As A Mother, I Refuse To Buy Child Slave Chocolate This Holiday Season

box of chocolatesEver wonder why we’re able to buy jumbo-sized bags of chocolate candy for just a few bucks? It’s because big chocolate companies like Hershey’s and Nestle use trafficked children to harvest their cocoa. These kids work long hours, are often kidnapped and spend their entire childhoods doing this work so that we can feed our cravings.

I first learned about this my senior year of college. Disgusted, I swore off “slave chocolate” and dutifully purchased only fair trade. Yes, it was three times more expensive, but I knew it was worth it. I still remember going out to dinner with my husband, parents and sister shortly after I made this choice. When our server offered dessert, I asked the server what brand of chocolate they used. He stuttered out an answer, saying he believed it was Hershey’s, but wasn’t sure. I said I wouldn’t have any, then. My family looked at me like I was nuts. They scolded me for nitpicking. I hid my embarrassment and stuck to my guns.

As many of my political passions do, this one faded. It’s a defense mechanism, I think, that we don’t recall all of the horrors of the world at any given moment. We wouldn’t get a thing done in our personal lives if we could. But a few weeks ago, three years after my brief courtship with fair trade chocolate, a friend (who had just learned of this horrible reality) posted something on her Facebook page about the issue. It struck me deep this time, much deeper than before.

What made the difference? It’s simple: I have a one year-old daughter now. There’s something about having a living baby of your own that forces you to deeply sympathize with suffering children. I lie awake at night fretting about articles with headlines like “child kidnapped on her walk home from school.” I learned the hard way, after reading a statement a mother wrote about her six month-old daughter dying of SIDS, that I can’t do baby forums anymore. It’s become a cliché, but these mom hormones, the ones responsible for maternal instinct and postpartum depression, are no joke. I once spent the better part of a morning crying over a sentimental Pampers commercial. An effing commercial.

Anyway, I stopped and really thought about slave chocolate for the first time since college. Yeah, I can’t see or hear or touch those children who are forced to spend their childhoods working instead of playing and learning—but does that make them any less real? Does that make their childhoods less important than my own daughter’s childhood? I couldn’t picture them before, but I look at my little crawling gigglestorm of a baby and realize all children are alike. I’d be willing to wager the mothers of the trafficked children once felt the warm stroke of their child’s tiny hand on their tummy while nursing. I’ll bet they played goofy games and peekaboo in their own languages.

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  • A

    Could you provide proof please?

    • Sara

      Judging by the confrontational nature of the question, I’m not sure you’re interested in actual information–but in case you are, it’s easy to find by just taking a few minutes to do some research. Here’s one resource to get you started:

    • Lawcat

      Why is that question confrontational? I think it’s an important question to ask since none was provided in the article and the writer is asking her readers to act. At least some links with additional information would have been nice. The only thing we have to go on in the article is her word….and I don’t know her from Adam.

    • Sara

      I read as a thinly-veiled “I’m technically asking for proof, but I’m not actually interested in facts that challenge my assumptions.”

      HOWEVER…..I do agree that it’s important when making an allegation of abuses to provide some citations or evidence of what you’re talking about, and you’re right–upon reading the article again, the author did not do that.

      And it’s entirely possible that A was not being confrontational at all and I read the question with my own loaded interpretation of that question. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people (most of them during my vegan days) who would ask why I chose to eat a certain way, and when I cited my primary reasons of animal welfare and environmental concerns, would ask me for proof of my reasons while making it perfectly clear through their tone and posture that they’d already dismissed them as invalid. (This is one reason why I make it a point not to talk about my dietary choices unless specifically asked, and then try my best to answer questions without casting judgment on those who eat differently than I.)

      Unfortunately, on the Internet there is no body language and there is no tone to signify the intent behind the words, and I may have projected onto the person asking the question in this case. If I did, then I apologize to A, but I still offer up the link as just one resource out of many that can help in the learning process.

    • Jenna

      I didn’t find that question confrontational. I often ask for links to documentation so when I’m talking to someone about it I’m prepared.

    • Sara

      I agree that asking for links in order to become informed is good. However, I see a difference between “What you’re saying is interesting and I’d like to find out more. Where can I find first-hand information about this so that I can become more informed?” and the way that A worded her question. The former, to me, indicates a genuine interest in becoming more educated on the topic; the latter, to me, sounds like a challenge. Clearly, though, I’m in the minority in that opinion.

    • guest

      I feel like maybe it was a challenge to your casual writing style more than a disbelief that the problem exists. I agree with you, it’s hard to convey tone in comments.

  • Sara

    I understand what you’re saying. I try to buy fair-trade coffee and chocolate. Chocolate is fairly easy, because yes, it is more expensive but I don’t eat a lot of it so when I do buy it I’m willing to pay more to know that it was humanely sourced. Coffee is harder for me because I drink it every day, but I’ve found that a good solution is buying a Keurig. Since I’m the only one in my house who drinks coffee, I can use a lot less of it by using a Keurig, and I buy fair-trade coffee to go in my reuseable K-cup. That makes it affordable.
    I think we all have our own line in the sand; it’s near impossible to be ethical consumers in every single area unless we happen to have a ton of free time and extra money. Maybe someday, companies will decide that it makes business sense to produce their good ethically, but in the meantime, we all have to pick and choose what’s important and accessible to us. For me, it’s coffee, chocolate and (when I can afford it) local, organic meat and dairy. For someone else, it might be a vegan diet or growing their own food. Everyone makes their consumption choices differently, but I think the important thing is to be informed and conscious in deciding what we’re going to buy–because the items we buy are ultimately the practices we endorse.

