Chocolate: What’s Not To Love?

What Companies Do Not Disclose But Consumers Must Know

The raw ingredient of chocolate is cocoa. Cocoa, however, is a tropical fruit that’s usually cultivated and harvested by farmworkers under slave-like conditions, and sometimes by children.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there are 2 million children currently engaged in hazardous work on cocoa farms in two countries alone, Ivory Coast and Ghana , where about 60% of the world’s cocoa is grown.

Child labor on cocoa farm in West Africa (Photo: Daniel Rosenthal/Iaif)

Back in 2001, when evidence of child and forced labor started tainting the industry’s image, many big chocolate companies agreed to trace these labor violations and promised to eliminate them from their supply chain. But sadly, most are still failing to overcome this problem.

Nestlé, for example, continues having child labor and human rights issues in their cocoa chain despite years of investment in monitoring and remediation efforts. In fact, the Independent External Monitoring of Nestlé’s cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, conducted in 2017/2018 by the Fair Labor Association, show an increase in the number of child workers on verified farms that now represent 8% of the total workforce. Persistent occupational health and safety risks were also reported, besides payment issues.

Like Nestlé, Mars and Hershey’s have allegedly failed to overcome such issues in their cocoa supply chain, and right now these three companies are being sued by a U.S. consumer rights law firm, Hagens Berman, for selling chocolate that’s linked to child and forced labor.

Yet this problem is far from ending because its root cause is poverty — as most chocolate companies are NOT providing fair prices and decent livelihoods to cocoa farmers and their families. Most cocoa farmers currently receive around 6% of the retail price of a chocolate bar, and their income is less than 1.25 US dollars a day, which means they are living below the World Bank’ extreme poverty line.

Distribution of earnings in the chocolate value chain (Photo: Cocoa Barometer 2015)

In general, cocoa farmworkers cannot afford a chocolate bar. Many have never had the simple pleasure of eating chocolate.

Cocoa farmers taste chocolate for the very first time (VPRO Metropolis YouTube)

On the other hand, chocolate companies — especially the large manufacturers and retailers — are grabbing a significant share of the profits in this billionaire industry. By transforming the bitter cocoa beans into a product with loads of sugar and fat added, they create the world’s top-selling candy.

Wealthy consumers buy and eat chocolate at ever increasing volumes (Photo)

The socioeconomic contrast is clear in this industry. While big chocolate companies and consumption are mostly situated in the Global North, in countries with high standards of living; cocoa farmers and production are concentrated in the Global South, in less developed countries with considerable issues of exploitation and corruption.

Contrast between chocolate consuming and cocoa producing world regions (Photo: Cocoa Barometer 2018)

Another popular ingredient in today’s chocolate is “dirty” palm oil, a product that typically comes from destroyed rainforests in the Global South.

Greenpeace’s investigation shows that some of the world’s biggest chocolate companies — including Mars, Hershey, Nestlé, Mondelez, and Kraft — purchase their palm oil ingredient from suppliers that are destroying protected forests and extinguishing unique wildlife habitats for palm exploitation in Indonesia.

Popular chocolate brands are linked to rainforest destruction and wildlife species extinction (Orangutan Photo; Sloth Photo)

Yet if it’s not for palm, it’s for cocoa. Big chocolate companies are also driving mass deforestation to make way for their new or expanded cocoa farms.

Ivory Coast has already lost almost 90% of its forests for cocoa-growing operations, and some of the most biodiverse regions on Earth — from Southeast Asia to the Amazon — are now facing similar threats, warns Mighty Earth environmental organization.

The global chocolate industry is driving deforestation on alarming scale (Photo: Mighty Earth)

“The chocolate industry must immediately end its illegal and destructive practices, remediate past damage, and take concrete action to ensure that its mistakes in Ivory Coast are not repeated.” — Mighty Earth

Otherwise, if chocolate business continues as usual persistently failing to ensure the health and prosperity of natural environments and farmers — the world might run out of forests, cocoa workers, and even chocolate candies.

So what can any of us do to help safeguard a sustainable future for cocoa farmworkers, rainforests, and the chocolate industry?

Opt to buy certified chocolate — from brands that show commitments to “slave-free”, “fair trade”, and “deforestation-free” standards in making their products. Look out for trusted logos such as Fairtrade, UTZ Certified, and Rainforest Alliance (among others) on the chocolate’s package.

Although certification systems are not flawless, they help monitor if some of the chocolate we find in stores are being ethically and/or environmentally-friendly produced. Here is a list of 13 brands worth considering.

Look for “certified” logos when buying chocolate (Photo: Silvester Rich)

Tell companies in the chocolate sector, especially the large manufacturers and retailers, to take serious responsibility in ending all forms of labor/human and environmental violations that occur in the supply chain of products they sell.

In 2010, Greenpeace International created a campaign to tell Nestlé, the maker of Kit Kat, to give a break to Indonesian rainforests and orangutans by stop using “dirty” palm oil in its chocolate. People asked, so Nestlé responded.

Sweet success for the Kit Kat campaign (Photo: Greenpeace International)

Last but not least, pressure competent authorities in taking more effective measures to ensure the chocolate industry’s full compliance with sustainable practices and principles, because that’s essentially part of their job.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Principles (Photo)

Thanks for reading!

Global sustainability researcher. Writing about the controversial relationships among People, Nature, and Economy.

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