The dark side of chocolate
Australians love chocolate – in fact, we consume up to $3 billion worth of it each year. Easter is an especially busy time of year for chocolate retailers as a tempting range of bunnies, eggs and chocolate-filled hampers come on the market, bringing with it a spike in chocolate sales.
But behind the Easter packaging and colourful foil wrapping there's a dark side. Around 70% of the chocolate we consume comes from West Africa, where it's estimated that more than two million children and young people under the age of 18 work as labourers in cocoa harvesting. Some of these children are trafficked; many are working under harmful labour conditions. And it's the cocoa they produce that ends up in the chocolate we eat.
The good news is that in recent years there's been an increase in consumer demand for ethical and sustainable production methods, which has resulted in growth of certified chocolate products – including ethical Easter eggs.
In this article we look at:
Chocolate certification in Australia
Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade and UTZ Certified are the three primary certification bodies available in Australia.
Rainforest Alliance products contain ingredients sourced from certified forests or farms, which are managed according to rigorous environmental, social and economic criteria. According to the organisation, these criteria are designed to conserve wildlife; safeguard soils and waterways; protect workers, their families and local communities; and increase livelihoods in order to achieve true, long-term sustainability.
Fairtrade products aim to ensure communities in the developing world have decent working conditions, local sustainability and better prices. Through ensuring companies pay sustainable prices, Fairtrade's goal is to help eradicate the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest and weakest producers.
UTZ Certified products are grown in accordance with its Code of Conduct, which sets guidelines for sustainable farming methods. It aims to educate farmers to help them improve working conditions, grow better crops and take better care of their children and the environment. To ensure compliance with the Code, all producers receive a regular check from independent auditors. Approved farmers can sell their products as UTZ-certified, and all sales are recorded in the UTZ Certified Traceability system.
Which chocolate Easter eggs are ethical?
Cadbury has introduced some ranges of certified chocolate such as Dairy Milk to help address inequalities in the supply chain, and since 2013 Nestle has had its full range of products UTZ certified.
Margaret Stuart, Corporate and External Relations Manager for Nestle says they are trying to increase suppliers profitability, secure high- quality cocoa, and address issues in the supply chain including child labour.
"We've also established a Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Scheme which now covers almost 35000 farmers in 40 cooperatives (ie half of those which supply us – this will be rolled out further), to identify and address individual instances of child labour," says Stuart.
As consumer awareness increases, some retailers such as Aldi have also introduced their own certified chocolate and cocoa products.
So as Easter rolls around again, which are the more ethical brands?
Stop the Traffik is a worldwide organisation dedicated to abolishing human trafficking. Its report, The Good Egg Guide, has a list of ethical chocolate brands and Easter eggs and products that are free from trafficked labour. These include:
- Aldi's UTZ Certified Dairy Fine, Choceur, Moser Roth and Specially Selected Easter chocolate ranges.
- Chocolatier Australia's Fairtrade milk and dark chocolate 100g eggs, available through Coles, Woolworths, David Jones and other chocolate suppliers.
- Coles also has a range of branded UTZ, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance-certified Easter chocolates.
- The Haigh's Chocolate-made Easter egg range is UTZ Certified.
- Devine chocolate eggs and bunnies are Fairtrade certified, and are available through IGA, other selected stores and online.
How to make a difference
The global chocolate industry is shifting, and although it can feel like our best efforts to buy products free from forced, child and trafficked labour has little impact, there's still value in buying ethical chocolate.
Lauren Ornelas, founder of vegan food justice organisation Food Empowerment Project, says consumers shouldn't buy chocolates sourced from areas where the worst forms of child labour or slavery are occurring and should demand transparency from corporations about where their chocolate is sourced.
"Consumers need to not only make their own individual choices, but it's just as important to let corporations know that they care about these issues," says Ornelas.
Tips on how to buy ethical chocolate
- Buy chocolate with Fairtrade, UTZ or Rainforest Alliance certification on the packaging. Ethical certification continues to be the most credible assurance against unsustainable, exploitative practices and forced labour.
- Ask chocolate companies to commit to 100% ethically sourced cocoa by 2020 – the date set by Stop the Traffik, Baptist World Aid Australia and World Vision Australia in their push to improve conditions in cocoa production. Companies listen to their customers, so speak up, vote with your dollar and consider joining the Stop the Traffik campaign.
- Shift consumer demand by asking retailers to stock more certified products. This will also make it easier to purchase ethical products and encourage more people to do so.
