It’s February and love is in the air, and so is the smell of chocolate as those bright red heart shaped boxes line the shelves. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and so is Lent, so I have your first challenge.

Challenge No. 1: Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to give up chocolate. I would never ask you to do something I couldn’t do. What I am going to ask you to do is to buy fair trade chocolate, chocolate sourced from Latin America, single-origin or “bean-to-bar” chocolate or chocolate bearing a label that promises ethical (and third-party-verified) production and ask your loved ones to do the same. Here’s why…

Every day 2.1 million child laborers in West Africa work often work from 6 a.m. until sundown in deplorable conditions just so we can enjoy it here. As the chocolate industry has grown over the years, so has the demand for cheap cocoa. However, our cheap chocolate that we can buy readily in stores comes at a cost of children’s well-being, who are sometimes sold to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives, who are unaware of the dangerous work environment and lack of any provision for an education. Sometimes traffickers abduct the young children from small villages and may not see their families for years, if ever. Other times, children are promised something as simple as a bicycle, which they will never see. Most children who labor on cocoa farms are between ages of 12 and 16 but reporters have found children as young as five.

When these children work too slowly or try to escape, they are whipped and sometimes locked up at night to prevent them from escaping. One survivor was nine when he started working on the cocoa farm and slept on black plastic under a shelter. His diet was limited to bananas and yams. They never even taste the chocolate they work so hard to produce. Another former cocoa slave, Aly Diabate, told reporters that the beatings were part of his life. When asked what he would tell people who eat chocolate from slave labor, his response was that they enjoyed something that he suffered to make, adding “when people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

Aside from Western Africa, a significant amount of cocoa is grown in Latin America, where while some farms may employ these practices, it is not as widely documented as in Western Africa.

Consumers play a significant role in diminishing the food industry’s injustices. For a list of recommended chocolates, visit Food Empowerment Project and download its app or visit CRS Ethical Trade website. One simple change. Something that will barely put a dent in your grocery budget. One small thing that you can do that can make a world of difference.

To take it a step further, contact Hershey’s and Nestle to encourage them to get their cocoa from only ethically sourced suppliers. Please feel free to use some of my talking points above.

Imagine if everyone started to demand chocolate produced using fair labor practices. What would happen? It would reinvent the industry. No demand. No supply — and changes would begin to happen.

By Christine Commerce, Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator – February 8, 2019