Imagine that---a special day devoted to my favorite food group! Yes, I love chocolate. Most everyone I know does. The ancient Mayans believed that chocolate was a gift from the gods. I'm sure there must be a banquet table of chocolate in Heaven--all the chocolate you can eat without gaining weight. Paradise.
Did you know, though, that there's a dark side to chocolate? I'm not talking about bittersweet as opposed to milk. I don't mean to put a crunch in your love for chocolate, but this is something a lot of people don't know about. And it's something we need to be aware of.
Much of the world's chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast of Africa. What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, unfortunately, many cocoa plantations in that part of the world use child labor. Shocking, I know. But it's true.
More than 200,000 children are used as slaves for the chocolate industry. Some of these children are kidnapped and forced to work in horrible conditions on these plantations. And hard as it is to imagine, some are sold by their own parents who are living in abject poverty.
I don't want to go into the depressing details here. After all, this is a motivational blog site. You can learn more about this atrocity by clicking on the link and from sources I've listed below. Estimates run from 43% to 70% of the world's chocolate comes from child labor plantations.
So, how can you know the origin of the chocolate you buy? It's not an easy task to find the cocoa origin of that candy bar you're about to bite into. It is reported that some of our most common candy companies purchase chocolate that comes from child labor. Studies show that the more expensive chocolate companies are actually least likely to do business with these plantations.
Does this mean you have to give up eating chocolate in order to save the children? In a word~~no. Shutting down the industry is not the answer. That could actually make things worse in some cases. Think of all the jobs lost. The crash to the economy. Chocolate is big. Child labor is just one piece of the whole chocolate pie. Boycotting companies that purchase from child labor plantations, or strongly voicing opinions to them, is an option that some people have tried. It seems to have helped somewhat. As a result, some of these companies are putting more effort into an overall solution.
There is a sweeter side. Chocolate is good on many levels. Many romantic evenings begin with a box of chocolate. Better yet, recent medical studies suggest that chocolate has certain health benefits.
How can you help as an ordinary consumer? Is there any way to know that the scrumptious "this-is-the-most-incredible-thing-I-ever-ate" triple layer rich, creamy chocolate cheesecake topped with chocolate mousse draped in dark chocolate glaze that I had for dessert the other day is child labor free or not?
It's not likely you can find the source of all that chocolate you consume. Going without chocolate the rest of your life is not the answer, though. Neither is feeling guilty every time you bite into a candy bar.
How can you have your chocolate and eat it too? The best way is to purchase "Fair Trade" chocolate. Some stores like Starbucks, Safeway, Whole Foods and others offer Fair Trade chocolate.
The drawback to this, is that Fair Trade items are often costly. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to spend $4 or $6 or more for a chocolate bar. Problems as big as this one are not solved all at once. What about all the chocolate in those cakes, cookies, and other delicious desserts (which may or may not come from child labor)?
Efforts to bring about awareness and change can succeed. For example, over the past few years, Nestles has worked in cooperation with World Cocoa Foundation in order to increase seed quality and production for cocoa farmers. They have also helped build schools and implemented programs to reduce and eliminate child labor. (Nestles Fair Trade Kit Kat)
Is there a positive approach to this problem? Yes. Even doing little things can help.
**Awareness is the first step toward social change. If every person who becomes informed of this problem tells just three other people, it takes on a ripple effect as those people tell others.
**Knowledge leads to action which leads to change. One small step at a time can make a difference.
**Portion the amount you spend to help. Think of how much you spend on chocolate in a month, then decide to spend 10% or 25% of that amount on Fair Trade chocolate. At least you are doing something.
**Grass Roots Organizations can be a way you can get involved. Learn about organizations that are involved in helping families in that area of the world rise out of poverty so that children are not forced into labor. Donate toward their success.
**Inform others. Many, if not most, people are not even aware of this "dark and bitter" side to the chocolate industry. They don't realize that the chocolate they eat may come from the slave labor and abuse of children. Spread the word. Bring it up in discussions. Write about it in your local paper or on your blog. The more people who become informed, the greater the chances for a viable solution.
Celebrate National Chocolate Day. Enjoy chocolate throughout the year. Keep these suggestions in mind:
Health by Chocolate <http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/health-by-chocolate>
Chocolate: Good for the Mind, Body, and Spirit <http://www.medicalwellnessassociation.com/articles/chocolate_benefits.htm>
The Bitter Taste of Chocolate <http://ndla.no/en/node/52663>
The Dark Side of Chocolate; documentary video trailer <http://www.globalexchange.org/fairtrade/cocoa/darkside>
Nestles Fair Trade Program <http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/nestle-fairtrade-kit-kat-ivory-coast?