To the utter astonishment of friends and relatives, Jim and I quit chocolate cold turkey in 2001. We were chocoholics of the first degree. When I cleaned out the kitchen for all our chocolate we found over 14 pounds- not counting things containing cocoa.
At first I thought I would lose my mind. One night someone walked past me in a Circuit City smelling of Butterfinger bar and my consuming envy made me want to tackle them and bounce their head off the floor a few dozen times. I'm not a violent person, so this bizarre desire definitely meant I had momentarily relocated to downtown, central Crazy.
Chocolate was to me comfort, reward, and love. My beloved grandmother used to keep chocolate bars stashed for the grandkids, so it's hard not to associate a Nestle Crunch with the pure joy of visiting grandma. My grandma loved kids, all kids- so much that she dedicated her life to schools and orphanages in Africa. I'm sure she had similar treats for the kids there.
As a result of my grandparents' work, I always had a heightened sense of Africa. My mom never said "Eat your dinner, there are starving children in Africa." Instead I overheard conversations about war, coups, government closure of schools and orphanages, poverty, famine, police that show up in the middle of the night, imprisonment, execution, and families that had become kin to ours fleeing their nation through dangerous means both legal and illegal. I have always felt thankful not to have been born there, and I deeply respected my grandparents' courage to work in such a dangerous place.
So... when I found out that virtually every American chocolate bar is tainted with child slavery (enacted in Africa), I didn't want to believe it. Knight-Ridder had a series of articles outing the use of child slaves to harvest cocoa and coffee beans* in the Ivory Cost and Mali. It's fallen off most of the news site because it's age (2001), but it's been reprinted here.
After a few months of research, the evidence mounted- and it became apparent that the American chocolate industry was not interested in reform. Bob Dole was hired as a lobbyist for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association as they quashed Congressional energies to mandate slavery-free labeling. Instead of agreeing to voluntary labeling, they offered a alternate plan in which they would monitor cocoa farms and work for reform. Their compromise, the Harkin-Engel protocol was accepted and immediately forgotten. To date, the chocolate industry has not even attempted to meet their own plan. They don't really care about anything beyond their bottom line and big chocolate is banking that the American consumers won't care about the lives of foreign children either.
So Jim and I quit eating chocolate. Honestly, even something so delicious starts to taste like fetid poo when it's produced by companies willingly complicit in child slavery. It seemed to me like every chocolate bar I bought undid my grandparents' efforts to help children in Africa.
On the whole, our friends and family didn't respond well to this decision. Some mocked us for caring too much, others went out of their way to find chocolate industry PR to reassure us, and one close family member broke my heart by saying "Well, what else would those kids do? It probably keeps them out of trouble."
So, we turned our boycott into something secret. Just an "I don't eat chocolate" response. I was tired of arguing with everyone and hearing things that disappointed me. People would ask why and Jim and I started giving dodgy answers. I clearly lack my grandparents' courage.
A recent article in Melbourne's The Age newspaper on chocolate slavery nudged my sheepish social consciousness. Jim sent me links surrounding Tony's Chocolonley (a Dutch man who turned himself in to the police for knowingly buying goods obtained through a crime).
Now I won't ask you to stop eating chocolate on my word alone please Google "chocolate slavery BBC" for a reputable international source.
I am asking that everyone at least bypass gift chocolates this holiday season. Do you really want to feed you children the product of child exploitation? Fair-trade certified chocolate is okay, but everything else- according to the Salvation Army's anti-slavery unit probably contains beans harvested by slaves (thanks to the workings of the commodities market).
Sorry about the soapbox, but I really needed to say something about this issue that's been buried or misrepresented in the American media. I'm just having trouble believing that I live in a country where people are willing to have children suffer and even die for cheap luxury goods.
If you're considering boycotting gift chocolates, we'd love to hear about it...
*We don't drink coffee.
***This post is the independent, unsolicited opinion of Baby Toolkit. Photo: Baby Toolkit, (c) 2007. All rights reserved.