This is empowerment: day 1 with Krochet Kids Peru

I am spending this week in Lima, Peru with my friends Sarah, Heather, and Rebecca. We are visiting with my friends The Goodfellows, who run the Peru arm of Krochet Kids, an organization that provides training, employment, childcare, and mentorship for impoverished women. I’ve written about Krochet Kids before. I love their model of empowerment and I’m thrilled to be here again with some other bloggers in the hopes that we can expand the reach of Krochet Kids’ mission. Photo Feb 15, 10 37 12 AM Yesterday was Sunday and we spent the day getting to know some of the women in the program. We want to get a sense of their lives outside of work. We each paired off with a woman from the program who had made some Krochet Kids items we had been sent. I was paired with Beatrize, who has a spunky 3-year-old son named Paul. IMG_8468 Beatrize rents a room that has been built on the roof of a large building in the Chorillos area of Lima. It is the southernmost region of  Lima, an impoverished region where many people live in shanties they have constructed on squatted land. With the help of her income from Krochet KIds, Beatrize is able to afford a modest home with running water, plumbing, and electricity. IMG_8338  IMG_8343   We visited with Beatrize for a bit and then took a trip to the market for lunch supplies. Very few people have refrigeration so going to the market for fresh food is a part of food prep. Photo Feb 15, 12 32 45 PM  We took a combi to the market, which involves about 20 people being smooshed into a public van that runs with the doors open. It was hard to snap a picture because it was so crowded. You can see that Blake got a little cozy. IMG_8364 The local market is full of fresh meats and produce.  There are very few convenience foods – the “slow eating” whole foods eating trend is a way of life here. IMG_8365  IMG_8367 Photo Feb 15, 12 49 04 PM  IMG_8370 IMG_8383 IMG_8385  After procuring the ingredients we went back to Beatrize’s house to cook. There is a communal sink on the roof – a bonus for Beatrize since it’s on the same floor as her home. The sink serves as a place for washing, food prep, and laundry. Photo Feb 15, 1 35 57 PM  It was really a treat to watch Beatrize and her friends cook. We help with shucking corn and peeling potatoes, but we were clearly out of our elements as they marinated the meat with herbs and spices. IMG_8432  Photo Feb 15, 2 25 44 PM   It was truly delicious. We had a popular Peruvian dish called bisteck. Photo Feb 15, 3 15 53 PM After eating, we chatted for quite a while about their lives. Beatrize and her friend Lesly are part of the program, and we were joined by their mentor, who acts as a social worker to the women in the program. They both recounted learning about Krochet Kids and wanting to work with them. Lesly was so determined that she walked by the headquarters almost every day until she got to know someone in the program who eventually recommended her. She said that when she told her boyfriend about the new job, he was scared that it was too good to be true and that it was going to turn out to be something insidious. But indeed, it turned out to be exactly what she had hoped, and she loves being a part of it. IMG_8459 Both women were in pretty desperate situations prior to working with Krochet Kids, because they both have small children. Beatrize said she prayed every day for God to reveal a job opportunity to her, but she couldn’t figure out how to manage it and raise her child. The fact that Krochet Kids offers childcare makes all the difference in the world to these women, who get to work in a supportive environment while their kids are well cared for. Tomorrow I will write more about our visit to Beatrize and Lesly’s workplace, and about the childcare center. I will also share more about the unique empowerment model of Krochet Kids and how they are setting up the women in their program to develop their own business and their own savings plan. To learn more about Krochet Kids, and to see the awesome apparel and accessories they offer, check them out here. You can also follow our trip on instagram with the hashtag #knowwhomadeit. photos by Joy JeongKrochet Kids intl. #knowwhomadeit