  • Carm

    Where do you buy fair trade chocolate? This is the first I’ve heard about these kids but I’m willing to switch.

    • Jules

      Get yourself to a Cost Plus World Market! They literally have a wall of it. And it is awesome, delicious, reasonably priced, and fair trade. Also, like the author mentioned, they have many new and different spice and flavor combination’s and the sales people will even recommend wine pairings. I never knew that cocoa was harvested like this, but generally buy from there anyway for the superior quality.

    • lea

      Do you get Cadbury chocolate in the US? (I’m assuming that is where you are?)
      They have a fair-trade range.

    • canaduck

      The folks at the Food Empowerment Project have a great, long list of vegan, slavery-free chocolates on their website. I check it all the time:

  • Anna

    Thank you for this! I just became aware of this issue last month, before Halloween, and subsequently decided to switch to Fair Trade chocolate. People don’t need to be mothers (or fathers) to know that human slavery of any kind is never OK — and certainly not for our luxury treats! [To the person who asked how you know if it's Fair Trade, the package will say it, usually with the little "Fair Trade" logo that means it's certified. You might have to look hard and avoid the brands you're used to, but it's worth it! Go, good humans!] Again, thank you for this article! We CAN make a difference and change the world! :)

  • AlbinoWino

    This is all well and good as I tend to attach myself to certain causes but the piece I struggle with is how just about any part of our consuming stems from some form of evil. We want to do our part and swear off one thing (like I did with Chick fil-A) but ultimately we probably have SO many items we buy without a second thought that exploit workers, children, and the environment. Clothing, furniture, food, just about EVERYTHING. I think it’s good to reduce this kind of thing but I get a little irritated when people get on their soapbox about one of these things and, let’s be honest, we could do that about most things we buy. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes in college when rich kids would go on and on about how TERRIBLE people were who weren’t buying everything fair trade and organic. Never really occurred to them that a lot of people in town didn’t have the money for that. If we really think about it, one of the more ethical and sustainable routes would be to hardly ever buy anything produced in an underdeveloped country. But if you’re going to go that route, you have the have the cash or the time/ability to make a lot of your own stuff.

    • K.

      …and so the answer is that because you can’t do it all, then do nothing?

      My personal take on these things is that they are at the very least a reminder to pay attention and to try to understand the impact of one’s consumption. It might be a pittance to bother about one or two bars of chocolate when you’re standing there wearing sweatshop clothes and carrying a purse made of some exotic and endangered animal skin that contains a cell phone made of conflict minerals from the Congo, and will return to a car that runs on petroleum, but you’ve got two choices: do the pittance of caring about the chocolate or say “fuck all.” One of these approaches to consumption is more likely to influence a more responsible attitude overall.

      My money is on the chocolate.

    • AlbinoWino

      I never stated that it’s all or nothing. I am simply arguing that while it’s good to take small steps when choosing to buy things ethically, I tend to get a bit wary of people getting high and mighty about ONE thing. I understand this is an easier one because, well, no one really NEEDS chocolate at all. I highly doubt many people in this country take into consideration EVERY item they buy with regard to where it came from, what the environmental impact was, who made it, etc. We pretty much have grown into a culture where this is near impossible to do unless you live off the grid and such. I think cutting some of these things out is great but I don’t know that anyone should get massive recognition for the few things they do cut out and are cool with just leaving the rest. Informed consumerism is something to strive for but the reality is none of us will probably ever become close to scratching the surface.

  • Diana

    “There’s something about having a living baby of your own that forces you to deeply sympathize with suffering children.”

    Because people without kids could NEVER do that right? Empathy is only for moms. I see.

    • Jenna

      She didn’t say people without children can’t, that would be ridiculous. She said having a baby makes it almost impossible not to.

    • lea

      No, she didn’t explicitly say it, but the implications are all there. The title “As A Mother…”, the various other comments.

      We, the child free, here it ALL the time from parents. Telling us how we really don’t know love, sympathy, empathy and the like because we don’t have babies. How our lives will be better and more fulfilled with children.

      This reminds me of a recent comment on a friend’s Facebook page, congratulating her on her new baby boy read “Congratulations, now you life begins”. How disgusting!

    • Amanda Low

      I didn’t write the title, my editor did. And I meant having a baby allowed ME to better sympathize. This is not an attack on childfree people, it is an attack on unethical chocolate companies.

    • Ordinaryperson

      You know what’s more stupid than making ridiculous comments about childless people? Getting upset by ridiculous comments made about childless people. They’re the crazy ones, don’t let it rub off on you!

    • Blooming_Babies

      Did you even read the article or do you just need to be a jerk?

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