because we were slaves

Note: we have thus far raised US $610 total to give to TFHT. Please contribute to this number. Any amount makes a difference.

Even though we don’t go to brothels and don’t own our own slaves, in the global economy, none of us are as innocent or as removed from slavery as we’d like to think.

One of the more poignant examples of that is chocolate.

Most of the world’s chocolate is made in West Africa, with 43% of it coming from in the Ivory Coast.

not so sweet now, is it?
The majority of chocolate workers there are boys below the age of 16. A number of them are trafficked from neighboring countries with promises of good work and high wages. After being sold to plantation owners for around $30 US they are held against their will, working 80 to 100 hours a week. Violence or the threat of violence is omnipresent and they receive no money. One escaped slave, Aly Diabate has testified “The beatings were a part of my life, 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.”

Escape is rarely an option. One boy from Mali reported “I tried to run away but I was caught … as punishment they cut my feet and I had to work for weeks while my wounds healed. I stayed in a large room with other Malian children from a neighboring plantation.”

This phenomena was first brought to light by esteemed filmmakers Kate Blewett and Brian Woods in their 2001 television documentary Slavery. In it they claimed that 90% of Ivory Coast cocoa plantations use forced labor. Amistad is not a thing of the past: A ship was found off the coast of West Africa allegedly carrying child slaves bound for cocoa plantations.

chocolate scar
This chocolate worker was scarred from repeated beatings.

According to Alternet “Approximately 286,000 children between the ages of nine and twelve have been reported to work on cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast alone with as many as 12,000 likely to have arrived in their situation as a result of child trafficking.”

The most egregious offenders —the slave drivers, so to speak—include leading corporations: Hershey, M&M/Mars, Nestle, Cadbury etc, whose biggest priority is giving us the consumers the lowest price, because that’s what we tell them we want.

Led by Senator Thomas Harkin a stink was made about this issue to Nestlé in 2001. As a result they promised that by July 2005 they would find a way to certify that their chocolate had not been produced by any underage, indentured, trafficked or coerced labor. That date came and went and no such certification program has been implemented.

The question to ask ourselves is what are we willing to pay to help end human rights abuses, trafficking and slavery? A little more for a bar of chocolate made by a slave free, fair trade certified company maybe? Using our power as consumers has the potential to change the way these companies run and change the lives of children in West Africa, without even getting our hands dirty.

I don’t believe you have to be an extremist to make things happen most of the time. Even if we dramatically cut down on our chocolate consumption from those companies – can I say it – dayeinu. If we write an email telling the companies and we are concerned about slavery and would like to know what they are doing about it – dayeinu. If we inform others – dayeinu, dayeinu.

So when you are eating your chocolate covered macaroons on what is left of this Pesach and enjoying your freedom, don’t forget about those whose put the flavor into your food. The chocolate may taste a little more bittersweet than you imagined.

And please, take a moment to donate a little bit of cash to an organization TFHT, which fights to end slavery.

Below you can find a list of chocolate companies whose product is guaranteed slave free as well as how to contact the major companies to voice your concern, or tell them that you are cutting down or cutting out your consumtion of their product until they stop buying their chocolate from slave plantations. Tell them you want your sweets certified 100% slave free. It actually does make a difference.

If we Jews know how to do anything right it’s complain. Let’s put our talents to good use.

Companies which absolutely don’t use slave labor include:

Clif Bar, Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Denman Island Chocolate, Divine, Gardners Candies, Green and Black’s, Kailua Candy Company, Koppers Chocolate, L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Montezuma’s Chocolates, Newman’s Own Organics, Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, Rapunzel Pure Organics and The Endangered Species Chocolate Company.

The Ivory Coast does not currently produce any organic cocoa, so organic chocolates are unlikely to be tainted by slavery.

Voice your complaints!

