Thursday, February 7, 2013

197. Remember: Chocolate has a price

There is a line in the movie Men in Black 3 that attempts to sum up the key to happiness. It is explained that the key to happiness is not asking questions you don't want to know the answer to.

In other words, in many cases, it's easier just not knowing--ignorance is indeed bliss. We don't want to know how the diamond got there on your finger, what's in your hot dog or the realities of animal testing. It seems that nothing is sacred, and hearing the story behind the story is not only depressing--it's getting old.

Each time I am made aware of a situation of exploitation, I wonder, how did I miss this--why didn't I hear about this before. Why aren't the voices of the exploited being heard?

It's a story I am getting tired of telling.

Another Valentine's Day is upon us and with it perhaps about 60 million pounds of chocolate will be purchased and presented as a conduit in the expression of love. Soon will be Easter, and much more chocolate will be enjoyed, as enthusiastic kids will wake up and search for their cleverly--hidden Easter baskets.

It's tradition, it's fun and, of course, it tastes great. It is a weakness for many--a guilty pleasure best enjoyed in manageable portions.

Unfortunately, a deeper look into chocolate reveals that it is a highly controversial bitter sweet industry. Not even the pleasure of an endorphin-releasing piece of chocolate is safe from the scandalous endeavor of corporate profit seeking.

It is a battle that stems from forced child labor and human trafficking within the infamous Ivory Coast--where much of the cocoa beans that are eventually processed into chocolate are harvested by children.

A 2000 BBC documentary about the use of child labor in the industry initiated the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which is defined as "a voluntary agreement that partnered governments, the global cocoa industry, cocoa producers, cocoa laborers and non-governmental organizations. The agreement laid out a series of date-specific actions, including the development of voluntary standards of public certification. The Protocol did not commit the industry to ending all child labor in cocoa production, only the worst forms of it."

The 2010 documentary, "The Dark Side of Chocolate," however, evaluates the success of this protocol as it is related to child labor. The documentary investigates the reality of human trafficking of young children from Mali into the Ivory Coast--even if many local authorities deny that child labor still exists. There are conflicting reports about how many children are still working in cocoa agriculture--from thousands to millions--but it is clear that the protocol has not been successful in fully addressing the issue.

Self-regulation is difficult to measure and enforce-as the cheaters inspire others to cheat. Those who want less government regulation should support those corporations that play by the rules.

Fortunately, all is not lost when it comes to enjoying one of our favorite valentine treats. There are many "free-trade" chocolates, and a quick Internet search will reveal the different brands and where to purchase them. Doing so may make one feel a little less guilty about enjoying that guilty pleasure--even if it might cost a little more.

The fact is that we live in a world that revolves around profit and the corporations that will do almost anything to realize them. Most of this exploitation takes place out of the public's view--behind closed doors or in countries beyond our interest.

They hope you will not ask the questions--if fact, they bet your happiness, and their profits, on it.

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