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.