Sunday, November 11, 2018

Changes to Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List

Food Empowerment Project's recommended mascot - Chavez

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) appreciates all of you who use our chocolate list as a way to buy chocolate that does not include the suffering of non-human animals or does not support slavery or the worst forms of child labor in the chocolate industry.

This list is important to us because of what it represents―that you trust us―and we take that very seriously. And, of course, we use it, too.

In May of this year, a new report came out: The Global Business of Forced Labour Report of Findings. The report by Professor Genevieve Lebaron is from the University of Sheffield, Economic & Social Research Council and Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute. The dataset used “includes in-depth interviews with over 120 tea and cocoa workers, a survey of over 1000 tea and cocoa workers, and over 100 interviews with business and government actors.”

Research was done on the cocoa industry in Ghana and the tea industry in India. (We hope to eventually look into the tea industry, but at this time, our small organization is still committed to creating transparency in the chocolate industry.)

F.E.P. has always been transparent about our list criteria, so I felt it was important to let everyone know that due to this report, we have had to adjust our criteria, and we will no longer be recommending companies that source from Western Africa unless they show they are doing things very, very differently than what is currently being done there.

This means that we will be removing companies from our recommended list and placing them on our do not recommend list and others will be moved to our new “Mixed” category.

The “Mixed” category will include all of the companies that make some chocolate we recommend and some we do not. It will be important to look at the list of products under this category to be sure you are purchasing the ones we recommend. We will no longer have a “giving the benefit of the doubt” category.

One of the reasons for this change is that one of the companies we’d recommended uses a worker-owned cooperative where the workers were also partial owners, and that cooperative was specifically called out as being problematic in the report.

Unfortunately, the report validated our concerns that no certification system seems to be effective.

We already had a strong policy on Western Africa due to conversations with a number of people who have worked on the ground there. 
We did give a few exceptions but have since revisited that decision based on the findings from this report.

According to workers interviewed, major issues include:
Underpayment of workers
Not being paid for all of the work performed
Deductions for equipment (e.g., cutlass, machete), fertilizer, food, or transportation (including for items that were never really actually provided)
The imposition of fines or deductions leading to “nnaho,” or involuntary labor
The imposition of fees for securing a job as a farm worker
The non-payment of wages altogether (23% of cocoa workers have performed work they were not paid for)

Some workers talked about physical assault taking place when they ask for their wages

The conclusion states:
The workforce base of the global cocoa supply chain is caught in a trap of poverty and debt. Most cocoa workers are not earning enough to obtain the basic necessities of life. Our research suggests that workers in the cocoa industry are experiencing severe labour exploitation, including forced labour. These are not anomalous or randomly occurring incidents (added emphasis). Rather, dynamics of labour exploitation operate according to clear and stable patterns. Farmers’ demand for exploited labour is contextualized by the low prices they receive for cocoa, which preclude them from making a living income. These dynamics occur at the base of a highly lucrative supply chain: the top ten chocolate manufacturers bring in dozens of billions of pounds each year. The business of forced labour and exploitation in the cocoa industry therefore needs to be understood with the context of high uneven value distribution along the chocolate supply chain, especially, the disproportionate market power and monopolization of the companies at the top of the supply chain.
U
nfortunately, this means that we have had to remove some of our favorite companies from our recommended list. 

We have contacted all of the companies to offer them a chance to share with us if they were doing things differently than what was described in the report.

Some companies have provided us with additional information, telling us they had already changed suppliers or are working to switch suppliers; others have not responded; and still others have not had satisfactory responses to our questions.

T
here are also some companies that state they do not want to turn their backs on the farmers in Western Africa. While we understand that sentiment, we argue that they do not have to turn their backs in order to make a difference.

We do not feel it helps the farmers/workers to buy chocolate from these areas as the benefit seems to be to the corporations. Also, as an organization we do not want to encourage consumers to buy from areas where slavery and child labor are taking place and are very prevalent as this indirectly supports such abuses.

We also know that many times when workers have demanded change, many of them have actually encouraged others to cease their financial support of the business they work for. Example: During farm worker campaigns, they encourage boycotts of the products they are picking  (grapes, lettuce, strawberries) as a way to put pressure on the companies that are the ones actually making the profits. Also, it is important to remember that those who are slaves are not being paid.

We want to put pressure on corporations to do better because they can.

