Well, do you want to start with the good news or the bad news?
Why don’t we get the bad news out of the way first.
Chocolate is made from the cacao bean, 70% of which is grown in West Africa.
The price of cacao has not gone up in the last 30 years. Most cacao farmers are living at poverty level.
40% of all cacao is produced in the Ivory Coast, where there are some 600,000 small farms.
It is estimated that 90% of these farms in the Ivory Coast use child labor. The low price of cocoa has certainly contributed to this; farmers can’t afford to hire adult workers based on what they receive for their crops.
An estimated 15,000 children work as forced laborers (slaves) on these farms. Many of them are trafficked from surrounding nations such as Mali, lured by the promise of payment. Once “sold” they are forced to work long days (freed children describe 80-100 hours a week), locked in small buildings at night, beaten, and in many other ways abused.
The Ugly: Major chocolate suppliers have done little (or nothing) about this issue even though they’ve known about it for years.
When this issue was uncovered 10 years ago, the major companies signed an agreement called the Harkin-Engle Protocol that made them accountable to changing the situation. Unfortunately while chocolate companies have acknowledged the situation exists and agreed to do something about it, they haven’t followed through in the 10 years since this agreement was signed. Children continue to be trafficked, cocoa farmers continue to live at poverty level, and chocolate continues as a multi-billion dollar industry in our world.
The Good: As more people have learned about this issue and “upped” the pressure, chocolate companies are beginning to make changes.
There are now many campaigns going on to end slavery in the chocolate industry. Some of the things these campaigns are urging major chocolate companies to do are to pay fair prices to cocoa farmers for their crops, to trace their supply chains down to the small farms and be accountable for labor practices there, to become more transparent about where their chocolate comes from, to commit to making at least one major chocolate candy from certified slave-free chocolate (i.e. snickers or Hershey’s kisses) and continue the process of converting to fair-trade chocolate over time, and to take responsibility for freed child slaves, returning them to their homes and increasing their chances of a better future through education and other means.
Some major chocolate companies have begun using only fair-trade cocoa in certain chocolate bars. In the United Kingdom, Cadbury’s most popular chocolate bar, Dairy Milk, is now fair trade. In Canada, Nestle’s Kit Kat bar is also fair trade. Unfortunately for American’s, to date no major candies have become fair trade here.
There is reason to be encouraged, however. There have been some new commitments made by certain companies as recently as last year, and advocacy groups continue to encourage change. You can see some examples of those decisions on the chart below (if it’s too small to read, click the chart to find the original location, the Raise the Bar Hershey’s 2011 report.)
Well, there’s an introduction to the good, the bad and the ugly in the chocolate industry. It’s a very complex issue, but I’ll write more on possible action steps and small choices we might be able to make at a later time.