I love chocolate, and the fact that my wife is from Belgium has only opened the doors to what I now call “real chocolate”. I have, in the last three years, gained thirty pounds, a full twenty pounds more than I have ever weighed in my life (the Belgian beers may have played a part as well). My Godiva card has had to be replaced twice (worn to the point it was unreadable), and we always come home with a suitcase filled with chocolate.
Imagine my quandary when I found out about “Slave Chocolate“. Unfortunately not an S&M game, it is a movement to avoid chocolate made with cocoa harvested by slave labor. Of course I’m against slave labor, I avoid Chinese products and items that are identified as the products of slave labor, but this is chocolate.
As with any situation, actual facts are hard to come by. Cocoa beans originate almost exclusively in third world countries (largely Ivory Coast), where a variety of different forces prevent accurate information. Not only is it difficult to find out what precisely is going on, it is difficult to determine which chocolates are not harvested under slave labor conditions, and what actually constitutes slave labor conditions.
The corporations have their own interests at heart, and there have been a number of brands appearing that are marketed as “free market” chocolate. I’ve found in life that you can place a label on anything, calling a pig a helicopter will not enable it to fly. Recently Whole Foods was indicted for mislabeling food as “organic” when it was not, so I rarely trust what is said on the packaging. One particularly troubling item came from reading statements from various chocolate producers. The phrase “elimination of the worst forms of child labor” was repeated, word for word, by a majority of the public relations departments. How nice. At least they don’t use the worst form of child labor.
So how bad is it? Is there a relative scale for abuse? Perhaps there is. In a country with an unemployment rate that averages ten percent, and an individual GDP of about one thousand dollars, how “abusive” is abject poverty? It’s dangerous work, not only the physical work of opening cocoa pods, but also in the exposure to pesticides. The food provided to the workers is typically the least expensive available, not terribly tasty or nutritious, but better than eating dirt. The housing provided may be open dormitories, with little sanitation. But the fact is, all these conditions are improvements over their lives before harvesting cocoa. It may not be appropriate for us to judge a portion of the worker’s world without considering all of it.
Extreme conditions, such as human trafficking and physical abuse, are actively being fought, but as I said at the beginning, these are third world countries where surveillance isn’t as trustworthy as it is here. Even the most well meaning corporation cannot control everything that happens in the jungle. The amount of money in play, the relations of the economies in question, play into the creation of corruption at every level. A civilized society does it best to be aware and prevent abuse, but we simply cannot control every human involved.
So I was starting to get comfortable with chocolate again. Then I get this email from Godiva. By spending between $50 and $70 for a package of between 12 and 36 pieces of chocolate, I can provide ten school meals for children in cocoa producing countries. Somehow, being reminded of starving children while I eat gourmet chocolates is someone’s idea of good marketing. All it does for me is to suggest to me that with $70 I could provide a lot more than ten meals. I think I could probably feed an entire village with $70. I have to think that the roughly $2 I paid for that single piece of chocolate would have probably fed the kid who risked his life to harvest the cocoa for a week. I go in for the “proceeds go to charity” bit occasionally, but someone hadn’t considered this one very well.
If you would like to help a child in a third world country, $70 will cover two months at SOS children’s villages. And for being such a good person, get yourself some Belgian chocolates, maybe Leonidas.