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Blogs and Opinion Not Made with Love: Exploitation in the Chocolate & Rose industries

Not Made with Love: Exploitation in the Chocolate & Rose industries

Valentine’s Day is a moment to show your love and affection to those you hold dear, but there is a darker side to the industry which is rarely discussed. Whether it’s buying roses or chocolates for your loved ones, you could be unintentionally fuelling an industry that relies upon exploitation to bring these items to market.

The worst ‘ingredient’ in your chocolate this Valentine’s Day could be child exploitation.

In the production lines of some chocolates, there has been evidence of the use of child labour in cocoa farming. This child labour usually exists due to extreme poverty where families need their children to work to survive. This extreme poverty can be linked to the low prices that the chocolate industry places on cocoa.

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. For example, in 2021 the largest company in the cocoa sector, Nestlé, reported annual gross profits of approximately US$18 billion. In comparison, the average daily income of cocoa farmers is reportedly only the equivalent of US$1.42 in Ghana and US$1.23 in Côte d’Ivoire.

When you purchase a standard chocolate bar, only 6% of the price you pay goes back to cocoa farmers. Farmers need to be paid an estimated 4-5 times that to earn a living income. This paltry amount works out as a few pounds each day for a cacao farmer, so child labour is endemic to avoid employment costs.

Is worth thinking the next time you buy a cheap chocolate bar, why is it so cheap? Could the true cost be the extreme harm to vulnerable children?

Children produce around 20% of cocoa and an estimated 1.6 million children are exploited for labour in the production of it in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire alone. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s largest cocoa-producing countries, around 95% of child labour in cocoa production constitutes the worst forms of child labour, according to the UN International Labour Organization (ILO). That means we’re not just talking about child labour, which deprives children of their childhood and damages their physical and psychological development, but also the sexual exploitation of children.

Source: Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa, Bureau of International Labor Affairs

According to the 4th Edition of the Chocolate Scorecard, developed by Be Slavery Free, 110,000 cases of the worst forms of child labour were identified in the past year (2023). Unfortunately, only 30% of these children were no longer in situations of worst forms of child labour meaning that 70% of children who were identified as being in worst forms of child labour were not helped in 2023.

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.

Furthermore, the pesticides in cocoa can be extremely toxic to young children farming them. A recent report found that children’s exposure to these toxic pesticides is rising from 10% in 2014 to 27% in 2019. More recently in 2020, it was found that more than 1.48 million children had been exposed to these hazardous toxins in cocoa production in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

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.

What about Roses?

As beautiful as they are, exploitation could be tainting the roses you gift this time of year. With the demand for roses fluctuating year-round, and being extremely high during the Valentine’s season, this can increase the pressure on farmers needing extra labour and the low prices that are offered in return breed the environment for exploitation.

Source: Scoping Study Report: Building Collaboration in the UK Floriculture Sector, March 2023

Agriculture, as a sector, is known to have modern slavery as an issue that needs to be addressed. In countries all over the world including the UK, Ecuador and Kenya there has been significant evidence of forced labour and inadequate working conditions in the flower-picking sector. Many are forced to work on rose farms, picking at thorny flowers until their fingers bleed.

Rose farming can also contribute to environmental and gender issues. Rose production is highly water intensive, posing challenges in countries that contend with existing water scarcity, which could further extreme poverty and create climate refugees, both of which can create a significant risk of modern slavery. Recent research found that women are the majority of workers in the flower sector – up to 75 per cent of the workforce in Kenya – and women work in the industry’s most labour-intensive positions. Furthermore, poor housing conditions and security around flower farms have contributed to an increased risk of rape and sexual violence for female workers.

This happens right here in the UK too. In 2020, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), identified Lincolnshire, Cornwall and Somerset as examples of UK flower-growing locations which could be a risk, with a raid in 2018 identifying over 200 people trapped in forced labour at a flower farm in Cornwell picking daffodils. We estimate it to be an even wider issue.

Supermarkets have commented:

“This year [2023] has been the worst year for social in the UK when it comes to agriculture that I’ve seen in terms of the actual visible impacts of potential modern slavery, forced labour exploitation.”

Local UK Supermarket, sourced from Scoping Study Report: Building Collaboration in the UK Floriculture Sector, March 2023

So how can we be sure our chocolate gifts and roses are free from child labour and exploitation?

The Chocolate and Roses industries could be tainted with modern slavery, so how do you make sure that you don’t fuel exploitation this Valentine’s Day? Well, it’s not all doom, bloom and gloom – you can find brands that source their roses ethically and ensure human-rights respecting processes are implemented in their supply chain. Some florists even produce Charity Roses which gives proceeds to different charities, including our very own Hope for Justice rose!

Hope for Justice Rose from Blue Diamond

Additionally, the ‘Chocolate Scorecard’ is an amazing resource to help you research your favourite brands and make better choices based on how they source and produce their chocolate. Produced by an alliance of NGOs and academics, it rates the ethical credentials of leading global chocolate brands and gives them an overall score. 

Our consumer choices have an impact and can have huge influences on wider society. Every purchase we make is like a vote for the company. So, it’s important to do your research and make sure that your choices are ethical and protect the human rights of those most vulnerable.

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: 

Let’s shop ethically this Valentine’s Day to show the people we love how we cherish them, and make the world a better place, one step at a time.

young girl