Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is your vegan chocolate really cruelty-free?

Thanks to all of you who have supported our work in this area and provided us with the names of companies to look into.

On our website we have posted the first list of companies that we can, with good conscience, recommend since they have no ties to the cacao (cocoa) beans in Africa where child slavery is not only a reality on conventional farms, but unfortunately can even be found on some of those that are fair trade. And you can also see where other companies stand on the issue.

To learn more about the issue, see our last blog "The chocolate we can all do without" and our website.

We are excited to see efforts to remove child labor from cocoa farms by the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union
(KKFU) in the country of Ghana, where they understand that there are people consuming chocolate who might boycott all chocolate sourced from Ghana until the issue of child labor is resolved in that country: “...chocolate consumers are very much alive to issues of human rights, issues of child rights and are asking questions of the chocolate companies where they’re getting their cocoa from and if the source of the cocoa is child-labour free. So the risk is that the whole of Ghana’s cocoa could be rejected on the world market because of child labour.”

We are encouraged by such efforts, and we hope our work will inspire other organizations to make similar strides toward cruelty-free chocolate.

Unfortunately, our list is not as long as we had originally hoped for, and what is disappointing is that many companies we thought would respond did not. We contacted each company via email over 3 months and a call was also made to all of the vegan specific companies.

You will notice that we have broken our list down into three parts: the companies that responded, those that did not, and those that would not reveal where they get their cocoa from.

The companies that responded that their chocolate is derived from West Africa do deserve some credit for being transparent.

I find most shameful not only the companies that would not be transparent with their supply chains, but also the vegan companies that didn’t even bother to respond.

So here is what we are asking you to do–for now:

Please only buy from companies that are on our recommended list.

See one of your favorites on our list as not responding or not being transparent? Contact the company and ask them to respond.

See one or more of your favorites on the list of companies we recommend you buy from? Don’t hesitate to thank them for doing their part and send them the link so they know this issue is important to you!

In the meantime, we are going to send a formal letter to a few of the companies that didn't respond or wouldn't be transparent with their supply chains, and based on their responses– or lack thereof– we might see fit to start a campaign to inform them how important this issue really is – and we hope you will join us!

Thanks go out to the following volunteers for their hard work and determination to get information from the companies: Sarah Galer, Chris Van Breen, Dana Portnoy and Mark Hawthorne.

And don't forget—
this Valentine’s Day, buy your sweetie (or yourself!) chocolate that is free from animal suffering and human slavery.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holiday Beagles

This is a bit off topic for the Food Empowerment Project, but since I was involved and it is such a wonderful story about team work and dedication, I just wanted to share.

A couple of months ago a friend of mine who does rescue work in our area put me in touch with a woman who was working to get some beagle dogs released from a laboratory. There were about 13 dogs who needed homes immediately or they would be killed. These dogs had all been de-barked (meaning they had tissue removed from their vocal cords to prevent them from barking very loudly; this is a common procedure done at labs). Those who experiment and inflict pain on innocent animals don’t want to have to hear their cries. These beagles were a control group for experiments being done by a lab. None of the dogs had ever felt grass under their paws.

I was encouraged not to send this information far and wide – so I contacted activists in the area and immediately received responses from at least six people who would take the dogs to house them so they would not be euthanized.

Unfortunately, I was told that the vivisector (animal experimenter) had changed his mind due to budget issues and was going to keep the dogs to use for future experiments.

As someone who has worked on this issue for over 24 years, the thought of what this meant for the dogs was heart-wrenching.

Luckily, the week of Christmas I received another email that a different group of dogs was definitely going to be released if we could find homes immediately.

Knowing that the holidays might impact the rescue, I sent the alert to as many animal rights rescuers I knew, including my good friend and former Viva!USA attorney Orly Degani in LA. She immediately sent it to her list as well.

So yes, the good news is that 11 of the dogs are now with NorCal Beagle Rescue [to adopt some: http://www.norcalbeagles.com/cgi/Adopt.pl] and two found their way down to LA with Shannon Keith.

I have now been involved in the animal rights movement for more than half my life, and knowing that over a dozen dogs made it out of a lab and will live their lives free of torment has been an incredible way to start the year.

This rescue also illustrates the importance of teamwork. As Food Empowerment Project is an all-volunteer organization, I see the critical role teamwork plays time and time again. No one can do everything by themselves and reaching out to each other, being respectful and having some integrity goes a long way for our strength as a movement, which means more strength in fighting injustices.