The inconvenient truth about your Halloween chocolate and forced child labor

Three years I wrote a ridiculous post about deciding on a new place to buy my coffee . . . a place where the prices were really low because the store relied on children to work for little money.  My intention was to point out how selfish it sounds for someone to willingly turn a blind eye to social injustices just because we want to pay less for something we like, and how shallow our justifications sound.  I used coffee as an example because it’s one of those indulgences that people claim they can’t live without.  Shortly after, I wrote a post detailing the human rights abuses involved in the manufacturing of most of the commercial Halloween candy we purchase this time of year. I’m posting again, because I think it’s an important message. If you read this previously, scroll down to the bottom for an update on Hershey’s and Nestle. And please consider sharing this so others can know the truth.  I’ve included a comprehensive guide to buying ethical Halloween treats here.
The picture below is a photo of a young child gathering pods to harvest cocoa beans.  There are hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa who do this work.  Young children. Children who should be attending school and having a childhood. And they are working for most of the mainstream chocolate providers in the USA.    A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions.  Some of them have been taken from their families, or sold as servants.  U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don’t own them.  This includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the US division of Cadbury . . . who collectively represent pretty much every snack-size candy bar that will be available in stores this Halloween. 

Did your child's Halloween chocolate come at the expense of another child?

The connection between most major candy bar manufacturers and child slavery is one of the world’s best kept secrets. The US government is currently being sued by the International Labor Rights Fund for failing to enforce laws prohibiting the import of products made with child labor, and the chocolate industry has failed to meet numerous deadlines set by Congress for regulating.  A few major chocolate companies have done a great job in the last year with some smoke-and-mirror campaigns . . . either offering an obscure fair-trade chocolate bar or making a show of giving to charities that support farmers. But these actions do not change the fact that they don’t want to take the necessary steps to avoid the human rights abuse of children.   But honestly, what concerns me even more is that we, as consumers, are not demanding that this be stopped.  People continue to buy chocolate even after learning about the harm to children in Africa.  I’ve heard excuses from people in my own life that sound pretty similar to the ones I made in the coffee post.  We rationalize that we can’t afford fair-trade.  We joke about how addicted we are.  We justify that we can’t change everything.  And I think secretly, we don’t relate because these are kids in a far-off country, and not our own.  It’s okay as long as we don’t have to see it happening right in front of us. Did you know thousands of children are trafficked each year to farm cocoa for American chocolate companies?
Well, I’m here to ruin it for you.  Now you know.  We can’t keep looking away.  If we choose willful ignorance on this one, then we are no better than the people who are directly forcing children to work.  I’ve embedded a BBC documentary about this issue below.   Even the first ten-minute segment is eye-opening, but the whole thing will wreck you . . . and you will be better for it.  Bookmark this and watch it later.  Watch it with your kids.  Jafta saw this last year and despite his love of chocolate, he is the most fervent fair trade advocate I know after seeing this.  Share it with your friends.  Blog about it.  We’re breaking up with commercial chocolate, or buying fair trade. I hope you will, too.



In November of 2011, the Louisiana Municipal Police Employee’s Retirement System, a public pension fund with holdings in Hershey Co., filed a lawsuit against Hershey’s. The suit claims that Hershey’s board knew for as many as 11 years that its cocoa came from West African suppliers that used child slave labor to harvest crops. The fund accuses Hershey of ignoring domestic and foreign human trafficking laws. Whole Foods Markets announced it will stop selling Hershey’s high-end Scharffen Berger brand chocolate products over the issue of child labor. On January 31st 2012, in what was likely a response to the growing bad press about child labor practices, Hershey’s made an announcement regarding child labor in their supply line. You can read the entire statement here. In March of 2014, a Louisiana pension fund raised questions about Hershey executives’ knowledge of how much of the company’s cocoa, grown in West Africa, may have been produced by child slaves. The suit said Hershey officials refused to ensure all its West African cocoa suppliers honored international child-labor restrictions and said some retailers have voiced concerns over the company’s “failure to remedy child labor problems in the supply chain.” Again, it’s great that Hershey’s is creating a fair-trade line, but why not apply this standard to all of their products?  Fair trade shouldn’t be a specialty item, and many international rights groups are still skeptical. You can read more about that here. Now let’s look at the strides Nestle has made:
Nestle announced they were submitting to a study by the Fair Labor Association to determine if child labor actually did exist in their supply chain. This was a bit of a PR move since Nestle signed the Harkin Engel Protocol and vowed to remedy the child labor issues in their company over ten years ago. Very little effort was made by the companies involved which resulted in only about 5% improvement over the last 10 years. So I’m slightly unimpressed that they are now making a public show of “getting to the bottom of this”, but again – it’s a step. The findings of the Fair Labor Association?  There is indeed child labor in the Nestle supply chain. Reuters reported: “Child labour is still widespread on Ivory Coast cocoa farms supplying Nestle, an investigation by a workers’ rights group has found, prompting the world’s biggest food group to pledge a redoubling of efforts to stamp out the practice.”  Nestle has made several public statements about their commitment to stopping this and their strategies include producing an illustrated guide to the supplier code and educating their farmers not to employ children. Still, Nestle is not willing to submit to fair trade certification, which would be the best way to insure compliance. The International Labor Rights Fund names Nestle as one of the top 14 companies behind the worst labor abuses. This year, CNN returned to the Ivory Coast and did another documentary. It revealed that while child labor is still not hard to find, there has been some slow progress. Cocoa-nomics: A CNN Freedom Project documentary from Matthew Percival on Vimeo. The bottom line is this: profit margins are likely going to take a dip if these companies really step it up, and it’s likely that chocolate prices will go up, too. But I think that we, as a society, need to be willing to see this through, even if it costs us something. Because no bar of chocolate is worth robbing a child of their education and childhood.
Buy fair trade. Don't support child labor for cheaper chocolate this Halloween. Or ever.
If you are motivated to make your Halloween purchases more ethical check out this comprehensive guide to buying ethical Halloween treats.

