Each day, on the way to and from school, Charlie Bucket walks past the Wonka chocolate factory, breathing in the extraordinary aroma. Desperately curious to know the building’s secrets, Charlie wins the chance after finding a golden ticket in a chocolate bar—one of only five golden tickets distributed by the eccentric Willy Wonka.
With its new film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Warner Brothers has produced some golden tickets of its own. In its first three months, it grossed over $200 million. The show’s Wonka — played by a sleek Johnny Depp — goes off on expeditions, prepared to search the tropics for exotic sweets, and to pluck plants or animals from other lands at whim.
After encountering “a race of tiny people called Oompa-Loompas” —who live in huts, wear headdresses, and eat caterpillars but crave chocolate—Wonka takes them to work in the Wonka factory. The Oompa-Loompas cannot leave, being unable to withstand the cool climate in their new land. They have no spoken language, and they all look alike. In fact, all of them are played by Deep Roy, an actor of Indian descent.
The new film is largely true to the details of Roald Dahl’s 1964 book, in which the Oompa-Loompas, brought out of Africa, even purport to volunteer themselves for experiments, so that Wonka, the European chocolatier, can test new product ingredients on them. A subsequent screen version starring Gene Wilder modified the work while Dahl agreed to re-write the sections mentioning the Oompa-Loompas. This year’s version, however, echoes the original tale’s most troubling passages.
The fast-food chain Wendy’s was quick to make toy Oompa-Loompas, as well as other film characters, for premiums in Kids’ Meals, providing yet another incentive for children to request trips to the burger shops.
Savvy parents see such things as the marketing ploys they are. But do they sense the trouble in the message that living “exotics”—including humans—are natural resources to be bought and sold wherever a profit can be gained?
Will they pick up on the irony that the history of chocolate involves the use of enslaved people, even today?
The group Free the Slaves counts 27 million people still in bondage in the world, many of them working on cocoa plantations, producing goods that end up in our local stores.
Sweets With a Bitter History
Chocolate’s bitter secret only became widely known about five years ago, when a documentary by the British Broadcasting Company entitled “Slavery: A Global Investigation” reported that children were being bought from their parents in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo for a nominal price, then shipped to the Ivory Coast and sold to cocoa farms. Some children work 80 to 100 hours a week, and the exposé showed some of them with heavily scarred backs from beatings with whips and switches.
Cocoa is chocolate’s main ingredient, and the vast majority of it comes from small farms, mostly in financially poor areas of the global south, where children clear fields with machetes and apply dangerous pesticides. They have no idea what chocolate tastes like. Some of them are clearly enslaved.
We don’t have to support this. Respecting the lives behind the products, and the earth underneath them, means knowing where our chocolate comes from; and that’s a matter of reading the labels. U.S. shoppers have great leverage in this issue: Collectively, we are the world’s largest cocoa consumer.
How Fair Trade Works… And What Happens When It’s Bypassed
Fair Trade is an international monitoring system. Certified chocolatiers buy from farmers who control their own production and marketing. Through farmers’ co-ops, small farms unite, set a price for a product, and distribute the profits fairly.
There are 20 collectives in eight countries—Ghana, Cameroon, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Belize—that represent more than 42,000 farmers and their families. According to the human rights advocacy group Global Exchange, Fair Trade requires co-ops to save a percentage of income for community development, removing the need for outside charity.
Coffee was the first product to carry a Fair Trade logo. Consumers began looking for the seal upon learning that it meant enabling workers to build schools and install sanitation systems. Fair Trade also encourages environmentally sound farming, through organic and shade cultivation. Co-op farmers use methods that value community health—making Fair Trade the most comprehensive model of positive economic development available.
Since TransFair USA began certifying Fair Trade chocolate and cocoa in September 2002, the market has grown rapidly. Already, Fair Trade cocoa and chocolate bars appear in hundreds of retail locations throughout North America, including several Safeways.
But Fair Trade is still only 1% of the U.S. market. What about ordinary chocolate?
Most West African cocoa comes from farms of 12 acres or less, where as many as 300,000 children work in dangerous conditions—the vast majority of them in the Ivory Coast. Many haven’t even reached their teens. Farm owners who can’t afford trucks are at the mercy of drivers who haul away the beans.
After trucking the beans out, the buyers get paid by exporters, multinational companies with offices in Ivory Coast port cities. The big companies include Illinois-based Archer Daniels Midland (maker of Ambrosia chocolate drops and baking ingredients), California-based Nestlé, and Minnesota-based Cargill.
