Chocolate is delicious, right? How much do you love it?
I spent a long time not very keen on it, but it wasn’t until I succumbed to a dairy allergy (and subsequently turned vegan) that I realised I really rather like the indulgence of dark chocolate. One square, nibbled, so that the rich cocoa flavour smooths itself across my tongue, is absolute LUXURY. Homemade vegan brownies with dairy-free coconut ice-cream are a treat I had never before imagined being even CLOSE to as good as it really is. I also love Oreos, but I’m not sure they really count!
Weird thing was, it wasn’t until I couldn’t have chocolate (for risk of a rash) that I really began to miss it. Now, with further information backing up why I’ve chosen to forgo dairy on all fronts (really, DON’T research if you want to keep drinking milk without thinking about the impact of obtaining it) I kind of mourn the loss of chocolate, even while I keep reiterating my reasons in my mind.
I always *tried* to buy fair trade chocolate though.
I remember long, long ago, reading an article where a child described the beatings he received at the hands of the cocoa farmer he worked for, and was quoted as saying something along the lines of ‘whenever you buy chocolate from here, you are buying the blood from my back’. Absolutely grisly and it was certainly enough to make me want to be a conscientious consumer, for as long as I remembered those awful words.
Time goes by though, and I think it’s true to say the old adage “out of sight; out of mind’ holds truer for most of us, than we’d really care to admit. My chocolate-purchasing has probably been pretty lax, and there have been times when I haven’t wanted to pay the extra for that little fair trade label, or haven’t seen one available, or just plain old have wanted something else.
I forgot that little boy’s words. I began to think they were probably a little bit amped up for the sake of sensationalism. I didn’t think about his blood, or the beatings. I didn’t extrapolate to consider the other children who might be in similar situations. I didn’t think about their vulnerability or the fact my consumer attitude was having a direct impact on their wellbeing. I forgot that the damn Village isn’t just here, where I am, but that it consists of every individual across the globe. Kind of, but importantly, because even if I never have contact with a child slave in Africa, my behaviour here is role-modelling to others who ARE in my ‘Village’, and that also makes a difference. I forgot that we all need to matter.
I embraced ignorance for the sake of convenience.
I perpetuated enslavement for the sake of confectionery.
I did it.
Because here’s the thing. Whether we like it or not, our consumer lives are enmeshed with the exploitation of some of the worlds most vulnerable adults and children. The vast systems for profiteering quite literally enslave people, keeping them trapped within their mechanisms, with very little hope of a suitable way out or the achievement of a better life. This is particularly prevalent in the cocoa industry, with the worst afflicted area being the West Coast of Africa, where conditions can be absolutely appalling, and children as young as 5 are working outrageously long hours to provide the West with the sweet taste of chocolate.
An article published by Anonymous – ‘7 Famous Brands That Use Child Slaves To Make Your Chocolate‘ – quotes that Mars said in 2009 they are committed to being child slave FREE by 2020. That’s a long, LONG way away…but at least they have a plan. Other brands, such as Nestle and Hersheys, gave scant defenses for their purchases of Ivory Coast cocoa. There have been lawsuits against ADM, Cargill and Nestle, put forward by people who consider their wellbeing was adversely impacted by the methods used to harvest the cocoa. Even Cadbury admits they don’t know really how to undo what’s been done, in terms of stopping the bad practices and forging a steady supply chain NOT based on slave labour.
It’s a mess. A stinking, fetid mess, and somewhere in there, those vulnerable lives have been weighed and measured as less valuable than the profit attached to the cocoa they generate. And I have taken part in keeping the system going, through negligence, through weakness, through my own deliberate fault, and although I don’t think I can shoulder the burden of knowing how much negative impact I’ve had…it is my responsibility to make better decisions from here onwards.
It’s always easier to turn a blind eye, but the sweet, sweet taste of chocolate has been ruined for me (again), and I hope that I will continue to keep my eyes open, and my tongue tuned to products which don’t contribute to oppression and injustice. Chocolate is delicious, and yes, SO many people love it…but is it worth the pain and oppression, when we know we aren’t making the most responsible buying choices?
How much do you love chocolate? More than life itself?
Fortunately when it comes to making GOOD choices about what we buy there are places which have done a lot of the grunt-work already, like this list of Ethical Chocolate Companies, or Ethical Consumer – brilliant, because they mean we don’t need to make too much effort to change our ways, and make our purchasing line up with our principles.
BUT on the bright side…how wonderful that we get to do our grocery shopping in a compassionate way!
This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward a better world with a focus on Compassion and Vulnerability.
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