Recently I came across some articles about how a lot of the chocolate we buy in America is made from cacao in West Africa that is produced using child labor and slavery. Most of the major chocolate companies in America use cacao from ethically suspect sources (companies like Hershey, Mars, and Nestle). This issue usually comes up around Halloween because people are buying lots and lots of chocolate for trick-or-treating and as we head into the holiday season.
As I read these articles, I was horrified. Little kids are being forced to create the cacao that goes into my Snickers bars? That is terrible. It’s especially terrible, because it doesn’t need to be that way:
“Despite their role in contributing to child labor, slavery, and human trafficking, the chocolate industry has not taken significant steps to remedy the problem. Within their $60-billion industry, chocolate companies have the power to end the use of child labor and slave labor by paying cocoa farmers a living wage for their product” (source). They don’t because it’s obviously cheaper to get your cacao from workers who aren’t being paid, and apparently American consumers either don’t know or don’t mind.
As I was raging about this, I remembered that I was one of the American consumers who doesn’t mind. I found out about this years ago, and I did exactly nothing.
When I found out the first time, I was horrified. But I didn’t take any action, for a number of reasons:
The whole situation seemed so overwhelming. All of the major chocolate companies are complicit in this? It made me so uncomfortable, that it was easier to not do anything about it. And after all, as one person I can’t really change anything.
I like chocolate, a lot. It’s woven into the emotional fabric of my life. Chocolate chip cookies are a cornerstone of my childhood. Whenever my mom wanted to give me a treat, she would get me a Snickers bar. Every year for Christmas, I get Frangos (because mint chocolate is is the most delicious chocolate). When I got candy in my Easter basket, I would stockpile it for months, treasuring it like a dragon’s hoard. Learning that these memories were sponsored by child labor was horrifying. It poisoned them in some way. Instead of having my childhood memories be compromised, it’s easier to just forget about it. I wanted to enjoy my beautiful American childhood in peace.
This is really shameful and weird, but I didn’t want to be the kind of person who got upset about stuff like this. I thought of it as being a kind of killjoy. People just want to enjoy their Reese's cups, and if I cared about this I would have to swoop in, knock them out of their hands, and say, “Did you know that your chocolate was made by CHILD SLAVES?! You terrible, awful person!” It’s much cooler to just be chill.
Also, I realized that if I got upset and changed my behavior on this issue, there were probably lots of other issues I should be getting upset about and changing my behavior for. Things like sweatshops and hunger and homelessness. All of these issues are terribly uncomfortable and complicated, and it seemed so much easier to just avoid them. And avoid the fact that the only reason I can avoid them is because I am phenomenally privileged.
Along with number 4 was the idea that if I was going to get involved in these issues, I needed to have a really great plan and good solutions. I needed to fully understand these problems and know the best way to help people and I needed to do those actions consistently. I needed to do it perfectly. Because I could never do it perfectly, because I was afraid of messing up, because I was afraid of offending people, because I could try really hard and still buy the wrong chocolate, it was easier to just not to try.
None of these were good reasons, of course. They’re terrible. But they were enough to keep me from trying to do something about the fact that I eat chocolate produced in awful ways.
But this year, I’ve decided to look those terrible reasons square in the face (and post them on the internet) and say, no more. Even though it’s messy, even though it’s complicated, even though I will screw up, even though people might think this is dumb, I’m going to do what I can.
And what’s really embarrassing is that the things I can do are easy. I don’t have to swear off chocolate altogether. There are many kinds of chocolate that aren’t made with questionable labor practices. I just need to pay more attention to what I buy. This Halloween I am also going to write letters to Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle, and let them know I won’t be buying their chocolate until they make substantial reforms. I’m also trying to figure out if my beloved Frangos are made with ethical labor. I know it’s complicated, and I know there are all kinds of factors, but there shouldn’t be child labor and slavery going into my chocolate. Other companies are making it work. If I have to pay more money to avoid those things, I will happily pay more money.
My goal is to no longer let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s okay to do baby steps. It’s okay that I will make mistakes. It’s okay that I will not know the perfect thing to do on every issue. But it is very good to try.
Basic Info on the Situation
You can find lists of Fair Trade Chocolate all over the internet. This is a good guide:
Write letters with me! You can find the addresses here: