Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Easter Chocolate - On Sale Now! But at What Cost?

I’m a self-proclaimed chocoholic. In fact, I’ve referred to myself as such long before it was common to do so. At the expense of dating myself, that word was in my vocabulary before the popularity of the internet!

I’ve eaten my share of what was my favorite chocolate bar—Nestles Crunch. When I was in high school, it was revealed that there were abuses in Third World nations by the Nestles Corp where they were taking advantage of poor mothers and children. I’ve boycotted Nestles Corp and their subsidiary companies for decades because they’ve never apologized for those abuses. They simply changed them over the years.
I thought I was doing better with Hersheys, Cadbury, Mars and others. That was until I learned that about 72% of all chocolate sold in the USA is made from cocoa harvested by slaves, many of whom are children in West Africa. These slaves are generational. They are born into and work the cocoa fields all their lives with no hope of education or a better life. They are refused basic human comforts you and I take for granted while their owners profit from the harvest from the free labor provided.
I may be a chocoholic, but first, I am human. Those who suffer are part of my family. I cannot, in good conscience, promote, foster or ignore the miserable plight of the precious people who are forced to live in squalor while I munch on candy made so dishonorably.
As I began to do my homework, I found a site called free2work.org. The site has a search menu that grades companies on how well they meet international Free Trade standards for products such as chocolate, jeans, shoes, toys, sports equipment, and many others. When you check it out, scroll down to “chocolate” and see how well your favorite brand does. The site also details what criteria must be met for each grade given. For example, with chocolate, each grade includes how the company rates in their policies, transparency, monitoring and worker rights. It is a great tool to determine how the company or brand meets each standard.
When purchasing chocolate at a store or market, I always check the packaging. Most companies using Free Trade cocoa are proud to share that information with customers. If a product is in question, our smart phones are an ideal way to access a wealth of information on a company’s policies. The choices we make determine our “slavery footprint.” This simply means that we can reduce the number of slaves that work for us by the way we shop. (Let that sink in a minute…)  You can determine your current slavery footprint at slaveryfootprint.org. (Caveat- it can be a rude wake up call to realize how many slaves produced the things we own. But don’t we owe it to our brothers and sisters around the world to make sure we are buying slave-free products?)
With Easter just around the corner, many of us will be looking to fill our children’s baskets with chocolate bunnies and eggs. There are many Free Trade Chocolates from which to choose.  Divine Chocolate, which is one of my favorites, is on the top of the list. You’ll also find most Free Trade chocolates are organic. Listen, buying Free Trade can be pricey, but to coin a phrase, “It may cost more, but it won’t cost someone else their freedom.” That makes it worth the price!
About the author: Kathy Lebron is the founder and director of Sparrow’s Hope for Girls, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring the lives and rebuilding the futures of young survivors of domestic, minor sex trafficking in the Greater NY area. Check out their Facebook page or email Kathy at sparrowshopeinc@aol.com for more information.
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