Ask more of your chocolate
It's that time of year again - time for people to buy candy in bulk for one night of fun. As we prepare for Halloween, there's an elephant in the room that we need to address. Much of the chocolate that is readily available has been produced on the backs of children and slave labor.
What many chocolate companies don’t want you to know is that they are still purchasing cocoa grown using child labor, despite nearly two decades of promises to eliminate it from their supply chains. Furthermore, farms that use child labor are much more likely to contribute to deforestation of vital ecosystems. It’s time for a systemic change to the way our chocolate is sourced.
"This has been an ongoing issue that’s been a blemish on the chocolate industry for decades, so it’s important for chocolate producers to know exactly where their cocoa is sourced." – Mike Forbes, Alter Eco CEO
What’s the cause of the problem?
The desire to supply ‘cheap’ chocolate in bulk to western markets has enabled this widespread exploitation of children and cocoa workers. Two-thirds of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, where an estimated 2 million children are still working the fields. In many cases, farmers in this region are earning as little as 70 cents per day. The world’s largest chocolate companies have repeatedly missed deadlines to eliminate child labor. They originally pledged to end these practices by 2005. It’s almost 2020 and we’re still waiting. Many companies cannot pinpoint where all of their chocolate is being sourced from, and thus have no transparency into the labor standards of the cocoa farms.
Slave-free since day one
Alter Eco was founded on the principle that business should be fair for everyone involved and we take sourcing our ingredients very seriously. We don’t believe in making compromises when it comes to paying our farmer partners a sustainable, living income. We negotiate payments directly with the farming cooperatives, paying well above the fair trade minimum, and ensuring that the price we pay is meeting the needs of all community members.
While purchasing Fair Trade Certified cocoa comes with audits and traceability, we go one step further and choose to only source from countries that have taken initiatives to eradicate the exploitation of children from their countries. When we first started Alter Eco, we intentionally decided to develop relationships with co-op farmers in Ecuador, known to be a country that is ‘child labor free in cocoa’, where we source over 80 percent of our fair trade cocoa beans. Until we can get better visibility and regulations in West Africa, where child labor is still a major problem even for certified cocoa, we will continue our direct relationships with small scale farmer co-ops in countries like Ecuador, Peru and the Dominican Republic.
We think it’s important to meet the cacao farmers we work with, to hear their stories. That’s why we send Alter Eco team members to visit our cooperatives every year, so we can learn their needs directly from them and make sure programs are being implemented to empower their communities.
What’s the solution?
Chocolate producers have a responsibility to know exactly where their cocoa is sourced and to ensure it’s being harvested in a sustainable way, exclusively by adults earning a fair wage for their work. Full stop.
"Paying farmers fairly affects everything for the better and it is the first step in solving this. A fair price would help to eliminate child labor, empower farmers to think about future sustainability instead of short-term gains, protect forests through sustainable agroforestry methods and more." – Mike Forbes, Alter Eco CEO
Alter Eco has always paid farmers a living wage with additional Fair Trade premiums providing additional funding for our partner cooperatives to train and support their members. The global cocoa prices continue to remain at unsustainably low levels. That’s why we are actively pushing for a global floor price of cocoa to provide a living income, similarly to what has been done in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. We believe that if you start paying farmers fairly for what they are growing, it will keep children out of the fields. Furthermore, when farmers are paid a living wage for their work and no longer have to worry about how they’re going to feed their families, they can invest in sustainable agroforestry and organic practices, allowing their communities to thrive for generations to come.
The more chocolate companies that invest in agroforestry to combat deforestation in their supply chains, the more impact we can collectively make. It enables farmers to protect their land and their crops’ longevity for greater autonomy while increasing cocoa yield and diversifying income with the ability to sell other crops in the local markets. We encourage other chocolate producers to join us in this important work.
What can consumers do?
Ask more of your chocolate! Next time you see a chocolate bar that’s very cheap, take a moment to ask yourself why is that bar so inexpensive? Demand action and transparency from cocoa companies that have profited on the backs of unfair labor for decades. Through our consumer voices we can push for an industry-wide shift to end corporate exploitation in the cocoa industry. When in doubt, we recommend you reference Green America’s Chocolate Scorecard (see below) for information on which companies are investing in ethical supply chains, and which have room for improvement.
Our governments have a role to play. In countries where child labor is heavily regulated, strong improvements have been seen throughout cocoa supply chains. In the United States, congressional legislation has been introduced to crack down on cocoa imports using forced child labor. Australia recently passed the Modern Slavery Act, requiring businesses with an annual revenue above A$100 million to report annually on the risk of slavery in their supply chains. We must continue to demand action from our elected officials to make sure that we are no longer contributing to this global issue.
Thank you for joining us in the fight for ethical, sustainable chocolate! Together we can end this system of exploitation and create a cocoa industry that empowers the communities that support it.
“Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry.” Food Empowerment Project, foodispower.org/human-labor-slavery/slavery-chocolate/.
“Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor - Ghana.” U.S. Department of Labor, www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/ghana.
“Hershey, Nestle and Mars Won't Promise Their Chocolate Is Free of Child Labor.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 June 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/business/hershey-nestle-mars-chocolate-child-labor-west-africa/.
Redmond, Paul, and Gerard Brennan. “At Last, Australia Has a Modern Slavery Act. Here's What You'll Need to Know.” The Conversation, 21 Oct. 2019, theconversation.com/at-last-australia-has-a-modern-slavery-act-heres-what-youll-need-to-know-107885.
Whoriskey, Peter. “Chocolate Companies Sell 'Certified Cocoa.' But Some of Those Farms Use Child Labor, Harm Forests.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 Oct. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/10/23/chocolate-companies-say-their-cocoa-is-certified-some-farms-use-child-labor-thousands-are-protected-forests/.
Whoriskey, Peter. “Senators Call for Crackdown on Cocoa Imports Made with Forced Child Labor.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 July 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/07/16/senators-call-dhs-crack-down-cocoa-imports-made-with-forced-child-labor/.
Whoriskey, Peter. “West African Countries Plan to Hike Cocoa Prices, Citing 'Injustice' in Chocolate Industry. Can They Reduce Child Labor?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 July 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/07/02/west-african-countries-plan-hike-cocoa-prices-citing-injustice-chocolate-industry-can-they-reduce-child-labor/.