Valentine chocolate has activists' blood boiling

Wed Feb 9, 2011 2:33pm EST
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By Ed Stoddard and Martinne Geller

DALLAS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Valentine chocolates may become the new blood diamonds.

As chocolatiers plan for one of their biggest sales weeks of the year, human rights activists are stepping up efforts to make consumers think twice before purchasing the traditional box of chocolates for their sweethearts for Valentine's Day on Monday.

One online campaign is aimed at raising awareness of the cocoa trade in Ivory Coast, which is helping to prop up the pariah regime of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, while another focuses on ending the alleged use of child labor by growers in West Africa, which produces about two-thirds of the world's cocoa.

The push to expose the unsavory side of chocolate follows a tradition of activism to focus attention on the grim consequences of producing foodstuffs and other raw materials, dating back to England's anti-slavery sugar boycotts of the late 18th century.

The latest campaigns bring to mind those against so-called "blood diamonds," once seen as fueling conflicts in Angola and Sierra Leone, or "sweatshop" factory conditions in China, driven by a hunger for cheap consumer goods.


Such efforts aim to put corporate practices in an unflattering light and create a public relations backlash for big chocolate makers such as Hershey Co. Still, experts say it is hard to make people stop buying things they love, even if they understand how they may be indirectly supporting human rights and labor abuses.

"The rational answer is always going to be 'This is not a good thing'," said Robert Passikoff, president of consulting firm Brand Keys. "Unfortunately, the decision process is not only rational. Most of the time, it's more emotional."   Continued...

<p>A vendor in a chocolate shop holds up Belgian praline boxes made for Valentine's Day in Brussels February 13, 2007. REUTERS/Yves Herman</p>