As for the chocolate sold to shoppers, the biggest vendor is M&M/Mars. Mars sells Snickers, M&Ms and Dove Bars—along with the pet food brands Pedigree, KalKan, Sheba, and Whiska’s. The three Mars siblings, Forrest, Jacqueline and John, enjoy a combined fortune exceeding $30 billion. Yet their enterprise continues to ignore the demands of thousands of people who have asked them to respect international legal and ethical standards by investing in Fair Trade.
Why Did It Happen To The Children?
World cocoa prices have languished over the past twenty years. When the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund introduced adjustments compelling the Ivory Coast to dismantle its cocoa board and government supported price system, living standards plummeted in rural communities. Suddenly, small farmers—with no idea of the mechanics of free trade or commodities brokers—were on their own. With 70% of the population of the Ivory Coast tied to cocoa farms, the fall of cocoa prices in 1999 and 2000 led to the cutting of healthcare funding and teachers’ salaries, and, according to the International Labor Rights Fund, to “the widespread use of cheap child labor.”
When the Ivorian government tried to generate desperately needed revenue by increasing export tariffs in 2001, the multinationals simply stopped exporting—pressuring the country to buckle under their terms.
Reporting to representatives from the International Labor Organization, the Department of Labor, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and UNICEF on why more than half the children working on the cocoa farms have never attended school, the industry claims that keeping children at home to work the fields is a practice embedded in West African culture. This conclusion flies in the face of research by child labor experts who identify poverty—in this case, related to low and unpredictable cocoa prices—as the root of child labor and slavery.
The Chocolate Sellers Sweet-Talk Congress
The plight of the children caught the attention of Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, and Representative Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York. In 2001, after reading shocking media reports, Engel proposed a federal system to certify and label qualified cocoa products as slave-free.
Engel’s measure passed in the House of Representatives—and created a public relations scare for Mars, Hershey’s, Nestlé, and other major chocolate manufacturers who would not qualify for the label. So before the bill could reach the Senate, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents major U.S. chocolate makers, hired former senators George Mitchell and Bob Dole to lobby against it.
The industry sidelined the bill by crafting a document, in negotiation with Harkin and Engel, that would have the industry voluntarily adopt key portions of it. This compromise, the Harkin-Engel Protocol, permitted the companies to escape the label mandate by accepting a four-year plan that would end the industry’s worst abuses by July 2005.
Larry Graham, then-president of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, assured the public: “As an industry, we strongly condemn abusive labor practices, and our goal is to be part of the worldwide effort to solve this problem. If one child is affected, that is one child too many.”
Two months after the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed, more than 70 advocacy groups collectively known as the Child Labor coalition acknowledged the industry’s initiative but asked corporations to commit to ending exploitive child labor on cocoa farms worldwide—not just in West Africa. The Coalition also asked the industry to ensure fair compensation for farming and agricultural work. The average cocoa farming family earns between $30 and $110 dollars per household member a year.
Four Years Later: The Kids Aren’t Alright
The Protocol is not producing real change. Harkin and Engel admit that the plan to eliminate slavery has failed, but they point out that industry has given them further assurances. Lynn Bragg, current president of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, says that the industry (with over $14 billion sales annually in the U.S. alone) is giving over $5 million a year for a certification system. This means monitoring, data analysis, and activities to address the worst forms of child labor in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, with a goal of covering 50 percent of the two countries’ cocoa regions by 2008.
It seems that Harkin and Engel prefer to see their cup of cocoa as half full, but corporate interests evidently see fit only to “address” the practices deemed most miserable in limited geographic portions of farmlands. That’s not exactly a sweet thought.
The industry has publicized a few pilot welfare projects, jointly developed and funded by the U.S. government, targeting rural West African households. They have neither raised incomes nor prevented child labor. Global Exchange describes these projects as “limited charity efforts that leave farmers at the mercy of the volatile world market and dependent on the corporations that control it.”
The International Labor Rights Fund concurs: “The industry led initiative has resulted in a privatized mechanism without binding and enforceable rights.” It adds: “Privatized self-regulation may serve well in various contexts, but when it comes to child labor, we must demand more.”
Educational efforts, which the industry supports through the International Cocoa Initiative, are built on the assumption that cocoa farmers find abusive child labor culturally acceptable. It’s reasonable to assume that cocoa farmers, like other parents, want to protect and educate their children. And in reality, there is a tradition of moving children within the extended family to facilitate educational opportunities. But that’s been perverted by the market to enable trafficking in children. Without a stable and sufficient income, farming communities are trapped in a desperate cycle.