Write Nestlé Here

Write M&M/Mars Here

Write Cadbury Here

Call Hershey’s Toll-Free: 1-800-468-1714

Previous posts in this series

Because we were slaves: Avadim Hayinu

Because we were slaves: Israel’s sex trade

Because we were slaves: Israel’s sex trade addendum

Because we were slaves: Erev Passover

About the author

Laya Millman


  • First we can’t eat meat… now we can’t eat chocolate? Wow… being a decent human being keeps getting harder! We need to end these cruelties at their source so we can go back to gourging ourselves on lifes little delicacies with a clear conscience while… aside from that whole gluttany thing, but the 7 deadly sins aren’t a Jewish Idea anyway right?

  • I’ve been meaning for some time to try to get our synagogue to switch from the kosher l’pesach chocolate they sell to a fair-trade brand. but are there any fair-trade chocolates that are kosher l’pesach?

  • Depressing that. And don’t forget the Blood Diamonds campaign too. Slavery, the sin that’s never left humanity. Just pretty sobering to contemplate. Where’s the choc… er Mints! Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Laya,
    This whole series has been f’n great. This entry is damn depressing…

    Keep it up


  • Hey Elon! Hope all is going well in Deutcheland. Thanks for the praise and all – everyone’s been very nice about this too.

    Now, while we’re still celebrating Passover – EVERYONE DONATE SOME MONEY! Seriously, anything will do. It’s not about the cash, it’s about fulfilling the thought!

  • Good question. The money goes to the Task Force on Human Trafficking which operates in Israel to help end human trafficking, specifically focused on women being trafficked into the sex trade. They are advocates on behalf of the victims, trying to ensure they are not treated as criminals and helping them through the israeli court system. They are working to change policies which obstruct the prosecution of pimps and traffickers, as well as doing a lot of work in Israel to raise awareness and eliminate demand, among other things. Their website has a whole lot more information you can check out here.

  • egh. that makes me SO angry. (is there some sort of place i can make a donation to abolish GREED?) is there any way to get involved using time?

  • Dear Nestle,

    As Jews worldwide observe Passover, the Festival of Freedom, it was brought to my attention the evils of slavery that still persist in the world. Children and others are caught in a web of slavery on cocoa plantations in Africa and elsewhere.

    I have since learned that Nestle promised to make their product slave-free by 2005, and have not done so.

    Please heed the call of freedom. Stop purchasing cocoa from plantations that exploit and enslave children. Invest in sustainable cocoa industries that heal not destroy lives. Urge competitors to abide by anti-slavery commitments.

    I will inform all my congregants, thousands of people that read my websites and listen to my classes to avoid buying your products until Nestle takes action that is independently verified.

    We must act now to stop suffering and make the world a better place.


    Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

  • I wrote all the companies already. The first to respond is Nestle.

    “April 18, 2006

    Dear Nestlé Consumer,

    Thank you for contacting us about fair trade products. Like you and supporters of “Fair Trade Cocoa”, we believe that cocoa farmers should receive a fair return for their cocoa crops and that crops should be grown responsibly, without abusive labor practices.

    Nestlé, along with other candy companies, belong to the U.S. Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA), the World Cocoa Foundation and the American Cocoa Research Institute. Through these organizations, assistance and education are provided to farmers and farm-based communities in developing countries to improve their livelihoods through a sustainable, biologically diverse agricultural system with the goal of providing lasting positive economic, social and environmental benefits.

    When concerns were raised about children working on cocoa farms, an independent, US government-funded survey of thousands of cocoa farms was conducted in 2002. The survey found that the vast majority of the one million-plus cocoa farms in West Africa are small, family-owned farms operated by honest, hard-working families whose children work on the farm in an appropriate role as members of the family. The industry is working with governments, labor experts and international organizations to ensure that cocoa is grown responsibly.

    Finally, Nestlé has actively participated in the industry’s efforts to address the issue through actions outlined in the Harkin-Engel Protocol—a series of steps aimed at eliminating the worst forms of child labor from cocoa growing in West Africa.

