By Lorrayne Anthony
By Lorrayne Anthony
Instead of rich and creamy sweetness, chocolate’s aftertaste may be
stomach-turning bitterness once consumers learn that poor farmers are
forced to use child labour to harvest cocoa beans.
Instead of rich and creamy sweetness, chocolate’s aftertaste may be stomach-turning bitterness once consumers learn that poor farmers are forced to use child labour to harvest cocoa beans.
Even as the chocolate industry is trying to curb unsavoury cocoa-farming practices in Ivory Coast and Ghana, Canadian aid workers, among others, are disappointed in the industry’s snail’s pace at dealing with the issue.
Cadbury Schweppes announced in February it would spend millions over the next few years to boost cocoa yields and improve the lives of cocoa farmers, a move intended to guarantee a long-term supply of the most important ingredient used in its signature candies.
“It’s not only the right thing to do but … also we really rely on the quality and taste profile of Ghanaian cocoa and that is something that is really important to our brand,” Alex Cole, corporate affairs director at Cadbury, said from her office in London.
David Morley, the president and CEO of Save the Children Canada in Toronto was cautiously optimistic about Cadbury’s announcement.
“Some of what the companies are doing is good – making the crops more sustainable and all – but we feel there should be more power put in the hands of the farmers,” said Morley. “The wonderful free hand of the market is not working here.”
Cadbury said the investment will affect an estimated one million cocoa farmers. Most are located in Ghana, but some of the money will be earmarked for farmers in the other countries where Cadbury gets cocoa for its candy bars, such as in India, Indonesia and the Caribbean.
Research by Sussex University in England, which was funded by the candy maker, has shown that the average production for a cocoa farmer has dropped to only 40 per cent of potential yield and that cocoa farming has become less attractive to the next potential generation of farmers, a statement by the company indicated.
But cocoa farming was not always an exercise in poverty for farmers in western Africa.
There was a time when there was enough profit from cocoa to fund farms, farmers and workers, said Carol Off, author of Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.
In the ’80s the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund stepped in to rearrange the affairs of African countries that had taken on huge debt. At the same time social safety nets were dismantled, Off explained.
Africa’s economies were affected and a small group of multinational corporations developed a complete monopoly over the marketing, purchase and sale of cocoa beans – controlling the profits and driving down costs, she said.
“Which is why the farmers turned to slave labour to support themselves.”
In 2001 an independent study shed light on the little-known practice of child labour on African cocoa farms. That, along with sporadic reports in the media about child trafficking for labour in the cocoa bean harvest, made companies take action before consumers planned a boycott of the sweet stuff.
Cadbury is following in the footsteps of other companies that decided the small price of ensuring workers’ quality of life was good for the bottom line.
Last year, Starbucks said it would open a farmer support centre in Ethiopia’s capital to help growers improve the quality of their coffee crops and boost production using sustainable practices. And sportswear behemoth Nike Inc. has invested in community development in countries where its products are made as a strategy intended to counteract allegations of “sweatshop” labour.
Later in 2001, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-New York), worked with the chocolate manufacturers, to develop a framework for the cocoa industry to do away with the worst forms of child and slave labour in the growing and processing of cocoa beans and their derived products.
The protocol laid out a series of date-specific actions, including the development of voluntary standards of certification by July 1, 2005.
Unfortunately, industry leaders did not meet the 2005 deadline but agreed to accelerate their implementation of the protocol to cover at least 50 per cent of the cocoa-growing areas in Ghana and Ivory Coast by July 1, 2008.
Off took direct aim at Cadbury’s investment, saying the announced investment is “paltry” given that the company is worth billions of dollars.
“Cocoa companies and chocolate companies have been doing a lot to try and improve yields… I question whether that is a benefit to the farmers at all,” she said. “The more beans there are, the lower the prices, right?
“The only thing that will make any difference … is if the farmers get a fair price for their bean. And the cocoa companies won’t go for that,” Off said.
While admitting he is no economist, Save the Children’s Morley couldn’t help but wonder why, if cocoa bean production is down (according to reports including the one funded by Cadbury), hasn’t the price of the bars gone up?
He noted chocolate bars have cost around a dollar since the ’80s.
“This ongoing low price is really an important part of what is causing some of the difficulties for the farmers and for their communities,” he said, adding that most people would pay more for chocolate if they knew it would trickle downto the farmers.
Still, Morley doesn’t advocate consumers boycott chocolate products, as that will adversely affect farmers. He also points to fair trade chocolate as an alternative.
Fair trade is a market that reconnects the consumer with the producers who grow and harvest the products that stock grocery shelves and restaurants.
Jeff deJong is the co-executive director of La Siembra, a worker-owned, fair trade co-operative that provides certified organic cocoa, sugar and chocolate products. He finds consumers are turning to fair trade products after learning more about the plight of farmers who are at the mercy of large multinational companies.
While competing against the big chocolate companies, he said the fair trade company he works for is viable, not only for the producers who are being paid significantly better, but also for the company.
La Siembra, an Ottawa-based company, started in 2002 and is approaching $7 million in revenues this year. The company buys cocoa beans from the Americas, where the regional issues are different from Africa. This ensures the farmers are getting a fair price.
SOURCE: The Canadian Press