Slavery is Bitter

Say NO to Chocolate this Passover
With Passover right around the corner, I was thinking about kosher for Passover products. Which ones are good, which ones are so-so and which ones just miss. There’s the cookies which fall under all three categories for instance – the almond based cookies that are (almost) always yum, the macaroons which are mostly uh… feh, and the cakes which are just mostly awful. There’s a sect of HaredimHassidim that consider fish not kosher for Passover because back in the landlocked shtetl days, before mobile refrigeration was invented, fish were transported stuffed with bread crumbs to avoid rot. Haredim being HaredimHassidim being Hassidim, they have refused to alter a long standing tradition despite the availability of all the modern amenities that make bread stuffed fish a thing of the past. So for Passover, they make mock geffilte fish using spices and Matzo meal Potato starch. Thanks, but I’ll pass on that too. Another thing I’ll be passing on this Passover is chocolate.

Yes it’ll be hard what with all the chocolate covered yumminess typically available on Passover. But one of the things we’re supposed to do on Passover, one of the things we read in the Seder actually, is to view ourselves as if we personally, had been freed from bondage in Egypt, as if we ourselves were enslaved. So what does that have to do with chocolate, bitter or otherwise? I’ll tell you.

slavery's bitterAbout 50% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa, and most of that comes from the Ivory Coast. It is estimated that 284,000 children, 64% under the age of 14, work under dangerous and exploitative conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa. Of that number 15,000 are slaves, sold in the streets of places like Mali for under $30. These children to back breaking work for 80-100 hours a week. They get sick, they get beaten, they die and most never see their families again.

The United States consumes about $13 billion worth of chocolate a year and virtually all of it contains cocoa derived from suspect sources. Most cocoa is sold at international commodities exchanges and West African cocoa is mixed with other cocoa making it virtually impossible to tell which cocoa is slave produced and which isn’t.

slavery's bitter chocolateEating chocolate that may have been produced by child slaves seems pretty inappropriate, but it is particularly inappropriate on Passover when we celebrate the joys of freedom and the tragedy of our slavery in Egypt. To that end, “an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world” has created a one page Seder supplement which includes, amongst other things, the following passage:

Leader: Once, we were slaves in Egypt. Today, young children are slaves on the opposite side of Africa./ Assembled: Child laborers in the West African cocoa fields are over a quarter of million in number; twelve thousand of them are slaves…We can walk in Moses’ footsteps. We can have the courage to ask the Pharoahs of today to let the children go.

Global Exchange also suggests including Fair Trade Chocolate on your Seder plate to symbolize the sweetness of freedom. If you do this, make sure it’s pareve (non-dairy) chocolate if your Seder plate includes a shank bone and/or you are eating meat for your meal. Global Exchange does sell fair trade chocolate on its Web site, but the only certified kosher chocolate they sell are chocolate covered espresso beans made with milk.

The Seder supplement is a little granolaesque for me, but the message is spot on. There are more slaves today than there have ever been. It’s a $7 billion a year industry that includes over 800,000 women and children. Let’s try to celebrate Passover this year without indirectly benefiting from their slavery.

On a lighter note, an exhibition in New York, featuring My Sweet Lord, a life sized, anatomically correct depiction of Jesus made entirely out of chocolate, was recently canceled after protests by the Catholic League. Made by sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro out of 200 lbs of chocolate, Chocolate Jesus was deemed a direct attack on Christians. Said Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League “All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don’t react the way extremist Muslims do when they’re offended.” So what were they angry about? Something tells me it wasn’t the slavery used in making the chocolate.

About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • If you really cared about those people, you’d buy lots of chocolate, so poor Africans had jobs!!

    You’re idea about helping poor people is great, but the way you’re going about it is wrong.

    “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
    – Winston Churchill

  • mock geffilte fish is not made with matza meal. Haredim is not the correct term you are looking for here its Hasidim. Hasidim do not mix matza with liquid in any form, so falsha fish does not have matza meal in it, if anything it has potato starch.

  • I’m with Joe. Before we all panic here, let’s just remember that things would be worse if for the Africans if we started boycotting chocolate now…and don’t forget the Israeli companies who are large exporters of chocolate candy which probably contains African cacao.

    Africa’s got lots of problems since the British divided up the continent however they saw fit, causing Jewish women to suffer without chocolate is not going to fix those problems. The next thing you know, you are going to be saying we should give up diamonds because they are mined by African slaves…don’t be ridiculous.

  • Well… I kinda disagree. Imagine telling Moses “Stop with the let my people go stuff already. At least we all have jobs!” That having been said, you do raise a good point none the less.

    I have actually looked at the results. As awareness of this problem increases, large chocolate manufacturers have risen to the challenge and have made efforts to improve the situation – efforts they would never have made but for pressure put on them by posts like this one.

