Justice is changing.
As the millennial generation begins to out number the baby boomers, styles of economic and social justice movements have begun to shift online.
In an incredible case of fan activism, Harry Potter fans took to the Internet through the Harry Potter Alliance when they heard Warner Bros. was selling chocolate harvested by child slaves. By petitioning Warner Bros. to use fair trade cocoa for all their Harry Potter chocolate products, they were able to bring attention and change to the issue. In an effort that took over four years and 4,000 signatures, Warner Bros. finally announced that by the end of 2015 they will only use fair trade certified cocoa for all of their chocolate Harry Potter products, revealing the power of fan activism and the particular persistence of the Harry Potter fans themselves.
Though a strong example of communal power, it still begs the question: why chocolate? The importance of chocolate for Harry Potter fans stems from the story of Harry Potter itself. The Harry Potter series is a story of the perseverance by a young man in intense adversity. As an orphan, Harry Potter lived in a closet under the stairs while his rather rotund cousin was showered with love, including with chocolate, by his aunt and uncle. Once on the train to Hogwarts and away from his abusive home life, Harry Potter had free access to all the chocolate he could pay for. In the first book in the series, Harry Potter shares some Chocolate Frogs upon meeting his soon-to-be best friends, Ron and Hermione. Chocolate became a symbol of abundance and freedom from oppression.
Andrew Slack, the founder of the Harry Potter Alliance and man behind the idea of the petition for fair trade chocolate stated, “If ‘Harry Potter”[as a franchise] were to be in alignment with the values of Harry Potter[himself], it could be a real symbolic and coherent victory.” When fans discovered the discrepancy between the symbolism of chocolate in the book series and the reality of child slavery in cocoa harvesting, it only made sense to take action.
In an effort to expose the harsh working environment of cocoa harvesting many children experience, organizations like Walk Free and Free 2 Work have teamed up with the Harry Potter Alliance to further their energies for fair trade chocolate. The CNN documentary Cocoa-nomics reveals that the $110 billion a year cocoa industry can be found mostly in the West African Ivory Coast. Since it is so difficult to get a solid account of the number of child slaves working these cocoa fields, sources have estimated anywhere between 800,000 and 1.8 million children work these fields everyday.
Though stories like Willy Wonka depict a fairy tale environment for chocolate workers, these children experience unthinkable conditions in the forests and fields. Children from ages 5 to 16 work from six every morning until late at night. Many may only see their families every few years, while some never see them again. Children are forced to violate international labor laws established by the UN by using chainsaws, machetes, and dangerous agriculture chemicals. Some children can even be seen dragging 100lb bags of cocoa beans through the forest.
It is conditions like the ones described that pull on the heartstrings of J. K. Rowling, the author and creator of the Harry Potter series. As someone who experienced financial hardship herself, she has become an advocate for poverty and for Amnesty International. When she heard of the petition being created by the members of the Harry Potter Alliance, she immediately showed her support for the movement. Matt Maggiacomo, Executive Director of the Harry Potter Alliance wrote, “I’ve also been thrilled by the vote of confidence we’ve received from J.K. Rowling for whom this victory must feel like a vindication of the lessons embedded in the fabric of her most celebrated fictional universe.”
With the success of the petition, millennials can feel more confident in the power of fan activism. Stories like Harry Potter, which leave the readers inspired to use their personal power to change the world, present opportunities to create more effective change. Alyssa Rosenberg from the Washington Post comments, “It’s a fascinating symbol of what activism might look like when its animated by fiction rather than political parties.” The prevalence of these dramatic young adult fiction stories, from the Hunger Games to superheroes, motivate millennials to think of new, innovative ways to enforce change. These stories stir young adults to stand for what they think is right. If this communal perseverance continues to develop like it has been, then we can be encouraged that the future will be brighter by these developments. Together, the millennial generation can use their newfound tools to changes the issues that matter to them.
In the words of Albus Dumbledore himself in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”