Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 Valentine’s Day favorite. It was originally published on February 6, 2013. Enjoy!
Buying one of love’s emblematic tokens — chocolate — has gotten rather complicated and for good reason. Scratch the surface of how chocolate is produced and you’ll soon discover that a shocking amount of global cocoa production is done by children who, unpaid and held captive in plantations, are in essence slaves.
Indeed, about 35 percent of cocoa is grown in the Ivory Coast where children 15 and younger use machetes to cut cocoa pods from trees. Even when chocolate is not grown by underage laborers, those workers are not necessarily getting a fair wage, nor are farmers getting a fair price for their efforts.
How can you make sure that the chocolate you’re purchasing and giving is fair trade and slave free?
Is There Really Such a Thing as Fair Trade Chocolate?
Just as more of us are saying no to sweet treats loaded with preservatives and other substances with long chemical-sounding names, so it pays to be aware of where our chocolate originates from. Seeking out fair trade chocolate is one way to avoid giving your valentine chocolate with a very unromantic history. But just because chocolate is certified as “fair trade” does not guarantee that it is.
Unless you’re somehow able to visit a cocoa farm, it’s probably not possible to know if your chocolate is 100 percent fair trade and produced in a sustainable manner. Care2 Green Living provides a good-sized list of “chocolate we feel comfortable recommending,” courtesy of the Food Empowerment Network’s Appetite For Justice project. Even more, some of the products on the list are vegan and are made of chocolate that is not from Ghana or the Ivory Coast. A second list includes chocolate brands made by companies who are actively seeking to avoid chocolate not grown under slave conditions but who are still sourcing products from countries in western Africa, so let the buyer beware.
You can also seek out organic chocolate as most of this is grown in Central and South America where slavery has not (so far) been a concern. Farmers seeking organic certification for their products must meet a number of standards in a potentially costly process. Since there is only so much organic chocolate available, farmers are more likely to receive a fair price.
Still, keep in mind: even if the chocolate was grown in eco-friendly, ethical conditions, you still cannot be sure that the sugar that sweetens it wasn’t made by children and men in Latin America, Africa and Asia forced to do so under debt bondage.
Cheap Chocolate Is Like Cheap Clothing
Fair trade and organic chocolate does tend to cost more. But just as you can find plenty of cheap clothing that may have been made in factories like those that recently went up in flames with hundreds of workers in them in Bangladesh and in Pakistan, so chocolate that costs us little can come at a huge price for those who toiled to bring it to you. What if we again considered chocolate a luxury rather than something we can just grab and toss into our mouths? Then the higher costs of fair trade and organic chocolate would seem quite fair indeed.
Less chocolate made in slave-free conditions vs. excessive amounts made in dubious ones: the choice is ours. If we really wish for our chocolate and our food to be made by those who are fairly paid and work in humane settings, we can do the right thing and seek out fair trade, slave free items. Ir’s the least we can do when giving someone we love a token of our affection.
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