Facing the Truth about Chocolate, Child Labor, and SlaveryElizabeth Stark
At Brooklyn Supper headquarters, we try to strike a balance between practicality and living our beliefs when it comes to our food. We believe in seasonal, local food raised in a way that’s going to leave behind a healthy planet for our daughters and their children, but at the same time we’re not swearing off lemons and coffee. And while we prefer produce raised without pesticides, whether because of convenience or finances, we frequently opt for conventional. But sometimes, our desire to keep things simple and do what we think is right come into conflict. And that’s definitely the case with chocolate.
Nobody likes chocolate chip cookies more than us. Not the thief in the Cookie Crisp commercials himself. But it’s become clear to us lately, that buying chocolate, in a lot of instances means supporting child slave labor, and that’s not something we’re able to do anymore. About 3/4 of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa, much of it from the Ivory Coast. While child labor is illegal in the Ivory Coast, more than 100,000 children work in what the US State Department calls “the worst forms of child labor.” I look at my own children and know that it’s just chance that leaves them free to enjoy blowing bubbles at the playground and reading Frog and Toad Are Friends, while another child is being beaten on a cocoa farm, and a cheap candy bar just isn’t worth it.
So what to do? I know there are a lot of valid criticisms of fair trade products, but in the absence of some other way of ensuring my chocolate wasn’t raised by slaves, I think it’s the most ethical way to eat chocolate. We recently made chocolate chip cookies for a bake sale using fair trade chocolate from Mast Brothers and I couldn’t believe how expensive it was, but when the price for chocolate you’re accustomed to is the result of slavery, it’s hard to argue that it’s not worth paying a little more to know you’re not supporting a slave master.
Our global economy and complex supply chain often bring up these types of quandaries, and knowledge can sometimes be paralyzing, leading us to feel that any food choices we make will involve some kind of moral compromise. How do you deal with these situations? How do you make decisions about what products to buy?