Tearfund, the Christian development charity, sends out a monthly email to people interested in ethical fashion. For December, they decided to look at ethical food instead - after all, a lot of eating happens around the Christmas season! - and asked me to write something. Here’s what I came up with (although without all the lovely images they included!).

As you sit down to your Christmas dinner, perhaps you’ll thank the hands that prepared the food. There’s your mum who cooked the ham, perhaps, or your uncle who made his awesome pavlova. But what about those further away? The people who produced the ingredients that go into your yummy feast? Let’s make sure our Christmas celebrations are respectful of them, too.

Around 20% of the world’s cocoa is produced by children. They can start work as young as eight years old and they work full-time, often never going to school. Is the chocolate you’re serving made with cocoa grown by kids? Or if you’re serving salmon, was it fed on fish caught by slaves, like Lang Long? Lang Long grew up on a rice farm in Cambodia but took a good job in the construction industry in Thailand to help his family. When he showed up for work, he was herded onto a fishing boat: he’d been trafficked. He worked for three years without pay, catching the ‘trash fish’ used to feed farmed prawns and salmon, until he was rescued by the NGO Stella Maris.

Stories like these are hidden behind so much of the food we buy in New Zealand. Of the 40 million people in slavery today, around 7 million are enslaved making goods for sale. Supply chains are long, and terrible things happen far away.

However, I have good news! I’ve been asking questions and seeking out slave-free brands: a bit like what the Ethical Fashion Guide has been doing for clothing. Everywhere I’ve looked, I’ve found good companies, quietly making phenomenal efforts to make sure everyone who works for them is treated well—right back to the original farm or fishing boat.

With some friends, I’ve formed Just Kai to promote these good companies. We figure, if everyone refused to buy food produced by slaves, the market for these goods would collapse and the slaves would be set free. Our focus is on the three foods at highest risk for slave labour in their supply chains: fish, cocoa and sugar. Check out our website for buying guides or follow us on Facebook.

We’ve been very impressed by Countdown. If you’re doing baking this Christmas, consider using their own brand sugar. It’s got independent slave-free certification through Bonsucro. Countdown’s own brand cocoa is also independently certified free of child and slave labour, using a certification called UTZ. That’s relatively new in New Zealand but is well-established in Europe. Their baking chocolate is UTZ certified as well, as are most of their chocolate bits for baking. They’re hoping to have all the cocoa used in their own brand products certified by the end of next year.

If you’re wanting to serve seafood at your Christmas meal, Countdown’s own brand salmon has been fed on slave-free fishmeal, as has both Regal and Southern Ocean salmon. Prawns are doubly risky: most will have been fed on fish caught by slaves, and if they’re peeled they were likely peeled by slaves, too. For slave-free prawns, stick to unpeeled wild-caught Australian or Argentinian prawns or buy Kingfisher brand farmed prawns (stocked by New World and PakNSave). Most shellfish is fine, but if you’re serving scallops, make sure they’re marked as being from New Zealand, Peru, Australia or the US: most other countries use slave labour on their scallop boats or in their scallop farms.

We have further slave-free Christmas meal ideas online.

And about that chocolate many of us love to eat… Fortunately, there are lots of child-labour free options available—many of them costing no more than less ethical alternatives. Whenever you buy chocolate, check it has one of the following certifications: Fairtrade, WFTO or UTZ. Samoan cocoa is also always slave and child labour free. Don’t get caught out: just because a chocolate brand is expensive or is made in New Zealand, doesn’t mean the cocoa wasn’t produced with child labour. Just Kai has a list of certified luxury chocolate you could gift this Christmas, as well as a more lengthy list of all the certified cocoa products we’re aware of in New Zealand.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas that’s good for all!