by Sea | they/them
It is Christmas time again and for me this means CHOCOLATE -and lots of it (but let’s be honest, I never need a holiday to indulge in chocolates). This time of year, I usually visit my in-laws in Dorset and the miniature foil wrapped, Ferroro Rocher, chocolates have come to be an expected “stocking stuffer”. When I first immigrated to the UK from the USA, I was still shaky on my transition to veganism, so I indulged in every opportunity. Oh yes, it was always a salivating and delicious experience. It wasn’t until I started making major lifestyle changes, that I began discovering huge international social injustices and realising my own personal contributions and impacts on the world.
I have always lived in a chocolate consuming country. Go into any shop, supermarket, or convenience store and an abundant variety chocolates in assorted coloured wrappers will beckon you at every checkout line you queue in. It is no wonder that the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and 15 European countries make up the top 20 highest chocolate consuming nations per capita in the world. Chocolates are not just a desirable snack or treat; they have become an unavoidable cultural experience.
This is not a story about how chocolate fits into your health goals, and on the surface, it is not even about chocolate in the vegan community. When I made this lifestyle adjustment to “vegan status” in 2011, I started to question how my purchasing choices contributed to all forms of oppressive activity, not just against animals, but also against people of colour, people who look more like myself. I began to question, “How could I, a melanated person in the west, contribute to acts of slavery on continents such as Africa, South America, and Asia?”
I have always lived under the standard manifesto, “One person cannot save the world, so why even bother?” Logically, I know that one person cannot change everything, but I’ve since added to this defeatist sentiment. “One person cannot save the world; however I cannot stand in the way of progress and equality. I will not embrace ignorance by actively contributing to a harmful and exploitative cycle.” For example, if I were a white person (I’m not really) and this was the United States in the 1640s, with the common knowledge that we have now, could I really choose to buy clothing that supports slavery cotton plantations? Wouldn’t any decent person actively find alternatives that suited their needs, yet avoided systemic and racialized oppression?
We live in slightly different times now. “Western” countries have outlawed obvious slavery -right? However the rest of the world has not caught up. Instead, this kind of slavery continues to occur in many other places of the world, where most Americans and Europeans can actively support it from an ignorant and comfortable distance -with their own money. The chocolate industry is just one example. “On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line.  As a result, they often resort to the use of child labour to keep their prices competitive”. This would be unacceptable standards in the United States or any European country, however American and European consumers are enabled to buy these products that benefit corrupt companies and perpetuate these crimes. Not only this, these purchases are promoted at nearly every point where purchases are made.
There is so much information available online about the exploitation of children and black and brown people due to the chocolate producing industry. Do not stop exploring this topic. Do further research to continue your knowledge on these crimes. The Food Empowerment Project is a great place to begin: http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/
Knowledge really is power. I had no idea, until recently, that my addiction to known brands of chocolatey goodness was financially supporting companies that profited from the exploitation of millions of melanated children in cocoa plantations, who are innocent victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery. Now that I am aware, I cannot claim ignorance. It would be irresponsible and shameful to continue making the same choices that support racist and child labour violations in the chocolate industry. This is what I think about before I give my business to companies like Ferrero, Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé and many others.
As “westerners”, we all have a responsibility; our money (and in many cases, our abundance of money) has power in this world. All of us SHOULD AVOID purchases that contribute to oppression and systemic racism. If you are unsure, here is a list of companies recommended and investigated by the Food Empowerment Project -support these companies and their cause instead: http://www.foodispower.org/chocolate-list/
Companies who put in the effort to make sure their workers are treated fairly and with the dignity may have products that are slightly more expensive, however wouldn’t you rather your extra pennies go towards something you believe to be ethically sound?
I wish you all much luck on your journey to becoming mindful, chocoholic consumers this Christmas and throughout the years to come!
 Nieburg, Oliver. July 30, 2013. “Interactive Map: Top 20 chocolate consuming nations of 2012.” http://www.confectionerynews.com/Markets/Interactive-Map-Top-20-chocolate-consuming-nations-of-2012 (23/12/16)
 Kramer, Anna. March 6, 2013. “Women and the big business of chocolate.” Oxfam America. http://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/women-and-the-big-business-of-chocolate (3/04/14)
 Hinshaw, Drew. October 6, 2010. “Governments Look to End Child Labor in West African Cocoa Farming.” Voice of America.” http://www.voanews.com/content/governments-look-to-end-child-labor-in-west-african-cocoa-farming-104482419/127538.html. (3/02/14)
 Food Empowerment Project. “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/ (23/12/16)