Serving Compassion, Not Chocolate
No chocolate will be served at the convention this year.
Though this may be shocking for some, the convention planners want you to know that they eliminated chocolate in the name of a powerful cause.
The absence of chocolate is part of a campaign by the Modern Slavery Task Force of Mennonite Church USA to raise consciousness at the convention. The chocolate industry is notorious for its participation in one of the largest modern slave trades today—labor trafficking. The taskforce hopes the removal of chocolate will promote conversation about corporate standards.
The statement against modern slavery adopted by Mennonite Church USA in 2009 describes labor trafficking as people “subjected to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.”
Labor trafficking lowers the price of the chocolate by unfairly reducing the cost of labor. Even though some companies, especially those certified by Fair Trade, guarantee ethical standards and environmental sustainability in the processing of the chocolate, their products are much more expensive than mainstream chocolate.
Serving Fair Trade chocolate at the convention would be prohibitively expensive. So convention planners simply eliminated chocolate from the menus.
Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of convention planning, put the no-chocolate plan into action soon after talking with Susan Mark Landis, of the Peace and Justice Support network. She spread the word about the no-chocolate decision to all the exhibitors to make sure they wouldn’t have chocolate at their booths. She also called the caterers and asked that the chocolate mousse dessert for Wednesday be replaced by another option.
“The caterer was very happy to work with us, given the rationale behind the request,” said Miller.
Beyond the convention, Mennonite Church USA is tackling the issue in different ways.
Chris Meyer, of MMA Praxis Mutual Funds, is part of an initiative to change Hershey Corporation’s policies on child labor. Hershey, like other chocolate companies, buys cocoa from huge chocolate confectioners, but they do not track the production of chocolate beyond that. It is in the production layers before the confectioners that the cocoa is tainted by modern slavery.
“The supply lines are very complex and we cannot trace them to specific farms,” said Meyer. “We encourage Hershey to establish clarity for where their cocoa comes from and to support practices that help raise the income of the farmers.”
Ultimately, the initiative wants to see Hershey succeed in the long run, but expects them to go child-labor-free and to do their own tracking of the cocoa. Meyer believes that the convention will add awareness to ways of holding corporations accountable.
“We hope to provide materials to both educate and raise awareness and offer some hands-on practical things for people to do to work on this issue,” Meyer said. “It’s likely impossible for us to avoid . . . because it is so prolific in our world, but we need to be proactive about addressing it.”
Education is the Modern Slavery Taskforce’s goal for convention. This goal is consistent with the modern slavery resolution presented by the directors of Mennonite Women USA at Columbus 2009. The resolution is a commitment to advocate for victims of modern slavery and to take personal responsibility as consumers.
The resolution is founded on core faith values, including the worth of all humans as created in God’s image, and the call to help the oppressed and to confront the violence in our world.
As part of this call, the Modern Slavery Taskforce is not only using the absence of chocolate as a symbol, but also providing information at seminars and an exhibit booth.
Two seminars at convention will focus on the issue: a youth seminar called “Clothing yourself with injustice” on Thursday at 3:30 and an adult seminar titled “Recognizing Slavery’s Influence” on Tuesday at 10:30. These seminars will address both labor and sexual slavery.
Conventiongoers who want more information can seek out the Modern Slavery booth in the exhibit hall. It is near the Peace and Justice Support Network booth and has signs declaring “Stop Modern Slavery—Start Here.”
“Education matters,” said Rhoda Keener, director of Mennonite Women USA. “We don’t have to have the answers to begin getting educated. We can take the first steps. And that’s the goal.”