Chocolate, Human Trafficking and the Red Light Run


“The point isn’t chocolate. It’s human trafficking.”

By Danielle Strickland | Twitter: @djstrickland

My friends recently ran from the red light district in Amsterdam to the red light district in London (five marathons) in an effort to raise awareness and funds to stop human trafficking.

There’s some video footage of Duncan (the runner) speaking about how rough the day has been on their bodies (especially their knees) and as he staggers his words between breaths, you feel a bit sorry for the guy. But then he says he remembers a conversation he had with a trafficking victim in Amsterdam the day before the race–and he realizes that his hell will end, but hers won’t. As he feels his pain, he remembers hers and he runs for her freedom. Nice.

The campaign Duncan runs with is one I’m a part of. Stop The Traffik is a global campaign that seeks to mobilize everyday people to do something to stop the fastest growing crime on the planet.

When I first heard about human trafficking I found it difficult to believe. And I was not what you would call naïve about the human condition. I was living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver just as Robert Picton was finally picked up for his non-stop bloodbath, murdering prostituted women who the police obviously didn’t care much about. The worst serial killer in Canada’s history finally locked up. Yet, even with him off the streets the deep darkness of Vancouver’s underbelly was evident to all.

As soon as I found out that people were kidnapped and persuaded and tricked and transported into slavery and exploitation, I remember feeling something. It was like being sick, but also came with some adrenaline. Frederick Buechner says: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And with the bad news came this feeling that I was called to do something about it.

I know I’m not alone.

Stop the Traffik

When Stop The Traffik started, it was meant to last one summer and feature a mobilization campaign around “Amazing Grace,” the film about William Wilberforce. But the response was so overwhelming (1.6 million signatures collected over a summer) that it now continues, connected to the UN Gift and mobilizing communities and people in over 80 countries worldwide. It’s quite remarkable.

I headed up the campaign in Australia while I lived there for three years and what we were able to accomplish with a committed group of mobilized, regular people was extraordinary.

Fondue anyone?

We found out that 48% of our Cocoa beans are harvested in the Ivory Coast of Africa where child trafficking and slavery accounts for at least half of cocoa production. The chocolate industry admits to at least 20,000 child slaves working on plantations picking the beans that make your chocolate sweet. The UN suggests it’s more likely 200,000. Either way. It really makes chocolate bittersweet.

About 500 people were at a conference when we all found out together. We were stunned and a bit embarrassed as we cancelled the chocolate fondue we had organized for after that night’s meeting! We sat down and had a quick brainstorm and then started a chocolate campaign to challenge the industry about slavery. Postcards were sent, phoning blitzes organized, protests, school fairtrade chocolate fondue parties ensued, twelve year old kids demanded their family switch to fairtrade chocolate or do without–it was madness. Sweet, beautiful madness as people–normal people, small people, fat people, old and young people began to do something–about injustice. It really was beautiful. We marched, prayed, fasted, talked, danced, sang and ran … phew! 

Less than two years after our first postcard campaign Cadbury’s announced that their Dairy Milk bar was going “fair trade” to ensure there was no slavery involved in the supply chain. Mars was next–and soon our “March on Mars” campaign resulted in changes, promises and extra-urgent board meetings for the MARS company. Now, it’s Nestle’s turn … and you can be sure they are gearing up to lose a fight graciously. The momentum is turning the chocolate industry much sweeter these days–but don’t be fooled into thinking it would have happened anyway. It is only happening because people began to care and then began to do something different.

The point isn’t chocolate. It’s human trafficking. It’s that all of us are implicated in the reality of today’s terrible evil of slavery in the world. We are all involved one way or another and if we are honest enough and brave enough and ready enough we will hear the good news hidden inside the bad. Almost a million people are trafficked into slavery every year. It’s not ok. But nothing will change until we do.

Freedom Relay Canada

This fall Freedom Relay Canada will be launched in communities across Canada. Teams will run 100km in the belief that doing something will matter. And as they run, walk, or bike they will feel some discomfort and every pain will help them awaken to the reality of human trafficking in our world today. What else will wake us up? When will we stand up and do something? When will we understand the power of our own voices and bodies and buying power? When will we move from awareness to action? I think the time is now.

Why not let the change start in you and work its way around the earth?

About Danielle
Danielle serves Jesus as the Corps Officer of Crossroads Community in Edmonton, Canada. Her passion is social justice, including establishing human trafficking response teams in local situations and giving leadership to the global team for the Stop The Traffik campaign. Danielle speaks and teaches around the world and has written several books: Just Imagine: the social justice agenda, Challenging Evil, and newly released this year, The Liberating Truth: How Jesus Empowers Women. Danielle is married and has two sons.