13 December 2017

90 million bunnies. 27 million slaves.

90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are produced each year. The time for these small mammals and their feathered friends, in both their embryonic and fully-developed manifestations (read: eggs and chicks…I’m just trying to sound scientific), as well as many other innovative shapes (I heard last year of Easter chocolate minipizzas. Hmmm…), to be bought and eaten, is upon us.

Conservative estimates place the number of people currently enslaved in the world at 27 million. 27 million precious human beings exploited and abused. Some in forced labour, some in sexual exploitation, some in domestic servitude, some in forced combat.

90 million. 27 million. How are these 2 figures linked?

As you pass shelves stacked with every kind of Easter chocolate imaginable, as you gift family and friends with white, brown and black goodies, and as you ponder which part to eat first (ears or feet?!), I’d like to throw something into the mix for you to think about:

Is your Easter bunny a product of slavery?

The sad reality is that some of the companies who are providing our chocolate bunnies this Easter are still using child labour, forced labour and trafficking in their cocoa supply chains.

How much does your Easter chocolate really cost? And who is paying?

Slaves are trafficked to, or indeed brought up in places of work where they are robbed of their rights, made to work unreasonable hours in atrocious conditions, for little or no pay, with no “career prospects” or way out. Men, women and children are all subject to this torture. An IHS article in 2006 described the situation for some children in the Ivory Coast: ”… children, usually 12-to-14-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labour 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, are barely fed, are beaten regularly, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.”

“The beatings were a part of my life,” Aly Diabate, a freed slave, told reporters. “Anytime they loaded you with bags [of cocoa beans] and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.”

(Note: after my initial research into the cocoa industry, a source informed me that since the civil war in the Ivory Coast, the cocoa trade there has dried up significantly, therefore actions concerning unethical cocoa farming are related mainly to other locations, and the clichéd blame-game on the Ivory Coast is no longer grounded.)

Aly Diabate’s story is not the story I would like behind my Easter bunny. What about you?

We, as consumers, have a voice. We have power. Let’s use it. How?

Be informed. There are, unfortunately, still companies who have not yet committed to ensuring that all their cocoa products are ethically sourced. http://www.free2work.org/ allows to search for your favourite food companies and gives you an ‘ethical rating’ to consider as you decide who to buy from. There are other ‘safe lists’ available as well – search the Internet or get in touch with major food and drink companies. Are you an iPhone user? Get the ‘Fairly Local’ app – “a socially-responsible app that helps you track down Fairtrade products in local cafés and stores in your area.”

Buy from companies who promise ethical sourcing following the information you find. Divine Easter eggs are Fair Trade labelled and offer a lovely range of chocolate. Cadbury’s range is also now Fair Trade. Thornton’s offers a Fair Trade range. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Cooperative also now offer their own brands of ethically sourced and produced chocolate. When you buy, check for either the Fair Trade label or a written commitment to ethical cocoa sourcing.

Be vocal. Don’t simply boycott the companies with low ratings: tell the companies why you will not buy their chocolate until they make a change, and define those changes. The effectiveness of boycotting is inferior to first communicating with the companies we wish to boycott, by explaining to them why we are unhappy and encouraging them to make adequate changes. Only when a company refuses to explore bettering themselves and take appropriate steps should it be absolutely boycotted. Remember that as a consumer, your voice has power. Indeed, when in 2009, Kit Kat came under fire for unethical cocoa production, it changed its entire line and is now fully ethically-sourced.

How wonderful it is to know we are heard when we speak out. How immense the responsibility we have as consumers to use our voices to ensure that we are not buying products that directly encourage modern day slavery. It is up to us.

A step further is considering how slavery comes about, and how our purchases affect the origins of slavery. Yes: instead of focusing solely on slavery, let’s look at the poverty that makes people vulnerable to it. We need to ask the companies we buy from to invest in the countries and communities they are involved in. In essence, it is not enough to silently buy products displaying the Fairtrade label; nor does boycotting communicate a whole message to companies. We don’t only not want products directly involving slavery. We need to tell companies why we are not happy to buy products that are produced by slaves, and let them know that we are behind them in their initiatives towards wider ethical policies and community investments. Such policies and investments prevent the poverty that makes people vulnerable to slavery. Independently as well, get involved in Water Aid, in Compassion, in Tearfund. Tackle poverty and related issues as well as slavery specifically.

So, what are you going to do? You have power. You have a voice. Use it. Happy Easter.

Gemma Wilson