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Do You Know Where Those Valentine's Chocolates Came From?

What is it about chocolate that says 'love' on Valentine's Day?

The first year I was married, I remember an almost overwhelming instinct to concoct homemade truffles for my husband on Valentine's. They ended up looking something like the pebbles you'd find on a beach. Yet the mere fact that melted chocolate and high-end cocoa had gone into their fashioning seemed to make up for a variety of shortcomings. Once I actually explained what they were, my husband's face lit up and he took me in his arms. True love had been clearly conveyed.

Once we had children, I discovered dozens of other ways to show chocolately love on Valentine's. Heart-shaped boxes, figurines shaped like their favorite cartoon characters - the drug store shelves were packed!

A very different Valentine's

But this year, my Valentine's gifts will be quite a bit different. I'm giving simple bars of chocolate, each tied with a red ribbon. And it's not just about having a tighter budget than before, or less time to immerse myself in a kitchen full of truffle ingredients. And it's not that I love anyone any less.

I want to show more love this Valentine's Day, not just for my kids and husband, but for children and parents around the world whom I've never even met.

Working at World Vision, I've recently learned that 95 per cent of chocolate sold around the world is not certified to be free from thee worst kinds of child labour. To support the world's chocolate habit (Canadians consume an average of almost 4 kg per person every year) children work long hours in the extreme heat, using dangerous pesticides and heavy machetes. I recently watched a BBC documentary showing the conditions, and cringed every time I saw these children swinging tools sharp enough to hack off one of their bare feet.

Ironic...and pretty sick

To make matters more painful, the BBC reporter interviewed mothers in a West African village whose children had been abducted to work on cocoa plantations. Forcing children to work long days for free helps keep the cost of harvesting cocoa beans down, making chocolate nice and affordable in places like Canada.

Okay, wait a minute. So a mom on the other side of the world might be heartbroken over losing a child she adores, and a child might be heartbroken about losing both his family and his childhood, so I can give my own kids heart-shaped chocolates this Valentine's Day. Not just ironic, but for me, pretty darn sick. And nothing whatsoever to do with love.

That's why I'm buying fair trade bars for everyone this year, and will give them tied up with a simple red ribbon. I'll take a moment to explain to my husband and kids about how buying fair trade chocolate is a way of loving not just one another. We'll be showing love for other kids and parents who will also wake up and go about their days this February 14.

You won't be acting alone

In supporting fair trade, we help make it economically viable for companies to pay parents fairly for their work on cocoa plantations, so children don't have to work to help put food on the table. We help create the regulations which ensure that children aren't kidnapped and forced to work for free. And we're not doing it alone. The global cocoa industry is well aware of what's happening, and some of the largest chocolate manufacturers, such as Mars, Nestle, Ferrero and Lindt, have already committed to sourcing only ethical, child-labour free chocolate by the year 2020.

If you're not prepared to give up the hearts and cupids, growing interest in fair trade chocolate means more and more specialty shops are coming up with Valentine's treats that are both artistic and socially responsible. And you can also bake with fair trade chocolate - even make truffles, or so I'm told! You can learn all of this and more through World Vision's online Good Chocolate Guide. Have a peek before you do your Valentine's shopping. And know that you'll be showing more love this Valentine's Day.

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