A few movies have affected me so deeply that I knew a new journey was opening for me. One of those was “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” which I saw at the Fair Trade Federation conference in fall 2010. It explicitly documents child labor’s role in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast.
I was stunned to learn that this delicious and heavenly food was being produced by slave labor. Within 30 minutes of watching the film, the idea to launch a Passover campaign featuring this issue as a contemporary form of slavery was birthed, thus expanding Fair Trade Judaica’s mission beyond solely Judaica products.
Why Passover? Because every year at this time we gather as family and community to celebrate our people’s freedom. We are obligated to tell the story of the Exodus, our journey from slavery to liberation.
“In every generation a person is obligated to see him or herself as though he/she had personally been redeemed from Eqypt,” we read in the Haggadah. In recalling our people’s experience in Egypt, we are urged to remember that we were once slaves.
Though we may not be actual slaves ourselves today, our history moves us to ask, “Where does slavery exist today?” “Who is enslaved?” “What is that slavery like?” “What can I do about it?”
To honor that question, for the past four years, my family has added a fair trade chocolate bar to our Seder plate, symbolizing the dire situation of trafficked and enslaved child labor used in the production of cocoa, documented in Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire — this leading supplier accounts for around 40 to 50 percent of production — Guinea and Nigeria.
Hundreds of thousands of children work in these cocoa fields, many of them exposed to hazardous conditions, where they spray pesticides and apply fertilizers without protective gear; use sharp tools, like machetes, to crack open the cacao pods; sustain injuries from transporting heavy loads beyond permissible weight; and do strenuous work like felling trees and clearing and burning vegetation.
This situation has been documented by the State Department’s “2010 Traffic-king in Persons Report,” Tulane University and a variety of journalistic movies and reports. Chocolate companies voluntarily agreed to improve this situation back in 2001, but recent reports show little progress.
But more and more companies are beginning to source fair trade certified cocoa beans due to customer demand. Cadbury has converted their top selling chocolate bar in the United Kingdom to fair trade and extended the Fair Trade Certified Dairy Milk bar to Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan and New Zealand. Green & Black’s product line has been fair trade certified since 2012. In the United States, there are about 20 small companies fully committed to sourcing fair trade cocoa beans.
This Passover, we can say Shehechiyanu, as fair trade kosher for Passover chocolate bars are now available and included in the Conservative movement’s “Rabbinical Assembly Pesach Guide.” My organization, Fair Trade Judaica, has joined together with T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights to encourage individuals and congregations to use only ethically produced chocolate this year.
This year, I hope you’ll join me by choosing fair trade kosher for Passover chocolate for your Seder table with the hope that one day all chocolate will be child labor-free.
Ilana Schatz is the founding director of Fair Trade Judaica, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a fair trade movement in the U.S. Jewish community.