As an example, take a look at Project Hope and Fairness. This is a chocolate manufacturer that is aware of the problems in Western Africa. At this time, they do not buy chocolate sourced from those areas. Instead, what they are doing is raising funds in the US to give to farmers in Western Africa where they can build and make their own chocolate. Not just pick the beans, but make chocolate so that the farmers make the profits and own the business.

Some companies might pay into other large consortiums that supposedly help to reduce slavery and child labor; however, they are not doing what would make the most sense: speaking to the growers/farmers about what they would need to survive to not rely on slavery or child labor.

When chocolate companies or organizations that certify adjust the price they pay for the cacao, it is no wonder why these farmers live in poverty. It feels odd that they do not understand how problematic it is.  That would be like your salary changing every year―imagine if your salary went up and down like that.

Ironically, as I was wrapping up this blog, the 2018 US Department of Labor report on list of goods produced by child and forced labor came out, and Brazil was listed as a country having high rates of child labor. Because of this, we will be adding Brazil as a country that we will not be recommending cacao beans from, with a few exceptions for those farms that include the workers in the profits and financially help the children with school.

F.E.P. has always maintained that there might be a time in which we will recommend no chocolate, but until that time, we will continue to update our list monthly and stay informed on reports that are not funded by the industry or the companies themselves.

Thanks to everyone who does their best to truly eat with their ethics and hold our government and corporations accountable―this will help to right some of the injustices that exist in the current food system.

Being removed from our recommended list:
Ds Naturals - Brazil
Divine
Felchin
The Cooperative (England)
Tony’s Chocolonely* we have had detailed exchanges with the company and will reevaluate once we read their new annual report, which comes out in sometime in November.
Treat Dreams

Some companies are being moved to our Mixed list:
TCHO (only single-origin bars from Latin America)


Friday, November 2, 2018

Understanding Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate list

Understanding Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List

Food Empowerment Project publishes a list of companies that sell chocolates that we do and do not recommend. To make our list they have to make some vegan chocolates.

Why?
  1. To help people buy chocolate that does not involve the exploitation of human (children or adults) or non-human animals (such as cows and goats).
  2. To make sure consumers are informed about where companies stand on the issue.
  3. To encourage consumers to contact the companies and let them know how they feel!
Any companies that wish to change suppliers are provided with a list of wholesalers that make chocolate we do recommend.

Understanding our list

The list is made up of several categories:

Chocolate we feel comfortable recommending
The first category is pretty simple. These are companies that make some (if not all) vegan chocolates, as they do not include the suffering of non-human animals. They are transparent about the country of origin for their cacao beans and the beans were not sourced from areas where child labor and slavery are most pervasive or are from areas where companies are going above and beyond to support the workers and their families.

Mixed
Includes companies that make some chocolate we recommend and some we do not. It will be important to look at the list of products under this category to be sure you are purchasing the ones we recommend.

Cannot recommend
These are companies that we know have been implicated in sourcing their cacao from farms located in areas where child labor and slavery are most pervasive.

Cannot recommend but are working on the issues in various ways
These are companies that responded to our request for information and are either under a particular certification, such as organic, and/or have indicated to us that they are aware of the slavery issue and care enough to work on it.

They are currently buying chocolate with the intention of not participating in child labor and slavery, but since they source from areas where the worst forms of child labor, including slavery are the most prevalent, we are not comfortable recommending them due to problems with various certifications.

Some of the companies that are using fair trade chocolate are not necessarily going to change suppliers, but they can be considered “informed” companies trying to do their part.

If they are using fair trade chocolate, then why aren’t they listed on our recommended list? It is unfortunate, but all certifications have been found to have problems. We acknowledge this might change, but for now, this is how they rank on our list.

Companies that are working with us to change suppliers are not listed.

Cannot recommend but at least responded
We list the companies that responded honestly but don’t make our list as they source from areas where the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, are the most pervasive.

Cannot recommend
companies that would not disclose their supplier (no transparency for customers).
Not disclosing where their chocolate is sourced from is really no different than those companies that did not respond at all. We do not ask for supplier contacts; we simply ask from which country they get their cacao beans. Wanting to hide the information is an insult to consumers who care about this issue.

Cannot recommend: companies that did not respond.
As simple as that. They did not respond to our request. We encourage consumers to reach out to their favorite company if they see them listed here.