    For instance, the Hershey company, while still not really acknowledging the existence of slavery and widespread child labor problems in West African cocoa farms, has nonetheless become involved in things like the International Cocoa Initiative which helps farm communities in West Africa better understand the kinds of farm work appropriate for children and also helps them build schools, recruit teachers and make other changes to improve the quality of life for young people. Hershey is also involved in the World Cocoa Foundation which does many of the same things done by the ICI and also provides cocoa farming families in West Africa with funds with which they can pay for their children’s education.

    These and other efforts, which take into account the need to employ Africans, would never have gotten off the ground but for calls to boycott chocolate by people upset at the industry’s continued use of child slaves and child labor.

    Now Joe, do you have a better idea?

  • Chutzpah: No one said you should give up chocolate. Try looking for Fair Trade chocolate as an alternative. Or I’ll tell you what, write a letter or an email to your favorite chocolate company or companies asking them what measures they are taking to reduce the chocolate industry’s reliance on child labor and child slavery. Mention that that continued reliance is dampening your enjoyment of your beloved chocolate. Do that and I’ll give you a heter to eat all the chocolate you want over Passover.

    As for Israeli companies who are large exporters of chocolate, well… Israel is a large exporter of many things. Does that give them a pass to not consider the moral implications of what they are doing? Any minute now I am sure the goons from Elite are going to be knocking down my door and dragging me away…

    And finally, diamonds? Heh. The issue of blood diamonds aside, the whole industry is one big con run by DeBeers. Nearly undetectable and flawless synthetic diamonds are going to wreck that industry soon anyway. You can’t stop progress!

  • Will ask Oprah a shilah re: chocolate and let you know her response. Thanks for alerting us to the issue.

    Here’s what she had to say on African West Coast Child Slavery in fishing villages and what we can do about it:

    Diamonds are forever. If you try giving a future fiance a Moisannite I suggest you:
    1) run really fast after she has it appraised to make sure she doesn’t scratch your eyes out with it ;and
    2) renew your membership with Frumster.

    (I’d be happy with just a piece of the Chocolate Jesus, but that’s just me).

  • Is Chutzpah joking? I can’t tell anymore… Fair trade chocolate (& coffee)- tastes even yummier knowing a fair price was paid. Yeah and down with diamonds too! What a huge load of shit that is!

  • Oh and I don’t think boycotting makes life worse for the poor starving africans- it sends a message to corporations in the only language they understand: money.

  • Not joking. Child Slavery in Africa is not run by Corporations. It is run by other Africans, many of whom were slaves themselves. Boycotting is not good for the American economy because Corporations pay taxes that build our military, roads and schools. Many corporations in our country today are trying to be socially aware and responsible. Letter writing is very important.

    Down with Diamonds? What a huge load of shit that is, someday when you get engaged you are not going to want a fair trade espresso bean mounted in platinum.

    I’m sure if boycotting Hershey’s was going to help free slaves in Africa, Oprah would have called for a boycott by now. It is not the simple answer to a very complex problem that stems from the culture of the country.

  • I guess according to Chutzpah we can stop waiting for the mashiach. She’s in Chicago!

    I’ve got nothing but love for her, but if you’re counting on Oprah to fix the entire world, don’t hold your breath.

  • I’m baffled by the bizarre irony that Kosher for Passover chocolate is produced by slave labor. Can free trade kosher for passover chocolate even be bought in stores?

    blah. I’m boycotting kosher for passover chocolate!

  • Pammy,
    I could write a very long book on the bizzare ironies of Judaism.

    Truthfully, Oprah is the closest thing to a Redeemer of Women and Children of all races that the world has EVER known. She is on the cutting edge of raising awareness for the various problems suffered by women around the world. Her philosophy that we can change the world by helping MOTHERS is very wise.

    I am not counting on her to fix the entire world, I am sure that if there is a serious issue regarding women and children somewhere in the world, she and her staff are working on bringing it to the attention of the viewing audience.

    Did you read the article of the West African Fishing villages I cited? That was from 2006, long before this site took an interest in the child labor in that country.

    Some problems run deeper than the Jews boycotting something. We certainly didn’t change Mel Gibson’s mind by not going to his movies.

  • Blood diamonds are a very real issue, as is the fact that DeBeers is a fairly blood thirsty monopoly, and the fact that you really can never tell what your diamond’s really ‘worth’. They really do not trade on an ‘open market’, and each and every appraisal is unique. Diamonds are now marketed with various ‘enhancements’ that include several heat treatments that try and hide the obvious flaws is low quality gems. Still most folks could not tell the difference between a decent fake & the ‘real thing’. And yes, synthetics are getting better all the time. For these reasons and a few more, the wife just wears a simple engraved gold band I got for our engagement. But you can now buy ‘free trade’ diamonds from a ‘clean’ source in Canada. That’s just happened in the last 5 years or so. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Chutzpah- Oprah was seriously sued the last time she spoke out against a corporation (McDonald’s). Do what you will, but boycotting is a totally legit way to voice concerns. I find the agrument against boycotting that poor widdle itty bitty corporations will suffer laughable. Boycotting (even the threat of boycotting) and public outrage are the reasons the garment industry demanded improvements in working conditions from its overseas suppliers. Why not ask the same of the cocoa giants? About diamonds, I can honestly say that I do not want a diamond engament ring. Why get something possibly drenched in blood as a symbol of a commited relationship? Aside from the fact that I would feel like a huge loser for buying into that whole DeBeers crap. But please don’t go saying that my choice will hurt Debeers and wooh next thing you know, no more paved roads!

