Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet by Carol Off

Bitter ChocolateOpening Sentence:The broad highway leading out of the city of Abidjan is marked on the map of Cote d’Ivoire as a principal two-lane thoroughfare, but with the city behind us, it narrows quickly and degenerates into a potholed road no wider than a driveway.
Synopsis:For most of us, chocolate is an indulgence synonymous with pleasure, but behind the sweet image of the cocoa bean there is a long history of exploitation, greed and slavery.

In Bitter Chocolate, Carol Off traces the history of the cocoa craze from the eighteenth century onwards, through its evolution under such overseers as Hershey, Cadbury and Mars, and its connection to the violence of Cote d’Ivoire, the West African nation that produces almost half of the world’s cocoa beans. Groundbreaking and eye-opening, Bitter Chocolate is a social history, a passionate investigative account and a stirring expose of the inner workings of a multi-billion dollar industry that has institutionalised misery as it has served our pleasures.
Comments:Before reading this book, I had no idea my favourite sweet was ultimately produced using child slavery. I knew about people smuggling, of course, and the enslavement of children for use as whores and soldiers. I knew also that slaves were used in the production of most resources way back when. But modern slaves producing my chocolate? I’d never heard of such a thing. Surely the UN, useless though it is, would be outraged by such a practice? Surely international child welfare groups would be jumping up and down? I knew Big Business wouldn’t give a toss, but what is the point of all these committees and organisations if such issues are not made a part of general public awareness, let alone acted upon?

This expose is extremely well written. It is a chronological history of cocoa production from the time of the Olmec Empire to today’s Big Chocolate that will have you shaking with outrage by the time you finish. That such practices could go unremarked in today’s society is an indictment on us all and I am disgusted and ashamed that I could have received pleasure from the blood, sweat and tears of these children.

For those who, like me, cannot knowingly buy a product produced by child-slaves, there is hope at hand. There are some companies committed to producing ethical chocolate. Stop Chocolate Slavery ( is a website that contains information about Fair Trade chocolate, organic chocolate, or chocolate otherwise believed to be slavery-free. The higher shelf price on these chocolates is a small price to pay to ensure that farmers are treated fairly and slaves are not used in the production of what is, ultimately, a luxury item.


Categories: Impressions

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