Article contributed by Jennifer Dawson
Ah, glorious chocolate – the food of the gods. It’s so beautiful that between 2015 and 2016, approximately 4 million tons of cocoa were produced by the global cocoa industry.
But there is a dark side to it, despite the 2.8 billion pounds of delicious, ready-to-eat chocolate that Americans consume each year, the equally huge supply that the food services industry buys, and the returns that cacao farmers are supposed to get from this consumption. Family-run farms that the industry relies on are not happy. Paid with as little amount as possible, cacao farmers are forced to live below the poverty line, and the abuse continues through the involvement of child workers. As the massively unequal nature of the chocolate industry unravels, the usually enjoyable product now leaves a bad taste in the mouth. This is affecting food services as chefs and the rest of the industry are faced with a choice between sustainability and getting better wholesale prices.
Dark Chocolate And Inequality
Dark chocolate’s fan base in the United States has grown through the years – and for good reason. It is incredibly satisfying, and also good for your health. For centuries, cocoa on its own was used for medicinal purposes, and it turns out, the ancients were right. Dark chocolate contains flavanols and magnesium, two essential nutrients that are good for the heart and the brain. Despite its positive impact on those who consume it, those that farm cocoa beans are experiencing major heartaches due to the inhumanely low prices paid for their produce. The average cacao farmer makes around $1,400 to $2,000 in profit per year, giving them a budget of less than a dollar a day. According to the Manchester Media Group, many farmers have no other choice but to live in poverty because profits are not shared evenly. The good news is, there are brands that are working for the betterment of the industry. This includes Tony’s Chocolonely from the Netherlands, a company that is respectful to cocoa farmers in terms of providing equitable pay. Brands Endangered Species and Equal Exchange are also doing the same, so there is hope in the future of the chocolate industry.
Due to the low prices that big companies pay to farmers, illegal child labor is now in place in cocoa-producing regions in West Africa. In fact, 2.1 million children are employed by farms as their parents or grandparents cannot afford to hire laborers anymore. These children are out of school now, based on several reports, adding to the burden that the chocolate industry has created. Only 10% of the total profit of the industry goes to farms, making it impossible for these family-run businesses to go legal in terms of labor, and for them to take themselves out of poverty. To make things worse, an estimated 30,000 child laborers in West Africa’s cocoa industry have been trafficked into slavery.
Child Labor Keeps Chocolate Prices Low
Farmers resort to child labor to keep their prices competitive even if the move is to their own detriment. While the farms are at fault for continuing this practice due to a lack of alternative work and possibly a lack of education, the biggest driving factor of child labor still remains in the hands of companies that buy cocoa. The West African governments that these farms are under also have a responsibility to make things right but they are holding on to the contribution of local cocoa farms, too, making it difficult to stop child labor in the region altogether.
It is noted that various sectors need to work together to prevent child labor in cacao farms but a massive shift can only happen if the companies that buy cocoa offer better prices. It is also disconcerting that the chocolate industry is worth billions, with the global market expected to reach $171.6 billion by the year 2026. This projection alone tells the whole story – companies sell chocolate to food services and to the retail market at a premium compared to what they pay for the raw materials that they use. Processing is of course considered in the analysis but even if this is included, the low prices that farmers have to contend with is not justified. It is also not surprising that chocolate prices that end users pay for does not change much because it is the farms that take on much of the burden.
Nestle Doing Its Best
Nestle, a huge supplier of chocolate, has been getting a lot of flak in the past few years due to child labor issues in West Africa. A report by The Washington Post says that Nestle, along with Mars and Hershey, pledged to stop using cocoa harvested by child laborers 20 years ago but that their efforts did not make a dent in solving the problem.The multinational company says, however, that it is committed to stopping and preventing child labor through its comprehensive child labor monitoring system. Its monitoring system is now in place in more than 1,750 communities in Côte d’Ivoire. The program was also implemented in Ghana later on. Nestle also started its Cocoa Plan in 2009 to improve the lives of farmers and to help children and their families. It says on the website of the company’s United States arm that the brand has zero tolerance for trafficking and slavery. The company admits though that there is still more that needs to be done.
Lindt Working Towards Sustainability and Equality
Lindt, one of the biggest wholesalers of chocolate, has been addressing the problem through its sustainable cocoa program, a move that is advantageous to the food services industry in general as they no longer have to worry about the problems that are often attached to the ingredient. It can be said that getting supplies from Lindt is a good route for a more sustainable supply chain. The Swiss chocolate company recently invested a whopping $14 million to ensure that its chocolate supply is fully traceable and verifiable.
While there are certain controls on the industry through the efforts of the World Cocoa Foundation, Fair Trade USA, UTZ and Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade International, Lindt wants total control over their own production chain to guarantee that all their supplies are sustainable and equitable. Lindt launched its farming program in Ghana in 2008 and later expanded the initiative to Ecuador and Madagascar. A total of 3,000 farmers benefited from the Ecuador initiative per a report from Lindt. The same report also notes that the initiative successfully trained 56,000 farmers through Source Trust, one of Lindt’s NGO partners.
Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, a part of the Lindt group, is also committed to providing sustainable chocolate to its end users. In fact, over 85% of their supplies are sourced through Lindt’s farming program. With Lindt and Ghirardelli doing what they can to provide value to their supply chain, the food services industry does not have anything to worry about when it comes to ethical concerns and to the prices that they pay for wholesale purchases.
While chocolate will remain popular to the world at large, a huge portion of the industry needs to change its structure to accommodate better pay for cocoa producers. Better prices for cocoa help the food service industry prepare ethical and sustainable food while ensuring that those who eat it are less guilty of their guilty pleasures. Thankfully, there is now an increasing number of companies stepping up to the task.