    To find out more please visit the World Cocoa Foundation website at

    We look forward to serving you in the future.

    Consumer Response Representative”

  • Sorry – I think blaming the companies is off the mark. At some point the Africans doing this are responsible for their own choices.

    There is nothing stopping any of these nations from mechanizing their cocoa production – there is oodles of aid and technology-transfer available.

    Such a move would allow more humane policy while remaining cost-competitive – slavery is, in fact, a very inefficient method of production, and with overseas aid covering the capital investment and startup costs, it would be very easy to get a competitive advantage while modernizing one’s agricultural sector.

    We all know why this is not happening – and it’s not because of greedy Belgian chocolatiers.

    Its because of African corruption, tribal infighting, and a host of choice flowing from these people’s very different value systems – in other words, their amoral/immoral view of their fellow Africans – as judged by Jewish eyes and Jewish notions of human dignity.

    The dodge of blaming the “industrial-commercial interests” is simplistic, and makes me suspect how much of this story has been slanted to fit the left-wing catechism in which every 3rd worlder is a noble savage, and every European a rapacious oppressor.

    The series has been good until now – but you lost me on this one.

  • Yeh, I hear you…We can always just say that it is the job of the Governments to protect their citizens. but this fails of course in so many cases. The corporations that do biz in thee parts play a huge role in establishing patterns of abuse or of cooperation.

    You lost me here in other words, their amoral/immoral view of their fellow Africans – as judged by Jewish eyes and Jewish notions of human dignity.
    Jewish notions of dignity are not relativism. They are truths, and they are holy.

  • Unfortunately no religion provides a structure for addressing real people’s real life issues – the deeper questions of the meaning of life, work and human relations issues, and so on – the explanations or concepts are primitive and crude and just don’t fit into the intricate and sophisticated mind that is our major tool for surviving and thriving. It’s more like your given an operations manual and they say, if you read this and follow the instructions – or our interpretations of the instructions – the machine will work, everything will be OK. But machines are not all the same, the manual is too complicated, it doesn’t seem to have focus, machines malfunction, they add on more and more reference manuals that the layman can never figure out, he needs more natural and ntuitive tools. And when religion does seem to move forward, like Rabbis who also function as counselors, it’s because they have used borrowed science or psychology, it’s not coming from within. Even this new openness within Orthodoxy is the result of people’s experiences outside of the mainstream. Religion is stale, it can never be alive. Judaism is lucky that is has allowed itself to evolve a bit, and it also lucky that it has Israel, a secular phenomenon, which it clings to.

  • i don’t know ben david, but your stance there sounds a little like an attempt to release yourself from any and all responsibility. Your reasoning also touches on the idea that Africans do it to themselves, and its none of our business. But I am saying that it IS our business, as long as we are net beneficiaries of the slavery they perpetuate.

    Sure, slavery may arguably be “inefficient”, but it generates a lot of money- it’s the second most lucrative illegal enterprise in the world, just after arms and above illegal narcotics. In fact The United States State Department estimates that within the next ten years it will overtake even th arms trade in this respect.

    Overhead is low, and business is good. Humanity is not the concern as long at as it doesn’t have to be. I mean, why pay workers when you can make them work for free? Who needs benefits, overtime, vacation pay, unions etc.? What sense does that make in a profit driven world?

    Mechanizing all African enterprises is a lovely, if slightly naive idea that doesn’t really solve the problem. I also don’t know where you think this instant and endless aid would suddenly appear from.

    Your analysis of my white man’s guilt is off by a long shot. But I do believe global responsibility and everyone doing the little they can do to tikkun olam – last time I checked “Olam” also included Africa. But feel free to let yourself off the hook, I guess that’s your prerogative.

    RE: that response from Nestle – Nestle has been repeatedly cited as one of the worst offenders, as they have factories on the ground in the Ivory Coast whereas otter companies like Hershey’s buys it from a middle man. Nestle knows exactly what is going on, and I really don’t buy the whole it’s just honest hard working farmers and their kids shtick, as it flies in the face of every other report I could find on it. Just do a google search for Chocolate slavery.

