The Easter Bounty- Chocolates
When we walk down any candy aisle in a grocery store, we are guaranteed to see many beautifully wrapped and enticing chocolates at any time of the year. But, especially as we approach Easter, there are plentiful chocolates shaped like bunny rabbits, crosses, eggs, and wrapped in colorful pastel foil wrappings that remind us of the joyful life-giving Spring and Easter seasons.
What we don’t see, however, is the darker side of those delicious looking candies. We don’t see the child slave that picked the cacao that turned into the delectable looking delight on the grocery shelf, that we have such abundant access to, and which we so freely enjoy.
But slavery is rampant in the chocolate industry. One boy, a victim of exploitation himself, upon being interviewed by BBC filmmakers for a documentary on the subject, said: “They are enjoying something I suffered to make. They are eating my flesh.”
And that needs to change.
It more than surprised me a couple of years ago to learn slavery was not a thing of the past. I had learned in school that slavery had been abolished. And today, it is indeed illegal worldwide to own another human being. But what is legal and what is done are sometimes two very different things.
The Global Slavery Index in 2014 determined that nearly 36 million people are currently living enslaved. This means more people are living in slavery today than there were during the entirety of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.
People today are enslaved through illegal servitude, forced labor, within garment industries, and in forced prostitution globally. In developed and undeveloped countries. Hidden, and also, sometimes, in plain sight.
It also astounded me to learn how many slaves, including child slaves, are victims of the global chocolate industry, primarily at the level of the farms on the Ivory Coast, which is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa beans.
The Church on Modern Day Slavery
The idea of either purchasing much more expensive chocolates or reducing our chocolate consumption are not appealing, especially since we are so accustomed to having access to chocolate cheaply and easily. But is it ever acceptable for us to benefit, in any way, from the enslavement of another human being?
The Church is clear. In his Declaration on the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery in 2013, Pope Francis said:
“We declare on each and every one of our creeds that modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labor and prostitution, and organ trafficking, is a crime against humanity. Its victims are from all walks of life, but are most frequently among the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. On behalf of all of them, our communities of faith are called to reject, without exception, any systematic deprivation of individual freedom for the purposes of personal or commercial exploitation; in their name, we make this declaration.”
Slavery is unacceptable.
If we could look into the eyes of the child slave who picked the cacao bean that went in our chocolate chip cookies … would we still claim such a right to whatever chocolate candies we please?
No. We are called to reject that which deprives others of their fundamental rights. Lest we be complicit in their oppression.
Pope Francis has been an unapologetic voice on the moral wrongs of human trafficking and the enslavement of other human beings. In his address to the Second European Assembly of Renate, he said:
“As you well know, one of the challenges to this work of advocacy, education and coordination is a certain indifference and even complicity, a tendency on the part of many to look the other way where powerful economic interests and networks of crime are at play.”
I also suggest indifference is a challenge we each face on our own, especially when taking action results in a loss of something we expect to be an inexpensive convenience, and especially when we are so far removed from the faces of those we are oppressing.
Where The Responsibility Falls
In his speech on the 2015 World Day of Peace, Pope Francis said:
“Together with the social responsibility of businesses, there is also the social responsibility of consumers. Every person ought to have the awareness that ‘purchasing is always a moral—and not simply an economic—act…”
“Let us ask ourselves, as individuals and as communities, whether we feel challenged when, in our daily lives, we meet or deal with persons who could be victims of human trafficking, or when we are tempted to select items which may well have been produced by exploiting others. Some of us, out of indifference, or financial reasons, or because we are caught up in our daily concerns, close our eyes to this.”
The moral responsibility does not fall solely on the company producing the product. It falls on us as well. We, the consumers, are not morally excused from the exploitation of those who create the chocolate and other items we purchase for consumption. We aren’t excused because our budget is tight. We aren’t excused because we don’t know, or because we are ignorant. We aren’t excused because of a good deal.
We are so used to having ample chocolate, easily accessible to us, that it takes a difficult yet necessary re-framing of our mindset to accept the idea that we may either have to spend more for the amount of chocolate we want, or that we need to reduce our consumption so we can afford to purchase chocolate that is not supporting slave labor. And that we, as Catholics, are morally obligated to care.
Thankfully, there are several tools available to help guide us on making responsible choices with regard to the chocolate products we purchase.
Better World Shopper ranks chocolate producing companies on a series of ethical issues, including each companies use of exploitative or slave labor. We can avoid purchasing chocolate from companies that receive a poor grade.
In addition, simply Google searching “Fair Trade Easter Candy” turns up many shopping options for people looking for chocolate bunnies and eggs and other candies relevant to the impending Easter season.
It may not be as easy as walking down the candy aisle at our local grocery store, but the dignity of our fellow man is worth more than a slight inconvenience.
The Catholic Way
I urge all of us to put aside our expectation of cheap and plentiful chocolate. We do not have a right to benefit from that which is produced through the exploitation of another human being. There are more than enough Catholics in the world. If we decided we would no longer support the use of slave labor in the chocolate industry, the industry would have no choice but to listen. We have the collective ability to help the plight of those who are currently powerless to help themselves in how and where we spend our money both this Easter season and every single day of the year.
The Catholic Church has been on the forefront of moral battles before. We are unapologetically Pro-Life and fight for the rights of the most vulnerable of society on that and other fronts. Let us extend our Pro-Life stance to include protecting the dignity of those who work to produce the things we consume.