There have been a few movies that affected me so deeply that I couldn’t move afterwards, their impact so deep 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 the role of trafficked child labor in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast.
I was stunned to learn that this most delicious and heavenly food was being produced by slave labor, and that I had never known this before. 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. We eat maror to remind us of the bitter taste of that experience.
“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. We tell the details of the story, act it out, and eat charoset, symbolizing the mortar with which our ancestors made bricks for the Egyptians — we attempt to “experience” what slavery felt like.
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.
These children are treated with the “worst forms of child labor” as defined by the International Labor Organization, including forms of slavery, the sale of a child and trafficking of children, and debt bondage.
Children as young as 5 years old work on cocoa farms. More than 40 percent of all children working in cocoa fields do not attend school, and the majority of children who travel to work in cocoa fields are not accompanied by their parents.
This situation has been documented by the State Department’s “2010 Traf-ficking 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 we don’t have to eat chocolate tainted by child labor. We can choose to purchase chocolate from companies that certify their supply chains through fair trade monitoring and certification.
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 chocolate product line has been fair trade certified since 2012. In the United States, there are almost 20 small companies who are 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.
As we celebrate our freedom during Passover this year, may we reflect on how freedom continues to be elusive for other people, even children. Our history of slavery awakens us to the plight of the stranger, and to the alarming occurrence of modern day trafficking and slavery. 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.