Trick-or-Treat? Your Chocolate Was Probably Made By Slaves

Photo by Mike Alonzo via Unsplash.

We are The Capitol.

In case you haven’t read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, let me explain. In the trilogy, The Capitol lies at the center of everything, and the outlying Districts exist to give those in The Capitol a good life. The people outside The Capitol work non-stop, survive without luxuries, and many are near to starving. Those inside The Capitol, on the other hand, have plenty; they mostly spend their money on entertainment, making themselves look nice (or weird), and eating. And when they’re full, they drink a liquid that helps them throw up so they can eat more.

Do you see the analogy now? We who live in the United States are The Capitol. We are mostly concerned with the NFL, the shopping mall, and technology. We purchase items that can only remain at their current, inexpensive prices because they are made by slaves in other countries.

But we do our best not to think about this.

The developing world represents the Districts, where the people are working hard, and yet have almost nothing. They do not even get to enjoy the things that they are creating. They watch their children waste away to nothing, with no hope for ever getting out.

We are The Capitol.

* * * * *

One of the ways we continue this symbiotic relationship between ravenous consumer (us) and exploited worker (them) is in the way that we inhale chocolate, chocolate whose very existence and price depends on the use of slave labor, often child slave labor. This year we will spend almost $8 billion on Halloween, $2.3 billion of that on candy. Where is the majority if the chocolate coming from?

The ILO calls the cocoa industry the worst form of child labor today. And these farms, mostly in Ghana and Ivory Coast, exist because of brands like Hershey, Nestle, Mars, and Cadbury—they all purchase cocoa from these farms, are all aware of their practices, and as of today, have chosen to do little about it.

The Art of Simple

Please. Before you go out and buy pounds and pounds of chocolate from companies who use slave labor to provide us with our 99 cent chocolate bars, read these two articles by my friends Tsh and Kristen:

Chocolate: The Industry’s Hidden Truth (and the easy stuff we can do to still enjoy it)

The Inconvenient Truth About Your Halloween Chocolate and Forced Child Labor

Please. Do a little research on your own. If we continue to lament the existence of slavery in our world but refuse to give up our obsession with Reese’s Cups or Snickers bars, we become part of the chain, complicit, and just as guilty as the person standing over a child, telling them they have to work harder.

Which really sucks because I love Snickers. And Reese’s Cups. And all that stuff. But this year I’m going to do my best to avoid eating or purchasing candy from companies who so far have made big promises about changes they’re going to make to their supply chain, but unfortunately have yet to deliver.

Reconsider your Halloween Candy.

Question: Have you already looked into this problem? What chocolate alternatives are you finding? (Tsh has some great recommendations over at her blog.)

10 Replies to “Trick-or-Treat? Your Chocolate Was Probably Made By Slaves”

  1. I didn’t know this issue existed. Our church goes all over the world to help those who are in need, but I know we had a lot of that candy at our fall fair last night.

    1. I didn’t know too much about it either, Larry. You raise an interesting point. We spend a lot of time and money to circle the globe and help people, when we could offer so much help by NOT spending money on certain things.

  2. Interesting. This reminds me of a video I saw a couple of years ago:

    Can I play devil’s advocate?

    I’m not sure I agree with this statement: “If we continue to lament the existence of slavery in our world but refuse to give up our obsession with Reese’s Cups or Snickers bars, we become part of the chain, complicit, and just as guilty as the person standing over a child, telling them they have to work harder.”

    The problem is NOT our obsession with Reeses or Snickers. (Or with Nike shoes or iPads or anything else). Just about everything we possess (I suspect) had been developed using child labor. (Including, ironically, many of the devices used to spread the word about child labor). The problem is, I think, first and foremost the people who manipulate kids into slavery. Let’s not forget who the *real* criminals are. Passing blame to the consumers, I think, removes the blame from the *real* criminals and perpetuates the problem. We need to hold *them* accountable. Second, is the companies who allow this to happen knowingly. However, they’re not nearly as culpable as the slaveholders. (Especially when they are making genuine efforts to stop child-labor). Third, the consumers are culpable (if they’re aware), but not nearly as culpable as the former two.

    I’m not exactly sure what the solution is, but I don’t think placing blame on the consumers is going to do it. Few people read and few people would care enough to dent Nestle’s profits, particularly if said consumers feel attacked. What is the answer? I don’t know. Maybe it’s already happening. Nestle (and I suspect other companies) are making efforts to eradicate slave-labor in the cocoa industry. Rather than criticize their efforts as not enough, maybe we ought to thank them and recognize that *massive* social change takes *massive* effort. Progress is good, even if it’s slower than we want.

    (Now let me play devil’s devil’s advocate). However, for some people, that’s *exactly* the fire that needs to be lit for them to take action and do something. I know several people that respond well to such a serious wake-up call/accusation. (I’m just not one of them).

    So….other suggestions? What can lil’ ole’ me do? I don’t think waiting for Nestle is the best solution. (It was, after all, pressure from consumers that instigated changes in the first place). But what is?

    1. Dustin, I respectfully disagree. Without our demand for cheap chocolate, cheap diamonds, cheap clothes, cheap(er) electronics, etc, the shareholders/companies would no longer find it economically advantageous to carry the products and the slave-trade would not be necessary. Other, more conscientious companies would rise up in the vacuum and actually employ those who are currently enslaved. Those of us who know the truth are just as culpable, because we are knowingly purchasing products that allow these practices to continue.

      The best thing lil’ ole’ you can do is stop buying from companies who use slaves.

  3. And maybe that is the way to do it. When you think about the changes that companies have made as consumers have been more health-conscious (e.g., organic foods, less processed, low calorie, what have you), it seems like a viable strategy. However, unhealthy foods still exist (and in abundance).

    So, ideally, all of us would boycott companies that use slave-labor. But, I’m a realist. That may influence companies to provide alternatives, but I don’t see it ending slave labor.

    Like I said, I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s boycotting these companies *and* something else. I’m not sure what that something else is. I’m just trying to brainstorm.

    1. I’m sure there are other things we can do. Call our senators, start up our own companies, etc, etc, etc, but I still think this is the place for most of us to start.

      It’s interesting to me how distance affects the way we view this. If I went to a little shop here in Lancaster and found out that in the back room the owner had chained children to the wall and was forcing them to work to make the things I was buying, there is no way I would ever buy anything there again. But because these atrocities are happening so far from us, so many of us somehow think, Oh, well, my buying it doesn’t make a difference.

      1. Good call. It’s a starting place. What next? I don’t know, but I think brainstorming suggestions is good.

        True–distance makes a difference and I think you nailed the reason: believing that I can’t make a difference. That’s my gut reaction when I hear of something horrible happening across the globe (e.g., Syria). But there’s always something that can be done (particularly with the help of technology).

  4. You bring up such a great point. I can’t help but feel convicted in my own life. I know there are areas in my life where I haven’t generous with my finances.

    I really like the message translation of Proverbs 11:24… “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.”

    I don’t think of that verse in terms of what I can “get” out of giving, I think of it in terms of living a bigger and more purposeful life. I want my life to expand in purpose and meaning.

    Thank you Shawn for sharing this post today!

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