Valentines day is today. I know its a great holiday, and it can be used to help put some focus on whatever personal relationships that might be important to you, but anyone who puts some thought into the matter is going to have questions about at least some portion of this “romantic” day that we have put on to our calendars.
I’m not thinking about the whole Hallmark issue, and how they profit from all this, that is just too easy. And flowers, well, flowers are nice and all.
But currently my mind has been occupied by chocolate.
This past Sunday, our pastor gave an impassioned message about the plights of the enslaved and impoverished children used to harvest the cocoa we seem to consume in abundance. As she made her points, the portion of my brain that houses my conservative mindset objected. If we are providing work to depressed economies, that is a good thing I reasoned. After discusstions with my more liberal and open-minded wife, I was no longer convinced that my position was completely right, and I set about some self validation. I have now succeeded…. in completely reversing that position. There is much information about the problems in the labor practices and environments concerning the Ivory Coast. And, in todays, LA Times opinion page, there appeared this post. Here’s an excerpt, if/when the link breaks.
“About 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, with Ivory Coast accounting for about 40%. Just as blood diamonds helped finance some of Africa’s most brutal wars, cocoa helps subsidize political instability and bloodshed in Ivory Coast. But chocolate’s bitter aftertaste comes from the fact that the industry is a magnet for child slavery.”….”One of the sad facts of life in West Africa is that poor parents sometimes sell their children into indentured servitude, in some cases selling a year of slave labor for about the same price as a large box of See’s nuts and chews. Children as young as 9 are taken from their homes to work in the cacao fields, with frequent whippings, no schooling and no family contact.”….”A 2002 report by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture said 284,000 children labored in West Africa’s cocoa industry, 200,000 of them in Ivory Coast. Not all of them are slaves â€” some are just kids helping out on the family farm. The difficulty of identifying the bad guys complicates efforts to curb child trafficking.”….”There’s no reason to throw away your Valentine’s chocolates. Not only is a consumer boycott impractical, it would probably do more harm than good because West Africa’s economy is reliant on cocoa, and anything that hurts the industry would just worsen the desperation that drives people to sell their children. One way to be socially conscious without going through chocolate withdrawal is to seek out Fair Trade chocolate.”
So, what is Fair Trade chocolate?
Fair Trade guarantees producers the income they need to send their children to school and pay their workers fair wages, and provides consumers with a trusted guarantee that no forced or abusive child labor was used in the making of their products. Global Exchange has a good website for Fair Trade information. Sources for Fair Trade Chocolate are numerous, just look for the the “Fair Trade Certified” or “Fair Trade Federation” labels. Buying only fair trade products and ignoring Hershey’s products are not going to solve the problem, nor will it be effective or totally helpful, but some support of the Fair Trade process is a good start.