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How Harry Potter fans won a battle against child slavery

After a four year battle, Warner Bros. agreed to use only Fair Trade or UTZ certified chocolate in Harry Potter products. Can fans be activists?

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Fans of the popular "Harry Potter" fiction series have done more than cheer on their favorite characters. Recently, fans directly influenced Warner Bros. to utilize only Fair Trade or UTZ certified products in all Harry Potter products.

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After four years of discussions, 400,000 signatures, and a relentless commitment to Harry Potter’s code of ethics, members from the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) received a letter stating all Harry Potter chocolate products sold at Warner Bros. outlets will be 100 percent Fair Trade or UTZ certified.

Joshua Berger, the president of Harry Potter Global Franchise Development, stated in a letter: “By the end of 2015, and sooner when possible, all Harry Potter chocolate products sold at Warner Bros. outlets and through our licensed partners will be 100-percent UTZ or Fair Trade certified.”

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This is not the first time the nonprofit coalition of fans has graced headlines. The group, whose mission is to use “the power of story to inspire and effect social change,” recently launched a campaign inspired by Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy to fight social injustice in the US. The group was also cited for their help in providing aid to Haiti and Darfur

When HPA movement director Andrew Slack met advocate Lisa Valdez, his eyes were opened to the labor abuses and child enslavement practices of cocoa production. What better place to start than with their own favorite franchise’s branded chocolate products?

HPA launched their initiative during Halloween 2010, asking fans to demand that Warner Bros. meet high ethical standards for chocolate. An outside group granted the company an ‘F’ for current standards. HPA organized petition signings, and sent Howlers—videos named after screaming letters in the novels—shaming the company for its lack of response. Eventually, their tactics worked.

“We value and appreciate the collective voice of the Harry Potter Alliance members, and Harry Potter fans all over the world, and their enthusiasm and love for the world of Harry Potter,” Mr. Berger stated in the letter.

Matt Maggiacomo, the executive director of HPA, praised the efforts of the fan group for not only achieving the long-time goal of fair trade chocolate, but for instigating change that will have far-reaching effects.

“I feel so grateful to be part of this community of enthusiastic and driven people,” Mr. Maggiacomo said on the HPA website. “Most importantly though, I’m happy that this victory means that less children will be forced into slavery. Less families will be torn apart by brutal, inhumane business practices. Warner Bros.’ commitment to fair trade chocolate will bring increased awareness to the issue and encourage more major corporations to commit to ethical cocoa sourcing.”

Henry Jenkins, a professor at the University of Southern California who has studied HPA, explores the unique power fan groups can have in influencing change. One thing that HPA does is effectively develop messaging and strategies that encourage change in a way that people can stand behind.

“The idea of civic imagination is, before we can change the world, we have to imagine what a better world would like, we have to imagine ourselves as political agents,” Jenkins said in a Washington Post article. “I would say what the Harry Potter Alliance does very well is foster the cultural imagination.”

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So what’s next for the social advocate fan group? Who knows, but the group will continue fighting for social justice, and hope this victory encourages others to do the same.

“[Harry Potter] represents righteousness, nobility, love, so much beauty and a place of safety that people go to, and moral authority. If the ‘Harry Potter’ brand were to move something like fair trade, it would be making a statement that not only is the ‘Harry Potter’ brand a cut above the rest but that [other franchises] have to catch up to it,” said Mr. Slack in an interview.