Chocolate, slave labor, my four-year-old, and our local supermarket

signby Sachi Feris

Last Halloween, a friend posted this link on Facebook about child slave labor in the cocoa industry (in West Africa). As a chocolate-obsessed person, I was embarrassed that this injustice was not on my radar. Since then, I found this lack of knowledge—as well as a lack of understanding that the “fair trade” designation is a “slave-free” designation—echoed among many of my friends.

I had already talked to my daughter about slavery, but when I introduced this conversation, her main concern was that she would no longer be allowed to eat chocolate.

In early November, we were on our way to Mexico and Argentina (from where I blogged), and I explained that most chocolate in Mexico and Argentina would theoretically be from the Americas and therefore “slave-free.” Every once in a while (mostly when consuming chocolate), my daughter would remind me of this conversation and I would note:

“We need to do some research to find more information about which chocolate companies use chocolate produced using slave labor and which chocolate companies are ‘fair trade’ which means they don’t use slave labor.”

Note on fair trade chocolate recommendations: though I have by no means become an expert on fair-trade chocolate, the brands recommended in this post/related materials are a result of my best attempts at research combined with which brands are currently offered at my supermarket. Some of the brands “recommended” in this post are imperfect. For example, Ben & Jerry’s (which, as I understand it, uses fair trade ingredients in its actual ice cream but not necessarily in the fillings) and Green and Black’s (which is itself fair trade, but is owned by Kraft which sells slave-labored chocolate hence this can be seen as a PR stunt for Kraft).
check list

Our chocolate check list

We returned to Brooklyn in late-February and I created a chocolate check list that my daughter and I took to the supermarket with a clip board and a pen. One of our regular purchases is chocolate chips for baking, so we headed to the baking aisle and began to look for the letters “H” for Hershey’s and “N” for Nestle to confirm whether the supermarket carried chocolate chips that used slave labor, along with Camino and Sunspire, (the brands I had researched that produced fair trade chips).

Unprompted by me, my daughter began to try to talk to a fellow customer (who happened to be about 15 feet away) about what we were doing:

“We are doing a project,” she started to tell him in English, “about chocolate and…como se dice esclavos en inglés Mami?” (How do you say slaves in English, Mami?)

I explained:

“That man can’t hear you because he is too far away— but it is a good idea to try to tell other people about what we are doing because they might not know that most of the chocolate companies use slave labor. The first thing you have to do if you want to tell someone about what we are doing is to say ‘excuse me’ and ask, ‘Do you have a minute to hear about a project we are working on about chocolate?’ Let’s go talk to the manager and ask whether they would consider ordering fair trade chips. Then we can go outside and practice telling each other about our chocolate project.”

Our supermarket’s manager easily agreed to stock fair trade Sunspire chips so we made our way to a bench where my daughter directed us to take turns pretending to be the “person walking down the street.”

“Hello! Do you have a minute to hear about a project we are working on about chocolate?” (Person walking down the street agrees.)

“Did you know that most of the world’s chocolate is made using slave labor?” (Person responds that they did not know that.)

“Yes, it’s true and it’s very sad and really unfair. So we have asked the supermarket to sell fair trade chocolate that does not use slave labor. Would you like to know some of the companies that do and do not use slave labor to produce their chocolate?” (Person answers in the affirmative.)

“Well, Hershey’s and Nestle use slave labor…and Sunspire and Divine Chocolate are two companies that don’t.”

While rehearsing these conversations, my daughter suggested that standing outside the supermarket telling people about this would be a good way to spread the word—I affirmed—and suggested that a making a sign might also be beneficial. Our very supportive supermarket manager gave us the green light to go ahead with our sign which my daughter helped to compose and to color in.

It read:

“Did you know that these chocolate companies use SLAVE LABOR?”

(We ended up making two signs as I realized the first one was a bit too large for the spot in the supermarket I had in mind—and my daughter suggested bringing the first sign into her classroom to tell her friends at school about our chocolate project.)

My husband both wondered whether when push came to shove, the supermarket would actually let us put up the sign—and I prepared my daughter for this possibility:

“I want you to know that there is a chance the supermarket will change their minds about their sign…because there may be a rule they didn’t know about…”

After waiting more than six weeks for the fair trade chocolate chips we had requested to be stocked, my daughter and I visited the supermarket with our sign in hand and got permission to tape it up right in front of the slave-labored chocolate.

Lo and behold, the next morning when we went to check on our sign, it had been removed after less than 24 hours. We found the manager to whom my daughter inquired, “Why was the sign taken down?”

He informed us that it was taken down at the directive of supervisors who monitor the supermarket via video, and who cited concerns over Hershey’s, Nestle, and other slave-labored chocolate companies’ “rights.”

Outside the supermarket, I explained what had happened to my daughter and we brainstormed other ways to get the word out at our local supermarket, including posting signs near the supermarket and giving our mangled sign to one of the customers leaving the store so they could tell their friends about fair trade chocolate (the latter being my daughter’s specific idea).

We got home and created a Word version of our chocolate sign which we plan on posting on street lamps near the supermarket—as well as mini versions of the sign to hand out to fellow customers when we go shopping. To be continued…

I asked my daughter if she would like me to share her sign on Raising Race Conscious Children so that more people could learn about fair trade chocolate—and she gave me her blessing. So please share this post and please take action with your own children!

I have also created a sample chocolate check list if you would like to engage in a similar project with your children at your local super market.

Also, Global Exchange has a child-friendly book about fair trade chocolate as well as a curriculum for teachers.

And finally, some hope.

Please join my daughter and I in supporting fair trade, slave-free chocolate.


Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn. Sachi identifies as White and is a mother to a four-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son.