I meant no harm. I most truly did not. But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got. (from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss)
My family is on a journey, taking baby steps as we go, and our ultimate destination is to live fairly in this world. We have learned a lot over the past couple of years about the ongoing problem of slavery worldwide. In fact, most experts say there are more people in slavery now that at any other time in history. This shocks and saddens me and the part that keeps me up at night is that my own culture has such a large hand in this. We drive the supply with our demand for more, more, MORE. I am not here to tell you that my family has arrived. I know we still use products with the footprint of slavery, but we are taking steps and eliminating our part of the demand. It is a journey. Some changes have been more difficult than others, but less difficult than sleeping at night when I know that our luxuries have come at the expense of another’s freedom.
Today, because it is October, and I know that many of you will stock up on Halloween candy this month, I want to gently urge you to join us on this journey and use your dollars to support ethical candy makers. I don’t really see any reason to re-invent the wheel and other writers have done a great job of explaining the enormous problem with West African chocolate and slavery. If you would like to learn more about it, Rage Against The Minivan has an excellent post from last year. In the post, she also links to resources for an ethical Halloween. So I’m not going to tell you the statistics about chocolate, but I will share a little bit about my own feelings and actions.
We don’t buy chocolate from any of the major companies (Mars, Hershey, Nestle, Cadbury). When we buy chocolate that is not certified organic or certified Fair Trade, we take the time to look up the company’s website and find out where their chocolate is sourced. If it’s sourced out of Belgium or Venezuela, we feel good about buying it. If it’s sourced out of Ghana or the Ivory Coast, we do not buy it. This is the decision we’ve made based on the reading we have done. When we crave, as we sometimes do, something we used to buy that we now know is tainted by slavery, we find a way to make an alternative ourselves. I have made chocolate hazelnut spread (instead of Nutella), chocolate covered peanuts (sub for peanut M&Ms), chocolate peanut butter cups (Reese’s Cups), hot chocolate mix, and homemade brownies and cakes to avoid unethical chocolate. I don’t grill people at parties to find out where the chocolate they used was sourced and I will eat something someone gives me, but when possible I sign up to bring chocolate items to events or parties so that I can control the sourcing.
I am not a blind optimist. You may be thinking, “Do you really think it will make any difference?” Will the chocolate companies notice a difference in their sales if a few families stop buying their product and opt instead for the Fair Trade alternatives? I don’t honestly believe they will notice the difference. I think it would take an awful lot of consumers changing their spending habits for this to show up on the radar of Hershey or Mars. So why do I still do it? Well, it makes a difference to me. William Wilberforce (who I admittedly only know of because of the movie “Amazing Grace”) said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” We are taking these steps and changing our spending habits regardless of the effect it has in the world, because we believe in the effect it has on our own souls. I can’t eat a Snicker’s bar in good conscience when I know how it was produced. And now that I have told my children about this, I can’t let them see me eat that.
My children are young, so it hasn’t been a huge adjustment for them. Except for chocolate milk. My son LOVES chocolate milk and most specifically he loves Nesquick powder. He asks me every time we go to the store if we can please buy some of the chocolate milk with the bunny drinking out of the straw. And every time I say no I think about saying yes for just a moment. I think about how it’s really not going to make a difference, about how I made my own chocolate milk powder and it was expensive and he didn’t like it. But then I think that somewhere in west Africa is a mama who has a son not much older than mine and she doesn’t see him much because he is doing the dangerous and exhausting labor of a child slave in the cocoa fields. And I tell my son no and then I tell him why. And he accepts it. The next time we go to the store he will probably ask again and we will have the same conversation again, but for now he accepts it.
In my son’s room I mod podged a huge world map onto a board to hang on his wall. Before I got it all glued down, he used a crayon to embellish it. I didn’t want to leave the crayon markings there because the map was kind of expensive and I think we might be able to re-sell it someday when he has a different kind of decor in his room. So I cut a bit of paper into a fancy shape and wrote a verse from the Bible in calligraphy to cover it. It says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Benjamin noticed it immediately and asked me what the words said. When I read it to him I explained that it would be a reminder to love the people of the world more than we love ourselves. He likes to point to different parts of the map and ask me “Where’s that land? Do we know somebody that lives there?” It’s really fun to talk to him about the world this way. I pointed out Ghana and the Ivory Coast the other day and I told him that’s where they make children work too hard for chocolate. I said that one way we could love the children of the world better is to not buy chocolate made by people who hurt kids. He said, “Well, mom, maybe we could find another map sometime, just like this map. And then you can write the words about love one another on that other map and we can send it to the bad people who hurt the kids and then they will know better. If they know better they won’t do it anymore.” I love his innocence. I love that he assumes once we know better we act differently. That’s why we don’t buy slave chocolate even though I know that realistically it won’t make a big impact on the chocolate industry. I know better so I should behave differently.
There are many other products and industries tainted by slavery and it seems every time I turn around I am learning about another one. I am doing the best I can with the information I have and trying to give myself and others a great deal of grace where the changes are slow. I haven’t completely transferred all of our spending to fairly sourced products but I’m working on it little by little as we learn. I hope you don’t feel lectured or condemned but I do hope you’ll stop and think for a minute before you buy that chocolate and choose instead something that has been made by free hands fairly paid.