Chocolate Frogs, bearing the Harry Potter brand name and based on a popular candy in the wizarding world. (Courtesy of Flickr user allnightavenue)
“We are a Dumbledore’s Army for our world,” says Andrew Slack, co-founder of The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), a fan activist group that uses J.K. Rowling’s books as the basis of social justice campaigns. “Dumbledore told us that there would be a time when we’d have to choose between what is right and what is easy. And at that time, we should choose what is right.”
“Dumbledore’s Army,” as Slack calls it, is engaging in a multiyear campaign against Warner Bros., the distributor of the eight Harry Potter films. The campaign’s focus is on the possibility that child slaves are being forced to harvest the cocoa contained in chocolate frogs bearing the Harry Potter brand name. The chocolate, which is based on a popular candy in the wizard world, is produced by a Warner Bros. licensee and sold at Universal Orlando’s Harry Potter theme park and online.
Remote farms in West Africa produce most of the cocoa that winds up in the world’s chocolate. Many of those farms use child slaves to harvest their crops as chronicled by CNN in their 2012 documentary Chocolate’s Child Slaves. Through a network of middlemen the cocoa is sold to chocolate companies, making enforcement of labor standards difficult.
“The biggest problem is that much of the cocoa is grown on small, dispersed, family-run farms which are far from major towns and never monitored,” says Debra Rosen, movement director at Walk Free, a 3.7 million-member global anti-slavery campaign.
The result is that the chocolate carrying Harry Potter’s name is likely produced with slave labor. In the Harry Potter universe, chocolate holds a special place says Slack: “Chocolate carries incredible magical properties in the wizarding world. After a Dementor attack, chocolate is what can make a person return to their senses. We believe very firmly that the magic in the wizarding world is grounded in intentions and origins. So if the chocolate were made through exploitation or slavery of children, it would be removed of all magical properties and be worthless in the wake of a Dementor attack.”
Slack also cites heroine Hermione Granger’s founding of an “organization to free house-elves” and her advocacy for “fair wages to Muggle-borns, werewolves, and half-giants” as a further connection between the Harry Potter stories and his group’s activism.
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It would be easy to dismiss the 34-year-old Slack as an adult living in a Comic-Con-like fantasy world if it weren’t for his earnest nature and his organization’s record of success. The Harry Potter Alliance has approximately 140 chapters around the world, and more than 100,000 activists who identify with the group. “We don’t have the time to have fantasy just for the sake of fantasy. Fantasy is not just an escape from the world, it’s a way to go deeper into it,” declares Slack.
Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the organization raised $123,000 in two weeks, funding five cargo planes of aid to the country.
HPA’s work has gained the affection of J.K. Rowling, a former Amnesty International employee, who has said the organization “really does exemplify the values for which Dumbledore’s Army fought in the books.”