That’s why advocates are trying to pressure big chocolate sellers, including Mars and World’s Finest, to stop shifting responsibility and to start buying at least five percent Fair Trade cocoa.
Additionally, advocates have joined with the International Labor Rights Fund and the Fair Trade Federation to take the case to the Court of International Trade. The plaintiffs intend to force the U.S. Customs Service to follow its own rules prohibiting the importation of any good produced by forced child labor. Because the Sanders Amendment of 1997 to the Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits such imports, cocoa produced through enslavement was outlawed before the companies started all this negotiating with Congress.
Consumer Power: The Bean Stops Here
TransFair, the independent certifier of Fair Trade practices in the United States, estimates that farmers earn about one cent for a typical 60-cent chocolate bar that’s sold here. No wonder Lucy Manusah, a farmer with the Kuapa Kokoo co-op in Ghana, remembers that “[b]efore becoming a member of Kuapa in 1994 we were always in financial crisis and we always had our children at home. Now because of better and more timely payments, including the bonus from Kuapa, I can afford the fees to send my children to school.”
As consumers, we can keep these good things happening. We can use our shopping lists as direct action to stop the exploitation of farmers, to reject slavery, and to reduce the industry’s reliance on harmful pesticides.
What’s more, the connoisseurs on your gift list won’t be disappointed with your selection. Fair Trade allows cocoa farmers to experiment with fermentation levels and to invest in techniques that bring out the best potential in a particular cocoa-growing region, just as vineyards do.
Fair Trade cocoa beans aren’t generic chocolate, but rather beans that can be traced back to an individual community and even to individual farmers. The quality comes through in the taste. The following Shopping Guide lists just a few delicious examples of Fair Trade chocolates, all well worth the purchase.
Friends of Animals’ Guide to Chocolate Shopping
In the United States:
- Chocolate Decadence: Bittersweet Pure Dark Chocolate by Chocolate Decadence works well in cheesecake and many other recipes. This small company in Eugene, Oregon, is vegan-owned and -operated, and we have used their 3-ounce bars in our recipes with perfect success. General Manager Richard Rees wrote to us as follows: “I am happy to report that not only are we a fair trade company but the company that we purchase our chocolates and added ingredients (i.e. natural flavors, nuts, pretzels, etc.) are also fair trade companies.” See www.chocolatedecadence.com or dial them toll-free: 800.324.5018.
- Ecco Bella: Offers a Health by Chocolate bar (50g bar costs $3.49), a vegan, organic, fairly traded sweet dark chocolate suitable for melting or enjoying just as it is. With a recipe formulated by a professor of dermatology, Health by Chocolate is a good source of anti-oxidants and minerals. Infused with cranberry seed oil and a touch of blueberry, its texture is more buoyant than most; the taste is slightly fruity, airy, and crisp. Cranberry seed oil contains natural antioxidants that keep it fresh for two years. Find it in health food shops, call toll-free 877.696.2220 or see www.healthbychocolate.com.
- Equal Exchange: This employee-owned company in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts offers Organic Baking Cocoa, an organic baking powder from the Dominican Republic, perfect for brownies, cakes, cookies and various desserts. The growers carefully cultivate their cacao trees with gentle, shade-grown, chemical-free farming methods. This creates the natural environment preferred by native wildlife and migratory birds. Then the co-op selects the best beans for a critical three day fermentation stage. Finally, in Holland, the cocoa nibs are processed to create this premier baking powder. This company also offers two vegan dark chocolate bars. The sugar in these products is filtered without animal products).
- Ithaca Fine Chocolates: Sales are brisk for Ithaca Fine Chocolate’s “Art Bar”—100% organic and the first chocolate bar in the U.S. to be certified as fairly traded. The beans come from El Ceibo, Bolivia, and 10% of the profits go to arts education. Of the four styles of bars, two are vegan. The ingredients of the Dark Chocolate bar are: cocoa liquor, unrefined whole cane sugar, cocoa butter, ground vanilla. The ingredients of the Dark Chocolate with Coconut bar are: cocoa liquor, unrefined whole cane sugar, coconut flakes, cocoa butter, ground vanilla.
