"So tell me," an old school friend asked, "if the demand for chocolate is so high, why are cocoa farmers so poor?"
We were sitting in the local pub, just days after I returned from a trip to the Ivory Coast, filming a CNN documentary about child labor and poverty in the chocolate industry.
Two years after CNN's Freedom Project exposed Chocolate's Child Slaves, it was time to return to the cocoa plantations to unwrap the chocolate supply chain, to investigate what progress has been made to stop child labor and to explore how farmers can get more money for their beans.
Chocolate is the "food of the gods,” a sweet treat for many across the world, and a booming industry worth an estimated $110 billion a year. But as we unwrap a favorite bar or tuck into a truffle, how many of us take the time to think about where it came from, and who helped in its transformation from the humble cocoa bean?
More from CNN's Inside Africa
Editor's Note: Anti-trafficking expert Siddharth Kara is the author of “Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia,” providing the first comprehensive overview of bonded labor in South Asia.
In the third chapter of my new book on bonded labour, I explore the shrimp industry of Bangladesh. Chingri (shrimp) harvesting provides a highly illustrative case study of the very powerful ways in which environmental change can directly contribute to human trafficking, debt bondage, and forced labor exploitation, especially in the far reaches of the developing world.
To research the shrimp industry of Bangladesh requires a journey to the cyclone-wracked southwestern reaches of the country.
Here, one finds four stages to Bangladesh’s shrimp industry supply chain: 1 shrimp fry (baby shrimp) collection, shrimp farming, the distribution to processors, and shrimp processing. Each one of these stages is tainted by some form of severe labor exploitation.
Barefoot and covered in dirt and sweat, 14-year-old Dante Campilan pulls weeds from orderly rows of sugar cane.
Wearing an oversized red cap to protect him from the scorching Philippine sun, Dante is doing work that should be reserved for men, not children.
Earning 150 pesos ($3.50) for a seven-hour day, Dante has been a child laborer in the Philippine region of Mindanao since he was seven years old. He says he does it to help his parents, but he is just one of many children who are part of an illegal economic system of child labor.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates 2.4 million child workers are in the Philippines. Many of them, according to the ILO, are in rural areas working in fields and mines. The organization estimates 60% work in hazardous conditions.
Read the full story: "Life not sweet for Philippines' sugar cane child workers"
Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs, writers and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian, living history interpreter and Jewish educator from the Washington D.C. area. He blogs at Afroculinaria.com and thecookinggene.com. As the originator of the Cooking Gene Project, he seeks to trace his ancestry through food.
Edward Booker, Hattie Bellamy and Washington Twitty didn’t know what an organic farm was, but nearly everything they ate was organic. They enjoyed wild caught, sustainable fish; they were no strangers to free range chickens, and they ate with the seasons with almost nothing originating more than a mile or two away from their cabin door. They had gardens, composted, and ate no processed foods. Their food was fairly simple, often meatless; and it was a fusion cuisine, with ingredients drawn from five continents.
They were not culinary revolutionaries living out of the foodie playbook - they were three enslaved individuals living among the over 4 million held in bondage before the Civil War, and they were my ancestors.
In the upcoming months I will return to the fields, forests and waterways of the Old South in search of my culinary version of Roots, tracing my family tree through food from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom. The project is called The Cooking Gene: Southern Discomfort Tour.
Chocolate is one of life's greatest pleasures, but for the children working in slavery conditions in cacao fields across West Africa's Ivory Coast, the reality behind it is anything but sweet.
Some 70 to 75 percent of the world's cocoa beans are grown on small farms in West Africa, including the Ivory Coast, according to the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative. The CNN Freedom Project reports that in the Ivory Coast alone, there are an estimated 200,000 children working the fields, many against their will, to satisfy the world's hunger for chocolate.
The average American eats around 11 pounds of chocolate each year, and the weeks leading up to Easter show the second biggest United States sales spike of the year next to Halloween - 71 million pounds according to a 2009 Neilsen report. A recent press release from Kraft claims that worldwide, more consumers purchase chocolate during Easter than any other season.
So how does a chocolate lover ensure that the treats filling their family's Easter baskets are not supporting a life of slavery for a child half a world away?
Tens of thousands of children toil in cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast, some against their will, to create the chocolate bars that many of us enjoy.
In a CNN Freedom Project investigation, David McKenzie traveled to the West African country and discovered that despite promises the global chocolate industry made a decade ago to end forced labor, there are still child slaves harvesting cocoa, even though some have never tasted chocolate and some don't even know what the word "chocolate" means.
It can be hard to find ethically produced cocoa, but the "fair trade" designation helps ensures that farmers receive a fair price and prohibits the use of slave and child labor.
We invite you to create a dish using fair trade chocolate, with bonus points to those who make a delicacy that’s special to their country or region.
In search of a sweeter solution for your Valentine's Day chocolate? 18-year-old Zoë S. Taylor shares the story of Atlanta confection shop Sugar-Coated Radical, which according to their website, uses only direct and fair trade-organic-post-consumer recycled and locally sourced materials.
Taylor says, "I was attracted to the uniqueness of the shop, the friendly atmosphere, the beauty of the chocolates (when I first saw the chocolates, I immediately imagined all the images I could capture) and most importantly their ethical views."