It is estimated that 70% of the world's chocolate comes from beans grown on cocoa farms in West African countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana, where hundreds of thousands of children work for 80 to 100 hours a week under brutal conditions.
The children--mostly 11 to 16 years old or even younger--are either purchased under false pretenses from their impoverished parents, or outright kidnapped.
At the cocoa farms the children are forced to work without pay, education, or adequate food, and are often beaten. Most will never see their families again.
Some chocolate companies (notably Hershey) have simply refused to address the pervasive abuses of their cocoa suppliers.
However, it isn't hard to keep child slave labor out of your chocolate.
According to chocolate expert Clay Gordon, the best way to ensure your treats are slavery-free is to purchase short-supply-chain chocolates identified as "direct trade," or better yet, single-origin goodies labeled "bean-to-bar."
Bay Area residents need look no farther than our own San Francisco-based Dandelion Chocolate for bean-to-bar confections made right here in the Mission District.
The next best thing to single-origin chocolates are products labeled Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, Fairtrade, or Rainforest Alliance (with the last having the added advantage of guaranteeing treats that are sustainably produced, as well as slavery-free).
We North Bay residents are fortunate enough to have our own Petaluma-based Fair Trade-certified retailer, Sjaak's Organic Chocolates.
Sjaak's (pronounced like the French name "Jacques") also makes delicious vegan confections, so customers can enjoy locally-made, organic chocolate that is free from both child and animal suffering.
Other slavery-free chocolate producers include large companies like Cadbury, Clif Bar, Newman's Own Organics, and Ben & Jerry's, as well as smaller retailers such as Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Sweet Earth, Taza, The Endangered Species Chocolate Company, and Lulu's (which is raw, vegan, organic, and low-glycemic as well as fair-trade!).
Want to do more? Take a moment to sign a petition to major cocoa traders asking them to stop supporting child slave labor.