Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One Controversial Package: Chocolate Mixes Human Rights And Sustainable Food

Chocolate is a lovely, lovely thing. Yes, I’m addicted, and that’s final. Every week we get groceries delivered, since we don’t have a car most of the time. Every week, my groceries come with a chocolate bar that I’ve ordered. My daughter thinks that all groceries come with chocolate. Enough said. I’m addicted.

The history of chocolate is bitter, to be sure. Chocolate comes from the cacao tree, a tree that is indigenous to the South American tropical rainforests. The Maya and the Aztecs mixed the bitter cacao with water and spices to make a frothy drink. Chocolate was an important ceremonial drink, and it was used in religious events. Later, the Spanish took the drink back to Europe, where it morphed into the sweet drink and sweet chocolate bars that we know today.

Chocolate has another bitter side. Nearly half of the world’s cocoa crop grows in the Cote D’Ivoire, where its production has been linked to forced labor and child labor. Although the 2005 Harkin-Engel Protocol encourages the cocoa industry to work with non-governmental organizations to monitor, report, and reduce the use of child labor in cocoa plantations, it is a small start. The cocoa industry has been constructed on forced and child labor. In countries that are desperate for income, cocoa is a good cash crop. The rock-bottom prices paid by chocolate companies are an impossible dream made possible by forced labor. The Prime Minister of the Cote D’Ivoire has said that manufacturers would need to pay about ten times the current amount for cocoa if they were to end the use of forced labor altogether.

How is this connected to sustainable food? Sustainability is a three-pronged idea. To have a sustainable crop, we not only need to consider the environmental implications of consumer actions, we also need to think about creating positive economies that build societies that respect human rights. One way to do this is for the industry to embrace fair trade and slavery-free cocoa production. Fair trade means that farmers are paid a fair wage for their product and that they work under fair working conditions.

What is a chocolate-lover to do? Treat chocolate like the treat that it is. Yes, fair trade chocolate is more expensive, but I’d pay the same amount for high-end chocolate anyway. My weekly chocolate infusion is from Cocoa Camino, as is any chocolate that we give as gifts during the year. It is certified fair trade, which means that I know that I am supporting labor practices that build local economies and create a more sustainable farming future, in all of the many and varied meanings of that word.

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