The following article, by Rodney North, Public Relations Manager and Susan Sklar, Interfaith Program Manager, first appeared on April 2nd on the Jew and the Carrot blog.
On Passover every Jew is obligated to imagine that he or she had once been a slave in the land of Egypt. We try to envision the experience of our ancestors: the sadness of their lives under brutal day-to-day work conditions. It’s unfortunate that in order for Jews (and others) to imagine slavery, we only need to look at slave labor conditions for cocoa workers in West Africa today, where 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown for the chocolate candy that many of us enjoy eating.
In 2000, American and British journalists documented how adolescent and teenage boys were being lured into a life of hard and dangerous work on cocoa farms for minimal wages, food, or shelter. Children have been locked in sheds or huts, or beaten when they have tried to return to their families. The major chocolate companies: Hershey’s, Mars, Nestle, and others are aware of these intolerable practices and have been dragging their feet in efforts to stop them.
Over the past nine years, groups like the International Labor Rights Fund have been trying to pressure the chocolate industry to reform itself and to purchase from farms that provide fairly traded cocoa. These efforts have not succeeded. However, consumers may purchase fairly traded chocolate on an individual basis, targeting their dollars to cocoa growers that use fair labor practices and don’t exploit children and others. Equal Exchange uses only fairly traded organic cocoa exclusively for our chocolate and cocoa line. We work with five Fair Trade Certified cocoa co-operatives in the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Panama.
On Passover, we need to be aware that slavery continues to exist in the world today and to learn how to work toward eliminating it. You can help change the situation by becoming more informed, spreading the word, and buying only fairly traded chocolate products. When Jewish family members give fairly traded chocolate bars as Afikomen prizes at the Passover seder table, they are helping to reinforce the message that, “We do remember being slaves in the land of Egypt and for this reason we will work against slavery wherever we see it and in its many forms.”