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Show Your Love This Valentine's Day by Avoiding Chocolate Made By Child Slaves

Make sure your romantic gesture is truly made with love.



Americans are expected to spend $750 million on chocolate this Valentine's Day, but most people don't consider that what they buy has an impact beyond their own romantic gesture.   How do you guarantee that the candy you buy has as much love in it as you want to show to others?  


The chocolate industry has been the subject of intense scrutiny over the past decade. West African countries supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa market, much of it sold to some of the largest chocolate companies in the world including Hershey’s, Mars and Nestlé.   Because most cocoa farmers barely make a living selling the beans, many use child labor– including children as young as 7– in order to keep their prices competitive.


Some children work voluntarily in order to feed impoverished families, while others are “sold” by their own relatives to traffickers or to the farm owners, while still others are abducted by traffickers from small villages in neighboring countries.  It is estimated that only about fifteen percent of these children are paid any wages at all.


For CNN’s Freedom Project initiative - an investigation that went deep into the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast - a team of CNN journalists "found that child labor, trafficking and slavery are rife in an industry that produces some of the world’s best-known brands." (Story starts at 12:36 below)  Note that some journalists investigating the chocolate industry in Africa have been arrested and have disappeared altogether.  CNN has published a list of responses from major chocolate manufacturers.




What You Can Do:


How can you make sure that your Valentine's Day chocolate does less harm than good?


You can start by looking for certified "Fair Trade" chocolatiers.


What is fair trade?  In the words of Comedian John Oliver, fair trade is "about not screwing people," or rather, fair trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity at every level of the supply chain, including producers and workers.  To earn a license from Fair Trade USA to use the Fair Trade Certified™ label on their products, companies must buy from certified farms and organizations, pay Fair Trade prices and premiums and submit to a rigorous supply chain audits.  Check out this great video from Fair Trade USA.


You can find a list of Fair Trade chocolatiers here.



Another option is choose chocolate companies that are part of the  Barry Callebaut quality partner program, named for the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate manufacturer, which has created a "unique cocoa sustainability program" in the Ivory Coast that "enables and encourages farmers to grow and produce cocoa in a sustainable, responsible way."  Cooperatives who participate in the Quality Partner Program agree to and sign a charter to uphold the principles on responsible labor practices as expected by Barry Callebaut and defined by international labor standards. Barry Callebaut supports and respects the principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Learn more about the program through this video about Callebaut's cocoa growing cooperative partners.


The Rainforest Alliance has its own certification program, and trains smallholder farmers to conserve natural resources, increase productivity and secure decent living and working conditions. Rainforest Alliance Certified farms are "audited annually against rigorous environmental, social and economic criteria that protect biodiversity and foster a culture of respect for workers and local communities."  They provide a great online guide to finding certified products called Shop the Frog.


UTZ certified works with companies like Mars, Ahold, IKEA, D.E Master Blenders 1753, Migros, Tchibo and Nestlé to bring independent third parties to verify that their ingredients are sourced from farms with "Good Agricultural Practices and farming management, safe and healthy working conditions, abolition of child labor and protection of the environment."   So far in the US, only Nestle Crunch bars are made with UTZ certified chocolate.


All of the chocolate sold by Chocolove, a Boulder-based company started by a former USAID volunteer, meet one or both criteria.  Check here to find a store that sells Chocolove near you, or buy it online.


Equal Exchange, started 25 years ago by managers at a New England Food Coop, sells chocolates and cocoas that are grown with care by small farmer co-ops.   Shop their online store, or amazon store, or find it at Whole Foods.


Alter-Eco is a fair-trade certified social venture that works directly with the small-scale farmers who grow their chocolate, as well as quinoa, rice, and sugar, helping them institute Fair Trade and Organic practices while assisting them to replenish and reforest the land.  Find out where you can buy Alter-Eco.


Buy your chocolate at Whole Foods.  According to its website, Whole Foods "has only brought in new chocolate bars from ethical sources,"  and has "encouraged dozens of our chocolate brands to obtain Fair Trade Certification."


In addition to sourcing its Bliss line from certified cocoa, Hershey's, the United States' biggest manufacturer of chocolate, announced in 2012 that the company will use certified Fair Trade cocoa for all of its chocolate products by 2020 shortly after Whole Foods stopped carrying Hershey’s Scharffen Berger chocolates until the company could prove its chocolate isn’t made by enslaved children.  Ghirardelli, Ferrero, and Mars joined the pledge soon thereafter.  That means for the next 6 years, these companies can't guarantee that slaves aren't making their chocolate, but at least they are moving in the right direction.