Chocolate & Slavery : Child Labor

Child slavery isn't sweetVanguard grad connects the dots between grocery store chocolate and African slavery.

Photographs of young children, their backs covered with scars from whippings; a report about how a boy tried to run away from a cocoa plantation on Africa's Ivory Coast, but was caught and punished by having his feet sliced.

"It's just unimaginable that those things happen to kids, still," says Woodard, 23, of Irvine. "But they do."

The children she's talking about are slaves. Not "virtual" slaves, or "almost" slaves. But, simply, slaves %u2013 human beings held against their will to serve the needs or desires of others. In this case, the children Woodard can't forget about are slaves to people who get rich off the most whimsical of grocery items %u2013 chocolate.

West African farms produce about 70 percent of the world's cocoa. And, in 2007, the U.S. State Dept. estimated that there were 284,000 children working on those farms who are "unprotected, unfree or have been trafficked."

For some, that problem is a world away.

For others, like Woodard, it's on aisle six in the local grocery.

Three years ago, Woodard, then a sophomore sociology major at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, heard a talk on human trafficking by Sandra Morgan, an adjunct professor. Soon, Woodard was researching the problem and churning out essays on the topic for her classes.

But a year later she was frustrated and even depressed.

"It's such a big issue it becomes almost overwhelming," Woodard says.

"%u2026I was in the heart of it, learning the deep dark secrets of it. And my writing was the only way I could express those feelings and get that out."

So as a junior, she began volunteering to help the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, and realized she had found her passion. She learned that even for a problem as complex as human trafficking, there were simple steps she could take.

One step was %u2013 and is %u2013 buying Fair Trade chocolate. Fair Trade certification, from nonprofits like TransFair USA, ensures that product with the "Fair Trade" label cultivate an equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the environment.

Another step was %u2013 and is %u2013 helping wipe out the root problem, in this case, poverty in the Ivory Coast.

"The issue is not just about human trafficking and Fair Trade, it's about every choice that we make as consumers," Woodard says.

"%u2026It's knowing where that connection is; knowing that these choices, buying Fair Trade products, do affect people in other countries%u2026 You're making sure that (workers) get paid a fair wage, that they can send their kids to school, that they can provide health care, food or whatever else they need."

So in 2007, while still a senior at Vanguard, Woodard helped found a campus club, now called Live2free, which promotes the idea that the choices we make as consumers can change lives. The club is the first offshoot of a local nonprofit, also named Live2free, created by Morgan.

"We wanted it to be a movement about thinking of the consequences and building empathy for people who we'll never see," says Morgan, administrator of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.

"It's much easier to have a rally and have signs and to march for something, but this is for the long haul."

Today, that's a point Woodard makes in talks of her own to high school and college students. She tells students about how they can make a difference just by saying no to cheap chocolate and yes to Fair Trade certified chocolate.

Sometimes, that can be challenging.

Earlier this month (which happens to be Fair Trade Month), Woodard and I headed first to a Target, then to a Whole Foods Market, to scour the aisles for Fair Trade options. Woodard knew exactly what brands to zero in on for coffee, tea, and chocolate, including an entire row of Fair Trade coffee from Target's Archer Farms brand. Still, when it came to chocolate, there were few options at Target.

"I think that's just going to take time and getting people to realize that we have to create the demand for it," says Woodard, who, since graduating last year, has served as Live2free's administrator.

Target couldn't compete with Whole Foods, where we found a Fair Trade bonanza, especially in the cocoa powder/coffee section. Among the products: cacao powder by Dagoba, a brand acquired by the Hershey Company.

When there aren't in-store options, Woodard recommends shopping online, where you can order from companies like Global Exchange, which sells Fair Trade individually-wrapped chocolates for trick o' treaters.

But if a store or company isn't offering Fair Trade options, Woodard opts not to give them her business. She also petitions those businesses, something she'll continue to do when she moves to Porterville next month to serve as Live2free's central California regional director.

"A lot of times I go without (chocolate) because there's just not a Fair Trade option," says Woodard, who once had a one-a-day obsession with chocolates. "I have not had a Twix or Kit Kat in probably three years now and it kills me sometimes because I really want that chocolate and caramel mix."

A small sacrifice, but one she makes in the hope that one day there will be an even sweeter return on her goal of eradicating child slavery.

Contact the writer: at or 714-796-3649 or


For more information on Live2free, including where to buy Fair Trade chocolates, coffee and more go to:
On November 20, Live2free will launch and distribute club kits for high school and college students at Borders Books, 1890 Newport Blvd, Costa Mesa
For Fair Trade Resource Guides go to:
To buy Global Exchange%u2019s individually-wrapped Fair Trade chocolates for Halloween go to:
Green America provides a Responsible Shopper list with background on hundreds of companies and their records on everything from human rights violations, health and safety alerts, and labor practices:
SERRV is a nonprofit fair trade and development organization that sells products made by small-scale artisans and farmers in developing regions around the world. Items include kitchen goods, dishes, blankets, toys and jewelry:
International Sanctuary, based in Orange County, sells jewelry made by former sex trafficking victims rescued in India.

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