The Chocolate World is a war zone.
And until the last few months of my life, spent learning all that I could about the history of chocolate, I had no idea.
Yes, I suppose most of us are somewhat aware of the problems plaguing the industry, mainly child labor and environmental malpractices. After all there have been documentaries and articles written dating as far as 20 years ago, decrying to the public forced labour and child trafficking for cocoa production. All the big companies pledged the end of these horrifying practices by July 2005, and then we have fair trade chocolate, right? So something has been done about it and if we choose to buy Fair Trade, we are doing our part, right? Wrong!
At the time these issues started getting real media coverage and public outrage, the lobbyists of the US cocoa industry blocked the government’s attempt to label chocolate as “slave-free” (mainly due to the fact that it is illegal in the United States to engage in any businesses that have anything to do with slavery). They said they could handle the problem. Twenty years later, child labor is increasing, not decreasing!
It is clear that industries functioning in the old business paradigm did not want to lose any competitive advantage over competitors, and did not deal with this problem. After all there is an enormous market for cheap chocolate and most people will buy it at the cheapest price available.
Far away in cocoa producing countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Africa (a small country producing 38% of all cocoa in the world), farmers receive only 3.2% of the price of the final cocoa bar, and they have to live on an average of $0.50/day, which is well below poverty level. The chocolate industry breeds despair and numbness to the suffering of others, to the extent of kidnaping children from other areas to work on their plantations. It forces them to keep their own children on the farm instead of sending them to school. They will burn rainforest and use some of the most harmful pesticide used in agriculture. Workers, mostly children, will spray it without any protective gear.
So we needed something like Fair Trade certification to come to the rescue. From Wikipedia, the definition of Fair Trade Cocoa is:
“Fair trade cocoa is an agricultural product harvested from a cocoa tree using a certified process which is followed by cocoa farmers, buyers, and chocolate manufacturers, and is designed to create sustainable incomes for farmers and their families. Companies that use fair trade certified cocoa to create products can advertise that they are contributing to social, economic, and environmental sustainability in agriculture.”
Their intentions are great, but here is why it’s not enough;
The 10% more that fair trade supposedly provides farmers still does not provide a living wage. What’s more the farmer must be part of a cooperative and pay a substantial fee to the Fair Trade organization. In the end, for all the extra work and regulations, the farmer does not see a real benefit. Only the middle man does. And the chocolate companies selling the chocolate can charge a premium because us consumers, are willing to pay more for the certification that assures farmers receive a fair price…when in fact they don’t.
The only sustainable way to eradicate poverty is to pay more for cocoa. At the very least, 40% more than what Fair Trade offers. And we have to cut out the middle men that keep most of the profit of the added value.
The solution will not be found through the invasive programs big chocolate companies are proud to announce, that hire farmer police or build schools. This is the equivalent of marketing fluff for them. The solution is simply to pay farmers more so they can afford to send their kids to school and give them hope. Enough so the next generations will keep farming and ensure the future of fine cocoa.
The most successful companies making an actual difference are the ones using direct trade, meaning no middle men, and no expensive certification. Simply a direct relationship with the farmers. More on that in future posts.
When I was first getting into the business of chocolate, I thought I was diving in a fairyland with a rich history wrapped in yumminess. I thought it was all about making delicious works of art that feed the soul as well as the body. That I would be writing beautiful stories…but I was so wrong; human greed and despair is everywhere.
And I want no part of it.
In truth, it is the customer that has the last word. You can choose to buy chocolate from a verifiable ethical source. You can say no to child slavery and environmental destruction in the name of chocolate. You can say yes to a way of farming cocoa that actually helps the environment (subject for an other post) and gives farmers dignity.
If you are hungry for more, I highly recommend this article from the Washington Post written last year:
Cocoa’s Child Laborers “Mars, Nestlé and Hershey pledged nearly two decades ago to stop using cocoa harvested by children. Yet much of the chocolate you buy still starts with child labor.”
Let’s end this war. Support companies like ours that back their claims of making a difference for farmers with facts, not promises or meaningless claims.
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To chocolate and beyond!