How do we contact the companies?
Food Empowerment Project emails the companies requesting where they get their cacao beans. If there is no response, another email is sent after two weeks – forwarding the original request. After another week passes, the two reminders are sent again, this time with a link to our list, letting them know they will go on our non-response list if we do not hear back. After a week with no response, we put them on our website. If the response is “Switzerland,” “USA” or some other non-cacao-producing country known for its chocolate, another email is sent reminding them we are talking about the beans, not the chocolate.

We attempt to update our list (which is also available as an app) once a month.

We encourage people from all over the globe to send us the names of companies that make vegan chocolate products that are not already on our list; we will look into the company to see where they should be placed on our list.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Giving back just a little to help right an injustice (Update on Food Empowerment Project School Supply Drive 2018)


 
Delivery in Watsonville. Photo by Souledad Productions.


As a vegan organization, Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) encourages people who have access to healthy food to go vegan so as to not contribute to the suffering and death of non-human animals. In doing so, we are encouraging people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Therefore, we need to acknowledge the injustices farm workers face and ensure that those who pick our food are treated with the dignity and respect all workers deserve, especially since neither the laws nor the corporations are protecting them.

In addition to the work we do to support legislation, regulatory changes, and corporate campaigns called by farm workers, F.E.P. has tried to come up with creative ideas to do more. We started our school supply drive for the children of farm workers to help them reach their potential and give them a great start to the school year, which helps ease the burden on their families. We do not see this as an act of charity but as a way to help right an injustice.

California farm workers pick fruits and vegetables that are sold all over the country—even the world—but these workers are victims of some of the worst abuse that capitalism and racism have to offer.

However, this is meant to be an inspiring blog about all that we did together, along with lots of thank yous! There are links, so you can read more about why it is so important to do all we can to make sure that farm workers are seen and protected and that we advocate for their rights.

Now it’s time to thank all of YOU!

There are so many people who make this event powerful and meaningful, and it is always important for me to do my best to recognize everyone!

The farm workers and organizations
First and foremost, thanks to the farm worker organizations that got back to us to accept the school supplies we collected and packed. As in the past, we were able to work with Dr. Ann Lopez with Center for Farmworker Families (CFF), Mariano Alvarez with Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena, and this year with Lizbeth Valdez with United Farm Workers.

Drop-off locations
Thanks to all of the drop-off locations that agreed early in the year to do this and then went on to promote and gather the school supplies, and also to Sandra and Joel Gluck and Billy Lovci for coordinating.

We could not do this without the generosity of the following locations donating space and for their strong belief in this effort: Center for Employment Training (San José),
City of San José Assemblymember Ash Kalra for his support and Stacy Shih in his office for securing and overseeing two locations in San José, Dailey Method (Berkeley), Grant Lake Theatre (Oakland), Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Santa Rosa (Glazer Center), Marin Humane, Stanford Prevention Research Center, and to Sanctuary Bistro that offered a 10% discount to those who brought school supplies to their restaurant.

Mario Valadez with the
Latino Employee Resource Group of PG&E served as a drop-off location for their offices for a month! Thanks to them and to the Marin Sangha for collecting donations as well.

Bonus from our supporters outside of the Bay Area
The bulk of the supplies we received came from those of you who had them shipped directly to our office. We had people send supplies from all over the US and even from Canada and England!! This was an incredible gift to receive.

Donations for School Supply Drive
Thanks to the people who gave us cash donations so that we could purchase the supplies we were running low on to make sure that all of the kids had the same items in their backpacks. It is very important for us to ensure that the children all receive the same materials in each bag.

Also, as this event has grown, the cost to F.E.P. has grown as well, so these donations go a long way to help us with this important work.

Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena Delivery
Picking up and packing!
A huge thanks to Billy Lovci and Sandra and Joel for helping us with picking up the school supplies! That might sound easy, but schedules have to be coordinated, and sometimes not all of the supplies will fit in our cars (yay!), so multiple trips are necessary!

Another huge thanks to the volunteers who helped to pack up the school supplies! This  takes a lot of time, work, energy and brain power! A big thank you to Miyoko’s for donating some delicious cheese and cream cheese to help fill our volunteer’s stomachs and to Shelly Welch for making some delicious food and desserts for us too! Thanks too to our office space that graciously donated an empty warehouse so we could pack. The crew who worked in our Petaluma office on a Saturday packing were: Abbey Levine; Jasmine and Billy Lovci; Brian Welch; Mark Hawthorne; Sandra, Joel, and Cara Gluck; and our own Erika Galera! A huge thanks to Brian’s partner Shelly for making some delicious treats! Our Sunday crew Abbey, Orlando, and Linda Olivia also deserve big kudos!

