Trade Chocolate: Extra Guilt for Consumers
Does eating chocolate
make you feel a little guilty? Reports about the use of child labour on
African cocoa plantations should add a whole new element to those
feelings of guilt.
According to Statistics
Canada, Canadians purchase 6.7 kilograms of chocolate per person each
year. Most people worry about chocolate because it’s fattening. A
bigger concern according to Rachel Baird in
the London Daily Telegraph, is “up to 40 percent of the chocolate we
eat may be contaminated by slavery.”
Ivory Coast is the world’s biggest
producer of cocoa beans with over a million cocoa farms and
plantations. A British TV documentary titled Slavery claims 90
percent of Ivory Coast cocoa plantations use
slave labour. Most workers are young men and boys from impoverished
areas in Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali. They are enticed by
traffickers who promise them paid work, housing and an education.
Instead, they are sold to Ivory Coast cocoa plantation owners
who beat them into submission and make them work 18-hour days with
little or no pay.
After Slavery was
broadcast in Britain in 2000, horrified
consumers bombarded the country’s biggest chocolate manufacturers -
Cadbury, Nestle and Mars - with demands for “clean products” untainted
by slave labour.
Most companies purchase
their cocoa on international exchanges where cocoa from Ivory Coast is mixed with cocoa from
other countries and can no longer be detected as a slave-made product.
Anti Slavery International says, “Because of the way the chocolate
industry buys its cocoa, it is not possible to ensure that slavery or
other forms of illegal exploitation have not been used in its
production.” Anti Slavery says companies should purchase directly from
plantations or work with cocoa-producing countries such as Ivory Coast and ensure labour
standards are enforced.
Giving in to pressure
from consumers and international non-governmental organizations, the
chocolate industry has formulated a phased, 4-year-plan to eliminate
child slavery in cocoa production. A program for certification is
slated to come into effect on July 2005. But will it be enough?
International advises: “[T]he only way consumers can be confident the
produce they use is free from exploited labour is by buying products
which carry a fair trade label.”
What does the fair trade
label mean? Organizations like the UK’s Fair Trade Foundation
and TransFair Canada certify products which
meet the principles of the fair trade system. Fair trade means products
are purchased directly and at a fair price from small family growers
and co-operatives that do not rely on hired or illegal forced labour.
Growers receive a minimum guaranteed price that covers real production
costs, regardless of how low world market prices fall.
Fluctuating prices on the
world commodity markets give cocoa producers a precarious existence.
The flourishing child slavery trade in Ivory Coast is partly a result of
cocoa producers being desperate for cheap labour when prices are low.
On the New York Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange, cocoa prices dropped
to $US982 in 2001 from a high of $US1800 per tonne in1997. Last year,
it rebounded to a 17-year high of $2317 per tonne but this was caused
by shortfall as rebel fighting in the country has destroyed homes and
caused thousands of workers to flee the plantations.
TransFair Canada has made great inroads in
certifying and promoting fair trade coffee. It later turned its efforts
to work with the Ottawa-based La Siembra Co-Operative to establish the
criteria for certifying fair trade cocoa.
La Siembra’s Cocoa Camino
brand products come directly from small family farms in Latin America and the Caribbean. Co-operative member
Jeff De Jong emphasized their products are also organic and shade
grown. “It’s the way to go, we think,” he says. “It gives consumers a
Fair trade also promotes
sustainable agricultural practices which use minimal or no pesticides.
On small, family-owned farms, cocoa plants are usually inter-cropped
with other food-producing plants like maize and plantains which help
feed the family and supplement their income.
In contrast, Ivory Coast plantations utilize
intensive farming techniques which boosted cocoa production by 95
percent in the 1980s. More and bigger plantations have caused Ivory Coast rainforest to be
literally slashed from 12 million hectares in 1960 to 2.6 million
hectares today, devastating the area’s biodiversity.
Certified fair trade
chocolate is the ethical choice for concerned consumers. La Siembra’s
fair trade hot chocolate, milk chocolate and cocoa can be found on
store shelves across Canada. They are available at
Ten Thousand Villages and smaller food stores around Vancouver and at Thrifty Foods in
the Victoria area. A list of more
locations can be found at As
well, the Maritime co-operative Just Us! sells fair trade coffee and
cocoa products by mail.