Was Your Chocolate Made with Child Slave Labor?

There are questions I wish I didn't have to ask myself.

One of them arrived in my inbox yesterday, from Rachel Nussbaum, the rabbi of Kavana, a Jewish cooperative community that our family belongs to. Social justice is an important part of Kavana's mission, and the group that focuses on it has been learning about slavery and child labor in the African cocoa trade.

Now I'm guessing that you are well aware that conditions for workers throughout the Third World are often miserable. Low pay, brutally long hours, and dangerous conditions are commonplace. I certainly know this, but in truth I don't pay as much attention as I know I should when I make purchases. When it comes to produce, I buy as much local and organic as possible, but with plenty of other goods I try to remain in my bubble of blissful ignorance.

The information that the social justice group shared with me about cocoa exploded that bubble. In summary, much of the cocoa from West Africa, most particularly the Ivory Coast, is harvested by child slaves. These children are trafficked into the cocoa plantations and kept there to work without pay, with brutal reprisals and even murder awaiting them if they try to escape.

The US has been part of a decade long effort to end these practices, but the legislation was watered down to begin with and the results have been spotty at best.

Rather than lay out all of the details, let me refer you to two excellent articles at the CNN Freedom Project, and the Huffington Post. One thing is obvious – this industry isn't going to change by itself. Consumers can make all of the difference. If we vote with our dollars and demand products that are slavery free, producers will find the motivation to change.

So I'm asking myself: Do I want to be handing out candy made by slave child labor on Halloween, to other innocent kids? Would it really be in line with the values of Judaism to give them Hannukah gelt made with this chocolate? Would I want to express my love for my wife on Valentine's day that way? And obviously the answer is no. I don't ever want to be cooking with or eating a product with this kind of cruelty involved, and especially not for something that is a luxury. 

So how do you know if your chocolate is safe? Well, the first and best answer is to buy products that are Fair Trade certified or Fair For Life certified (which Theo uses). These products have the greatest assurance that high human rights standards are in place, and furthermore that farmers are being paid a price that allows them to have a better life. There are apps for FacebookIphone and Android that can help you find these products. 

Without a fair trade certification, you'll have to talk to indvidual producers to find out what standards they have in place. Local producers should be able to answer you directly, and larger companies often have information on their websites. If they don't want to answer these questions, you might infer something about their practices.

Finally, if those options don't work for you, you could also try to purchase chocolate that is harvested in other parts of the world besides West Africa and especially Ivory Coast. 

I'm making the commitment right now. If you feel the same way, leave a comment below.

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Friday, October 21st, 2011 in Theory and Rants.

20 Responses to “Was Your Chocolate Made with Child Slave Labor?”

  1. Reply
    October 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    I discovered the child slave labor-chocolate link a couple of years ago and have refused anything but fair trade chocolate ever since. Carol Off’s book Bitter Chocolate is a fantastic investigative and very readable book on this subject. I tweeted you the link. Thanks for bringing attention to this issue.

  2. Reply
    October 21, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    I’ve been buying fair trade coffee for years but for some reason chocolate was not on my radar (probably because I buy a lot less of it than coffee). Thanks for the info – our family is going to try to switch over to fair trade chocolate!

  3. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Thanks, Jenni! All – here is the book Jenni is talking about: link to amzn.to

  4. Reply
    October 21, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    What will you hand out for Halloween? I’ve been debating about this and would love to hear your ideas. It seems just about any huge, commercial, conventional product these days involves some form or another of enslavement. It’s so sad. I agree with you about the power of money to change things, and I vote with my dollars this way, too.

  5. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 21, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    Hey Kathleen – here are a couple of ethically traded brands that make mini chocolate bars which would work for Halloween: link to amzn.to and link to bit.ly – and then of course there is always the option of non-chocolate candies. 

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Was Your Chocolate Made with Child Slave Labor?

  6. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 21, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Actually, there is a better deal on one of those chocolates direct from the manufacturer in Halloween worthy quantities: link to bit.ly

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Was Your Chocolate Made with Child Slave Labor?

    On Fri, Oct 21, 2011 at 8:29 PM, Michael Natkin <michaelnatkin@gmail.com> wrote:
    Hey Kathleen – here are a couple of ethically traded brands that make mini chocolate bars which would work for Halloween: link to amzn.to and link to bit.ly – and then of course there is always the option of non-chocolate candies. 

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Was Your Chocolate Made with Child Slave Labor?

