This isn’t intended to ruin your holiday cheer, but it definitely caused me to think twice before buying big-brand chocolate for an upcoming holiday fête: Much of mainstream chocolate contains cocoa produced by child slaves.
The largest U.S. manufacturers of chocolate—including Hershey and Nestle—get their cocoa from plantations in West Africa, which produce 75 percent of the world’s cocoa.
We may see some positive action soon from the mainstream chocolate industry: Nestle only recently decided to investigate child slavery in its supply chain. But, so far, Save the Children Canada reports that more than 312,000 children are working in hazardous and exploitative conditions on West African cocoa farms. And an estimated 15,000 of these children have been kidnapped or sold by their parents to work essentially as slaves.
Here’s the good news: there are many opportunities in the chocolate supply chain to eliminate child slavery from chocolate.
Fair trade organizations like Fair Trade USA (founded by Ashoka Fellow Paul Rice) have helped consumers identify alternatives to mainstream chocolate by certifying products sourced from cocoa farmers that are paid a fair price in exchange for adhering to socially responsible and sustainable growing practices. Divine Chocolate, for example, is certified Fair Trade and is 45 percent owned by its cocoa farmers.
Another company, Madécasse, takes fair trade a step further by manufacturing chocolate locally in Madagascar, thereby helping small cocoa producers generate even more income. Although Africa produces a majority of the world’s cocoa, according to Madécasse, less than 1 percent of chocolate is made there.
By making the chocolate in Africa, Madécasse generates four times more income than fair trade cocoa alone. (For your holiday baking needs, you can order blocks of Madécasse chocolate from the company’s website).
Other innovators are intervening by helping small cocoa farmers become more productive and acquire growth financing. For example, Cocoa Sustainability Partnership’s online forum helps smallholders in the Indonesian cocoa industry share information about sustainable farming practices, improving bean quality and market opportunities.
Another organization, Breaking Ground, is helping cocoa farmers in Cameroon—rural women entrepreneurs in particular—acquire seed funding and business skills to maximize their income.
Because many small farmers are being pushed out by large plantations, securing property rights for smallholders is another crucial element to supporting fair trade.
The fair trade certification industry is undergoing its own bit of turmoil; Fair Trade USA is changing its definition of fair trade. Still, I’m urging everyone I know to become a conscious consumer and consider buying ethical chocolate this holiday season.
As we wish one another abundance now and in the next year, let’s help stop child slavery and support safe and fair working conditions too.
This post is by Kristie Wang and was originally posted on Changemakers’ Ideas ExChange blog.
Photo credit: Nestle