Chocolate Harms the Environment and your Waistline

October 21, 2010 View all articles in General

Nobody loves chocolate more than Americans. We spend $13 billion a year on cocoa products alone. But besides contributing to national obesity, this predilection of ours is responsible for 14 percent of the deforestation in West Africa, as well as a large percentage in South America . In addition, cocoa farmers typically work on large plantations and live in abject poverty, earning something between thirty to one hundred dollars a year.

Perhaps the most disconcerting reality of cocoa growing is child slave labor: children applying pesticides and using machetes to clear forests. A 2002 report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture found that more than 248,000 children were enslaved in hazardous conditions in Côte d'Ivoire and other African countries.

Côte d'Ivoire , or Ivory Coast , in West Africa produces 40 percent of the world's cocoa, the majority of which is imported into the United States and Europe by Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland, and Cargill. The chocolate and various other cocoa products are then manufactured by Hershey's and M&M/Mars. Since 1999, Côte d'Ivoire , or Ivory Coast , in West Africa has been politically unstable and more recently, involved in a cocoa-funded civil war. Both the government-ruled south and the rebel-controlled north benefit from cocoa profits. According to The New York Times , at least $118 million of this ‘blood' cocoa has been used to “fuel the conflict.”

Since they do not own the actual cocoa farms and can't control their practices, U.S. chocolate manufacturers refuse responsibility for the situation. So essentially, if we buy chocolate from premiere companies like Hershey's and M&M/Mars, we're perpetuating deforestation, poverty, child slavery, and a civil war. There is something being done, however. TransFair USA is a nonprofit organization that certifies fair trade cocoa products and coffee. By purchasing Fair Trade Certified cocoa products from any one of the sixteen hundred plus retail locations around the United States , you can be sure the farmers who grew the cocoa were given a fair price for their harvest. In addition, fair trade creates a direct trade link between farmer-owned cooperatives and buyers, and gives farmers easier access to affordable credit. Fair Trade Certified cocoa is also more likely to be shade-grown on small, organic farms. And most importantly, these fair trade farms strictly prohibit slave labor. Keep reading to learn how you can encourage consumer demand for Fair Trade Certified cocoa products and, ultimately, put an end to the crises in West Africa .

HOW TO MAKE CHOCOLATE MORE GREEN AND HUMANE

Buy organic, kid-safe, Fair Trade Certified cocoa products from the following companies:

Adopt a cocoa tree through the University of the West Indies for as little as $20.

Donate to Project Hope and Fairness and/or International Labor Rights Forum.

Visit the International Labor Rights Forum webpage to sign a petition and to send a letter to Hershey, M&M/Mars, and Nestlé.

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