Posts Tagged ‘child slavery’

One of the unique things about Equal Exchange is that the foundation of our work is based on relationships. It’s both how we do our work and why we do our work. The means and the ends, you could say.

Whitney Knight of Brattleboro Food Coop & Abel Fernandez of CONACADO

Whitney Knight of Brattleboro Food Coop & Abel Fernandez of CONACADO

Relationships with our farmer partners, for sure. But we also carry out our work in the U.S. through our relationships with a network of food co-ops, congregations, cafes, universities, investors, teachers, community activists, and so-on and so-on. Because we are a mission-based company – a hybrid really of non-profit, profit, and worker-owned co-operative – our partners, allies and other supporters also carry out much of the educational and promotional work we need to do if we are ever to see meaningful change. Our mission is both broad and deep and we couldn’t achieve our goals without this network of engaged, active and enthusiastic supporters.

Last evening, as I was flying back to Boston after Labor Day weekend, I began going through some emails and came across one from Pfeif, an Equal Exchange sales representatives who works with natural food stores in the mid-west. Pfeif was forwarding an article written by Tanja Hoagland, Editor of the Ozark Star, the Ozark Natural Food Cooperative’s monthly newsletter (page 7). The article, about the chocolate industry, the issue of child slavery that still exists on many cacao plantations and the difference that Fair Trade chocolate can make, really inspired me. It was not just that it was interesting, well-researched and well-written, but it made me appreciate yet again, how much of a movement we have created together with our partners… all of them.

I thought others following these issues might want to read Tanja’s article. My apologies, since it was published in May!

But that’s what happens when movements are created. We get our inspiration from our partners – the farmers we work with and the networks of allies in the U.S. who help us carry out the work. The movement grows and we don’t even know the half of what’s being done to inform, educate and grow awareness of these important issues. Hopefully, as all of our mutual efforts continue, we also deepen our learning, ask better questions, have greater impact, and continue to move our work forward.


Thanks Tanja for writing such a great article and spreading the word! And thanks to Pfeif, EE Sales Representative for the work she’s doing out there in the food co-op world.


Here’s to a greener and more just food system, democratic workplaces, and stronger connections between producers and activists!


You can learn more about Fair Trade chocolate on this blog and on our website. To read the Annual Report article, Modern Slavery and Cocoa Farms, that Tanja mentions, click here.  For more information about child slavery and the chocolate industry, go to the International Labor Organization’s website.  Learn about our reverse trick-or-treating campaign here.

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The following post was written by Dary Goodrich, Chocolate Products Manager


For years at Equal Exchange we’ve been trying to call attention to the problem of forced child labor in the chocolate industry (see “Modern Slavery on Cocoa Farms” Equal Exchange 2006 Annual Report, “Reverse Trick-or-Treating” Equal Exchange 2007 Annual Report, “V-Days Dark Side” Special 2008 Chocolate Issue of What’s Brewing). Even working in this industry and knowing quite a lot about this issue, it is difficult to conceive of the fact that child slave labor still exists in today’s world. For many of us, it is so far outside of the realm of possibility in our own lives that we can’t fathom its existence.

Sadly, an August 3rd press release from Interpol revealed just how alive and real forced child labor is on cacao farms in West Africa. On June 18th and 19th, Interpol ran the first operation of its kind to free children working illegally on cacao and palm farms in the Ivory Coast. 54 children were rescued and the press release describes the conditions in which the children were working:

“The children had been bought by plantation owners needing cheap labour to harvest the cocoa and palm plantations. They were discovered working under extreme conditions, forced to carry massive loads seriously jeopardizing their health.  Aged between 11 and 16, children told investigators they would regularly work 12 hours a day and receive no salary or education. Girls were usually purchased as house maids and would work a seven-day week all year round, often in addition to their duties in the plantations.”

How can this be acceptable? How can an industry that knows this exists continue to allow it to happen? Especially an industry that turns around and profits by selling cocoa and chocolate to children in Europe and North America.   The industry has been pressured since 2001 to tackle the issue and has repeatedly pledged to root out the problem.  First they promised to stomp out forced labor by 2005, and in 2005 they said it would take just two more years.  Yet here is proof that it has not only failed to curb child slavery, but, in fact, the press release states that there is an “increasing trend in child trafficking and exploitation in this south eastern part of Côte D’Ivoire.”

After years of foot dragging, many of the large chocolate companies have finally started working on “sustainable” sourcing practices that are meant to address the issue of the worst forms of child labor. However, this is planned to take years: the practices may not cover 100% of a companies’ products, nor in most cases will they address the root cause of the issue. The fact is that most of the proposed solutions do not discuss the need to increase prices to farmers and if farmers in this traditional system cannot make enough money to survive they are forced to find the cheapest labor possible, which in this case are innocent children.

We know that there are other ways of doing business; clearly the Fair Trade model which emphasizes higher prices, pre-harvest credit, environmental sustainability and direct relationships with small-scale farmer co-operatives, is a far more ethical and sustainable business model. People, not profits, are at the heart of our businesses and we know that makes a real difference.

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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.  (more…)

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