Nothing Sweet About Cocoa Beans Picked by Slaves

Did you know that child slavery is a common practice on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest supplier of cocoa beans? Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t know – I didn’t either until a few days ago. But now I know and so do you. I’m a huge chocoholic but now there is no enjoying a non-fair trade bar of chocolate, knowing a child may have been forced to pick the beans. There’s no going back.

The U.S. State Department reported in a Human Rights report in the year 2000 that an estimated 15,000 children, mostly boys, between the ages of 9-12 were enslaved to work on cocoa, coffee and other plantations in Ivory Coast. 70% of the cocoa beans coming into the U.S. come from Ivory Coast. In the year 2001 the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that trafficking of children is common in West Africa on these types of plantations. Picking cocoa beans is hard and dangerous work. It takes 400 beans to produce a pound of chocolate so these kids work long and hard to get enough cocoa for even a few bars. No wonder most chocolate bars are so cheap and fair trade chocolate is so expensive.

What is really crazy is that most if not all of the children who pick these beans have never, ever tasted chocolate in their lives.

So I hope you’re prepared to switch but, if you’re like me, you’re serious about your choccolate and not just anything will do. Some questions I’ve heard about substituting fair trade for conventional chocolate are:

I like milk chocolate and it’s all dark chocolate!

Theo chocolate makes the best milk chocolate bar I have EVER eaten in my life. It’s called Vanilla Milk Chocolate and it’s heavenly! Available at New Seasons Markets or directly from Theo.

Equal Exchange also makes a milk chocolate bar. Theirs includes a bit of hazelnut. Equal Exchange chocolate is available at Whole Foods Markets.

I like Milk Duds. Is there a fair trade alternative?

I’m not sure I can help you there but if I come up with something I’ll get back to you. Same goes for Whoppers’ fans.

What small pieces of wrapped chocolate can I buy for my kids or so I don’t eat the whole bar?

Global Exchange sells yummy milk chocolate gold coins. I gave them out as Halloween candy last year! A bag of 17 pieces is $4.75.

What about hot cocoa?

Equal Exchange makes fabulous hot cocoa. I know my friend Lisa drinks a cup every night instead of dessert (she’s always been very healthy!).

I have yet to try a fair trade chocolate bar I didn’t like, although I don’t think I’ll seek out that bar I tried that had chili pepper in it. Much fair trade chocolate is organic and artisanal, meaning a lot more thought and work goes into producing it so the result tastes fabulous. Most grocery stores around Portland now carry at least one line of fair trade chocolate. Just look for the Transfair logo (above). If you can’t find it ask your grocery store manager to start carrying it. They do listen to their customers!

My personal favorite is the Nib Brittle bar from Theo. What’s your favorite fair trade chocolate?


  1. KarenP said,

    April 28, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Okay, my friend. I have a bone (a bean?) to pick with you! Since our conversation yesterday, I’ve been craving chocolate. :^) I was at Fred Meyer tonight and looked everywhere–both in the regular candy section and in the nutrition/health foods section–but couldn’t find a single bar of TransFair certified chocolate. The natural foods section had several bars of organic chocolate, chocolate that supports “endangered species” and other beautifully marketed bars, but not a single one that I could find had the TransFair logo. I’ll have to keep looking and talk to the managers at the stores I usually shop at.

    I mentioned yesterday the store “Honest Chocolates” in Newberg. I looked up their website tonight, and despite my associations with their name, there is absolutely nothing on their site about the source of their chocolate. I sent them a message through their comments page asking about the source and explaining why it is important to me, so we’ll see what kind of response I get.

    Thanks so much for opening my eyes to so many new issues!

  2. KarenP said,

    April 28, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Speaking of Halloween candy, I found this tonight about a Reverse Trick or Treating project sponsored by Global Exchange, where kids pass out bars of fair trade chocolate to their neighbors as they go door to door and educate their communities about child labor problems in the cocoa industry. We’re a bit early for Halloween, but it’s something to keep in mind this fall.

  3. Mike Prigodich said,

    April 29, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Subject: RE: fair-trade mexican spiced cocoa?
    Date: Tue, 29 Apr 2008 14:01:22 -0400

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for the email. I am sorry but we do not have anything like this available. I did try and see if I could find someone else that may have something similar but no luck. I am going to forward your email to our chocolate manager as a possible product for the future. It sounds really tasty! Anyway I wish I had better news but maybe it could be something we think about in the future.
    Thanks for contacting us,

    Sharyn McWilliams
    Customer Service

    From: Michael Prigodich []
    Sent: Tue 4/29/2008 10:38 AM
    To: retailwebstore
    Subject: fair-trade mexican spiced cocoa?

    I’m trying to find some fair-trade Mexican spiced cocoa (ground chocolate) comparable to my favorite brand, Mocafe Azteca D’oro 1519 from Innovative Beverage Concepts ( I see you have spicy hot cocoa that combines cinnamon and cayenne pepper, but I’m looking for Mexican spiced cocoa with cinnamon, almond, and vanilla, not cayenne pepper (and not nutmeg). Do you know where I can get something like this (if you don’t make it)? Or can I twist your arm to start making a fair-trade version of this stuff shown below?

    Mexican Spiced Ground Chocolate

    Azteca D’oro 1519

    Mocafe Mexican spiced ground chocolate is laced with fragrant spices such as cocoa liquor, real vanilla, almond, and cinnamon.

    Among the drinks you can prepare using Mocafe ground chocolate are Mayan mocha, Mexican spiced hot cocoa, Aztec blended mocha, and Aztec Iced.

    Azteca D’oro: Real ground Mexican spiced chocolate is used by professional Baristas to make delicious Mexican spiced mochas and Mexican spiced hot chocolates.

  4. Karen said,

    May 8, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    You all have got to try Divine Fair Trade chocolate. It is way up there with the best of them: dark, milk, dark w/mint, milk w/hazelnuts, dark w/nuts and dried fruit. It isn’t as easy to find (although you can find it at TenThousand Villages on 10th and NW Everett in Portland). It comes from a worker-owned cooperative in Ghana and it truly is DIVINE!

  5. astoria said,

    July 2, 2008 at 12:29 pm


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