- Green & Blacks Organic Unsweetened Cocoa: For baking, enjoy this fairly traded, 100% organic cocoa. The beans are carefully fermented after being harvested at the perfect point of ripeness. Available from Chocolate Source at 800.214.4926; or visit www.chocolatesource.com on the Internet. Chocolate Source is based in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
- Paul Newman: Includes a range of fairly traded chocolate, including vegan chocolate, for cooking or indulging. Organic chocolate is produced free of slavery, as organic farms are subject to an independent monitoring system that checks labor practices. Newman’s Own Organics can be found at Wild Oats and other grocery chains. Their Sweet Dark Espresso bar (a 79g bar costs $1.99) is perfect for indulging. Also suitable for a pure vegetarian diet are the Newman-Os Chocolate Créme Filled Chocolate Cookies—a package for $2.59. The package of rich, little treats is not a low-calorie choice (a serving of two gives you 130 calories, 40 from fat); but it beats its common counterparts hands down. These round, chocolate sandwich biscuits are made with organic sugar and flour and organic, unsweetened chocolate, with no trans-fats or hydrogenated oils. The ingredient list contains no dairy products. There is a notice that equipment used in processing may also be used for products containing milk powder; as for ingredients, however, these are vegan, and they are excellent. Oils used are expeller-pressed canola and palm fruit. The organic palm fruit oil comes from the fruit and not the palm’s kernel; widely used in Europe, it’s lower in saturated fat than butter, coconut oil, or palm kernel oil.
- Tropical Source: This company uses dedicated machinery for vegan chocolate, so you don’t have to think about dairy traces. Along with its chocolate bars, it offers 10-ounce packages of dark chocolate semi-sweet drops for delicate desserts; they can be found in co-ops and in most groceries with good natural food sections. The company puts effort into informing consumers that chocolate used in their product is purchased only from farms where farmers and workers are treated well.
- Yachana Gourmet: This company’s Jungle Chocolate is roasted cacao nibs from Ecuador. It is chocolate in its purest form - 100% roasted cacao beans, sweetened with just a touch of cane juice. Jungle Chocolate is truly natural and dairy-free, so it doesn’t melt and requires no refrigeration, making it the perfect choice for a high-energy trail mix, or to top off desserts or cereal. It currently comes in four styles: with dried pineapple; with Macadamia nuts; with Brazil nuts and essence of coffee; and with shredded coconut mixed with raisins. The beans are harvested with a commitment to practices respectful of the surrounding rainforest. The distributor is in Batavia, New York. Dial 800.637.7614 or visit www.yachanagourmet.com
Beyond the Borders:
- BRITAIN - Booja Booja: Located in England, but they’ll ship internationally. Buy during the cooler months; the truffles are exquisite. Profits go to vegetarian initiatives when ordered through www.viva.org.uk/shop/.
- BRITAIN - Divine Chocolate: Readers in Britain can support a successful co-op in Ghana by buying Divine Chocolate. For retailers, see www.divinechocolate.com. Find the vegan ones at www.viva.org.uk/shop/.
- CANADA - Cocoa Camino Products: Located in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, this company’s South American co-op, La Siembra, is dedicated to the idea that “each dollar people spend has the potential to act as a vote of support for more equitable trading relationships and more environmentally sustainable agricultural techniques.” Their Dark Hot Chocolate is not vegan, but they do sell 100% Cocoa Powder and Fair Trade sugars. Dial 613.235.6122.
Classic Thumbprint Cookies for the Winter Holidays
Here’s one of Priscilla Feral’s recipes from our new cookbook, Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine (2005). To inspire and guide you easily through the art of creating complete holiday meals using vegan and fairly traded ingredients, order the book through our Web site, www.friendsofanimals.org, or dial 203.656.1522.
These delightful little buttons of jam and chocolate will grace your table with a traditional holiday atmosphere, just as they have graced Priscilla’s for many years.
This recipe makes about 5 dozen.
½ pound vegan margarine, softened slightly
2/3 cup natural sugar (Florida Crystals is a good vegan brand)
½ teaspoon salt
Ener-G Egg Replacer (available in grocers’ health food sections or co-ops; mix according to box instructions for equivalent of one and a half eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups (or 2 cups plus 6 tablespoons) unbleached flour
Vegan chocolate chips such as Tropical Source (see our Shopping Guide)
¾ cup strawberry or raspberry jam
Use a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
In a large bowl, cream together the margarine, sugar and salt. Add the egg replacer blend and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Add the flour gradually, beating on low speed to achieve a thoroughly mixed dough.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls, and arrange them 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Using your finger, indent the center of each ball of dough. Drop a chocolate chip in the center and fill with about 1/4 teaspoon of jam.
Bake the cookies for 14 to 16 minutes, or until the edges are pale golden. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 2 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.