  • Oprah was never sued by McDonald’s. She was sued by a group of Texas Cattle Ranchers for making a comment about Mad Cow Disease. She won the suit and is not afraid to speak out about anything.

    You can boycott Passover chocolate, but the 15.00 or so dollars you don’t spend is not going to provide any help for any children. Why don’t you take that money and send it to the International Organization for Migration which helps children in Ghana or better yet, directly to Oprah’s Village of Hope Orphanage in West Africa which provides rehabilation for rescued child slaves.

    P.S. I bet you’ll change your mind about the diamond when all your friends start getting engaged to men who have good jobs in corporations.

  • Some corporations are much more generous than others.You cannot generalize on this. For instance, i have been in some horrible places but where I am now, I feel like kissing the floor every day. Not only do we have a very generous vacation, we have excellent long term benefits and very good salaries, things many people do not have, we have stock sharing now as well. nor do we have to work all kinds of hours. 5pm, everyone streans out.Yet, all the other people complain daily about their jobs. It is sickening, if I could only take them to my last place for 5 minutes, they would stop the complaining forever. unless it is the human condition to complain? This is something that I don’t understand. It has to do with jealousy. Of course, we work hard, so if they see the owners kids march in at 10am they get jealous. but how do they know if the kids weren’t doing some work for the company? and even if they are not, it is not their concern, instead of complaining, I say to myself, why don’t they start a corpporation like those kids grandads did, go out and sell stuff, and build a corporation? but no, they won’t do that, they have it too good imo.

  • Ok, Oprah is amazing (kinda) but I doubt she would accept the task of ethical barometer to which you have assigned her. But ok, let’s play the what would Oprah do game? When there was a threat of mad cow disease from US ground beef, Oprah decided not to eat burgers and publicly voiced that opinion. That’s right Oprah boycotted ground beef. I don’t really see what charity has to do with boycotts, they are not mutually exclusive. Anyways, I don’t mean to get in the way of a woman and her chocolate. Back to diamonds, I’m 26 years old and lots of my friends have diamond engagement rings – still not tempted.

  • Kinda???? Have you read her biography on her website? Did you know that she had a bill passed on Child Abusers , and her Oprah Watch hotline resulted in the capture of at least two child abusers.

    Saying Oprah is kinda amazing is like saying that Tom Jones has an ok singing voice.

    I did not want a diamond when I got engaged at age 28 and received a cheap gold bracelet. Now I know that a man’s ability and willingness to provide his fiance with an expensive piece of jewlery speaks volumes to his willingness to provide her with luxuries later in life.

  • The resolution is simple. Just look for the Polar Bear marked Canadian ‘conflict free’ diamonds. And this sentiment is too simplistic for words: “Now I know that a man’s ability and willingness to provide his fiance with an expensive piece of jewelry speaks volumes to his willingness to provide her with luxuries later in life.”

    Volumes could be written on the various misconceptions and consumerism run amuck with those words. It harkens back to the original use of ‘bride price’, and thanks to DeBeers’ ‘strategic marketing’ starting in the 1930’s-40’s was somehow transferred into the present. So a process started by well known bloody minded Imperialist Cecil Rhodes using industrial scale slavery in SW Africa to achieve his corporate ends, has been married to a efficient system of mass marketing, popularizing a previously very rare trade item into the well known consumer staple we see today. There are very few things you can actually buy and wear that represent such concentrated evil as do ‘blood diamonds’, save perhaps for the eviscerated skull of your ex. Now truth be told, I know you’d prefer to wear the latter, but we’re not going to begrudge you your own diamonds.

    Still, one day, we might all come to the realization that buying or not buying any overly expensive bauble for the spouse, (including the hubby BTW), may or may not have anything to do with the depth of feeling, the true extent of sacrifice, or their overall willingness & ability to provide for the family in times good or bad. That’s just silly. It’s so very stereotypical too. May we all know the true luxuries of later life of happy children & grandchildren who are eager to visit and are useful to have around too. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • Alright Chutzpah, you know from experience and I can’t mess with that. I also do not want to mess with Oprah. But when I say I would not want a diamond, I mean it. That doesn’t mean that I would not recieve any gift and there are many things that I value above a diamond, bloody or not. I think we are of different generations – personally, I hope I am never in the position where I have to depend upon another person for necessities or even luxuries. But really, I am not very wise.