Compassionate Chocolate

Hot chocolate to warm the body, sweet deserts at parties, or a box of chocolates to give to a friend. The holiday season is a great excuse for everyone to indulge his or her sweet tooth. Most people can name more kinds of chocolate treats than they can birds and trees in their backyards. This unfortunately causes devastating effects on people and biodiversity in other parts of the world. The vast majority of our cocoa products are produced under horrific social and environmental conditions. Fortunately, there are alternatives available in organic and fair trade products.

Billions of dollars are made each year on the sale of cocoa, most of which is grown in West Africa. You would find this profit hard to believe if you could see the social conditions under which it is produced. Little money ever makes it into the hands of the producer, who will often use children as slave labour just to try to make ends meet. Impoverished families will even sell their children to cocoa producers in the hopes that their children might earn some money. Other children are lured into the work with promises of generous wages and the freedom to leave whenever they please. In truth, they are forced to work 12 hours or more everyday, beaten and whipped, malnourished, and locked up at night. In 2000, the U.S. State Department estimated 15,000 children were enslaved on cocoa farms.

The environment does not benefit from this traditional production either. Pesticides are used liberally, and the earth is laid bare by lack of natural vegetation cover. This creates loss of biodiversity and migratory bird habitats, and loss of soil health. It also contributes to instability and uncertainty for growers.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. By purchasing fair trade and organic products, you can insure the protection of workers and the environment. "Fair trade" means that the middlemen are removed and workers receive a fair price for their work and product. This money then filters back into the grower’s community, further improving the welfare and stability of that region. "Organic” cocoa is grown under a canopy of trees, maintaining migratory bird habitat and other biodiversity. Pesticide use is also prohibited.

Organic, fair trade cocoa and chocolate products can be purchased at many local grocery and health food stores or from Global Village Nanaimo, an organization dedicated to fair trade products. You can contact the chair of GVN, Marjorie Stewart, at 390-3363 or e-mail Or simply visit GVN’s holiday store-front at Unit 101, 1808 Bowen Rd in Nanaimo, opening Nov 4th or 5th behind Tim Horton’s at Dufferin.

Obviously, socially and environmentally responsible options exist for everyone’s sweet cravings. True, it may cost your pocket book more. But Stewart asks us to think about the following question: "Why is the main preoccupation, of the richest people the world has ever seen, an endless search for bargains? Cheap clothes, cheap housing, cheap transportation, cheap oil, cheap food, cheap labour?…. . The current global paradigm emphasizes bargains. We know that the planet cannot sustain resource waste at its present level, [and] we must also face the ugly truth that somewhere someone else pays for our ever increasing demands. And our children are disgusted by the knowledge that chocolate is provided by the enslavement of other children who will never taste the sweetmeat.” The time has come for a change… make the transition to life giving and life changing organic fair trade cocoa.

Lindsay Hartley has a B.A. in Biology/Environmental studies and is a freelance writer in Nanaimo.