Last night Steve McQueen emotionally accepted an Academy Award for his film 12 Years a Slave, saying, "I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today."
Indeed, a recent study shows that there are actually more than 30 million slaves in the world today, 60,000 of whom are in the U.S. India tops the list for percentage of population enslaved but there are many countries -- China, Russia, and many African nations -- in which slavery predominates.
What can an ordinary person do about this? Not much as regards the world problem, except perhaps for avoiding the demi-monde of prostitution -- since human trafficking is one of the main forms of slavery in the U.S.
But there is one thing that the ordinary citizen can do. The majority of the chocolate in the world is produced by children in forced labor, many of whom are by any standards slaves. This chocolate mainly comes from the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which produces the bulk of the world's supply.
While it is difficult to know which chocolate is produced by the slave system, one thing is clear: If you buy organic Fair Trade products, you will most probably be boycotting slave chocolate. If you can check the origin of the chocolate, anything from Latin America and South America should also be slavery-free.
If just go ahead and buy chocolate from any major corporation (or eat chocolate ice cream, cookies or candies by them) the chances are excellent that you are supporting the very child slave labor you condemn as you watch Hollywood films about slavery in the South. While we join Steve McQueen in his denunciation of contemporary slavery, we still manage to delectate a Hershey or Cadbury bar or savor an Edy's ice cream or a Dove bar without a second thought.
Perhaps, in addition to condemning slavery in some detached way, we should remember the moving words of Drissa, a slave boy who managed to escape from a chocolate plantation in East Africa that had whipped and abused him; he told the world "When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh." Let us remember his words and take action. You can find a list of chocolate companies to patronize and others to boycott by clicking here.