Issue of the Week: Slavery and your easter chocolate

March 26, 2007

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Britain. While I have heard nothing in the media (perhaps because I am not in Britain!) and seen little online to mark this I think it is important and worth commenting on. Unfortunately common perception in the west seems to be that slavery is just a historical hiccup, which passed with the abolition of slavery in Europe and the Americas. However I have become increasingly aware of the role of slavery in our twenty-first century world, and it’s not pretty.

Last month I finally finished reading The Stolen Woman: Florence Baker’s Extraordinary Life from the Harem to the Heart of Africa. Traveling up the Nile in 1861 Florence and Samuel Baker were confronted with the horrors of the slave trade of the time. The history is terrible, but I thought that was all it was, history. Coincidentally however I recently started reading Baroness Cox: A Voice for the Voiceless, and realised it is still very real. Baroness Cox is a British peer and a leading advocate of for human rights in forgotten corners of the world. One of the issues she is very interested in is contemporary slavery, especially in Sudan, and she claims to have redeemed 2,281 slaves on eight visits there.

According to the Anti-Slavery website:

Millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to lead lives as slaves. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their ’employers’.

Slavery exists today despite the fact that it is banned in most of the countries where it is practiced. It is also prohibited by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Women from eastern Europe are bonded into prostitution, children are trafficked between West African countries and men are forced to work as slaves on Brazilian agricultural estates. Contemporary slavery takes various forms and affects people of all ages, sex and race.

Common characteristics distinguish slavery from other human rights violations. A slave is:

* forced to work — through mental or physical threat;

* owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse;

* dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’;

* physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.

It seems to me that coming up to easter is an appropriate time to highlight the issue of slavery, as chocolate is a clear case study of the problem. Stop the Traffik has a current campaigning highlighting the use of children to harvest the cocoa beans on farms in Cote D’Ivoire. Nearly half the world’s chocolate is made from cocoa grown in the Cote D’Ivoire, and the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on the Ivory Coast for 2003 estimates that approximately 109,000 child laborers worked in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in what has been described as the worst form of child labour. That means that the chance is high that the cocoa for your easter egg was produced by enforced child labour, by modern day child slaves.

Luckily chocolate is one commodity that is easily obtained from fair trade sources (even here in NZ!). I would like to think that combined pressure from modern day abolitionists such as Anti-Slavery, Stop the Traffik and Not for Sale, and the market demand for ethical and fairly traded products could bring an end to the modern day slave trade, much as public pressure led to the end of the Transatlantic trade 200 years ago. Personally, I think giving up my favourite chocolate marshmallow eggs for easter is a small price to pay.


5 Responses to “Issue of the Week: Slavery and your easter chocolate”

  1. almostgotit Says:

    Our a href=””own awarenessof this issue was prompted by a recent visit to see “Amazing Grace” in the cinema, and my 10-yr-old daughter decided we needed to do something about modern-day slavery. Sadly, while we failed in our quest to find Fair Trade Chocolate Easter bunnies, we have been happy to find that there is lots of good fair trade chocolate available, and buying it supports reform! Here are some websites with lists of brands and suppliers of fair trade chocolate:

    Thanks for posting on this topic!

  2. Sharon Says:

    Thanks for the comment. I am amazed to see the power of the internet in spreading the word about issues like this, I keep finding more articles and blogs to read.
    I have not bought anymore of my favourite eggs since this post, and instead of buying easter eggs for others I have bought Green & Blacks chocolate. It’s very yummy and totally guilt free!

  3. Mary Ann Varkaris Says:

    I feel so much better when I read columns like this and realize that many others are also concerned about this terrible issue. It’s SO hard to make people care, simply because they seem to feel overwhelmed by problems in the world. I think giving Fair Trade chocolate (and coffee, tea) as gifts is a great way to introduce people to the concept that buying Fair Trade is a feel-good thing to do. And, I agree that Green and Blacks is my favourite brand of Fair Trade chocolate. Sure wish we could get it here in London, Ontario, Canada.

  4. […] 12th, 2007 by Sharon Chocolate slavery and now conflict cocoa.  I really have to try to keep to fair trade chocolate. Global Witness says […]

  5. […] 13, 2009 by Sharon A couple of Easters ago a posted on about chocolate slavery.  This Easter I have been very happy to see that the issue is gaining wider attention.  Today the […]

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