If I asked you what the main ingredients of chocolate were, I’m sure you’d be pretty accurate. Cacao beans? Absolutely. Sugar? That’s why it’s sweet. Milk? Depending on the type.
However, I don’t think you would add child labour to your list. Yet modern slavery continues to thrive in the chocolate industry, and it’s something we need to be thinking about particularly at this time of year as we shop for Easter eggs.
At Easter and year-round, chocolate is a treat and even a reward. It’s something to be savoured and enjoyed. But, unfortunately, that is not the case in western Africa, where a staggering number of children are held against their will and used as slave labour in the cacao plantations.
The vast majority of the world’s cacao beans come from a handful of countries in west Africa. For those countries, it is a significant economic driver – in some cases, half of a country’s Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, this money is not divided equally: manufacturers and retailers take the lion’s share. When you buy a chocolate bar in a UK high street, the west African farmers that grew the cacao beans will be fortunate to receive 6p for every £1 you spend. This paltry amount works out as a few pounds each day for a cacao farmer, so child labour is endemic to avoid employment costs.
Recent studies have estimated that there are around 2 million child labourers in west Africa. These children have been duped, trafficked across borders and forced into servitude to fuel our demand for chocolate. Allow me for a moment to describe the conditions of a child slave. The children work extreme hours in dangerous situations. The work is hard and relentless. They use machetes, pesticides and other chemicals, all without safety equipment. If they fail to meet quotas or are deemed not working hard enough, they are beaten. All this, for chocolate.
Child slavery is devastating for the children involved, but it also impacts the country. Enslaved children are unable to go to school, permanently stunting their academic capabilities. In turn, this prevents them from working in legitimate businesses that contribute to the economy, depriving it of significant economic growth.
The greater tragedy is that child slavery in the chocolate supply chain is not a new problem. NGOs have been highlighting the issue for the last 20 years. Unfortunately, however, it is a problem that continues unabated.
The chocolate industry does not have to be like this; there are alternatives. The Fairtrade Foundation is a trading partnership that ensures that the farmers they work with receive a living wage and their farms are slave free. Changing your shopping habits is a simple, practical step you can take to stop child slavery. So the next time you are craving some chocolate, look out for the Fairtrade logo and choose that over the alternatives.
You could also take a look at the Chocolate Scorecard, produced by an alliance of NGOs and academics, that rates the ethical credentials of most leading global chocolate brands across six categories and gives them an overall score.
If you are a UK consumer, before buying from a big company, you can also check if they are on the modern slavery register and what they say. For example, have they sought help from Slave-Free Alliance? If they are not on the register, reach out to them and ask why not! You can access the register here: https://modern-slavery-statement-registry.service.gov.uk/search