“Is this dirty chocolate?” Little Brother asked me, perched on the car’s door frame, about to jump out and start another day at school.
Valentine’s Day morning, Little Brother lovingly held a chocolate rose wrapped in pink and red foil, ready to gift an edible treat to his beloved first grade teacher, Mrs. Parker.
Me: What do you mean?
Little Brother: You know, it is clean?
Me: Do you mean it is good for you?
Little Brother (looking concerned): No, did kids have to make it. I didn’t check before I bought it.
Me: Oh, I don’t know. We can research the company later. If you want you can leave it, and we can look it up tonight.
Little Brother (sounding relieved): Good. I don’t want to give Mrs. Parker dirty chocolate. Mom, she cares about kids, and she wouldn’t want something made by kids forced to work and not have their families.
Little Brother is in First Grade, and he is, on his own, thinking about his own actions and how they affect others. Later, he said to me, “Mom, I wish it were easier to look at a package and tell if the chocolate makers used kids.”
The start of the “dirty chocolate” conversation began weeks before when one of the boys asked that if it was true that companies use kids to make chocolate.
“Well, let’s look it up.” And through the course of some investigation and research, we read through several sites and sat down and watched the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate.”
Among the many things that I learned with my kids, I learned this:
Teaching kids about modern day slavery through the lens of child labor and chocolate is powerful and appropriate.
Parenting doesn’t come with a manual on how to do most of the stuff that we are managing as parents in this day and age. I have scoured nonprofit pages, “expert” websites, and information on modern day slavery to find a way to talk about it with my kids. If you want to have a meaningful conversation about child labor in a way that your kids can understand it, talk about the chocolate industry.
Kids get kids. And, kids get chocolate.
When you talk about modern day slavery in that context, kids get it,
and they want to know how to take action.
Here are the resources we used for our conversations:
[I would preview it before watching it with your kids. It is around 45 minutes long. You can choose to watch the entire documentary with your kids or selections that you pick to show the parts that you want to talk about with your kids. Little Brother (7 years old), Big Brother (9 years old), and I watched it together and paused frequently to talk about what was going on in the situations.]
As you watch the video, think about the following questions. Many of these questions don’t have a “right” answer or quick answer. The questions are intended to spark discussion so that everyone pushes their own understanding and thinking about modern day slavery.
- Why would people use kids to make chocolate? (cheaper labor)
- Why would families let their children go off at such a young age? (entire communities are living in poverty and many families don’t realize the danger of what is happening when kids go with traffickers)
- If it is against the law to use child labor, why is it still happening?
- Why don’t the police stop them?
- Don’t adults know it is wrong to use kids like this? Why do they do this?
- Why doesn’t someone speak up and protect the kids?
- Why don’t laws against it work?
Slavery is against the law. But, still, it exists. Much of our discussions after watching the movie and reading other sources let to a discussion of economics, honesty, and business ethics.
Businesses exist to make a profit. One of the things that businesses do is try and decrease costs in making products or providing a service. A slave is not paid. That makes slavery a very tempting avenue to use as a way to increase profits.
“So, what we choose to buy can help end slavery?” asked Big Brother.
“Yes, it can,” I answered. Although it can sometimes be difficult to verify which business do and don’t use slave labor, we can be deliberate about the choices we make with our money. And, we can work to make choices that support businesses that do not use slave labor or use vendors that use slave labor (look a the “Helpful Resource” section below to find more info).
How Kids Can Help End Modern Day Slavery
The first thing that families experience when learning about the atrocities of modern day slavery: They want to help. They want to DO SOMETHING!
Before we jump into a project to “do something,” I encourage families to learn more. Give your kids a chance to learn as much about the situation before jumping into a project to try and do something. You ARE doing something as you become better informed. And, the better informed you are, the more meaningful the work you and your family will do to end modern day slavery.
With Your Kids
- Learn about slavery and the different types. (see posts below to help your kids learn about modern day slavery)
- Understand why slavery exists and how what is bought can increase or decrease the use of slave labor.
- Be a voice for the issue! Talk about modern day slavery with family and friends to spread awareness.
- Participate in #EndItMovement Day (happens every February)
- Find and help an organization working to end human trafficking and help those rescued (here is how we helped Free the Girls).
- Use the power of your money to support businesses dedicated to providing products and services without slave labor.
Many nonprofits will encourage you and your family to raise money for them to help them meet their mission. I think this is problematic if we are not careful. Our children are NOT funding streams. When working with my kids or working with other families, I deliberately structure acts of kindness and service projects to be learning opportunities. Learning opportunities where the kids learn about the person they are serving or the issue that they are trying to help solve.
Asking my first grader to grab his piggy bank to donate money or to hold a lemonade stand to raise money will not, by itself, develop empathy or understanding that drives problem-solving. Kids can help raise funds. But, let’s make sure that they are learning about the issue, about the people that they are helping, all along the way.
- International Labor Rights Forum: Cocoa Campaign
- CNN Freedom Project: Cocoa-nomics and Chocolate
- Chocolate and Child Slavery
- Is There Child Slavery in Your Chocolate?
- A mini-primer on modern day slavery: Inside the Injustices of Modern Day Slavery
Are you wondering what happened to that pink foiled chocolate rose that Little Brother so lovingly picked out for Mrs. Parker?
He never gave it to her. It still sits on our counter as he has been unable to verify that it was not made with child labor. Instead, for Teacher Appreciation Week, this week, he found a reputable chocolate company that could verify that the chocolate was not made with child labor.
He bought that bar of dark chocolate with almonds, wrapped it with care, and whispered to me as he left the car ready to go into school, “Mom, I am so glad that I got clean chocolate to give to her.”
On May 16, 2016, the documentary The Abolitionists will be open for one night. I will be there with friends to watch and learn more about human trafficking, the fastest growing crime in the world, and Operation Underground Railroad, an organization committed to rescuing children being used as sex slaves.
That’s right, modern day slavery is the FASTEST growing crime in the WORLD. Join in with others on that night.
How do you talk about modern day slavery with your family? Please share!
Stay tuned for the upcoming posts in the series listed below!
Series on Ending Modern Day Slavery: What Families Can Do
- Help End Modern Day Slavery: The Start
- Talking with Your Kids (even the young ones)
- Awareness and Prevention from Online to Real Life: Is Your Kid at Risk?
- What Kids Can Do to End Modern Day Slavery (You are here now)
- Kids Aren’t Funding Streams: How to Make Donations to Nonprofits Meaningful?
- Why Kindness Is a Power to End Human Trafficking