Oh, Valentine’s day. Riddled with expectations, horrible satin bows, and lots and lots of chocolate (58 million pounds sold each Valentine’s week in the U.S. alone). But there is another, somewhat hidden story lurking underneath. Of the chocolate that we purchase for those near and dear to us this week, there is almost certainly a child slave laborer involved in producing it.
I’m sorry to stomp on your “holiday”, but it still needs to be said: stories on abuse in various food industries have been surfacing for years, yet Americans as a whole still continue to consume with gusto. The chocolate industry is one of the most notorious repeat offenders, especially when it comes to child slave labor. Yes, that is correct: there are documented child workers who are withheld pay who pick our Valentine’s Day chocolates. And even as awareness has grown (in 2001, the major companies involved signed a treaty to end “the worst forms of child slavery” by 2005) changes have not been implemented. As the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate shows, child slave labor is still alive and well today, specifically in the Ivory Coast.
The un-sexy reality is that we are all responsible for the conditions of the workers making the products that we buy. Our demand (plus enormous profit margins) is what makes the chocolate industry what it is. So a good start for a Christian would be to carefully examine their purchasing habits, and to make a commitment to only support companies that do not trample on the poor. Feel overwhelmed by the prospect of researching labor practices? You aren’t alone—companies stake their profits on the fact that we won’t call them out for their evil.
But there are places to start. A Better World Shopping has a convenient list of companies and rates them from A-F (pick Cadbury over Nestle, for example). Or do one better and take a stand to not support any chocolate company that does not purport to pay Fair Trade wages or above (and hopefully, encourages local ownership and profits that remain in the community). A personal favorite is Equal Exchange, a fair-trade certified company which also sells amazing organic coffee and tea. Or, you can always go the non-traditional route and show your love by writing a poem, giving a book, or cleaning the kitchen (hint, hint).
Holidays in general are commercialized nonsense, ways to get us to show our affections in increasingly capitalized-upon ways. So instead of rushing out this year to purchase your love with slave-harvested chocolates, let’s actually do something with love.
Let’s show our love by buying our chocolates with our neighbors in mind, instead of just our wallets.