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Monday, January 26, 2009

Making Responsible Food Choices, Part Two (aka, 'Oh No! Cocoa?')

Yep, that's right. This second installment in my four-part series* focuses on our beloved chocolate. But wait - before you cover your eyes and run screaming from the computer - calm down. Sit, relax, and read. Don't worry, I'll show you how you can enjoy this delicious confection with a clear conscience.

* In case you missed it, you might want to read part one first.

Consumers in the United States alone spend $13 billion per year on chocolate, an understandable indulgence given its luscious flavor and its unique power to calm many of us in times of crisis. :-) But what are the hidden costs of our love affair with chocolate? Let's take a closer look.

70% of the world's cocoa is supplied by West Africa, a country where poverty is widespread and child slavery and labor abuses are rampant. A major contributing factor to these horrible problems are the low prices farm workers are paid by companies like M&M/Mars, the largest chocolate company in the world.

West African cocoa plantation laborers are paid between $30 and $108 per year; these astonishingly low wages, combined with the lack of human-rights standards enforced by the large chocolate companies, has resulted in a huge exploitation and abuse problem for the most vulnerable workers - the children.

According to the US State Department, there are currently 284,000 children in abusive child-labor conditions in West Africa. Thousands of these children have been trafficked into the area and live in slavery.

What can you do to help? Well, the answer is the same as for bananas; money talks, so be sure that your hard-earned dollars are only being spent on fair trade certified cocoa and chocolate products.

(made right here in lil' old Humboldt County)

"The key to Fair-Trade-Certified cocoa is that it is grown by small farmers, enabling them to build a better future for their families," says Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, Fair Trade Campaign Director of Global Exchange. "The Fair Trade system gives [workers] the pride and dignity of being independent, sustaining their own farms. This is a quantum leap from being a worker on a plantation."

According to TransFair USA, Fair Trade Certification assures that the following responsible, sustainable business practices are in place:
  • Fair wages
  • Better labor conditions (safer conditions, no enforced child labor)
  • Direct trade, eliminating exploitative middlemen
  • Democratic and transparent organizations
  • Community development
  • Environmental sustainability
Beyond reflecting your ideals through your dollars, there are lots of other ways to get involved, and with Valentine's Day quickly approaching, this is the perfect time of year to educate friends and family about the importance of fair trade chocolate. And while you're at it, why don't you make sure that chocolate you're eating and gifting is vegan? After all, cows don't deserve to be slaves either!

Once again, the information in this post came from the Jan-Feb '09 issue of VegNews magazine (see Food, Inc., beginning on page 40).


Sara said...

Now I'm craving chocolate :). Sjaaks is no longer in Old Town as a retail spot, right? Do you buy their chocolate at the local natural foods stores and so on?

Tamara said...

Yes, they are still in Old Town. They re-named the retail shop (Venlo Chocolates, I think?) but it's still them.

the little one said...

I'm liking this series! My friend likes to ask people if there is slavery in their chocolate, which is pretty much the title of a John Robbin's piece that can be found here

shayoa said...

My husband being allergic to chocolate really makes it easy to not have chocolate in the house anyway.


(although sometimes he gifts it to me, but unfortunately - I mean, fortunately - I am not a sweets person.)

Shelby Cobras said...

luckily, i have a buyer who purchases my chocolate for me. she's pretty good about making sure it's organic and vegan and all that good stuff.

Wow, my built in spell-checker says "vegan" isn't a word. HARSH.

girl least likely to said...

oh lordy, i looooove sjaak's! i had no idea they were an american company; with a name like that i was sure i was eating fancy-pants imported chocolate. ha, i'm gullible. i have so many of their mini peanut butter cups kicking around right now, it's embarrassing.