  • As one works in the (organic, Fair Trade) chocolate business, and who has visited cocoa farms in Peru, I can tell Ben-David that cocoa cultivation is not suitable for mechanization.
    Further, even if it were, capital (for investing in infrastructure, etc.) is in EXTREMELY short supply in almost all developing countries, and most of all in Africa. For data on that check out “The End of Poverty” by Columbia economics Prof. Jeffery Sachs.

    For further resources on where to find alternative, ethically sourced foods, check out these links from TransFair USA.

  • Laya –

    Embracing simplistic pollyanna-ish notions of guilt and largely symbolic gestures of protest could also be interpreted as “letting oneself off the hook”.

    The bottom line is that none of the multinationals conspired to create the situation – as opposed to the nefarious history of the banana trade in the Americas, where a cartel was actively encouraged.

    So yes, the responsibility DOES lie largely with the Africans who are doing this to each other. The inability to admit and address that is a tip-off to me that this issue has been run through the left-liberal gender-class-ethnicity slicer-dicer, and a static definition of Oppressed and Oppressor has been generated, largely along ideological lines.

    It cannot escape a politically aware person’s notice that the folks who are framing this issue – and insisting that the bad, bad, West must Do Something for These Poor Unfortunates – are the same people who spout multi-culti slogans about how awful it is to judge another society’s value systems when it suits their West-bashing program.

    I’m sure laypeople like you are sincere, but many of the movers and shakers in the “progressive” movement are suspiciously selective in their application of their “humanism” – something that needn’t be explained in detail to a supporter of Israel, I hope…

    Unquestioningly quoting these politically motivated sources makes me wonder about the accuracy of the information, and the slant that’s been given. That’s all I’m saying.

    And not being able to address the African contribution to the problem is even more evidence that there is an ideological slant at work.

    Regarding aid to update African agriculture: you sidestepped my point, turing to a sweeping generalization about mechanization of an entire continent. Nice try – but we all know that billions are already being poured into Africa, and much of that money is already going into rural development programs (Israel in fact has taken a major role introducing its drip-irrigation technology to arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa). Targeting the cocoa industry – or making aid conditional on good governance – are both eminently practical ways to clean up the African side of the tragedy.

    But first you have to be willing to see past leftie platitudes and admit that the oppressors – in the most direct sense of the word – are Africans in this case. And their behavior must be judged, and changed.

    It takes more political will and involvement to lobby for changes to aid policies than it does to fire off a whiney, self-righteous letter to Nestle.

    So who’s letting themselves off easy?

  • It’s not at all a matter of guilt BD, it’s a matter of everyone doing their part. Sorry If is struck a sensitive nerve.

    Yes, responsibility does lie largely in Africa, however anyone who is a net beneficiary is not blameless. Because I am not simply pointing fingers, but rather saying “what small thing can I do” you seem to have me pegged for a bleeding heart armchair liberal.

    I know that if we all fit nicely into the boxes you have carved out in your head to categorize people, the world would be a simpler place for you and you could write things like this off.

    However, your projections are wrong and you are being quite reactionary to anything that even smells leftist. Whereas I say it is my responsibility as a Jew, and doubly so as a religious one, to do the small things that I can from where I can, you seem to say “I’m not doing it, because it reminds me of the platform of people I don’t agree with”

    In any case, enjoy your chocolate, your freedom, and your right to not address the issue of what you can do for tikkun olam, just because on the ground it’s black people oppressing black people.

  • RE: Nestle letter. I find it interesting that they site a US-government sponsored survey group. Have surveys not proven pretty inaccurate in the past? Sure, it’s easy to dismiss the claims because THE SURVEY SAYS…*ding* Hmmm…maybe they should consider launching more intensive investigations…like actually inspecting the cocoa plantations.

