Chocolate may be sweet, but its story is very bitter.
Educate yourself on the dark side of the chocolate industry! Knowledge is power. Update yourself regularly. The world is changing and growing every day.
Rosie’s Confections seeks to inform chocolate consumers of the harsh reality the industry is facing. This article’s aim is to skim through the various issues to give an overview of the future that is awaiting the industry. Future articles will look further into those subjects to promote educated and thoughtful purchases.
Let’s start with some numbers. The chocolate industry has boomed over the last decades. The sweet treat grew in popularity as its price lowered. The price of cocoa beans dropped to adjust to inflation. In 1980, the price was set to USD6000 per ton of cocoa beans. A ton now costs under USD2500, less than half of what it was 40 years ago.
Besides, the relative value of cocoa in the chocolate bar has fallen as well. Fifty years ago the cost of cocoa represented almost 50% of the value of chocolate bars. Today, it is around 6%. Most of the value of the chocolate bar now comes from research, development, and marketing. The farmers who only produce the raw beans, represent a very small part of the supply chain.
These past few years the demand outgrew the supply and we are now seeing the supply chain struggle. Issues that were previously overlooked are now growing in magnitude. It is now harder to ignore them.
The rise in cocoa production is possible by the accessibility to land and labor. The industry lacks advances in productivity or technology. Cocoa farmers turned to deforestation to welcome new crops. Every year, we lose millions of hectares of forest to cocoa producers. To understand such devastating circumstances, we must look into the different elements that explain the one common link: poverty.
The crop may originate from South America, but top producers of cocoa are now located in West Africa. Cocoa is a smallholder crop. Most of the cocoa farmers have never tasted the end product from their beans. In the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer, the millions of cocoa farmers account for about a 5th of the country’s economy. The product of their crops determines whether they’ll be able to put food on their table. Unfortunately their crops produce lower yields due to the aging tree stocks as well as unpredictable external factors such as the weather and diseases. The farmers cannot afford to invest in their own farm and get stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. The consequences are disastrous. Their rural communities cannot prosper, implying an unsustainable lifestyle.
“Cocoa plantation workers often lack formal contracts, freedom of association, basic health and safety assurances, and adequate wages, among other challenges. Even employers with good intentions can find that they don’t earn enough to pay a living wage or invest in better equipment or safer working conditions.” FairTrade explains.
Farmers that cannot afford a living wage to their employees may turn to less ethical practices. Despite the Harkin Engel Protocol, an international agreement aimed at ending the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa production industry, child labor is still a widespread and growing practice. Working on a cocoa plantation is labor intensive. There was no evolution in the technology used. Heartbreaking footage of children handling machetes is easy to find online. Child labor springs from child trafficking; traffickers lure children from poor neighboring countries with promises of work and money. Then sell them to farmers for a small fee (≃USD275). Despite the various reports, this issue is still misunderstood due to a lack of data.
A more legally attractive option for the farmers is to change their crops to a more viable one like palm oil or rubber. These crops are more robust to environmental factors and promise more stable incomes. The history of cocoa has many examples of disastrous outbreaks. Cocoa trees are vulnerable to black pods, fungal infections, insects, among others. Of course, the small farmer, the one with less bargaining power in the supply chain, suffers from it.
All the previously mentioned issues are symptoms of systemic poverty. It undermines the industry’s quality and reputation. So far, large corporations and governments showed a lack of accountability. Voluntary certification systems fail to address the scale of the current situation. Currently, less than five percent of cocoa sold globally follows FairTrade terms. Businesses must adapt their value chain models to develop sustainable practices. We must start to take joint responsibility for solving the poverty problem. By working in collaboration with the cocoa smallholder, companies can promote ethical production.
Chocolate consumers have a role to play, as well. In the age of information, consumers must stay educated and buy products that align with their values. Purchasing goods is now a way to advocate for a better world. Consumers can help the work towards sustainable farming communities and supply chains. It becomes indisputable that consumers will have to get used to paying more for their favorite chocolate. But the price is low compared to the help towards the evolution of human rights it will provide.
The solution that Rosie’s Confections is offering is direct trade. By cutting the middleman off the supply chain, it is easier to set up a fair relationship with the producers. Ensuring workers’ rights is not only fair; it is great business sense. Paying workers fairly empowers them to build and grow their organization as well as promote leadership. Workers stay on the job, support their families and invest in their communities. It is time we treat small-scale farmers in developing countries with dignity and offer them a chance at education, scientific support and land reform. For them, for us, for the planet.
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