Volume 75, Number 9 | July 20- 26, 2005

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Ilene Richman suggested that Stella, from Brooklyn, sample a piece of milk chocolate outside the Loew’s Theater on E. 11th St., while also informing her and her dad about child labor and the production of cocoa beans.

The dark story behind ‘Wonka;’ child labor and the cocoa industry

By Jefferson Siegel

On Fri., July 15, the remake of “Willie Wonka” opened in theaters around town. “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” was the perfect opportunity for East Village activist Ilene Richman to call attention to the plight of child labor.

Some have described the new movie as dark, but so is the story of how chocolate is made, according to Richman.

Standing in front of the Loew’s Theater on Third Ave. and 11th St., Richman offered passersby free chocolate. Thinking it was a product tie-in with the movie, many stopped to partake of the free samples. Anyone who stopped heard Richman expound on the misery of children in the Ivory Coast, where chocolate is grown, who are forced into child labor to pick the cocoa beans.

“Child slave labor in chocolate isn’t magical,” Richman said, as people chose pieces of chocolate. “People have no idea what goes into their chocolate and coffee.” Richman said a law, passed over four years ago, was designed to set minimum standards for ending child labor within those four years. The deadline has passed, she added, but little has changed.

She used the movie’s opening to call attention to the Nestle company, which makes a candy confection called the Wonka Bar. As people reached for a piece, Richman also proffered a postcard addressed to Nestle’s C.E.O., asking him to use “fair trade” chocolate in the manufacture of the Nestle Wonka Bar. The pieces of free chocolate she offered were “fair trade” chocolate, picked under humane conditions and sold by the Boston company Equal Exchange.

Almost everyone who heard her pitch admitted they were unaware of the situation and most willingly accepted the postcards, promising to sign, stamp and mail them.

Richman’s previous activities include last summer’s campaign in Tompkins Square Park to urge people to use their free weekend cell phone minutes to call voters in swing states and inform them of the issues in the presidential campaign. “Until my literature and my chocolate runs out, I’ll be out here,” she said, as a family pushing a stroller slowed for a free sample and an education.

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