The next Saturday, we were back at it! Thanks to Jennifer Knapp and Jeffrey May (and Bootsie) for opening their home and for their help, along with Isabella and Peter Cnudde (and Lallie), Corinna Dixon, Cristina Stella, Mark Hawthorne, Stefanie Wilson, and Erika Galera.


Deliveries

Our first delivery was part of our continued work with CFF and its founder Dr. Ann Lopez, whose relationship with these farm workers is one of trust; this is how my idea for the school supply drive got started.

When we arrived, there were already farm workers and their children waiting for us. As you can see from the videos, dozens were already in line, and as the day went on, the line grew longer. But we had enough for everyone!
It was wonderful to see familiar faces and all the excitement at picking the right backpack, from the younger kids choosing from the character backpacks, all the way up to the backpacks being chosen by the older kids. What struck me this year, more than ever before, was how many of the siblings looked after each other. The older kids would make sure their little sister or brother had exactly what they wanted before they looked for one themselves.

Thanks to Erika Galera, George Lin, Jennifer Knapp, Mark Hawthorne, Sharon Daraphonhdeth for all of their help with the delivery.

And a big hug and thank you to Laura Knapp for providing us (as she has every year) with an incredibly delicious meal, cool drinks, and the most amazing desserts after our delivery! We are so grateful to you!

During the following week, Mariano Merino picked up school supplies for Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indigena in Windsor, and farm workers with the United Farm Workers picked up supplies for the farm workers in Santa Rosa as well as the Central Valley. 


UFW Delivery.






We collected 568 backpacks this year -- over a hundred more than last year!!
😊 

A big thank you to all of the other people involved who I didn’t specifically mention above:
Valerie Belt, Joyce Tischler, Meghan Lowery, Oliver Mazner, Karen Emmerman, Leticia Dominguez, Katherine Connors, Cindy Machado, Kerry Corcoran, Patti Breitman, Jennifer Jones Horton, Linda Harlow, the Tamez family, Jan Prater, Audrey Marr, Barbara Clark, Priscilla Sandoval, Black Vegan Feminist, Hiddema, Elizabeth, Meg, Jocelyn and Ida York, Valerie Giguere, Callie Coker and Nichole Dinato from Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack!, Rebecca Robison, Julie Soloman, Charlotte & Jeremy Levin, Andrea Danowski, Krista Scotney Young, Chris Jones Ofra, Lisa Millspaugh, Debbie, Celia, Claire, Janet, Karen, Derrick, Tiffany Hogan, Audrey, Viridiana de Leon, Lisa Ifatani, Brittany Dunbar, Brooke A., Lucia Kasulis, Valerie Spektor, Food Empowercats, and all of the F.E.P. supporters, volunteers, and donors who supported this effort and all of our work.

This year we collected more backpacks than we did school supplies to properly and equitably fill them, so we will be working to figure out a solution. A very big thank you to those donors who stretched themselves to ensure that we had school supplies in every backpack.

We hope you enjoy the beautiful video and photos courtesy of the great amazing crew at Souledad Photography! We very much appreciate Richard Sanchez and Miguel Kultura for donating their time and talent to capture the joy of the children getting their school supplies with both photos and video!

F.E.P. encourages everyone to support corporate campaigns called by farm workers, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Boycott Wendy’s campaign and the #BoycottDriscolls campaign called by the San Quentin workers in Mexico.

The farm workers are now even calling to ask about this event and want to know when the deliveries will take place. This truly does help these families.

A heartfelt thanks to all of you again for helping my vision become a reality. Your generosity constantly fills my heart with hope and gratitude.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Help end animal cruelty one glass at a time



As June is the start of National Dairy Month, initially conceived by the International Dairy Foods Association in 1937 to promote drinking milk, I want to try to dissect the dreaded dairy industry from the times of colonization to today by looking at the vast amount of cruelty that takes place day in and day out, harming human and non-humans alike.

Food Empowerment Project’s newest effort, Eliminate animal suffering, one glass at a time, strives to address these issues for all to understand.

Colonization



As a very proud Xicanx, I will start where it began for my indigenous ancestors. Simply put, Columbus’ second voyage brought cows, goats, and other animals to our lands, as he thought our foods were inferior. (You can learn more here: http://www.foodispower.org/colonization-food-and-the-practice-of-eating/).

