WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives here recently passed a bill that would allow "no child slave labor" labels on food containing cocoa or chocolate.
The bill -- currently pending Senate review -- is a response to allegations of children being tricked or sold into forced labor on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast, the source of half of U.S. imports of cocoa beans used for processing into chocolate.
Also, in a recent meeting, the International Cocoa Council adopted a resolution that urges its member nations to put a stop to any suspect child labor they uncover in agricultural working environments.
Cocoa is not the only commodity raising the bar on consumer conscience, and retailers are striving to meet these social scruples.
John Swann, purchasing director for Earth Fare, Asheville, N.C., has witnessed a steady demand for fair trade coffee, ensuring that farmers and producers get their fair share of revenues. While he was not aware of the cocoa situation at the time of SN's call, he suspects it could become something to watch for if it begins to make headlines.
"If it becomes a consumer issue, we would probably issue a statement of our position," he said. "Something to the effect of, whenever possible, we will support these initiatives. We try to be inclusive rather than exclusive in our wording so we don't box ourselves in."
Government officials, growers and trade groups view reports of slavery as exaggerated among the nation's 600,000 mostly small farms.