friend Sarah dropped it in conversation a time or two. I was shocked and, to be honest, chose not to ask questions. I thought she seemed a bit zealous, and I could not make sense of how slavery and chocolate could go hand in hand. I was playing the safe card, pleading ignorance. As I watched the children working on the plantations, I remembered my desire to remain ignorant, and I was saddened by my own indifference. The more I heard it mentioned, though, the more I came to realize that my apathy came with a hefty price.
The passion in Sarah’s voice was enough to convince me that this was something worth looking into. I recall her voice, remembering how it rose with a righteous anger as she said, “Justice matters to the heart of God, and it should matter to our hearts, too.” I remember how that statement cut me to the quick. I was left nearly speechless. She was absolutely right! My apathy had to die. I could not call myself a follower of the King of Justice if I was going to allow myself to remain indifferent and ignorant.
I remember a church gathering on a mild spring afternoon. Kids were playing, and people were eating. I wandered up to the table to fix a plate, and I saw Sarah’s oldest daughter approach the table. She eyed the desserts, and I saw her reach for a plate. She was having a hard time, so I walked over to see if I could help.
“I’d like a cupcake, please, just not one with chocolate,” she said.
I got her a vanilla cupcake and watched her happily skip off. A little 5-year-old girl is making a choice that seems too difficult for most adults. I found Sarah because I had to hear more. Sarah told me about how she opened up to her two girls, telling them the truth about chocolate. How little boys and girls are taken from their homes to work. How they don’t get to go to school, or play games, or rest. How they don’t see their moms and dads. Sarah made a bold choice–to involve her two little girls in the fight against slavery.
In a time when most people would rather stay in ignorance because it seems more comfortable, we are called by our King to stand for justice. I am so thankful for a friend like Sarah. A friend who dares to call me up out of my apathy and show me a better way. A friend that fights the good fight and trains up her children to do the same. I am completely blessed by her conviction and am now making better choices, and I invite you to join me.
Sadly, the change we need to see will only come when the large chocolate manufacturers’ wallets are growing empty. They will need to be frightened of losing revenue, and that’s where we come in. We can fight this horrible enslavement by buying chocolate we know to be harvested fairly. We can choose to buy organic and fair trade. We can spend the few extra dollars in order to fund proper wages on cocoa plantations, or we can just choose to do without. Chocolate is a luxury, and since understanding more of the horrible injustice surrounding this sweet decadence, I cannot help but question every single bite of chocolate I have put in my mouth.
I know I have eaten chocolate harvested by children’s hands. You have, too. We cannot live under the weight of what we have done, but we can vow to make different choices starting today. It may be a long and drawn out fight, but every fight starts with a choice. I’m joining in the fight for these children. One way to help with this injustice is to simply talk about it. Just like Sarah spoke to me, I am inviting you to talk to your friends. Don’t let ignorance continue to enslave. Vote with your dollar and change the world with your voice.
For a great resource to see the wide variety of places you can find fair trade chocolate, click here or here. To read up on the current situation for these children and how you can make a difference, visit slavefreechocolate.org.
Feature Image by Brenda Godinez