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Cassandra Clifford
Executive Director and Founder of BTFF

Friday, February 14, 2014

Chocolate Love...

It's Valentine's Day and many people of you are reaching for that tasty and sensual chocolate treat to give to your loved ones. Chocolate has long been associated with romance, but this seductive sweet has a bitter dark side you may not want to think about. This seductive treat has not seduced lovers alone, but those who prey on the innocence of others and lust after wealth. The irony is that chocolate -the happy and love induced sweet, is also source of pain and captivity.

There is a price for this dark and creamy treasure. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, children are often kidnapped from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso in order to provide slave labor on cocoa plantations. In Bitter Chocolate, journalist Carol Off describes the conditions in which these child slaves work:

 “The farmers were working the young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders… Farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cocoa groves, while police were being bribed to look the other way.” These children are responsible for climbing cocoa trees, cutting down bean pods, and chopping them open with machetes, which leads to inevitable accidents. They are exposed to hazardous pesticides that they spray without protective equipment. They are fed corn paste and bananas, the cheapest food available, and they’re not paid.  When one former child slave was asked what he’d stay to chocolate-eating Westerners, he answered, “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.” Despite the fact that the cocoa industry’s awful human rights record is now public knowledge, “Big Chocolate” – Cargill, Nestlé, Hershey, Mars, Ghiridelli etc. – have not taken the necessary steps to guarantee that their products are slave-free. Many problems could be alleviated, or at least improved, if these companies paid their workers a living wage, one that is high enough to maintain a basic standard of living that includes education, health care, and savings.  A big part of the problem is that Western consumers love eating cheap chocolate so much that they don’t pressure the industry to change. Rather than being viewed as a rare, expensive treat, chocolate has become “a universal luxury – a reasonably priced frivolity for everyone, except those who’ve never heard of it or can’t afford to buy it. Ironically, that unenviable group includes the people who produce its most essential ingredient.” (Bitter Chocolate)

What can you do?  The first and easiest thing you can do is read labels. Fair trade is a decent option, as it ensures producers sell chocolate at above-market prices, generating extra income to improve community infrastructure and give a higher quality of life to farming communities. The downside is that certification can be very costly, and is often not affordable for small-scale operations- therefore sometimes you have to do a little research (but then again is that really such a big price to pay?). Please also keep in mind there is more than one label -in 2012, Fair Trade USA split from the International Fair Trade Organization.  There is also the Rainforest Alliance stamp, which ensures that farmers are growing cocoa in environmentally responsible ways – protecting shade trees, planting native species, maintaining wildlife corridors, conserving natural resources, and reducing pesticide use.

Chocolate: More and more retailers carry Fair Trade chocolate so just keep your eye out for the Fair Trade label as you shop.  You can also purchase special valentines gifts online including heart-shaped chocolates from Divine Chocolate, the sweet and spicy chocolate sampler from Equal Exchange, the Valentine’s Day Heart Box from Sweet Earth Chocolates and a full tub of chocolate hearts of cherry  or dark chocolate with raspberry bar from Sjaak’s.  Sweet Earth Chocolates Classic Red Velvet BoxChocoDream SpreadsKopali Chocolate Covered Cacao NibsTCHO “My Heart’s Desire” Adigard 12-Bar SamplerAlter Eco Dark Velvet Chocolate and sweetriot riotous riotBar gift set.  Why not reach outside the box and  try Kopali’s Dark Chocolate Covered Bananas.

Learn more and see what products are "safe" by reading our post from last year and checking out all the great resources and links: http://bridgetofreedomfoundation.blogspot.com/2013/02/make-sure-your-valentines-day-is-not.html?spref=tw

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