Alarmed by what she discovered about the way much of our chocolate is produced, Nicole Watt decided to teach her children about its connections to slavery


I handed the worn wooden spoon to the 10-year-old, like passing a baton to the next runner. His little brother looked on wide-eyed as he plunged it deep into the smooth, buttery mixture, swirling it around the curves of the bowl. Our favorite candy bars lay scattered across the kitchen table as part of our research into modern-day slavery in the chocolate industry. Their shiny wrappers remained unopened in favour of the baking chocolate we were using from Chocolate Tree in Scotland. Organic Scottish Craft Chocolate | Chocolate Tree (

The company is one of many on a worldwide list of ethical chocolatiers found on Slave Free Chocolate. It was a small step of solidarity, but hope felt palpable now that it had a scent, a texture. We had decided on our favorite treats and were learning to make them ourselves beginning with fudge. The boys were all in as we mixed and tasted, the bittersweet aroma of empowerment rising.

The history of slavery in the UK and USA was experiencing a resurgence in the news with national landmarks and statues of past leaders coming under scrutiny. Though I am a firm believer in historical empathy, the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of those who came before us so we can learn from the past, as well as orderly changes, I admit I was astonished at slavery’s insidious and far-reaching nature and understood some of the rising anger.

However, the focus on the past seemed to overshadow the scourge of slavery so rampant in many of today’s products: The cobalt in our phones and laptops. Everyday household items made by oppressed and imprisoned religious minorities. The diamonds in our jewellery and roses in our bouquets. The cocoa used by many major chocolatiers. As a follower of Christ, who came to set the captives free, it felt hypocritical to condemn slave owners of the past while benefiting from goods made with slave labour today.

Our boys had been learning about slavery in their homeschooling history class, so it seemed the right time to teach them about modern slavery, specifically, boys their age trapped in the cocoa plantations of West Africa. There are an estimated 1.5 million children between the ages of 5-15 working as slaves and poor laborers in hazardous circumstances to harvest cocoa, with little to no pay, under deplorable living conditions and rampant abuse. Cadbury faces fresh accusations of child labour on cocoa farms in Ghana | Child labour | The Guardian

Many big-name chocolate companies claim they are doing all they can to eradicate slavery in their supply chains, but that it is an impossible task. Anti-trafficking reports reveal a darker story of businesses, with billions in yearly profits, fighting against mandates to list slave labour on their packaging, hiring insufficient investigators to properly inspect cocoa farms, and enlisting top solicitors in defence against former slaves who press charges for wages. OPED: Chocolate industry still tied to child slave labor (

Meanwhile, year after year, the bondage grinds on.

I first became aware of slavery as a young girl when my parents were watching the mini-series Roots based on the book by Alex Haley. I walked into the T.V. room as a little boy was being threatened with a whip. The look on his poor trembling face, a child who could have been my friend, and the animalistic cruelty of an adult to a child, both appalled and terrified me. When I later learned that the Iron Master’s house at the lake we went to every summer in Pine Grove Furnace, Pennsylvania, USA, had been part of the Underground Railroad, a deep sense of justice and possibility began to take hold that I am now passing on to my children.

I do not want to paint the picture that we only eat ethically sourced chocolate or use slave-free products, but we’ve come a long way in discovering, limiting, and completely banning the obvious culprits. Chocolate is everywhere. It’s in our winter hot drinks, milkshakes, cakes at parties, and on the shelf of every shop within easy reach for our children’s Christmas stockings. It takes time and intention to source ethical chocolate. When I look at the faces of my dear children and ask myself “What if my boys were the ones trapped in slavery, abused, and neglected, working for nothing? Would a piece of chocolate be worth the price of their lives?”

No, it would not.

Introducing our children to slavery does not need to be a frightening experience like mine. We can invite them into the world of modern-day abolition by:

- Visiting websites like Slave Free Chocolate and Slavery Footprint where we can learn where our products are made.

- Write letters to chocolate companies asking them to be accountable for where they source their cocoa and let them know we will be buying ethical chocolate.

- Pray. God hears our prayers and “suffers the little children to come unto Him.” How sweet are the prayers of our children for freedom for all children?

- Make chocolate treats together to support companies that pay fair wages and work with smaller farms.

There is nothing sweet about mass-produced chocolate that robs the lives of children made in the image of God. In the words of O Holy Night by poet Placide Cappeau which became popular with abolitionists when translated to English in 1855, “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, And in his name all oppression shall cease.”culture