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Sunday, August 19, 2012

When did slavery get a pass?

All of us are raised in a society that indoctrinates us to believe that animal consumption and, in fact, many forms of animal exploitation (animal testing for cosmetics or keeping animals in captivity for human amusement, for example) are acceptable.  So, I tend to give people some latitude if they haven’t thought about these issues and don’t really know the details about them.

However, none of us have been raised to believe that slavery is acceptable. In fact, most of us look back at slavery in the US and abroad as a scar on humanity – as something that we later learned was reprehensible and inexcusable.

And yet, it seems that slavery today gets some sort of pass. Now, is that because much of the slavery taking place (and here I am specifically speaking about commercial slavery) is done at the hands of corporations? Is it because some feel it is too inconvenient to make changes in their lives so they don’t contribute to it? Is it because people just don’t know about the issue? Or is it because much of the slavery is happening abroad? 

In this blog post, I am specifically addressing slavery in the chocolate industry, as that is something that Food Empowerment Project is working to expose.

How can corporations talk about how they are working on this issue? Here is what Hershey has to say:
“Over the next five years, Hershey will also expand and accelerate its programs to improve cocoa communities by investing $10 million in West Africa…”(

Is that supposed to make my jaw drop? Unfortunately, it makes my stomach turn.  While Hershey’s $10-million investment sounds magnanimous, it is $600,000 less than their CEO made in 2011!

But we are talking about slavery here, people – we are talking about kids working in the fields, forced to carry heavy loads and dangerous tools and not being able to leave.

How can a company say they are working on it? Why don’t they say they are outraged and will ensure these farmers are paid a living wage so that they are not forced to enslave children to do the job?  Is it the extra house? The yacht? What is it?

Is chocolate addiction so serious that they know people just can’t give it up even to make this world a more just place? Do they know that people simply accept that the corporations are “doing their best” and leave it at that?

And why is a company like Clif Bar getting a pass from everyone? Why doesn’t our petition have more than 100,000 signatures by now? All we’re asking is for Clif to disclose the country from which they buy their chocolate.

Being an animal rights activist for more than 25 years, I have heard the phrase “Animal liberation is human liberation” more times than I can count, and I see buttons, t-shirts, etc., with the paw and the human fist. So why is it that vegans and vegan organizations can’t get behind this effort?  If nothing else, I hope that vegan organizations can at least not list or promote companies that have not responded to us about the source of their chocolate. 

We don’t need to give up our mission to show solidarity with other causes. 

I am sure you can tell my exasperation is overflowing, but as someone who believes strongly that oppression is oppression and we must work to stop it, I am confused. Very confused.  With something as simple as our food choices and as simple as speaking out to corporations, I just can’t believe that we will give slavery a pass. We aren’t asking people to give us $1,000; we are just asking for a signature that could make real change.

If we can’t get a company like Clif Bar to disclose if we can’t get people up in arms about child slavery in the chocolate industry what are we saying about ourselves and what we can accomplish?

I strongly believe in the power of the individual. I strongly believe that we can encourage corporations to be more ethical because it matters to us and we can make it matter to them. And most of all, we can tell those people around the globe, whose exploitation we are contributing to, that we will not be silent anymore.


  1. Lauren, I hear your frustration and I am frustrated too!

    This is chapter three of my dissertation. Writing about how PETA is all about animal rights and liberation, claims to see intersectionality (all 'isms are connected) but the their vegan shopping guide supports Hershey, Nestle, etc. It's disgusting that this is their 'cruelty-free' version of veganism. I am so upset about it too.

    I don't know why you can't get more signatures. I can't believe that you can't get more signatures. I really think you hit it on the head when you said that people are 'addicted'. I think that that is what addiction means: you are willing hurt others and yourself to fulfill your 'hunger' for something that doesn't help everyone in the long run. Hope that makes sense.


  2. My name is Joana Fernandes. I'm doing a master degree in history, international relations and cooperation, at Universidade do Porto, in Portugal.
    Questions associated with children labor and human rights have always been within my interests. Maybe for this reason, I started to gather information about Nestlé, within the framework of Social Responsibility, and presently I’m developing a thesis about the policies they (Nestlé) implemented in Ivory Coast’s cocoa plantations, in order to know the actual impact such policies have in local communities.
    Most studies about social responsibilities from the enterprises focus largely on the action of enterprises, and not so much on the results they achieve in the communities. The way they actually live is often forgotten, as you certainly know way better than myself.

    As you contacted directly with the population working in the fields, as you probably have strong notions about this reality, I would like to ask for your kindness, and ask you a couple of things:

    Do you have any contacts related with Ivory Coast’s cocoa plantations that I could use to develop my study (locals, ONG’s, etc.)?

    Would it, still, be possible for you to answer these short questions I write bellow?

    - - How do you see Nestlé’s Social Responsibility policies in Ivory Coast’s cocoa plantations?

    - - Does it seem important to you that enterprises such as Nestlé have implemented Social Responsibility programs to approach social problems in the communities?

    - - Do you think such policies/programs actually work?

    - - When you were in the fields did you notice if enterprises worried about questioning the people directly in order to know about their real needs?

    - - Which social problems seemed more relevant to approach and are in more urgent need of solution?

    - - Do Nestlé’s social responsibility measures seem enough to stop/slow down human traffic and children labor in cocoa plantation?

    - - How do you see, generally, the question of children labor?

    Once again it would be very much appreciated if you could answer such questions. Thank you very much in advance for you time! Keep up the good work.

    My best regards,
    Joana Fernandes

  3. Hi, Joana,

    We do not work on Nestle as they do not make any vegan products. You might want to check this site out:

    Good luck with your project!