Very Scary, Very Real

An Editorial from Green America: Keep Child Slavery out of the Cocoa Supply Chain

Sorry to scare you, but on Halloween, much of the chocolate Americans will hand out to trick-or-treaters will be tainted by the labor of enslaved children.

Hershey's, Nestlé, and the other big chocolate companies know this. They promised nearly a decade ago to set up a system to certify that no producers in their supply chains use child labor. They gave themselves a July 2005 deadline for that, which came and went without meaningful action. A second voluntary deadline sailed by as well in 2008. There's a new deadline for voluntary action at the end of this year. Don't hold your breath.

Few Americans had heard of this problem before reporters Sudarsan Raghavan and Sumana Chatterjee exposed the scandalous conditions under which most U.S. chocolate is made, in the summer of 2001.

In one of their articles, a slave described his 13-hour work-days on the 494-acre plantation as brutal, filled with harsh physical labor, punctuated by beatings, and ending with a night of fitful sleep on a wooden plank in a locked room with other slaves.

“The beatings were a part of my life,” said the boy, who was sold into slavery at not yet 12 years old. “Anytime they loaded you with bags and you fell while you were carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead, they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.”

The reports shocked some members of Congress into action. That fall, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) prepared bills to require U.S. chocolate companies--by force of law--to certify their products as slave-free. Engel’s bill passed the House, but before Harkin’s bill could pass the Senate, the chocolate industry had announced a voluntary four-year plan to clean up its own supply chains, without legislation.

Meanwhile, evidence that child slavery still bedevils the chocolate industry isn’t hard to find. For example, in late September, a research team from Tulane University (specifically charged by Congress with oversight of the voluntary supply-chain efforts) reported that “the industry is still far from achieving its target by the end of 2010 … and the majority of children exposed to the worst forms of child labor remain unreached.”

The just-released documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate, by filmmakers Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano takes a less detached tone, going undercover and exposing child slavery in the cocoa supply chain from the inside.

And if that’s not enough, the State Department’s own 2010 Trafficking in Persons report lists several West African countries where children are traded and taken to work cocoa plantations.

All the while, the biggest chocolate companies cavil that because they don’t own the cocoa plantations outright, cleaning up their supply chains is too hard. But some of them aren’t even trying. The biggest cocoa company in the country, Hershey’s--even after nine years to get started--has no certification system in place whatsoever to ensure that its cocoa isn’t tainted by labor rights abuses.

Here are three things you do this Halloween to ensure that your chocolate isn’t tainted by the exploitation of children overseas.

* You can look for chocolate from companies that do certify their supply chains, via labels such the Fair Trade label and the IMO Fair For Life label. Green America offers a scorecard explaining these labels in detail, and ranking the chocolate companies.
* You can contact conventional chocolate companies like Hershey’s – call them, write to them, write on their Facebook pages – and tell them you expect them to prove their supply chains aren’t tainted.
* You can contact your representatives in Congress. If after a decade the chocolate companies can’t monitor their own supply chains, we need to go back to the drawing board, and demand, by law, that slave-produced chocolate has no place on the shelves of stores in the USA.

The people who produce the raw materials for our chocolate treats deserve fair wages and safe working conditions. African children shouldn't have to suffer unspeakable horrors so that our children can have a happy Halloween

--Andrew Korfhage

Find our report on Hershey's cocoa sourcing here, and click here to send a message directly to the Hershey company.


Politics, not Prejudice

There has been a lot of ugliness in our political world recently, with desperate politicians spewing out some of the most blatant, unchecked and hateful language to have ever been considered as legitimate political dialogue. Ruthless, cruel verbal attacks have been made on low-income individuals, immigrants, and gays on the part of many Republican Candidates seeking to divert an angry populace's attention away from the policies and problems that have rooted so much of our unease.

But besides being a pathetic platform for any politician to stand on, these comments, which are made by influential public figures, have a profound effect on the perceptions and actions of their audience. The open discussion of hate and discrimination has brought many fringe racists and homophobes to the forefront of the issues, resulting in hate crimes, paranoia, and suicides in populations that may have been very vulnerable to begin with.

