Chocolate is my favourite treat by a mile – it’s probably the one sweet I would find really difficult giving up. Especially when its in brownies. There’s nothing like a chocolate brownie to make a rainy day spent in the library better. Just the thought makes my mouth water.
I took a module in Human Rights last semester, and when we got to the week on slavery I was shocked to find out that the chocolate industry is notorious for its human rights violations, especially regarding child slavery and trafficking. My post-library guilty pleasure suddenly became a whole lot guiltier. So I decided to do a bit of research into the cocoa industry to find out if what I’d heard was true and whether there was any way to enjoy a chocolate bar guilt-free.
So. A brief summary of my findings:
70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa (2)
Most of this is produced in Ghana and the Ivory Coast (2)
10 million West Africans rely on cocoa farming for their income (2)
The path that cocoa beans take from the planation into the chocolate bar in your hand (supply chain) is incredibly hard to trace
Global demand for cocoa is expected to grow (1)
Cocoa is a commodity, which means individual products are not differentiated (your cocoa is the same as mine), and price is set by the global market
In 1999 a report by the US state department estimated that 15,000 Malian children were trafficked and sold into slavery on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast that year (4)
The two main issues surrounding the production and trade of cocoa seem to be:
The working conditions and allegations of slavery, in particular child slavery
The vulnerability of farmers to global prices
One – working conditions In 2000, a British documentary-making team (3) uncovered widespread cases of child slavery and trafficking occurring on cocoa plantations in West Africa. Since then, various investigations and attempts at legislation have sought to bring an end to child slavery and trafficking in the cocoa industry, but there is evidence that conditions have not changed. A 2010 report by Anti-Slavery International identified evidence of widespread child slavery and trafficking, with many of the interviewed victims reporting having to work in poor conditions using harmful pesticides and machetes (5).
The 2010 documentary “the Dark Side of Chocolate” found continued human rights abuses and uncovered a culture of denial within the industry itself. The film followed children who were being trafficked across the border from Mali to the Ivory Coast with the promise of paid employment and discovered that many of the children find themselves in forced labour once they reach the cocoa plantations – with no hope of a pay check and therefore no way to get home.
While estimates of the precise numbers are difficult if not impossible to make, there is strong evidence that slavery, child labour and trafficking are still prevalent in the cocoa industry (5) (6).
Two – cocoa prices Cocoa prices are determined by the world market. Since one cocoa farmer has effectively no way (except fair-trade) of differentiating their product from anyone else’s, they must accept the price set by the global market. In practice this means that farmers receive very low prices for their cocoa beans, a factor which probably drives the resort to child slavery as well as the continued poverty of farming communities.
Can we enjoy chocolate guilt-free? Fair trade is the only widespread mechanism that enables price-conscious consumers to be selective about what kind of cocoa they consume.
Fairtrade certified chocolate has become increasingly more common in recent years, with products like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Nestle’s KitKat carrying the label.
“Fairtrade offers producers a better deal and improved terms of trade. This allows them the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future. Fairtrade offers consumers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their every day shopping” (7).
Fair Trade in a nutshell
Cocoa that is certified “Fairtrade” has to satisfy a long list of environmental, labour and social standards, which ensure that better conditions are produced for the farmers and their communities.
Fairtrade cocoa is sold for a “fair” price
Working conditions are scrutinised, child labour (as defined by the International Labour Organisation) is prohibited (8).
Additional premiums of 150 US$ per tonne are paid to farming cooperatives for community projects.
Cocoa plantations and cooperatives that are certified “Fair Trade” are inspected annually in order to ensure that they meet the standards set forth by Fairtrade International.
Is it worth supporting Fairtrade? While Fairtrade certification is an opportunity for farmers and their communities to receive a higher price for their product and benefit from reinvestment into the local community in exchange for implementing higher standards of production, perhaps the most important benefit of Fairtrade is that it creates a more transparent supply chain. One of the major issues with the cocoa and chocolate industry is that it is very difficult for chocolate producers and consumers (us!) to trace where our product came from and whether slavery or child labour were involved in its production. If fair trade farms are found to be infringing on standards, they will be shut down until the standards are met (see 2).
While us consumers can never be 100% certain of the origins of products that haven’t directly come from our back gardens, buying Fairtrade certified products allow us to:
choose products that have a more controlled supply chain that is subject to stricter standards of production.
use our money to “vote” for products that attempt to improve supply-chain transparency and conditions for producers – if chocolate-makers see that consumers do care about where their cocoa comes from they will be more likely to take their supply chain management more seriously. Major companies have a huge impact. For example, Cadbury’s adoption of Fairtrade has quadrupled the amount of Fairtrade cocoa produced in Ghana (9).