Chocolate-love, with a dose of fair trade activism

BlogHer Original Post

Valentines Day -- aka chocolate day -- is coming up. And while I'm all about yummy chocolates, I'm peeved that a lot of the choco in the US could still be tainted by illegal child labor. Yes, US children's favorite candy's also the bane of children growing up in the Ivory Coast, who get sold into slave-like labor and toil in the fields to produce the sweet stuff.

Half the world's chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast. And while choco demand's been growing -- and western companies getting rich off of that demand -- the people who toil to farm and harvest the stuff have yet to see the benefits of this choco-love.

Why are choco farmers so poor? Often, they have no financial or political clout to bring about any changes. Many don't even have transportation to get their goods to market -- so they're left at the mercy of buyers who do have transport vehicles. These buyers dictate the price; and these buyers, in turn, can get screwed by other middlemen and even police officers who block the roads,demanding bribes.

All this is covered in BBC's "Our World Bitter Sweet," a short 2007 documentary in which journalist Humphrey Hawksley looks into why child labor's still used to produce chocolate. The problem, really, should've been taken care of already. Back in 2001, US the House of Representatives passed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which created the International Cocoa Initiative foundation and committed the chocolate industry into ending child slavery in its supply chain by July 1, 2005. That deadline came and went -- with big choco corps saying they need more time. A new deadline was set to make half the farms free of child labor by July 2008.

And guess what: Things still aren't looking good. Humphrey reported that even pilot projects have been abandoned, due to lack of money -- a far cry from actually resolving these labor issues --

We'll see what goes down in July. The really sad part in all of this is that, due to these labor abuses, big corporations can buy chocolate cheaply -- and thus sell them very cheaply. Then, when fair trade chocolate comes on the market, the ethically-produced stuff looks horribly overpriced compared to the slave-labor stuff. We, the US public, are fooled into thinking that the "normal" cost of chocolate should be dirt cheap -- and feel we're somehow being overcharged when fair trade chocolate ends up costing considerably more.

More on this -- and on finding choco that's sweet in all ways in time for Valentine's Day -- on Monday. In the meantime, read about Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates, a fair trade company in California that's trying to raise awareness and bring more yummy fair trade chocolates to the US.

And while fair trade chocolate has yet to tap into the mainstream market, many ethical consumers are opting for the slavery-free stuff. Local Food Blog notes that by choosing fair trade, "though we’re purchasing globally, we’re still thinking, in sense, locally." The girly bloggers at Boutique Cafe also big up fair trade chocolate, and mojitomama at Casa Mojito recommends Smokey Blue Truffles from Lillie Belle Farms, which are said to be made with fair trade ingredients, though the product doesn't seem to be fair trade certified.

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BlogHer Contributing Editor Siel also blogs for the Los Angeles Times at Emerald City, and at greenLAgirl.com.

Photo Courtesy of the International Labor Rights Fund

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