We interrupt this blog to allow Sweet Jumbles to get on her soapbox about Chocolate.
It’s fair to say that chocolate is a dominant ingredient in baking. Many recipes, from cakes to cookies, include chocolate – whether it be cocoa powder, chips, fudge, or any other of the many forms that chocolate comes in. But do you know where your Chocolate comes from?
A great percentage of the world’s chocolate originates on the Cote d’Ivorie on large, corporate cacao plantations. Over 284,000 children (as of 2005)(http://fairchocolate.org/), aged of 8 to 14, from poorer neighboring countries have been sold into forced labor on cotton, coffee and cacao plantations in Cote D’Ivorie/Ivory Coast in recent years. The US Congress, the International Union of Foodworkers, the Child Labor Coalition, the BBC, the United Nations International Labor Organization, and the State Department of the United States have all acknowledged the problem but only marginal steps have been taken to combat cacao slavery.
Major chocolate manufacturers (Nestlé, Hershey’s, Mars, Cadbury & Phillip Morris, & more) have admitted to using farms that employ slaves but have insisted that the problem is too widespread to avoid, saying it would be impossible for them to control the labor practices of their suppliers. (http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=12754) Additionally, most “big” chocolate companies sell multi-source chocolate – that is, the ingredients come from many places and their sources cannot be easily traced, thus intentionally blurring the product’s connection to slavery and making it nearly impossible to trace. Smaller chocolate manufacturers have single-source cacao, meaning if not from a single plantation, at least from a single region. These cacao farms can be inspected and proven to be slave free.
In 2001, news media reports on chocolate slavery drew increasing attention. The chocolate industry fought off formal legislation to ban slave-produced chocolate by agreeing to take care of the problem themselves. Their pledges were spelled out in the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which they never lived up to.
Despite what Nestlé, Hershey’s, Mars, etc. haven’t done, a number of other large corporations have exemplified the ability to use slave free chocolate. These companies include Clif Bar, Cloud Nine, Divine, Green and Black’s, Newman’s Own Organics, and The Endangered Species Chocolate Company.
I’m an advocate of trying to live an ethical, green, and sustainable lifestyle. I know that nobody, including myself, can live without impacting the earth and the people on it. However, I do think that it is our responsibility as consumers to make informed choices. For me, one of my baby steps in making the world a better, more humane place, is by buying fair trade chocolate. As a baking enthusiast, when I made this commitment I knew that it would be ongoing – I don’t buy chocolate once a year and forget about it. Every time I go to the store, I reaffirm my decision and recommit myself to spending an extra dollar or two so that I will not support slavery. After all, what good is it to refuse to buy an item you hardly use – there is no impact of doing that. That would be like the woman who doesn’t wear diamonds but insists that her diamonds be conflict free; wonderful intentions but no inconvenience or financial implications.
Bear in mind, occasionally this is not possible. If a friend offers me a box of chocolates I will graciously accept it. If I’m in a bind, have poorly planned my baking, and find myself out of chocolate with a baking deadline and no way to get to the specialty store, I will run to the bodega and chances are my only choice will be Hershey’s. But, as a rule, I will not support those who use slaves to harvest cacao. For all of the recipes that I share on my blog, I will use ethical chocolates. I accept that my choice is an inconvenience, but not nearly as “inconvenient” as being enslaved.
It is not my intent to convince you to use slave free chocolate (though I would love it!). My intent is to get you to think before you buy. Decide what baby steps you can take to make a small difference. Make informed choices, know where your money goes and who you are really supporting, and be willing to make small sacrifices for the greater good.
Even something as small as the cocoa we use in our cookies can make an impact and will allow us to stand up for what is right. Informed choices are the best choices!
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
What Can I Do?
Where to shop, what to look for
Chocolate comes with four labels which are all better than no label – Slave Free, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and Organic. Organic isn’t guaranteed to be slave free, but due to the small sized farms and strict oversight, it is highly unlikely that slavery will be employed. The Ivory Coast does not currently produce any organic cocoa, so organic chocolates are unlikely to be tainted by slavery. Chocolate originating in Madagascar, Hawaii, Central and South America, and the Caribbean are far less likely to use slave labor than chocolate from Africa. Rainforest Alliance chocolate verifies that 30% of their ingredients are slave-free.
There are tons of stores, both online and brick & mortar, which carry ethical products. Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate is the easiest chocolate to find in my area (most supermarkets carry it), and Newmann’s Own Organic is common, but Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are great places to find a variety of products including not only chocolate bars but chips and cocoa powder. Online, Amazon.com has many options. Other sites such as World of Good, Serrv, Trade as One, and Global Exchange are only a few of many stores that support small, ethical, fair trade products. If your local grocer doesn’t carry any ethical chocolate, ASK THEM TO!
Here is a list of chocolate manufacturers who are slave free.
Another list showing where each company falls in terms of social and environmental responsibility.
UPDATE: new 2010 report on Hershey’s prepared by the Not For Sale Campaign. Lenghty but worth at least a skim. Includes a few tables explaining different certifications as well as where different brands fall.