Perhaps it takes an elected official who is NOT currently campaigning to have the guts to speak to what is right, but Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York City has been quite vocal recently on issues of civil rights. First, he openly spoke of his support for the proposed Mosque to be built in downtown Manhattan, much to the chagrin of many anti-Muslim protesters and the praise of those who support freedom of religion, as well as those who see the irrational fear of Muslim people in our country as a highly dangerous form of cultural ignorance. Now, continuing his trend of speaking out for personal freedoms, Bloomberg shows his support for gay love and civil rights.

Speaking at the 30th annual Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Awards Dinner last night, the mayor of New York had this to say:

"To those of you who have been the target of bullying and bias, whether you happen to be in this room or any neighborhood in the city, I say this: this great city stands with you. We believe in you. We want you here. We will do anything in our power to keep you safe. And we will do everything in our power to punish those who dare threaten the well-being of our citizens...."

"...Our city- and our nation- have come a long way, but our journey is not yet complete. I wish for you the same thing I wish for any parent in this city: the joy of seeing your son or daughter fall in love, the joy of walking your son or daughter down the aisle on the most important day of their lives. Government should not be in the business of telling people whom he or she can and cannot love. And believe me, I will fight every single day to make that a reality."

These are powerful words coming from a politician, and I wonder whether he would be so brave with his stances if he himself were coming up for re-election. Still, this is an important point for a politician to emphasize in light of so many tragic deaths of young people across our country. More of our leaders need to be brave like this, to reject hateful commentary, and to show the American people that we are indeed still a free and democratic society, that we are all equal and deserve respect, and that part of the benefit of being an American is the joy and freedom of being and loving whoever you want.



Have you ever dove into and under couch cushions at home in a desperate search for a lost earring, a little bus fare, or a T.V. remote? If you have, you've found that the exotic under-regions of your furnishings are home to many lost, forgotten, and often gruesome items.

One of the most disturbing things to be excavated is the archaic McDonald's french-fry that has lived secretly under your bum for after an indefinite length of untidy time, during which you failed to protect your couch cushions from the threat of rotting food. But luckily for you, this McDonald's french fry does not seem to rot... ever... no matter how long you've kept it there. Indeed, it is one of the most disturbing finds not because of how decayed it is, but because of how in tact it is. I shudder to think of all of the non-potato ingredients that are keeping that fry from suffering the same fate as every other verdant specimen in the natural world.

While McDonald's swears that their "food" is made with only the freshest of ingredients, there are those who beg to differ, and who have the proof they need to voice their difference. Artist Sally Davies is one of them, recently coming out with a photographic experiment, keeping and documenting a McDonald's Happy Meal in her home for 6 months. As the weekly photographs reveal, the burger and fries remained completely unchanged from the beginning to the end of the experiment. If that doesn't make you cringe, I don't know what would...

...actually, nevermind. I do know. Ever hear about how chicken nuggets are made? Yeah, that'll make you cringe too.


Pea's Peace is Up and Running [Again]

Blogging is rough. It requires daily commitments, incessant motivation, constant attention, and little bitty pieces of your heart and soul. It reveals a softened, private part of yourself to the enormity of the internet at large, and that can be a pretty daunting encumbrance.

Admittedly, I've struggled with my own focus and dedication to Pea's Peace. It's not that I haven't found enough interesting and inspiring things out there in this great big balanced world... it's just that I started to question my own reasoning and purpose for keeping up this blog. I felt dwarfed by the amount of information available to you all, and intimidated by the thought that there are blogs and bloggers out there who are much more seasoned and professional than I am. After all, I have a full-time job and a full-time life, how serious could I really be about this project?

So after 14 months and 112 blog posts, I took everything down out of sheer fragility of confidence. I systematically went through and removed my writings from public view, though I couldn't quite erase them completely because each word that they contain is a reflection of a little piece of myself... and that's just too valuable to give up.

But now they're back up, and their legitimacy is more personal to me than I need it to be justified. I'll keep on blogging, indifferent to my own impact or ripple in the world of online blogs... because the basic truth is that it's good for me. I enjoy doing it. And that is all that matters. I am going to be braver, and keep on bearing my everything on this humble web page, regardless of what others may think.

So here are all 112 reinstated pieces from Pea's Peace. I'm sorry for the interruption, and I hope that you enjoy :-)