Does Your Easter Chocolate Contain Modern Day Slavery?

For many countries with Western Christian historical associations, the first Sunday after the first full moon after the northern vernal equinox is a time of year that is dominated by a particular culinary phenomenon of Mesoamerican origins. All is not so sweet, however, for this quasi-healthy treat–a gift normally representing feelings of sympathy, appreciation, friendship, and even love between giver and receiver–may in fact come at the cost of untold suffering.

By Christie Johnson

Easter. Though originally a pagan equinoctial festival devoted to the goddess of Spring, it’s now predominantly known as one of the most important festivals in the Christian calendar; a time to reflect, pray, and celebrate an integral biblical story of crucifixion and resurrection. For those of us who aren’t practising Christians, Easter can still signify hope, regrowth and new beginnings. Spring brings warmer days for many countries in the northern hemisphere; nature blooming with new life and colour after laying bare and dormant for months.

If nothing else, Easter always guarantees an abundance of delicious chocolate treats. Whether your preference is nutty praline Easter bunnies or a traditional hollow shell, the choices of confectionary are endless and, in most cases, impossible to resist. The World Cocoa Foundation estimates 3 million tonnes of chocolate and other cocoa products are devoured across the world annually; with countries such as the UK consuming 660,900 tonnes and the average Australian eating around 32kg per year.

However, should we be so quick to slip in to a cocoa frenzy when the key ingredient in most chocolate is modern day slavery? Whilst many children in the West are filled with anticipation for the conventional Easter egg hunt, thousands in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and other cocoa-producing countries are subject to human trafficking and slave labour to meet the world’s insatiable appetite for chocolate; a cruel irony which has haunted the cocoa industry for decades.

The Bittersweet Truth About Chocolate

West Africa supplies around 70% of the world’s cocoa with Nestlé, Hershey, Ferrero, Lindt and Mondelēz producing 80% of all chocolate globally. Most chocolate is consumed in Europe and North America, with the European Union importing over 60% of the world’s cocoa beans. For the cocoa farming communities of West Africa chocolate is far from an attainable and minor luxury, with most having never tasted chocolate due to it being so unaffordable.

The cocoa industry is worth an estimated USD $100 billion, yet the average cocoa farmer receives a mere 6% of a chocolate bar’s value whilst manufacturing and retail giants profit by 80%. As a result, around 6 million people reliant on cocoa endure extreme poverty; barely surviving on as little as USD $1 a day at the bottom of a broken and complex supply chain.

Child Slavery: A Recipe for Disaster

Many cocoa farms are rife with child exploitation and slavery; what the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) refers to as a ‘symptom and self-perpetuating cause’ of abject rural poverty in cocoa- growing communities. Employing children to work on cocoa farms is a ‘natural way of life’ for impoverished communities as it significantly reduces labour costs. Although the ICI confirm children often work within the familial ranks, it is still a dangerous environment for a young person; with many removed from their families and exposed to illegal, hazardous and exploitative conditions. According to a report by Tulane University, around 2.1 million children work in the cocoa industry with 96% facing these terrible realities.

Research by NORC at the University of Chicago found hazardous child labour in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana cocoa-producing areas has risen by 13% in the last decade which overlaps with a 62% increase in demand over the same period. This comes almost 20 years after chocolate manufacturing giants such as Mars, Nestlé and Hershey signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a collective agreement to abolish child slavery in the global chocolate industry.

International Rights Advocates (IRA), on behalf of 8 children who claim they were subjected to slave labour on cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast, have filed a lawsuit in Washington DC against big household names such as Olam, Nestlé, Mondelēz, Cargill and Mars. The plaintiffs accuse the manufacturers of knowingly facilitating the illegal enslavement of thousands of children in their cocoa supply chains, as well as intentionally deceiving the public by failing to act on the promises laid out in the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol.

Cocoa is Perpetuating the Climate Crisis

To further compound these unjust realities, the cocoa industry is thought to be responsible for the destruction of 90% of the Ivory Coast’s rainforests since the 1960s; replacing vital biodiversity with infinite swathes of cocoa mono-culture along with pushing once prolific species, such as chimpanzees and elephants, to near-extinction.

