When Did Slavery Get a Pass?

NOTE: This is a guest post from Lauren Ornelas, Founder of the Food Empowerment Project.

All of us were raised in a society that indoctrinated 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 U.S. and abroad as a scar on humanity — as something that we later learned was reprehensible and inexcusable.

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’s 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!

Not to mention, we don’t think much of the Rainforest Alliance certification they plan to use, and we’re not the only organization to think that way.

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? 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.

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.

Please don’t forget to use our vegan chocolate list to help you make your ethical purchases.

Related Stories:

How to Change the Cycle of Poverty, Malnutrition and Abuse in Bangladesh

A Family’s Journey into Degrading Work

A Haunting Picture of Poor Health: The Risks for Child Laborers

Photo of two girls in West Africa courtesy of the Food Empowerment Project.


Peggy Ausmus
Peggy A5 years ago

Thank you.

Tim C.
Tim C5 years ago


Nikhil D
Nikhil Dutta5 years ago

I'm going to stop buying CLIF and use the vegan chocolate list

Ro H.
Ro H5 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

Interesting. Thank you for posting it.

Sheila Stevens
Sheila S6 years ago

While most of the companies listed as recommended do not supply stores in my area, this information gives me much to consider when allowing myself the pleasure of chocolate - it should be purchased with "good taste!"

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

slavery is dark scar that lingers but wil hopefully in time heal well. The world is not clean of it yet.... good article

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener6 years ago

If it had been up to me; NEVER EVER!!!

Aud Nordby
Aud nordby6 years ago


Megan Mcinnis
Megan Mcinnis6 years ago

[Contin. from post below.]

[But Fair World Project and Food Empowerment Project are wonderfully current. You'll learn what defines fair trade, which brands are truly committed, and which are trying to capitalize on] the "trend" while still abusing human rights.

Businesses with integrity are out there, and you CAN weed through the posers and find them. It's an exciting and critical pursuit: buying from non-exploitive companies and avoiding the funding of slavery and abuse. I carry the Better World Shopper everywhere and, even though SOME of the ethical brands cost more (so that the producers can earn a fair wage), I end up saving money: if a product is not available from an ethical company using nonviolent means, I just don't want it so much anymore.