Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Chocolate "Dilemma"

I have known for awhile that there are issues with the chocolate industry.  I've seen things go by in friends' posts or heard little snippets, but I never checked into that much.  Perhaps it seemed like one more thing to worry about.  Perhaps I just got busy and distracted.  Probably, at some level, I didn't really want to know more or think too deeply about it.

I like chocolate.  I mean, I don't know a lot of people who don't like chocolate.  It's so good.  Especially, a good dark chocolate or some yummy baked treat with chocolate in it!  So.  Good!

Living away from my "home" culture has sort of intensified my chocolate cravings as well.  When other things are unfamiliar, it is a comfort food and a treat that is available when not all of the usual comforts (or comfort foods) are.  And, seriously, there is something about dal bhat (the lentil and rice everyday meal), as much as I do like it, that just feels like it needs to be chased with a little chocolate.
So, the thought of giving up chocolate feels like a big deal.  As I've processed some of these things recently, it actually seems sort of ridiculous to admit how big of a deal it seemed.

But, a few weeks ago, my friend posted a link about the labor issues involved with chocolate.  It wasn't the first, but I took the time to read it and really absorb it.  The article was highlighting the issue for the sake of considering what you are buying for Halloween candy.  We don't do Halloween, but I decided to read the whole article anyway because it was really just drawing attention to the bigger issues involved.

I won't attempt to restate what she and others have already done.  I am just beginning to dig into this more myself.  Her post at and the documentary she links to in the post, The Dark Side of Chocolate, are good sources for some information on the issue.  The key thing is that child labor, child slavery, and child trafficking are BIG issues in the cocoa industry in Africa where a big percentage of all cocoa for the world's chocolate is produced.

This issue has stayed with me, mulling over and over in my mind and heart.  It's about more than the chocolate.

My first thoughts honestly turned to what my options would be for chocolate if I make the choice to not purchase from companies taking part in child slavery and unethical, unjust labor practices.  For us here overseas, it isn't just a matter of spending a bit more money to buy from companies that are committed to ethical sourcing in the cocoa purchasing and production.  So, largely, it would mean giving up these items.  There are some possibilities that some shop owners might be willing to order items for us if they know we and other foreigners would buy them, but chocolate is already the same price or more as it is in the States when we are making notably lower salaries...and are still making more than the vast majority of the population here.  Chocolate is already a splurge, an indulgence here for most people.  I'm not sure if it would be realistic for friends here to purchase items that will be quite expensive if we could actually get them imported.
Now, a quick aside is that I am still crazy lucky and certainly far from deprived, as it only takes a mention of something we are missing or would love to have before my parents or a friend graciously tuck some in a package to send to us!

The really humbling thing is that I realized, as I was initially struck by the justice issues at the heart of this, my thoughts so quickly became wrapped up in how this would affect me and where I would get my chocolate and my "dilemma" of making "sacrifices" when we are already often out of our comfort zone.  Is it really a dilemma to figure out which kind of chocolate we could acquire or whether we'd have to cut back or maybe even *gasp* do without indulgent treats when young boys are stolen from their families and kept as slaves so that I can have my cocoa?

This is about more than the chocolate.

Do I really think that by deciding not to purchase chocolate from these companies that it will affect REAL change?  Honestly, no.  I am one consumer in a market that probably barely makes a dent in what these companies are selling.  Even if I rallied as many friends as I could think of to avoid purchasing from these companies here, I seriously doubt that a small dip in the Nepal chocolate purchases would even register on the radar for chocolate executives.  Even if friends elsewhere band together in mass, would it make an impact?  Perhaps.  But, the issue isn't just the chocolate companies themselves.  Poverty is bigger than just money, though most perceive money will fix it.  So long as people are willing to sell fellow human beings, injustice will exist.  Could there ever possibly be an amount of money that would "fix" that problem?

I respect companies that are trying to do business differently, and I applaud and would love to support their efforts.  The truth is that it is hard to do business with integrity, to commit not to sacrifice justice for the sake of profits.  And, I want to support businesses that seek to make a real impact by walking the harder road, by sacrificing the easy or maybe more profitable path.  But, I still don't have any illusions that just choosing to buy from these companies will fix the problem.

I truly believe that nothing short of the kingdom of God breaking through to change and redeem hearts and lives will cause real change and freedom from injustices.  For the shackles of poverty to be broken, lives and cultures and hearts (not just the ones where the poverty exists, by the way) need to be truly changed and transformed.  Choices are made about what is most valuable or for what things we are willing to make sacrifices.  And, for me, that is what this choice is about.

It is about more than the chocolate.

Whether or not my choice to not buy this chocolate makes any direct impact on these companies or the cocoa industry, as I have mulled over this, it comes down to a heart issue for me and for my household.  Choosing not to buy a Snickers bar or a pack of Gems won't change the chocolate industry, but it shapes who I am, who we are as a family.  It's about how I make choices.  It's about what I am willing to prioritize, even if it costs me something.  Will I, will we as a family, make our choices based on what is convenient and comfortable and focus on what I want or desire?  Or will I choose to fix my heart on justice, on mercy, on humility (Micah 6:8)?  Am I willing to make hard choices, whether or not I can see their impact, just because they reflect the values that I believe are true and right?  Am I willing to try to raise my children to believe that another child's freedom is a bigger issue than skipping some sweets?

I'm sure there are many, many more issues that could and should shape my consumer choices.  For now, this is the one that has grabbed my heart and represents a step for me in the choices I make--a test case, if you will, that God has been using to reignite my passion for issues of justice.  I pray my eyes and heart will be open to see what should be truly shaping even my seemingly small or tedious everyday choices.

I'm embarrassed to admit how much of a dilemma the chocolate became in my mind, but really, as I've said, it is about more than the chocolate.  It's about what guides my life and choices and the state of my heart, and it's about how I try to help shape the attitudes and choices of my children.  And, I believe with all my heart, that THAT can make a change in my small corner of the world and be an agent for God's kingdom to break through the injustices of this world.