  7. Reply
    Terri Sue
    October 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    i have known of tis dor years but do not have a blog platform to speak from , though our friends and family know where my husband and i stand. years ago we started buying only fair trade coffee, chocolate, sugar and tea. while the child slave labor is only as i know it in the chocolate, the other luxeries i named all come at a high price also, if you don’t know your sources. the paltry wages that men and women get for picking these luxuries that we can buy so cheaply is appalling. my husband and i do not have a very large income. in fact we are lower middle class. so if we can’t afford to buy fair trade coffee we don’t have coffee in the morning. i might add here we are both addicted to our morning cup of coffee. yet how can i drink say folgers and know that somewhere someone is working a long day seven days a week and can’t afford to feed his children, or get medical care, or send them to school. so if we can’t afford fair trade, we can’t afford it. they really are luxuries after all.

  8. Reply
    October 23, 2011 at 6:00 am #

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Chocolate sugar and coffee are luxuries and we can eat less of them and do what is right in this world. I often lie sleepless at night knowing how good I have it and that this is not true for many children (and adults) in this world. I have a special heart for children and I will indeed pay attention. We have some chocolate makers here in my town and I think I will just support them as much as I can.

  9. Reply
    October 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light! I have known about this for a few years now. I wrote an article about it in college, about 6 years ago. I think it’s something that most people don’t think about or know about. Usually we buy fair trade chocolate, but I often forget about it when I’m buying chocolate chips, for instance, for baking something. Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    excellent post michael! Thanks, we all need awareness. and we can make a statement by what and where we buy. may your life be enriched! I will certainly be more aware of where the chocolate comes from that i buy, and other products too!



  11. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 24, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Thanks, Ben – I know this is outside of the sort of think I usually post, good to know it ok with the regulars! I ordered myself 3 kilos of a fair trade variety from Valrhona last night, that should keep me pretty happy 🙂

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Braised Fennel – Recipe

  12. Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks for those links, Michael!

  13. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 24, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    Hey Terri Sue – thanks for your note. I admire your degree of commitment. And I've noticed this many times in life, that those who don't have very much often make bigger commitments and sacrifices than those who have everything.

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Braised Fennel – Recipe

  14. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 24, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Thanks for the note, Angela. I think just allowing yourself to be open to the empathy towards other people even when it seems like the problems are too big to solve is such an important first step, and makes it seem like these relatively simple choices to pay attention to what we buy are the very least we can do!

  15. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 24, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Thanks Carole Anne! You are so right about how easy it is to let little things slip by the wayside.

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Braised Fennel – Recipe

  16. Reply
    October 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm #


    Also, I recently found Annie’s bunny fruit snacks in 24 packs for Halloween – even better b/c they’re a nice treat but not quite candy. link to annies.com

  17. Reply
    Terri Sue
    October 25, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    a note to carol. as far as chocolate for baking i have found an excellent resource,
    you can get unsweetened cocoa, bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate bars all fair trade and organic. they also have dark chocolate cookie chips just fair trade.
    they are just a slight bit sweeter than a semi-sweet, but i have as yet to find a fair trade semi-sweet. i believe they also have the others i mentioned just fair trade, but i tend to go with organic if it is available. chocosphere also has fair trade chocolate candy bars. several years ago we bought bulk in every section. now fall or spring i might need to buy one thing. just don’t buy in the summer. lol!

  18. Reply
    October 25, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Thanks for the interesting post. I agree that awareness of social justice in all things is important. One of the biggest problems I think regarding chocolate is that most often cocoa-producing countries such as the Ivory Coast only have a place in the global market with raw products. The premium charged for your finished, even fair trade, chocolate does not go back to the original producers but to Western chocolatiers. Even while there could be no chocolate without cocoa, the farmers who make it possible are not properly rewarded, neither directly nor indirectly through profits returned to their countries through manufacturing. There is a chocolate company called Omanhene chocolate (link to omanhene.com) that I think addresses this underlying social justice issue through their “beyond fair trade” policy. The chocolate is delicious to boot! I really recommend it! I think it’s important to remember that many companies in countries where child labor is an issue also need the economic investment of consumers to whom they export goods in order to pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment… and there are companies that deserve our support!

  19. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    October 31, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    That's interesting, Jennifer. My understanding was that Fair Trade certification does require an elevated level of payment to the farmer, though of course there can be companies that go even above and beyond the requirement.

  20. Reply
    Shelly Owen
    October 4, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    I want to take a strong stand against this also. I want to be responsible in finding out the source of the chocolate I purchase. Thank you for the information.

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