What Australian retailers say
We contacted a number of retailers to ask about their ethical chocolate products, and why it's important to certify chocolate. Here are their responses.
Aldi told CHOICE it wants to help empower shoppers to choose chocolate sourced from ethical sustainable resources. Its range of Easter chocolate brands are 100% certified by UTZ.
"Aldi takes social standards within the supply chain very seriously and internationally is a member of the Business Social Compliance Initiative, which is committed to improving working conditions in the global supply chain," an Aldi Australia spokesperson told CHOICE.
In recent years Aldi has experienced a rise in shoppers seeking specialised food products and has recognised the growing trend for ethically produced products.
"Aldi feels it's important to recognise and act upon our social obligations throughout Australia. It is our priority to remain nimble and responsive to the evolving needs, tastes and preferences of our customers."
Cadbury sells some Fairtrade-certified Dairy Milk chocolate products, but no longer sells any as part of its Easter range.
"The percentage of sustainable cocoa we're using has increased [from 12 to 21%]. Unfortunately, an overall trend in the sector didn't translate into demand for that product, and the Fairtrade-certified Easter egg is no longer available. But Cadbury is absolutely passionate about transforming the cocoa industry for the better through Cocoa Life and our existing Fairtrade certifications," a media spokesperson told CHOICE.
The Cocoa Life project is a $400 million program, which aims to empower cocoa farmers and lift their communities out of poverty by combating child labour, gender inequality, resource access, environment and productivity issues.
Australian-owned Haigh's Chocolates sells premium chocolate products. Its chocolate Easter egg range is 100% UTZ Certified and has been since 2014.
"Easter is probably the most significant single week of trade in the year for us, and it reflects about 10% of our sales," says Peter Millard, supply chain manager for Haigh's Chocolates. "People were coming in and asking us for ethically-sourced chocolate."
"We were conscious of the issue, too. None of us wanted to be part of a supply chain that had slavery or non-ideal working conditions," says Millard.
The issues and ethics around chocolate production
Chocolate and confectionary revenue is expected to compound at an annual rate of 1.3% over the next five years (to reach $6.7 billion) in part due to consumer demand of ethical and sustainable production methods.
Child labour and trafficking
More than 40% of the world's cocoa comes from Cote d'lvoire in West Africa, and 70% comes from the West African region. It's predominantly produced on small subsistence farms and smallholds where farmers often struggle to make ends meet and can't afford to employ adult labour. As a result, children are often trafficked and subjected to unfair and exploitative treatment. It's estimated that a cocoa farmer in Cote d'lvoire earns just US 50 cents per day and US 84 cents per day in Ghana. This is below the extreme poverty figure of $US2 per person per day.
A report on child labour in West African cocoa growing areas conducted by Tulane University in the US and the International Labour Organisation found that in 2013–14, in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana combined:
- 2.26 million children were working in cocoa production
- 2.12 million children were working in child labour in cocoa production
- 2.03 million children were working in hazardous work such as using hand-held machetes to cut down and crack open cocoa pods.
Australian coordinator of Stop the Traffik, Fuzz Kitto, says it's mainly boys who get trafficked. "It's important to understand this happens because of the poverty that exists in these countries."
The start of change
In early 2012, after the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire, the government recognised the issue of child exploitation in the industry.
"For the first time the government said we have human trafficking and we don't want it, we have to do something about it," says Kitto.
In November of the same year the first World Cocoa Conference, organised by the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), was held in Cote d'Ivoire.
"They all sat down together – NGOs, government, chocolate industries, unions and farmers' associations – to say 'What are we going to do about this? We need a shared responsibility'," says Kitto. "In other words, whose job is it to do what?"
The result was the Abidjan Cocoa Declaration, which outlined a course of action to bring about major changes in the cocoa industry and to move the sector onto a path of sustainable development.
Stop the Traffik has been campaigning for retailers to sell ethical chocolate since 2007.
"(Back in 2007) I was certainly aware that Stop the Traffik was campaigning for consumers to not support companies that didn't sell ethical chocolate. For a long time we [Haigh's Chocolates] lived feeling quite threatened by that approach," says Millard.
Over time, Stop the Traffik and Haigh's Chocolates worked together to understand the different challenges and perspectives and to achieve a plan for sustainable chocolate.
"We found that Stop the Traffik was simply asking us to do everything that we could and were cheering us on as much as they were criticising us," says Millard.
"Now we understand more about our cocoa and supply chains and that makes us more confident in the product we manufacture. We certainly believe we are achieving very high quality standards by understanding more about the origins and where we are sourcing them from."