Oh, Valentine’s day. Riddled with expectations, horrible satin bows, and lots and lots of chocolate (58 million pounds sold each Valentine’s week in the U.S. alone). But there is another, somewhat hidden story lurking underneath. Of the chocolate that we purchase for those near and dear to us this week, there is almost certainly a child slave laborer involved in producing it.

I’m sorry to stomp on your “holiday”, but it still needs to be said: stories on abuse in various food industries have been surfacing for years, yet Americans as a whole still continue to consume with gusto. The chocolate industry is one of the most notorious repeat offenders, especially when it comes to child slave labor. Yes, that is correct: there are documented child workers who are withheld pay who pick our Valentine’s Day chocolates. And even as awareness has grown (in 2001, the major companies involved signed a treaty to end “the worst forms of child slavery” by 2005) changes have not been implemented. As the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate shows, child slave labor is still alive and well today, specifically in the Ivory Coast.

What should a Christian do?

The un-sexy reality is that we are all responsible for the conditions of the workers making the products that we buy. Our demand (plus enormous profit margins) is what makes the chocolate industry what it is. So a good start for a Christian would be to carefully examine their purchasing habits, and to make a commitment to only support companies that do not trample on the poor. Feel overwhelmed by the prospect of researching labor practices? You aren’t alone—companies stake their profits on the fact that we won’t call them out for their evil.

But there are places to start. A Better World Shopping has a convenient list of companies and rates them from A-F (pick Cadbury over Nestle, for example). Or do one better and take a stand to not support any chocolate company that does not purport to pay Fair Trade wages or above (and hopefully, encourages local ownership and profits that remain in the community). A personal favorite is Equal Exchange, a fair-trade certified company which also sells amazing organic coffee and tea. Or, you can always go the non-traditional route and show your love by writing a poem, giving a book, or cleaning the kitchen (hint, hint).

Holidays in general are commercialized nonsense, ways to get us to show our affections in increasingly capitalized-upon ways. So instead of rushing out this year to purchase your love with slave-harvested chocolates, let’s actually do something with love.

Let’s show our love by buying our chocolates with our neighbors in mind, instead of just our wallets.


  1. “The un-sexy reality is that we are all responsible for the conditions of the workers making the products that we buy.”

    I think this needs some qualification. We are responsible in some limited sense, but there are different levels of responsibility depending on how close to an injustice you are. Consumers are responsible, but not as much as retailers, who are not as responsible as producers, who are not as responsible as the suppliers and farmers who are actually directly perpetrating the slavery. If we don’t differentiate responsibility in this way, then my wife is responsbile to make sure I don’t buy her slavery chocolate, and my employer is also responsible for making sure I don’t use the money they pay me to buy slavery chocolate. The reality is that all of the actors in the economic chain are making free decisions that aren’t caused or coerced in a direct, morally significant sense, by those farther down the chain.

    I’m not saying this removes all responsibility from Christian consumers, but I think it puts it into somewhat of a gray zone where we need to extend charity and allow for individuals’ consciences. It is good and just to love our neighbors by encouraging fair trade, but I don’t think it’s ok to make people guilty for failing to spend their money in a maximally fair way, all the time. We live in an amazingly complex economic web that extends worldwide, and it’s probably safe to say every purchase we make supports injustice somewhere, somehow.

  2. We are responsible for what we buy. There are slavery free chocolate products, like Kailua Candy Company — all cocoa grown on The Big Island in fair labour ways.
    Cadbury is owned by Hershy! Buy small, slavery free candy AND support anti-slavery groups.

    If you have an I-phone or the like or I-pad or the like you owe money to the innocents in the Congo who are paying a terrible price for our heavy metals. Please become informed.

    Love and aloha,


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