ETHICAL CONSUMERISM Spotlight on: Cocoa By Sarah Mokrzycki
‘When people eat chocolate they are eating my flesh’ – Drissa, former cocoa slave Children in Australia have access to education, healthcare, and most importantly, childhoods. The children who work the cocoa farms in West Africa are not so lucky. Surrounded by poverty, children in many countries are forced to work from a young age; some do this voluntarily to support their families, others are sold to traffickers, and some, according to BBC’s Panorama website, are even abducted from neighbouring countries. Children work long hours, climbing cocoa trees and cutting and slicing bean pods with machetes which often results in injuries and permanent scaring, before packing the pods into sacks and transporting them.
‘Some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten’ – Aly Diabate, former cocoa slave On top of hazardous work conditions, the children are exposed to agricultural chemicals, poor nutrition and appalling living conditions, including little to no access to clean water. Many of the children are completely unable to undertake any form of education – a direct violation of the International Labor Organisation (ILO) standards. They spend their days literally slaving away so that people in more fortunate countries can enjoy cheap chocolate from supermarkets. According to the Food Empowerment Project, ‘relatively little progress has been made in reducing and eliminating child labor and slavery in the cocoa industry of West Africa.’ World Vision states, ‘approximately 95 percent of the chocolate sold today is not certified to be free from the use of forced, child or
trafficked labour,’ and BBC’s Panorama echoes this chilling statistic, stating ‘there is no guarantee, despite safeguards, even with chocolate marketed as Fairtrade, that child labour... has not been involved in the supply chain.’ The Fairtrade label is a beacon of ethics for the savvy consumer, a neat little way to know that we’re on the right track and doing the responsible thing. Or is it? Recent research shows that Fairtrade is not all it’s hyped up to be. An article from Care2 explains, ‘for products like bananas and tea, fair trade is mostly a question of insuring that small farmers get a fair price for their products, but when it comes to cocoa the issues are even more serious. Slavery, child labor, kidnapping, injuries from unsafe working conditions, beatings and, at its worst, murder, are all in the mix.’ And none of these concerns are covered adequately by the Fairtrade label, which, at a base level, simply means farmers are paid a fair price for their product. So what about going organic? Unfortunately, like the Fairtrade label, organic labels refer only to one aspect of food production – in this case, the adherence to strict environmental requirements. As Clay Gordon states in an article for Grist, sustainability has three pillars: environmental, economic, and social – and as of yet, not one label fully covers all three. With so much confusion and ambiguity, just how on Earth are we meant to know what’s ok to buy? The short answer: go to The Ethical Guide [direct link to Chocolate section: http://guide.ethical.org.au/guide/ browse/guide/?cat=470&subcat=457&ty pe=126]
Here you will find a list of different chocolate companies and their current ethical standings. Most mainstream chocolate companies rate very low. In fact, major brand Nestle is on The Ethical Site’s list of companies to boycott. This can cause a bit of an issue for those of us who don’t have the money or means to 10
splurge on top rated chocolate brands. Fortunately, Whittaker’s has an excellent rating, and is sold in most supermarkets. Unfortunately, most supermarkets only stock two brands of cocoa: Cadbury and Nestle. In this instance, it’s a case of going with the lesser of two evils. If mainstream cocoa is the only type you can afford or find, my advice is to buy Cadbury. The Ethical Guide has a great big cross next to it, but like everything to do with this issue, it’s a little complicated. Cadbury are now owned by Kraft, which is largely responsible for their dismal ethical rating. Cadbury confirms they don’t source cocoa from farms utilizing slave/child labour, and are currently invested in a $400 million dollar global sustainability project called Cocoa Life – but here’s where it gets tricky. Kraft Foods (now Mondelez Australia) has no criticisms in The Ethical Guide, but Mondelez International (who own them) have a bucketful, including a D+ rating from Free2Work, ‘which rates companies on their efforts to address forced and child labour.’
They spend their days literally slaving away so that people in more fortunate countries can enjoy cheap chocolate from supermarkets. This is a primary concern for ethical shoppers – buying a certain product may, in essence, be ok, but so many products are linked to unethical corporations. Green & Black’s Fairtrade chocolate, for example, was bought by Cadbury in 2005, which was bought by Kraft in 2010, which is part of Mondelez International. It just goes on and on. If you are concerned about where your favourite chocolate brand sources their cocoa from, email them and ask (see sample). At this stage, with so many companies either turning a blind eye, or worse, actively sourcing cocoa from farms utilizing child labour, it falls to us to take a stand and make a difference.
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