By Amy-Lee Williams
It is incomprehensible to imagine that there could be anything wrong with chocolate. Chocolate has perfection lovingly mixed into its ingredients; it is there to comfort all sorrows, inspire new love, mend broken hearts and bring the sweet flavour of hope into our daily lives. However, a bitter taste is starting to develop as exposure into the unethical farming practices in the production of cocoa of Western African countries is being revealed to the everyday consumer.
The chocolate industry has grown over the years resulting in further demands for cheap cocoa. This has caused increased pressure on cocoa farmers to maintain competitive prices. Cocoa farmers have therefore resorted to the use of child labour as a cheap solution to their financial pressures, who currently survive on around $2 a day. This dark side of chocolate has been going on for a number of years; however this knowledge has shockingly taken a while to trickle down to the consumer who continues to blissfully munch on the tasty treat. Years have gone by with Governments and Institutions trying to solve the problem, without being able to successfully do so. A new voice needs to be heard, and that is one of the educated consumers.
Western African countries supply more than 70% of the world’s cocoa, predominantly being Ghana and Cote d’ Ivoire. The cocoa they grow and harvest is sold to some of the largest chocolate companies, including international companies such as Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle. It is estimated that there are over 1.2million children working on cocoa farms across Ghana and Cote d’ Ivoire. Most children are between the ages of 12 and 16, but children as young as 5 have been seen working by reporters. Children come to work on these farms through various ways, one being on their own accord to help their families struggle against intense poverty. Other children are forced into this modern day slavery by being sold by their families or are abducted by traffickers in neighbouring countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso.
These children are expected to perform dangerous tasks on a daily basis including the use of hazardous tools such as a breaking open the pods with machetes, carrying heavy loads, working long hours with little or no water and applying harmful pesticide without wearing protective clothing. The use of these dangerous tools is a direct violation against International Labour Laws and a UN convention on eliminating the worst forms of child labour. Not only are these children’s lives daily at risk, but their futures are also compromised due to the lack of education. 10% of child labourers in Ghana and 40% in the Ivory Coast do not attend school; and those that do manage to attend school have to do so after working long hours on the farms. This violates the International Labour Organisation (IOL) Child Labour Standards.
What is the solution?
Organisations such as the Global March against Child Labour, have been prominent forces of change in solving the use of child labour on cocoa farms, however, they are merely treating the symptoms. The root cause needs to be dealt with and that lies in the $60 billion chocolate industry that needs to realise their role in contributing to child labour, slavery and human trafficking. Change needs to begin with companies such as Nestle, who have the power to end these social injustices to children by simply paying cocoa farmers a living wage for their produce. However, these companies are not taking responsibility for their direct influence in fuelling the situation. For example, Hershey’s reportedly refused to share details pertaining to their supply chain when questioned. Therefore, it comes down to consumers taking a meaningful stand by refusing to purchase their products and thereby threatening to take these chocolate giants out of business. There are certifications that are printed onto some chocolates, such as the Fairtrade Labour Association, where qualifying to have the label requires a critical analysis into the supply chain of the product; certifying the product as one that supports sustainability and therefore confirming that no child labour was used in its production.
How can you make a difference?
Consumers need to take an extra moment in the chocolate aisle and search for those chocolates with labels that certify sustainable practices such as the Fairtrade Label. If none of the chocolates on sale have the label, then be conscious enough to not buy the chocolate at all. That is the surest way to not support child labour on cocoa farms. If a chocolate is given as a gift, make a stand and ask if you could exchange it for a “child labour free” chocolate. This may seem insensitive to a friend; however it can start a conversation that creates further awareness. A simple explanation of insensitivity will only take a moment when the insensitivity to the children labouring on the farms is brought to life, which would be sufficient to place everything into perspective. Recently, Cadburys launched a new chocolate, “Silk”, with the Fairtrade label clearly printed on the front. This is encouraging to see as it shows that companies are starting to understand the importance in developing a triple bottom line, and if consumers support these chocolates over others, surely other chocolate companies will soon be bullied into incorporating the same principles. Other chocolate brands that are Fairtrade certified are Marks and Spencer chocolate from Woolworths, Green and Blacks chocolate from the Wellness Warehouse and specific Pick n Pay stores as well as the classic Cadburys Dairy milk which can be found nationwide. Another company that is supporting ethical cocoa farming practices is Nomu; one of the first South African companies to have their product UTZ certified. UTZ is a program that helps create better opportunities for farmers, workers and their families as well as prioritising farming practices that are healthy for the environment. Frey chocolates, produced by a Swiss chocolate company, are another chocolate that can be purchased in South Africa that is UTZ certified and can be found in Pick n Pay. The Rain Forest Alliance certification is another label that can be found on various chocolates that can be trusted as a reliable certification against child labour. The organisation sets controls in terms of environmental, social and economic criteria, therefore aims to improve the lives of those in the farming of cocoa. Chocolates that can be found with this label in South Africa are Cote d’Or as well as Mars.
Former cocoa slave Drissa was asked what he would tell people who eat chocolate, and he replied “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh”. Chocolate is a luxury that can be done away with, and yet our consumeristic lifestyle continues to numb our senses to the pain of children such as Drissa. We need to realise that every purchase decision has the ability to either positively or negatively affect someone, and in the case of chocolate, it could be the life of a child. Instead of adding to the problem, rather start rallying for change in the areas where a difference can be made and be a conscious consumer.