America has not been a good place for conscientious chocolate lovers to live. Everybody’s favorite chocolates and candy bars are pretty much across the board made from child-and-slave-labor dependent cocoa. However, things are starting to change. American chocolate lovers have some things to celebrate and even more to look forward to.
I walked into my local small-town Target store the other day and discovered two common brands that bore the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal – Dove dark chocolate and Hershey’s Bliss candies. These chocolates remain at a normal price for consumers, with the additional satisfaction of being sourced from farms that are being trained in sustainable modern farming techniques, monitored for decent conditions for workers, and prohibited from using child and slave labor.
More good news is that this is just the beginning. In January of 2012, MARS, the umbrella company for Dove, committed to using 100% certified chocolate in all its products world-wide by 2020. This means that favorite American candies like Snickers, M&M’s and Twix are on their way to becoming part of the solution to the world’s long-standing chocolate child labor issues. Glancing through the candies this commitment will impact shows that this is a big deal.
In addition to the good news about MARS, Hershey’s recently made a similar commitment. In October of 2012 Hershey’s promised that all of it’s chocolate will be certified by 2020. This means Reese’s, Yorks, Kisses, Almond Joys and Kit Kat bars are eventually joining the ranks of good for the world chocolate. In addition to their current certified Hershey’s Bliss line of chocolates, the Scharffen Berger line of chocolates is promised to be certified by the end of 2013.
A large part of Rainforest Alliance Certification is the training of farmers in sustainable farming and modern farming practices. On Hershey’s sustainable cocoa website they state that trained farmers crop yields are 15-40% higher than untrained farmers, and that modern farming methods can increase yields by almost 50%. Hershey’s states that for every 1000 farmers trained, 210 children are removed from hazardous work conditions and returned to school. In Ghana, Hershey’s claims that increased cocoa production has been linked to a 24.7% increase in school attendance for children.
Rainforest Alliance Certification often gets a bad rap for allowing products to display their logo with only 30% of the main ingredient being certified and has been dubbed “fair-trade lite.” Their organization holds fast to the position that more improvement for workers and the environment will be seen through making certification attractive and reachable for large companies – where 30% of a large order is often greater than 100% of a small one. Rainforest Alliance Certification differs from Fair Trade in that there is no regulated price for crops. Opponents to the certification see this as very negative, as it leaves farmers more open to the whims of a global market. However, proponents of the certification point to the training of farmers in business practice and increase in crop quality and yields as a powerful protectant to poor farmers.
Whichever stance you take on the certification issue, the commitment of two major chocolate companies in America to use 100% (not 30%) certified chocolate by 2020 is good news. It may not be the final answer to our chocolate problems, but it is definitely a big step forward. It’s also evidence that companies are responding to the pressure being put on them to take responsibility for the social practice of their products. In my mind, a thank you and encouragement to keep pursuing this path are in order.
I sent a note to the Hershey Corporation a few weeks ago, and received an official letter back thanking me for my interest in their corporate social responsibility efforts. Now I guess it’s time to get out my stationary and ship one off to MARS.
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