Monday, 21 April 2014

Chocolate's dark side gives reason for pause

Did you enjoy your Easter celebrations? Cleaning up the leftovers? Had enough of chocolate for a while?

Good. Because there are some problems with chocolate that I hope you will become aware of.

Chocolate production in the world is integrally involved with child labour, slavery and dangerous production practices.

That yummy chocolate treat you enjoyed yesterday has more than a conflicted history surrounding it.

Last week, St. John’s Cathedral in Brisbane, Australia decided not to give away chocolate Easter eggs on Easter Sunday because of that conflicted history and their inability to find chocolate that was fairly and safely produced. They could find chocolate which was produced without child labour, but it was horribly expensive.

The truth is that like other commodities, chocolate is a product in great demand and producers want to make as much money as possible for as little production cost as possible. Ands consumers want cheap chocolate.

According to the organization "Stop the Traffik", "...over a third of the cocoa that makes the world's chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast, Africa. It's highly likely that the beans that make your favourite chocolate bar come from here."

"Cocoa harvesting is backbreaking and hazardous work. The harvesters have to go into the bush to access the cocoa trees that grow the precious cocoa pods. Wielding dangerous machetes, they cut down the pods and crack them open. The cocoa beans are then extracted, dried and bagged for sale. The shocking reality is that much of this work is done by children."

"Thousands of boys as young as 10 yrs old, from the Cote D'Ivoire and neighbouring countries, are trafficked to pick and harvest these beans. Their freedom is taken and they are forced to work long hours on the cocoa plantations without receiving any money for their work. They are beaten and work in dangerous conditions."

Still want a bite of your favourite chocolate bar?

There are solutions. Change is possible.

When I was a child, one of my weekly treats was a Cadbury’s Caramilk chocolate bar. I figured out a long time ago how that got the caramel in the Caramilk Bar (and no, I won’t tell you). But one of the largest buyers of chocolate in the world is Mondelez, who own Cadbury.

What if Cadbury were to make a Caramilk bar with chocolate that was sourced from cocoa producers who certified that their producers used no children, were not involved in slavery and was purchased for a fair price? Would you buy such a chocolate bar?

That’s the question we all might ask ourselves.

Chocolate which is produced without child labour and by farmers who received a fair price for their produce is called Fair Trade or Certified chocolate. And make to mistake, it is more expensive. But everyone wins. No forced labour, no human trafficking and fair return to the producer.

Is it working?

Yes. The six major chocolate buyers in the world do make Fair Trade products or products certified as using no child or forced labour. It’s not throughout their product line, but it’s a start.

Next Halloween or Christmas or Easter, look around for Fair Trade chocolate. It’s available locally, often in specialty food shops or places which sell Fair Trade coffee such as Highland Grounds in Flesherton and FaithBooksPlus in Owen Sound.

We can have our chocolate so that it benefits all. It just takes a little thinking.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County