Posts Tagged ‘Unfair trade’

The Not for Sale Campaign is running a campaign to put pressure on Hershey to ensure there is no slavery in their supply chain. Read on to find out why this is even necessary, and what you can do about the problem.

What’s the situation?

It has been fairly well-documented that slavery is involved in cocoa harvesting. Cocoa is mainly grown in wstern Africa, and specifically in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. According to AlertNet, in 2001 many large chocolate companies admitted that child and adult slave labor harvested their beans, and said they would monitor themselves to eliminate slavery from their supply chains.

But rather than eliminate child slavery, they “promised to reduce child labor by 50 percent in two West African countries by 2008″ (The Dark Side of Slavery, AlertNet).

According to the fourth annual Tulane University report, Ghana has identified 11,600 child slaves alone, not including adults. Children are trafficked from neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali between the ages of 5-17 for this grueling work in both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

This is an illustration of where human trafficking meets the Millenium Development Goals (MDG’s). According to an MSNBC report (in pictures. See it here.), many families “sell” their children to cocoa farmers because they are soo poor and can’t send their children to school. The MDG’s seek to “[e]nsure that, by 2015, children everywhere…will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.” They also seek to “[h]alve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day.”

In addition to Western countries being held accountable for their actions and not allowing the solicitation of slaves to work in their supplier fields, efforts to eliminate poverty and increase educational opportunities seem like they could reduce the amount of slavery used in cocoa production.

Organic = slave free?

An important misconception is that organic = slave free. Since organic food products have become hugely lucrative, companies that are not committed to social responsibility now produce lots of organic food and may not be concerned with slavery in their supply chains. Some chocolate companies use the phrase “ethical sourcing” on their lables, but this does not mean slave free, and may be a form of “green-washing” (Slave Free Chocolate).

So what can you do?

  • First, you can commit to only purchasing slave free chocolate. The surest way to buy slave-free chocolate is to purchase either only those chocolate sthat have the “Fair Trade” label on their products.
  • In your local grocery store, you are likely to find either Newman’s Own or Equal Exchange products. Both are slave-free products. If your grocery store doesn’t carry them (or other Fair Trade products), you and some friends can start an advocacy campaign asking them to.
  • You can participate in the Not for Sale Raise the Bar! Campaign. The website has a postcard you can send to Hershey, and ideas for hosting a House Party film night. 
  • You can also go to ChainStoreReaction and sign petitions to major chocolate manufacturers asking them to take slavery out of their supply chain.

To see if your favorite chocolate is slave free, check out the Stop Chocolate Slavery Slave Free Chocolate list.

“I think most Americans would find it hard to believe that people in our country are pleading guilty to slavery charges in the year 2008, but that is what is going on in the tomato fields of Florida….While slavery is, of course, the most extreme situation in the tomato fields, the truth is that the average worker there is being ruthlessly exploited. Tomato pickers perform backbreaking work, make very low wages, have no benefits and virtually no labor protections” (Statement of Sen Bernie Sanders on Slavery Verdict in Immokalee, Florida, September 3, 2008).

“How many more workers have to be held against their will before the food industry steps up to the plate and demands that this never – ever- occur again in the produce that ends up on America’s tables?” (Five Plead Guilty in Immokalee Slavery Case, September 13, 2008).

On Tuesday, September 2, a family in Immokalee, FL, pleaded guilty to “charges of enslaving Mexican and Guatemalan workers, brutalizing them and forcing them to work in farm fields” (Five Plead Guilty in Immokalee Slavery Case, September 13, 2008). Cesar, Geovanni, Jose, and Virginia were arrested back in November, 2007. Originally it appears that they were charged with aiding and abeting illegal aliens, and knowingly harboring illegal aliens (Family Accused of Enslaving Workers at Immokalee Camp, December 7, 2007), but it appears that as as the case moved forward, it was recognized as a case of enslavement, perhaps in addition to the former charges. The guilty plea means they will serve a reduced sentence and a lower fine than they would have if the case went to court and they were found guilty. At this time Cesar and Geovanni stand to “serve 12 years and face fines between $750,000 and $1 million each” according to one source (Editorial: Purge U.S. of Shame of Slavery, September 4, 2008), and between 10-35 years in prison according to the U.S. Department of Justice (Brothers Plead Guilty to Enslaving Farmworkers in Florida, Co-Defendants Plead Guilty to Related Felonies, September 3, 2008).

What does all of this mean?

This family forced over a dozen immigrants to stay in “boxes, trucks and shacks on the family property, chaining and beating them, forcing them to work in farm fields…while keeping them in ever-increasing debt” (Five Plead Guilty in Immokalee Slavery Case, September 13, 2008). The enslaved workers were assisted by the Coalition of Imokalee Workers, who have helped to free more then 1,000 workers in only six cases (Five Plead Guilty in Immokalee Slavery Case, September 13, 2008). This story is similar to thousands of individual stories in the US. Creating a false debt is typical of enslavement in the US, and is impossible to pay off since oftentimes they receive only a small amount of their minimal pay, if any. This does not mean that all immigrant workers are abused in this way, and both Yum! Brands, Burger King, and McDonald’s have committed to paying more to the workers who pick their tomatoes (Statement of Sen Bernie Sanders on Slavery Verdict in Immokalee, Florida, September 3, 2008). However, considering what we have learned about human trafficking in these last 8 years since the US government has put more resources into ending this human rights abuse, we know of many more cases and are learning more about the methods used in enslavement. Our immigration policy does not reflect this knowledge, which is another reason we must continue to seek a humane and just immigration policy in this country.

A story from the St. Petersburg Times indicates that Florida elected officials have shown little movement in addressing this issue, and some have even criticized the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, probably because they are a human rights based immigrant rights advocacy organization. According to this article, former pres. Jimmy Carter and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are more outspoken than any Florida official on this issue. Sen. Sanders is quoted as saying “As a committee of the (labor committee), I intend to introduce legislation in the very near future which will end a loophole in current law which enables growers to avoid taking responsibility for what happens on their fields when workers are being enslaved” (Farmworkers Exploited, Even Enslaved, in Florida, September 5, 2008). How can we get our elected officials to pay attention to these sorts of events that occur in our own states? Find out who they are and write, call, or e-mail them, voicing your concern as one of their constituents for what is happening in your state.

An editorial on, the For Myers, Florida, news site, says it best:

“So long as agriculture relies on illegal labor, a culture of human exploitation and disrespect for the law will prevail, so we can eat slightly cheaper food and certain people can pocket extra profit.

“Disrespect for human beings is in the DNA of the current system” (Editorial: Purge U.S. of Shame of Slavery, September 4, 2008).

In a related story, Whole Foods is close to an agreement to pay workers $.01 extra per pound, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but raises the pay of tomato pickers quite a bit. Wages in tomato fields have not increased but declined in the last 20 years, meaning that migrant workers who go to Florida legally or illegally for work, are subject to desperate poverty and few resources (Slow Food Nation: Whole Foods to Pay Up for Tomatoes, September 4, 2008). Many products sold at Whole Foods are organic or near organic, but that does not mean they are fair trade or free of slavery in their production.

More information about this and other Florida farm labor slavery cases can be found at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Anti-Slavery Campaign.


Five Immokalee residents pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to charges of enslaving Mexican and Guatemalan workers, brutalizing them and forcing them to work in farm fields. The case is the largest slavery case ever seen in Florida. Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy called it “slavery, plain and simple.”

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