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Monday, February 13, 2012

Where does your Valentine's Day chocolate come from?

Valentine’s Day is approaching and so is the purchase and consumption of that delicious, dark, and tempting treat: chocolate. Chocolate is a commodity long revered, from the Mayans to modern day America; however, the chocolate in today’s market may have a less than regal background.

Coming to the attention of the public market in 2001 with a series of investigative articles by Knight Ridder newspapers, we learned that much of the cocoa production for our Godiva, NestlĂ©, or Hershey chocolates was harvested by children trafficked into the field.1 Some of the worst reported cases were along Africa’s western coast (Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo), which accounts for more 75 percent of the world’s cocoa market, according to foodispower.org.2 Reports estimated that as many as 200,000 child slaves were working within the chocolate industry. Poverty stricken families would sell their children to traffickers, with the promise of a decent job. However, these children frequently ended up on cocoa farms, working 80 to 100 hours per week, beaten, and barely fed.1 Adolescents are often the most vulnerable to this, as they look for any form of employment to support their families. It is acknowledged that, more than a decade later, little progress has been made.

Small victories, however, such as the government’s release of their “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” and the passing of the 2010 “California Transparency in Supply Chains Act” give hope that the time is ripe for us to become more aware consumers; not just picking the chocolate with the best packaging, but rather pausing to select one that was made and produced through fair practices.

In the spirit of reducing exploitation of vulnerable youth around the world, IOFA encourages you to look more closely at what you buy this Valentine’s Day. Whether starting in the candy aisle, or taking the first step towards self-education by discovering your own “slavery footprint” at www.slaveryfootprint.org, we all have a role to play in putting an end to slavery worldwide. This February 14th, you and your sweetie can still have delicious chocolate while reducing the demand for slave labor!

Carly Loehrke, Program Development Intern

[1] Atlas, D. (2012, February 12). Debra Atlas: Find chocolate with a conscience. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.redding.com/news/2012/feb/12/debra-atlas-find-chocolate-with-a-conscience/

[2] Food Empowerment Project. (2010). Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. Retrieved from http://foodispower.org/slavery_chocolate.htm

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