Why You Should Buy Ethically Sourced Chocolate

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Cocoa farmer David Kebu Jnr holding the finished product, dried cocoa beans ready for export.
Photo credit Australian Government @ Flickr

From cocoa beans to candy bars, the chocolate industry is sweeter than ever. Earning an estimated $98.3 billion in annual revenue, experts predict worldwide demand for chocolate will likely exceed 4.5 million tonnes by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 5.02%.

In other words, the chocolate industry is currently more valuable than the respective GDPs of over 130 different countries and the market’s value is rising at a rate comparable to the global roast and ground coffee market. Europeans account for nearly half of all chocolate consumption, and the average American will indulge in nearly 11 pounds of chocolate per year.

Easter

Chocolate is especially popular during the Easter season. The Christian holiday generates 90 million chocolate bunnies each year and the annual UK Chocolate Easter Egg market is worth over £220 million.

However, as a consumer, before you join the sweet-toothed throngs, you should consider purchasing ethically sourced chocolate. Certified and labeled by organizations such as Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, the Fairtrade Foundation, and Rainforest Alliance, ethically sourced chocolate is the worth the extra money for two main reasons:

You will avoid supporting child labour. Four years after leading chocolate companies pledged a 70% reduction in the worst forms of child labour (WFCL) in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2020, a 2014 report by Tulane University found 2.26 million children working in cocoa production, 2.12 million children working in child labour in cocoa production, and 2.03 million children working in hazardous working conditions in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

The report concluded, “Based on today’s numbers, roughly 1.5 million children will have to be removed from hazardous work to reach the 2010 Framework of Action target [the pledge] by 2020” and the “goal of a major reduction of the number of children in hazardous child labor in the cocoa sector has not come within reach.”

An article by the Food Empowerment Project explained how, most often, child laborers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are between the ages of 12 and 16 and are originally from poorer countries such as Burkina Faso and Mali. Having been sold by family members or abducted by traffickers, the children use machetes to cut bean pods from cacao trees and pack the pods into 100 pound sacks to be dragged for miles at a time.

Other duties range from burning fields and felling large trees to handling dangerous agro-pharmaceutical chemicals. A 2011 investigation by the BBC reported, “The sight of children carrying machetes [for harvesting cocoa pods] or pesticide equipment [for spraying cocoa trees] is common throughout Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa belt.” Common injuries sustained by child laborers include severe back pain, sickness from insect bites, and wound or cuts from the production process.

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You will help prevent a chocolate shortage. Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean, also known as cocoa, a crop primarily grown in tropical climates such as Western Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. In fact, West African countries, particularly Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, produce a staggering 73% of the world’s cocoa. Yet, despite rapid growth in the chocolate industry, many African cocoa farmers are struggling to earn sufficient profit to stay in the cocoa market. According to the Guardian, the average cocoa grower only receives 3.5 to 6.4% of every chocolate bar he or she produces; a minuscule share compared to the 87% of profits enjoyed by chocolate manufacturers and retailers.

Just 20 years ago, a cocoa farmer would have seen his or her share of profits, per chocolate bar, reach as high as 16%. But now, the precipitous drop in revenue shared and a sharp rise in cost of living mean many young African cocoa farmers are switching their fields to more profitable industries. Over time, experts worry remaining cocoa farmers, who are now typically older, will not be able to meet surging demand, especially if chocolate gains traction in developing Asian markets.

To be fair, in exchange for a debt write-off from the World Bank and IMF, Côte d’Ivoire tried to institute cocoa reforms in early 2012. The Ivorian government established an administrative cocoa governing body, fixed cocoa prices at $1.70 a kilogramme, and pledged to help stabilize the Ivorian cocoa market by purchasing 70-80 percent of the country’s annual cocoa harvest in advance.

However, weak enforcement of the legislation, ageing cocoa trees, and inconsistent rainfalls have left Ivorian cocoa farmers feeling just as powerless against greedy merchants as before the legislation. The fixed cocoa prices, $1.70/kg in Côte d’Ivoire and $1.28/kg in Ghana, represent just 56% and 42% of the world cocoa price. In Ghana, where the depreciation of the cedi and 22% production shortfalls have ravaged the cocoa industry, some farmers have even begun smuggling their cocoa beans into Côte d’Ivoire for export.

Buying ethically sourced chocolate, certified from a fair trade organisation, ensures higher minimum cocoa prices to help farmers provide for their families and stay in the chocolate industry. For example, the Fairtrade Foundation guarantees a minimum cocoa price of $2/kg, with an additional $200 premium per tonne, to help farmers invest in their local communities. Furthermore, basic economics tells us a chocolate shortage would likely lead to chocolate price increases in order to curb rising demand. Therefore, this Easter, by spending a few pennies more on ethically sourced chocolate, you are not only benefiting the lives of cocoa farmers and child laborers now; you could also be saving yourself money in the future.

As a consumer, you have the power to take a stand for cocoa farmers and against child labour by purchasing ethically sourced chocolate. Granted, ethically sourced chocolate brands can be expensive, certification can be difficult for small chocolate producers, and a fair trade logo doesn’t necessarily make a company completely free of other questionable practices.

However, ethical certification remains an exceedingly credible assurance against exploitative labour practices. Conditions on some African chocolate farms can be chillingly reminiscent of chattel slavery on sugar plantations from the not so distant past. But it does not have to be this way. This Easter, to choose ethically sourced chocolate is to send a powerful message to confectionary retailers worldwide: we demand slave-free chocolate.