Let me first say that I love Clif Bar. I used to, at least. When on location for shooting the film "5 Days of War" in rural parts of the Republic of Georgia, I was practically sustained by Clif Bars.
I was therefore stunned to learn that for more than three years, Bay Area-based Food Empowerment Project has waged a campaign against the company.
Despite highlighting social responsibility as its key core value, Clif Bar has steadfastly refused to disclose the origins of the cocoa used in its nutrition and energy bars.
At issue? The fact that more than 70% of the world's cocoa comes from Western Africa, where investigations have exposed widespread use of child slave labor. On African cocoa farms, children are frequently forced to work from 6:00 AM until the evening. They're made to live in windowless sheds and subjected to beatings and whippings for working slowly or attempting to escape.
As the Food Empowerment Project notes in its excellent, in-depth report on the issue, children are often sold into slavery by their families or traffickers:
"Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and traffickers tell them that the job pays well. Other children are 'sold' to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives, who are unaware of the dangerous work environment and the lack of any provisions for an education. Often, traffickers abduct the young children from small villages in neighboring African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, two of the poorest countries in the world. Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever."
International efforts to curb slavery in the industry have failed, as CNN reported in 2012. One reason is that not a single one of the major chocolate companies CNN sought for comment would engage on the issue.
Clif Bar may not be alone in its silence, but as a prominent socially responsible company, it has both the unique power and responsibility to address the issue -- especially since the company's own Code of Conduct states unequivocally: "Clif Bar does not condone the hiring of child labor under any circumstances."
Almost 30,000 people have signed the Care2 petition seeking Clif Bar to disclose the origins of its cocoa and to take appropriate action. You can sign the petition here.
Food Empowerment Project also maintains a list of companies whose chocolate can be verified to be ethically sourced. You can find it here.
For additional ways to help end child slavery in the chocolate industry, also visit Anti-Slavery International's campaign focusing on cocoa traders.
Follow Mikko Alanne on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MikkoAlanne