Published in Franklin Journal

I recently did a two and a half hour presentation on human trafficking. Usually, my presentations are shorter, but this was a special request. It’s an intense topic and quite involved. Both during and after, I appreciated the many questions and positive feedback. We have the power to stop it, but only if we know what it is.

Human trafficking is a form of slavery. Globally there are 29 million, of which 5.5 million are children. If one person is enslaved, it’s one too many.

January was National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, although creating awareness and education is an ongoing mission. It’s the perfect month to choose for highlighting this crime, at least if you live in New England where it is typically cold and with otherwise challenging weather conditions. Thinking of human trafficking chills me to the core, but I continue to be hopeful that together, we can end it. There are several organizations which train law enforcement, social service organizations and governmental departments, medical personnel, and school officials how to spot human trafficking and what to do after. One day I was doing a training and I thought about learning of the power consumers have to speak out on other social issues. How can they exert that power, if they don’t know what human trafficking is and where it can be found? I considered there are not that many traffickers compared to the rest of us. So that day I decided to move away from training and focus on educating people on human trafficking. What it is, where to find it, and how to help.

One of the first things you can do is pull up the website where you will find the US Department of Labor has listed goods produced by child labor or forced labor. There’s an app available, as well, called “Sweat & Toil”. This app helps you to review laws; a country’s efforts to eliminate child labor; child labor data; and helpful tips on ending child labor. On my website, I have a resource page listing websites of “slave free” products; and articles on human trafficking. has a quiz to take for you to discover how many slaves you own with your purchasing decisions and how to make changes.

You know I love chocolate and coffee. It is a rare occurrence for me to buy either chocolate or coffee which isn’t “Fairtrade” certified, or with some other indication it is slave-free.

Instead, I will do without. People say to me, “well, you can afford to buy Fairtrade.” I have to swallow hard when I hear this, because really, to save a child, wouldn’t you do without? There are times when I’m guilty of not noticing slavery attached to my purchase. For instance, I bought Nutella for a while. It’s high in sugar, low in nutrition, but a treat on toast or bananas. I stopped buying it, because of the high sugar content, but also because I learned the chocolate is produced with child labor in Africa. It’s hard and nearly impossible to be a perfect, socially alert, consumer. You can start with small changes. Choose a product you can live without and make a commitment to buying that product as a slave-free product. Chocolate and coffee are easy ones. It’s a great mission to take on as a family.

Valentine’s Day is in a couple of weeks. It’s a day heavily celebrated with chocolate. Chocolate is a $70 billion industry in the United States. Ivory Coast and West Africa is home to two-thirds of the world’s cacao beans (cocoa) from which chocolate is made.

A British organization called True Vision Entertainment first uncovered child labor in the chocolate industry and produced the documentary Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000). This documentary shows interviews with 19 children, recently released from slavery. They describe how they worked from dusk to dawn; beaten repeatedly; mutilated, locked in sheds at night; and given little food. Today, 2.3 million children work in the cocoa fields of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

One young boy in the documentary says of chocolate consumers, “They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard, but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh.” This is hard to imagine and often people don’t want to think of it, but when I buy chocolate, this is what I see. I see the child behind my purchase.

These words on packaging indicate slave free. Look for Fairtrade Certified; Rainforest Alliance; Fair for Life; Fair Trade Federation; Sustainably Sourced; Slave Free. It will cost you a little more for slave-free chocolate, but isn’t the value of a child worth it?