Chocolate: Well, I thought ‘not me!’
When watching footage of animals in horrific situations (such as those killed for food or used in cosmetic testing, entertainment, etc) there is an incredible amount of rage and sadness mixed together. The only relief I get is knowing that I don’t contribute to the suffering through my personal choices, because frankly these grave injustices do sicken me.
This is the same feeling I have had for the past eight years when hearing about or seeing stories of slavery in the chocolate industry, which you can read about in the most recent section added to our website: http://foodispower.org/slavery_chocolate.htm
The first footage I saw was from the BBC. As much as I try not to be surprised by injustices created by those who seek to make profit, I always am and this time was no different. I had not realized that this was taking place, and at the time, I was very much in the dark regarding the existence of slavery. During this particular BBC segment they spoke about how the workers were locked in at night and beaten or killed if they tried to escape. I won’t go into too much detail as some if this is now on our website, but most of the news coming out about this issue of slavery in the chocolate industry speaks specifically about children.
Looking at these issues as someone trying to do whatever is possible to not contribute to suffering by eating a vegan diet, I know I had to make the same choice regarding chocolate.
Although I admit that I am not as big a chocolate fan as some people I know (you know who you are!), I do enjoy chocolate chip cookies and brownies, etc. But reminding myself that chocolate is a luxury item does indeed help to some extent.
For years I have lived by, and even spoken about, eating only chocolate that was organic or Fair Trade. And many of you have probably heard me talk about this, so I appreciate those of you who have told me how you adjusted your purchasing choices as well. My understanding was that chocolate that was Fair Trade or organic did not come from the same places that engage in slavery.
It wasn’t until research was started on this segment that some surprising information was uncovered. In areas of West Africa they found children working on cocoa plantations that were Fair Trade Certified. As soon as this was discovered by the organizations doing the fair trade accreditation, the contracts with those farms were suspended and the children were either reunited with their families and/or allowed to go to school. At this point in time, there has been no evidence of any type of slavery taking place in areas of Latin America where cocoa is harvested.
As a vegan, I do not eat products that might include some suffering (example: eggs) and well, I feel the same about chocolate. After speaking about this with other vegans, it seems they understand.
At this time, Food Empowerment Project only feels comfortable recommending that those who care about these issues buy and eat only Fair Trade and/or organic chocolate that comes from Latin America. We are in the process of creating a list of products that are vegan and only use chocolate that follows this criteria. If you are interested in helping us add to the list, please let us know.
Thanks to Ryan Frazier for his time research and writing, Valerie Belt for her research and editing, and a big thank you to the International Labor Rights Forum for their work on this issue and for allowing us to use their photos.