Cows


Just like humans, mother cows are pregnant for nine months, and just like human mothers, they produce milk for their babies. It may seem surprising to some, but, yes, cows’ milk is really for their babies — newborn calves. Mom and baby, who want to be together, are separated so that humans can drink their milk (or eat it via cheese, yogurt, etc.). When you really think about, it just seems so strange how common a practice this is today. And nearly every farm, large or small, takes the babies away from their moms.

I have investigated many dairy farms, and what I witnessed broke my heart. While the animal movement was talking about “veal” calves (the male calves who are of no use in the dairy industry, as they do not produce milk), it was the female calves in crates I saw by the hundreds in California. I videotaped calves in the hot sun of the Central Valley who were chained by the neck, others who had kicked their water over and had died from exposure. In Georgia, I videotaped a baby crying to her mama. You could hear them painfully bellowing back and forth.

Their pain is real; it’s as simple as that.


Then, when the cows aren’t producing enough milk to be profitable, they are sent off to be killed.

Dairy dooms environment and workers



As an organization that recognizes how so many issues of oppression are connected, it is not shocking to us that the dairy industry’s despicable reach goes even further.


Environmental impact & environmental racism

A single cow in the dairy industry produces 120 pounds of wet manure per day, so a farm with an average of 200 cows produces 24,000 pounds of manure a day! It is important to remember that there is no waste treatment plant for these farms — big or small.  Many farms will put the wet manure in what are called manure pits (or so-called “manure lagoons”), and as you can imagine, there are no words to do the stench they emit justice. In fact, here in Sonoma County, home to numerous large dairies, the odor gets so bad that there are days when we all go inside to hide from the “Sonoma Aroma.”



Approximately 91 percent of the cows used in California’s dairy industry and more than 80 percent of dairies in the state are in the Central Valley (https://arb.ca.gov/cc/dairy/documents/08-21-17/dsg1-dairy-101-presentation.pdf), which is made up of predominately Latinx communities. As of 2012, one in six children living in the San Joaquin Valley had asthma, and according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Fresno County is the most challenging place to live in California for those who suffer with asthma. “Dairy farm waste, soil blown from farmlands, pesticides, industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust and dust particles kicked up by cars…have made this one of the smoggiest places in the nation,” reports Discover magazine. It is therefore not surprising that these factory farms are located in the vicinity of a large number of communities of color living in poverty. According to a recent report by the Central Policy Health Institute: “In 2005, seven of the eight San Joaquin Valley counties had a higher percentage of Latino residents than the state as a whole (35.9%).” The report adds that the San Joaquin Valley is “one of the least affluent areas of California…and poverty, in both urban and rural areas, is a significant problem.” (from: http://www.foodispower.org/environmental-racism/)

Workers


The dairy industry’s disgusting disregard for non-human animals extends to human animals as well. Half of all workers on U.S. dairy farms are immigrants (
https://www.agweb.com/article/losing-immigrant-workers-on-dairy-farms-would-nearly-double-retail-milk-prices-naa-news-release/) who are forced to work long hours. Those who have homes live in overcrowded conditions, and many are vulnerable to workplace deaths, such as being electrocuted, crushed by tractors, kicked by a cow, or being injured by an agitated “bull.”




Got lactose normal?

That’s okay — you are completely fine! It makes sense to me that you don’t digest cows’ milk! But, alas, as many POC don’t digest the milk of another species, some would have us believe there is something wrong with us — but there isn’t!

Drinking animal milk comes with cholesterol and colonization!

Drinking planted-based milk, such as coconut milk, is nothing new. It is what Pacific Islanders have always done.


Plus, milks that don’t have to be refrigerated have a longer shelf life!


All of this makes the dairy industry even more insidious when you consider how they target communities of color. I was horrified when I saw the dairy industry using La Llorona, a Latinx legend about a woman who killed her children, to
sell milk to our communities. According to the Los Angeles Times, they spent $2 million in advertising.

The dairy trade, which hides behind the beautiful big brown eyes of cows and fake health claims, exposes itself for the corrupt industry they are — selling their product at the expense of human and non-human animals, the environment, and workers — peddling it to people of color, who they know will get sick from it.


And there’s also the more deceitful sides of dairy, such as the role colonization has played in how the dairy industry seeks to target people of color.


For all of these reasons and more, let’s gently remind people of the reality of the dreaded dairy industry and encourage them to help end the suffering, one glass at a time. And, if they have access to healthy foods, let’s encourage them to go
vegan.