Best fair-trade chocolate bars

We made the switch to fair-trade chocolate a few years ago, and in that time I’ve done my civic duty sampling a variety of chocolate to figure out what tastes best. It’s the least I could do. Anyway, I’m hear to report a few of my favorites, in case you are looking for a mother’s day gift (or a stash of chocolate to eat yourself.) A few folks had asked about the bars in my kids’ Easter Basket . . . they were the salted almond chocolate bars from Theo. I order most of my chocolate from Amazon (because I order just about everything from Amazon) but many of these can be found in regular grocery store (and certainly at Whole Foods.) Best fair-trade chocolate bars 1. Divine White Chocolate with Strawberries – This one is very light and sweet, with a great strawberry kick. My kids really like this as well. 2. Alter Eco Velvet Truffles – These are very similar to Lindt truffles. A good cross-over if you are getting your palate used to the stronger flavors inherent in most fair trade chocolate. 3. Divine Dark Chocolate with Raspberries – You had me at dark chocolate with raspberries. 4. Pink Himalayan Salt Caramel Bar – Gooey caramel and crunchy salt. SOOO messy. So good. My kids love this one as well. 5. Taza Mexican Sampler – Taza chocolate has a really unique flavor. It’s less processed so it has some grit to it. I love it. Not everyone does. But this sampler has really fun flavors like salted almond, chipotle chili, and salt and pepper (my favorite.) 6. Green & Black’s Spiced Chili – This bar is really unique. It’s spicy . . . it’s got a little kick to it, but also a strong flavor of anise seed. If anise seed isn’t your thing, skip this one. It is very much my thing. And this paired with red wine? So good. A few bites go a long way. 7. Organic Bug Bites – If you are looking for little treats for the kids, these are great, and the milk chocolate flavor is nice and mellow. 8. Green & Black’s Maya Gold – This dark chocolate bar is flavored with orange, nutmeg, and cinnamon. 9. Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar – I love/hate this one. The bacon and chocolate combo is so good, but the little bacon pieces kind of get in my teeth. Jafta love/loves this one.  Full disclosure – fair trade chocolate is quite a bit more expensive than conventional chocolate (which is kind of the point, since the worker are earning a fair wage from your purchase dollars.) But for me, this is mitigated by the fact that the flavors are so much stronger. I don’t eat through a bar in one sitting. Usually a square or two will suffice. This is chocolate to be savored, not chomped. Kind of like a glass of wine vs. a solo cup of jungle juice. Now, when I eat regular chocolate, it tastes sickly sweet and plasticy . . . like the actual chocolate is missing. It’s an acquired taste and an investment, but we enjoy treating ourselves with the occasional bar that usually lasts the whole week.