  • laya:
    Just do a google search for Chocolate slavery.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    … and I came up with a host of radical left-wing sites. And the more serious of those sites grudgingly agreed that since the passage of laws in Congress and the establishment of the trade group, there has been improvement.

    I also checked out the trade group linked to in the Nestle letter. It has UNICEF and a host of major NGOs involved, and detailed exactly the sort of programs I described – giving farmers the technological edge that will let fewer people bring in the same harvest, and supporting migrant worker families with stipends so the kids go to school.

    Your broadside dismissal of Nestle because “they have plants in Africa and therefore know what’s going on” reveals your OWN prejudice Laya – maybe they are more effective in implementing the protocols because they are there? The fact is that there has been improvement, and the WCF is clearly not a resource-less industry fig-leaf.

    You talk about how I dump people into boxes – yet this is just what the radicals on which you base your own righteous stance do.

    Can your worldview handle the actual facts that contradict the It’s-Always-The-West’s-Fault ideology?

    …what you can do for tikkun olam…
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Sometimes that means going beyond simple breast-beating self-righteousness.

    For example: Welfare reform was Tikkun Olam – even though “progressives” and “humanists” jumped up and down decrying the “human suffering” that would be caused.

    We all know what really happened. The tough-love insistence that people who could support themselves *should* support themselves had a salutary effect on most of the ex-welfare recipients. There has been very little relapse into dependancy.

    Left-liberal ideology sees everything in terms of the exploited and the exploiters, the oppressors and the oppressed. But there’s an inherent, bitter hook in that world view that often goes unnoticed by good-hearted people: many of the people who present themselves as defenders of the poor and downtrodden really have a strong investment in MAINTAINING the victimized status of the downtrodden, rather than empowering them – it is their way to muster and consolidate political power.

    Thus Hillary Clinton tells a black audience that Congress is “a plantation” 20 years after Reagan’s reforms sparked the growth of a solid black middle class, and after blacks have served in the highest levels of the Republican White House for years.

    Because those who present themselves as champions of the downtrodden have a vested interest in maintaining the perception that the “oppressed” need them to look out for them.

    Besides the obvious soft chauvinism and condescension in that pose, it allows the liberal “champions” to wield political power, and to accrue to themselves economic power (“we must have higher tax rates to redistribute income more *equitably* etc.”).

    This is why no Democrats are talking bluntly to blacks about their own contribution to the problems in their communities.

    This is also why the Democrats are furiously courting illegal aliens, trying to convince Latino Americans that they are another “oppressed minority group”.

    Not to help them. To use them – politically, and emotionally: to make themselves feel righteous and virtuous.

    It also explains the ease with which the taps of pity and mercy are shut off when the situation offers no ideological payoff – Darfur, Muslim treatment of women and gays, the Palestinians.

    I don’t assume you follow this agenda – my reading of the situation is that you are like many sincere young laypeople raised in the stifling bosom of PC indoctrination, who have not yet learned to parse these inherent contradictions and manipulations.

    But a review of the websites hyping the Chocolate Slavery story, the rhetoric used to hype it – and the ease with which a rather impressive deployment of government and NGO resources is dismissed as inadequate – all of these indicate an ideologically motivated filtering of the facts to conform to the We-Are-The-World, It’s-All-Our-Fault scenario.

    Sorry Laya – Tikkun Olam is not always the same thing as feeling righteously guilty.

    Nor is all virtuous denunciation of the West a blow for “social justice”.

    Did you look at the WCF website? Read the interim reports? See the list of agencies that are pitching in?

    Or is all that irrelevant because we already have our ideologically motivated “truth” in hand?

  • BD rather than bitch that tikkun olam and social activism is an agenda of the left (and is therefore nothing but pompous, insincere white man’s guilt) how about you reclaim it for the right and do something about it — like, say, donate to the TFHT (don’t worry, they have nothing to do with africans).

