some bitter and some sweet

It’s a tough issue to write about. It’s unpleasant enough just to read about. Who wants to hear more bad news?

But then again, there is a lot of room for hope. I mean, when I was a kid in school, learning about slavery in US history, it was exciting to think about the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman, and anyone else who helped slaves to freedom. They were heroes.

There are real heroes today, helping real slaves to freedom. Free the Slaves is an organization that frees slaves, and IJM is another. For a little dose of optimism, visit their sites.

And there are things that any of us can do to help make a change. Want to buy some fairly traded chocolate? How about a quick email to a chocolate company or a store? Maybe you could spread the word, that chocolate (among other products) is grown by slaves.

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Slavery… really?

I feel so naive for not knowing. I did hear something, a few years ago, but then the issue seemed to vanish for a while. Yes, slavery. Still. Maybe as many as 27 million slaves in the world today. Who knows, maybe more — it’s hard to get accurate information about illegal activities, I suppose. And even if it’s only half that… that is a lot of slaves.Just to be clear: I am not talking about workers who don’t get paid enough, or people with dirty and dangerous jobs. Slaves get paid nothing for their work. They are locked up, chained sometimes, not able to leave. And usually, they are violently abused, fed next to nothing — you get the picture.

Some things that make the situation even worse perhaps: a lot of the slaves are children. Much of the chocolate in your Hershey bar comes from cocoa beans picked by child slaves. All of the large US chocolate companies use cocoa that was partly grown and harvested by slaves.

It’s a complex issue, and I don’t want to just point fingers and blame the chocolate companies. They don’t own the farms, and they didn’t create the problem. They aren’t doing a real lot to solve the problem, either.

Fairly traded chocolate and fairly traded coffee do not use slave labor. That’s maybe the easiest thing we can do to end slavery. I’ll be putting up links to some other things that people can do to help, too.

What do you think? When did you first hear about slavery in the chocolate industry, or about slavery in the world today? Would you like to be part of the solution?

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