As the demand for chocolate has exploded in Western society, the price for cacao beans has plummeted in Western Africa where 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is harvested.

To keep their prices competitive, cocoa farmers use children that they do not pay and only feed sparingly. These children are uneducated and often kidnapped or sold to the farmers by relatives who have no idea they are condemning the child to harsh and often brutal conditions. Most children are between the ages of 12 years old and 16 years old, but some are as young as 7 years old when they start. They rarely have access to clean water or sanitary bathrooms; the vast majority of cacao harvesters have never tasted chocolate.

Aly Diabate, a former cacao slave, recalls that he worked from sunrise to sunset without rest. “It took two people to put the bag [of cacao beans] on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.” Drissa, another former cacao slave was asked what he would tell the people who eat chocolate made from the cacao he’s harvested, and he replied, “When people eat chocolate they are eating my flesh.”

The process of harvesting cacao beans is a perilous one; since it is grown in regions with high insect populations, the cacao pods are sprayed with chemicals that can be harmful to their handlers. The process of clearing for planting and the opening of the cacao pods are both accomplished with machetes, so deep cuts are an expected work hazard.


Facts on Modern Slavery


There are 600,000 cacao farms in the Ivory Coast alone; the business accounts for a third of the nation’s entire economy. To keep costs low, farm owners feed their workers the cheapest foods available, often a corn paste and bananas. UNICEF estimates that half a million children work on the cacao farms of the Ivory Coast.

The chocolate industry is worth an estimated $110 billion per year, $13 billion of which is within the United States. The farms of West Africa supply cocoa to international giants such as Hershey’s, M&M Mars and Nestlé, linking them irrefutably to child slavery and human trafficking.

According to spokeswoman for the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association, Susan Smith, “A ‘slave free’ label would hurt the people it was intended to help” by prompting a boycott of all chocolate farmed in the Ivory Coast. Since cacao beans farmed by free workers are mixed with those farmed by slaves, it is impossible for even Fair Trade Certified brands to guarantee that their product can’t be traced back to child slavery.

Lydia Caswell

Sources: CNN, Food Empowerment Project, John Robbins, The Huffington Post
Photo: Nickelodeon

Ben & Jerry's Fair Trade
It’s been a long day at work and you finally have a chance to sit down with a bowl of chocolate ice cream in front of the television. While flipping through channels, you come across a news story about child slavery in the Ivory Coast, where 43% of the world’s cocoa is produced. You pause with a spoonful of creamy goodness on the way to your mouth and think, “Isn’t anything safe anymore? Can’t I just enjoy my chocolately treat in peace?”

At this point, you have two options: you can keep flipping the channels and focus on how tasty your ice cream is, or you can finish reading this post to discover where to buy fair trade, guilt-free chocolate. Although, it really isn’t much of a choice, now that images of child slaves are lugging bags of cocoa beans around inside your head.

Lucky for everyone involved, many companies are making the switch to Fair Trade cocoa. Fair Trade USA, a non-profit that certifies American products as Fair Trade, currently works with more than 800 companies to ensure that their products comply with all international Fair Trade standards. They certify a multitude of products, including tea and herbs, fresh fruit and vegetables, sugar, flowers, nuts, honey, and (thankfully) cocoa.

The following list consists of five companies that are using Fair Trade cocoa, as determined by Fair Trade USA. These are just a few of the many companies from which you buy chocolate that tastes great and makes you feel even better.

For your ice cream fix, go with Ben & Jerry’s. The Vermont-based company is in the process of converting all ingredients to Fair Trade and profiles their progress by flavor on their website. Their Chocolate Therapy flavor is currently made with 71% Fair Trade ingredients, so eat up!

If you need some dairy-free creaminess, meet NadaMoo. This delicious coconut milk ice cream is organic and Fair Trade Certified. With flavors like Java Crunch, Lotta Mint Chip, and Gotta Do Chocolate, you can enjoy pint-sized dairy-free and slavery-free yumminess.

When chocolate-covered treats catch your eye, look for a SunRidge Farms label. Their organic and Fair Trade Certified dark chocolate-coated almonds, cacao nibs, espresso beans, goji berries, and raisins are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth (or teeth).

Looking to build some muscle with chocolate-y goodness? Tera’s Whey Organic Fair Trade Certified Dark Chocolate Whey Protein is your answer. Your endorphin high combined with that warm fuzzy feeling from buying Fair Trade will leave you feeling fantastic.

For your baking needs, try SunSpire’s organic and Fair Trade chocolate chips and baking bars. When making its chocolate products, SunSpire doesn’t use refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, or artificial colors or flavors. The company has also made a long-term commitment to its cocoa farmers through their Caring for Cocoa Communities program, which provides hands-on support for growers and helps to foster growth in their communities.

Now that you’re armed with information, it’s time to head to the store and support these companies using Fair Trade chocolate. Who knew doing the right thing could be so delicious?

Katie Fullerton

Sources: Fair Trade USA, Ben & Jerry’s, NadaMoo, SunSpire