  • So I see you have no answer to the points I raised…

    I am involved in Tikkun Olam here in Israel, which is my primary responsibility. I support organizations I know and trust here, on a variety of issues.

    If you think that this local activity is somehow less worthy than puffed-up global tokenism – you have again proven my point: you have a highly politicized notion of what constitutes tzedakah and chesed.

  • Ben David, since you are involved in Tikkun Olam in israel, how about you donate something to the TFHT which works in Israel to fight human trafficking?

    Funny how the charity I have chosen works in Israel, but you know me and my white mans guilt, radical leftist views and “politicized notion of what constitutes tzedakah and chesed,” apparently better than I do.

    And remember, the phrase is not “tikkun yisrael” it’s “tikkun olam.” Think about that before you go needlessly bashing someone for simply mentioning our potential responsibilities to any other part of the olam next time.

  • Cadbury response:

    Thank you for contacting us regarding Cadbury in the United States.

    Cadbury Canada is only authorized to distribute or sell to registered wholesale
    and retail customers in Canada. This is in compliance with our contract with
    Cadbury United Kingdom. In the United States, Hershey manufactures Cadbury

    Described below are some of the key initiatives undertaken by Cadbury Schweppes,
    our parent company regarding cocoa farming and harvesting:

    ¿We are working with all stakeholders involved in the production of chocolate –
    from bean to chocolate bar – to boost the economic livelihood of cocoa farmers
    and workers and ensure that cocoa is grown in a sustainable and ethical way.
    Working with governments and other international organizations, we have programs
    underway throughout West Africa to:

    – Help farmers collectively market their produce – resulting in 15-20%
    increases in producer prices for those involved in the program.

    – Help cocoa farmers create a sustainable, biologically diverse agricultural
    system to generate better yields, more consistent crops and respect the

    – Implement responsible pest and disease management.

    – Invest in social infrastructure, for example building water wells.

    – Promote ethical working practices with a time bound program to certify that
    cocoa is grown and harvested under internationally acceptable conditions with
    regard to the use of labor of all ages.

    These are complex issues and it will take time before the real results can be
    seen. However, Cadbury Schweppes has a long heritage of supporting cocoa farmers
    and a strong ethical foundation that has and continues to guide all aspects of
    our business. We continue to be committed to the achievement of these goals. ¿

    For full information, we encourage you log on to their website, at

    Best regards,

    Consumer Relations

  • and, middle? can you offer us any insight or opinion based on your critical thinking and research skills, and these two responses?

  • Laya, I have no response other than to say this seems to be a very complex subject. Are these companies engaged in abuse of workers or indirect participants in such abuse? Perhaps. The problem is that what they are encountering may be societal issues which already exist in these places. Do children work because they are abused or because families are very poor and children have to work for the families to survive? Is the labor force truly a slave force?

    I will tell you this. I felt that both responses were lacking in substance and did not address my questions directly. As a result, Cadbury and Nestle are either no longer going to be appearing in our house, or if they do appear, it will be infrequently. Both will lose business as a result of your post.

    Having said that, I would like to find a more comprehensive essay about this situation because I have a feeling it’s complex from these companies’ perspectives as well.

  • A much appreciated response, middle. I was curious about your position. Thank you very much.

  • I would just like to correct an error here. The first line states, “Even though we don’t go to brothels and don’t own our own slaves…” While I appreciate the ideas behind this article, this opening line is sadly mistaken. Much as I love Israel, my research in human trafficking has brought up that Israelis, our people, and therefore we, are one of the largest consumers of the sex trade industry that brings girls and young women from the Baltic States to Israel. Additionally, recently in Hawai’i, an Israeli man was convicted for one of the largest human trafficking cases in modern US history (shortly after his arrest, he requested to be let out for Rosh Hashanah).

    We need to recognize that we are not always silent bystanders, that we are responsible for the enslavement of innocent people from around the world, and that we as a people must be watchful and responsible of ourselves and each other.