Devil’s Food– Part 2 in Sweetnasty: A Monstrous Reversal
“Will looked horrified. “What kind of monster could possibly hate chocolate?” Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel
In my previous article, I showed that monsters are sometimes Christ-figures. In this post, I want to show that one of the sweetest facets of Halloween, chocolate, is actually one of the most bitter.
First, I have to ask – do you know where your chocolate comes from? Probably not. Americans are so far removed from our food that some of us are taken aback (and disgusted) when we realize that meat used to breathe. So, if you eat chocolate from Hershey, Mars, or Nestle companies, no matter your country of residence, you will not know what location your chocolate comes from, or, rather, what specific plantation it comes from.
It is easy to find out with a bit of research that, as of 2014, 48% of the world’s chocolate supply comes from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, thanks to journalist martyrs who were supposedly killed by the Ivorian government for reporting on the cacao farms in 2004. It is also easy to discover that Ivorian chocolate businesses commonly use both child labor and slave labor as a means of producing their chocolate. In fact, as of 2014, the Ivory Coast is reported to have used at least 15,000 child slaves to produce their chocolate. That’s not counting the paid child workers.
So what’s the difference between a slave and a child worker? The slaves are frequently trafficked into the country, and are paid absolutely nothing for their work. They are fed the cheapest of food: corn paste and bananas. Slaves can be either child or adult, but are commonly children, as most slaves are not in the education system, and the children can be kept in the system for most, if not all, of their lives. Slaves are beaten frequently for not working quickly enough, and if they try to escape, are severely punished. Drissa, a slave who escaped a cacao farm, said, “when people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”
Child workers, on the other hand, are generally not beaten. Rather, they get most of their scarring and physical damages from having to use machetes to pry open the cacao beans unskillfully. These children usually range from age 12-16, but there are reports of children as low as 5 being used as workers. Most of these child workers, who live on the business property, will not see their family again for years upon their arrival. Many will never see them again at all.
This is where your chocolate comes from. At least 48% of it. And that is without tracking the other 52%. I reiterate the point that the three major chocolate producers of the U.S. candy business do not willingly divulge where their supply comes from, and many sources trace them back to the Ivory Coast.
Don’t think that buying fair trade saves you from this moral dilemma, either. According to foodispower.org, the Rainforest Alliance (one of the organizations responsible for regulating fair trade certification) cannot guarantee that the fair trade chocolate has not been tainted by child or slave labor. In 2009 many farms had to be dropped due to the realization they were sneakily using unethical means to manage their farm. In 2011 a journalist filmed illegal child labor on a cacoa farm certified as fair trade by the Rainforest Alliance.
With all of this in mind, let’s look at how much Americans spend on chocolate per year. According to dailyfinance.com, in 2013, America spent roughly $4 billion on chocolate alone. Every $3 out of $4 spent on Halloween candy was spent on chocolate. The five most popular chocolate brands purchased? M&M’s, Snickers, Kit Kat, Reese’s, and Hershey bars, all of which are produced by one of the three major companies previously mentioned.
Is there a solution? Many governmental programs have been initiated to prevent this heinous institutional and systematic sin, but the success will depend on the commitment of both chocolate consumer and chocolate producer alike. What can the chocolate consumer do? Whether you enjoy 90% Lindt, or Hershey’s Cookies & Cream (yes, white chocolate, although not always considered “true” chocolate, still contains cacoa butter), I cannot help but urge discussion on this matter amongst my fellow chocolate lovers. There must be more, you may think. Well, for now, my conscience is urging me to avoid chocolate in all its forms, whether I pay for it or not. The task is much more difficult than it sounds. It takes a retraining of the mind. For example, I bought a pack of cookies to bake for friends. Without thinking about it, I bought chocolate chip. I feel like a monster.
But that’s not the end of the story. I cannot comprehend what consequences would occur if chocolate was boycotted. While I do not foresee a boycott large enough to get the attention of the chocolate industry, if it transpired, it could ruin the economies of various nations whose main export, and means of earning money, is the cacao bean. Other implications may follow suit, on the individual and corporate level. This is why I reiterate the need for discussion and research. For now, on the individual level, I think I’m going to avoid chocolate products. And in regard to Halloween? Spare the neighborhood kids some cavities.
For more information regarding chocolate and slave labor, follow the links in the bibliography.