The Jew And The Carrot

Ethics-Minded Confectioners Work to Keep Chocolate Sweet

By Deborah Prinz

  • Print
  • Share Share

This weekend will haunt Jewish parents with ambivalence about ghoulish begging for treats and taunt many of us with temptations of free, sugary treats. Despite my inner Halloween scrooge, my children enjoyed creative costuming and hoarding of the goodies as kids. Halloween’s roots are pagan and Catholic, with gluttony to be atoned for at Yom Kippur, al cheit shechatanu l’fanecha b’maachal uv’mishteh (for the sin we have committed before You through food and drink). This month’s chocolate abundance raises ethical questions as sticky as a chocolate morsel in the summer sun. Chocolate does not always mix well with Judaism’s values and ethics such as oshek, literally, “withholding wages” or “monetary oppression,” but also honest and fair labor practices.

Today’s chocolate industry often obscures the tragic psychological and physical torture endured by thousands of children who work as slave labor to harvest the cocoa beans needed to satiate the developed world’s chocolate addictions. Growers in places such as Ivory Coast and Ghana claim that the international low prices of cocoa require labor of their own or enslaved children. Currently, approximately twelve thousand children, some of them slaves, work in the Ivory Coast or Ghana.

The 2005 Harkin-Engel Protocol, known as the Cocoa Protocol, an international agreement, sought to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the chocolate industry. Eight multinationals have signed onto the Protocol including Guittard, Nestle, Hershey, M&M/Mars, and Callebaut. Unfortunately, however, it has not been fully implemented, and the initial deadline for its complete implementation has passed.

In an effort to provide fair compensation to cocoa farmers, several fair trade certification systems are working to establish a minimum price above market value for cocoa. Chocolate producers such as Theo, Shaman, Divine, Zotter, Equal Exchange, and Dagoba claim such certification.

Several chocolate makers prefer to sidestep the fair trade certification costs, claiming that their farmers benefit more from their direct contact and superior financial arrangements. Sean Askinosie, who owns Askinosie Chocolate gives back ten percent of the profits from his company to his farmers in Mexico and Ecuador to enable them to participate in his business philosophy — “a stake in the outcome.” Taza Chocolate, which labels itself “ethically traded,” incentivizes quality, visiting farmers at least once a year to inspect workplace standards and conducting its finances with each farmer transparently and publicly.

Kallari takes another approach. Its cooperative of some 850 farmers in Ecuador reaps 100% of the profit of the growing and processing of chocolate there.

Yet a different formula, Terra Nostra’s Equitable Trade certification, claims to go beyond fair trade by running a cooperative that collects and invests member fees in site-specific development projects that “enhance and nurture vibrant, healthy communities and the ecosystems from which these traded materials are derived.”

Unfortunately, these arrangements cannot fully guarantee that products are free of child labor or slave labor of children. To shun eating chocolate spoiled by oshek, a discerning Jewish chocolate lover might prefer to purchase bars of single-origin beans to avoid corrupt, bulked beans from West Africa. However, sometimes even those single-origin products may include beans sourced from Africa, since the European Union requires that only 10% of the bar be from the country stated as the origin, and the United States currently has no controls in this area at all.

While oshek-suffused chocolate may be of the greatest concern, other Jewish values inform our chocolate diet as well, which we will unwrap in future blogs. When wrestling with Halloween’s demons, we should be discerning in our chocolate eating, as we consider whether in our enjoyment we may be harming the environment, local populations, laborers and most especially children.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz researches connections between Jews and chocolate at the blog Jews on the Chocolate Trail as well as in the forthcoming books: “Jews on the Chocolate Trail: Stories of Jews and Cacao,” to be released in 2012 (Jewish Lights), and “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic,” to be published in 2011 (CCAR Press).

Editor’s Note: More information about sustainable, Kosher chocolate can be found in chapter 3 of Hazon’s Food Guide our guide.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: oshek, cocoa, chocolate

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.