Sunday, April 21, 2024

Taza Chocolate, based in Somerville, is a fair-trade company, as urged by groups worried about child labor in West Africa. (Photo: Emilie Hardman)

Heading into the Passover holiday, a celebration of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery thousands of years ago, Jewish groups are warning of a very modern and mostly hidden concern: Enjoying mints and chocolate-covered matzo as part of the seder ritual might be perpetuating forced labor.

“Hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa, often enslaved and trafficked, work hard to bring us our favorite chocolate treats. They spend long hours, working in hazardous conditions, not going to school and losing their childhoods,” said Darya Mattes, of the Boston-based Boston Workmen’s Circle, a group of secular, progressive Jews committed to social justice in the Middle East and for immigrants and sweatshop workers, among other things.

Locals have less reason to fear this than many, as one solution suggested by groups such as Fair Trade Judaica is to choose chocolate that supports farmers, is grown sustainably and is guaranteed free from child labor — all accomplished by choosing gourmet, kosher Taza Chocolate, which is based in Somerville and widely available.

Fair Trade Judaica and other groups plan to explore chocolate’s sweet and bitter sides, just in time for the weeklong Passover holiday starting April 19, at a “Bean of Affliction: Chocolate, Child Labor and Choosing Fair Trade” event planned for 6 to 8 p.m. April 10 at Cambridge’s Congregation Etz Chayim. Sending an RSVP by Thursday ensures access to the event, where organizers plan:

  • A showing of the brief documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” by journalist Miki Mistrati.
  • Participation in a fair-trade, kosher chocolate tasting.
  • A drawing with a set of fair-trade chocolate bars as the prize.
  • Discussion of the connections between Passover and fair trade and resources for seders.
  • Education about local and national groups working toward fair food and just trade.

Congregation Etz Chayim is at 136 Magazine St., Cambridge. Some street parking is available. The closest T stop, which is unfortunately none too close, is Central Square.