Bitter taste: Child slaves produce cocoa for our chocolate

Few movies have 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 the fall of 2010.

The film documents the role of trafficked child labor in the cocoa fields in 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, the idea for a new Passover campaign focusing on child labor and cocoa, as part of Fair Trade Judaica’s work, was birthed.

Why Passover? Because every year at this time we gather as family and community to celebrate our people’s freedom. We tell the story of the Exodus, our journey from slavery to liberation. We eat maror to remind us of slavery’s bitter taste.

“In every generation a person is obligated to see him or herself as though he/she had personally been redeemed from Egypt,” we read in the Haggadah. In recalling our people’s experience in Egypt, we remember that we were once slaves. We tell the details of the story, act it out, and eat charoset, symbolizing the mortar for the bricks our ancestors made for the Egyptians. We try to experience what slavery felt like.

Though we may not be slaves ourselves today, our history moves us to ask, “Where does slavery exist today?” “Who is enslaved?” “What is that slavery like?” and “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 children who work to produce cocoa. This child slavery has been documented in Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and, above all, Ivory Coast, the world’s leading supplier of cocoa, accounting for 40 to 50 percent of production.

Hundreds of thousands of children work in these cocoa fields, many of them exposed to hazardous conditions. They spray pesticides and apply fertilizers without protective gear. They use sharp tools like machetes to crack open the cacao pods. They are injured transporting heavy loads, and they perform strenuous work like felling trees, and clearing and burning vegetation.

These children are victims of the worst forms of child labor, as defined by the International Labor Organization, including slavery, the sale and trafficking of children (recruiting children to work far away from their families) and debt bondage.

Children as young as 5 years old work on cocoa farms. Over 40 percent of 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 Trafficking in Persons Report, as well as by Tulane University and a variety of journalistic movies and reports. Choc-olate 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 because of 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 line has been fair trade certified since 2012. In the United States, there are almost 20 small companies fully committed to sourcing fair trade cocoa beans. If there is enough consumer demand, large companies will also go fair trade.

This Passover, we can say “shehechiyanu,” a blessing of gratitude that the time has arrived that fair trade kosher for Passover Equal Exchange chocolate bars are now available and included in the Conservative movement’s Rabbi-nical Assembly Pesach Guide. My organization, Fair Trade Judaica, has joined together with T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (which leads the Jewish community in fighting modern-day slavery) to encourage individuals and congregations to use only ethically produced chocolate this year. Fair Trade Judaica also offers additional Pesach fair trade resources, including recipes, songs and Haggadah supplements.

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, fairtradejudaica.org, a local nonprofit building a fair trade movement in the U.S. Jewish community. Fair trade chocolate can be ordered online at shop.equalexchange.coop/pesach.