NGO Mighty Earth, through comprehensive investigations, found that the 3 major cocoa agribusiness traders – Olam, Cargill and Barry Callebaut –have for years been purchasing cocoa grown in protected forests and national parks. It is thought that around 40% of Ivory Coast cocoa comes from protected forest areas as a result of illegal deforestation, with Mighty Earth identifying cocoa as the ‘primary driver’ for the relentless destruction of a once bio-rich Ivory Coast.

How Can I Tell If My Easter Egg Is Rotten?

In the face of a multi-billion-dollar global industry, sustained by an unregulated supply chain riddled with dirty secrets, how can the average person possibly determine which chocolate has, or hasn’t, been tainted by these bitter truths?

To support consumers in what feels like an insurmountable task, Mighty Earth, Green America, Inkota, Be Slavery Free and the National Wildlife Federation published an annual Easter Chocolate Shopping Guide . The chocolate scorecard surveys the world’s leading cocoa traders and manufacturers; identifying those who are consciously working towards eradicating unsustainable practices and others who are tragically falling behind.

The groups surveyed 31 companies and cocoa suppliers, scoring each one based on the most urgent sustainability issues facing the cocoa industry today: transparency and traceability, human rights due diligence, deforestation and climate change, agroforestry, child labour and living income. A deeper explanation of the guide’s methodology can be found here.

This year Alter Eco, Tony’s Chocolonely and Whitakers won the ‘Good Egg Award for greatest improvement in sustainable policies’ whilst Storck (Werther’s, Toffifay, Merci) received the ‘Rotten Egg Award for lack of transparency and worst-in-class policies’.

Godiva, who received the Rotten Egg Award in 2020, has substantially improved its living income policies and environmental practices.

Chocolate ingredients label mentioning slavery

Certifications for Fair Trade

Fair trade certifications are also an effective referencing tool when determining which chocolate is mixed with good ethics. The term ‘fair trade’ is something we all recognise as consumers; with certification labels stamped across our overseas food favourites such as bananas, coffee and of course chocolate.

Established in the 1950s, fair trade has become a global social movement designed to eradicate the many injustices and inequalities symbolic of the international trade sector; creating fair and sustainable livelihoods for otherwise marginalised producers in developing countries. On the other side of the spectrum, fair trade marks act as an educational tool; empowering consumers to make more informed choices.

So, what are some of the main fair trade certifications we should look out for this Easter?

Fairtrade International

FAIRTRADE is an established certification label many of us know and affiliate with. Managed by NGO Fairtrade International and partners, it is ‘one of the largest and most diverse global movements of change’ with 69% of consumers trusting the FAIRTRADE mark according to a 2019 cross-country survey by GlobeScan . Fairtrade International works with 1.7 million farmers and workers as well as 2,000 Fairtrade towns in 28 countries.

For a product to be stamped by the FAIRTRADE mark, it must have undergone a rigorous certification process along with meeting stringent internationally agreed standards. For farmers and workers, Fairtrade means:

  • Fair Minimum Price for goods, protecting businesses when market prices drop;
  • Safe working conditions;
  • Eradication of gender inequality, discrimination, forced and child labour;
  • Fairtrade Premium, an additional pot of money to invest in business or community projects;
  • And much, much more!

Cocoa has become one of the most prolific Fairtrade products since its certification in 1994. According to Fairtrade 2018 impact data, nearly 300,000 Fairtrade farmers were recorded in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire cocoa -producing regions with approximately €38 million Fairtrade Premium earned.

World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO)

‘Fair Trade’ is associated with certification scheme World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) which reviews a company in its totality rather than a single commodity. A company must be assessed using an international certification system and follow the 10 Fair Trade Principles in order to be verified under the WFTO Guaranteed Fair Trade label.

Democratically run by its members, WFTO is a supportive global network located in 76 countries around the world; including 1,000 social enterprises and 1,500 shops. WFTO has so far improved the lives of 1 million people from marginalised communities; 74% of those women. WFTO believe ‘Fair Trade is more than just trading’ with its certification scheme tackling serious issues around climate change, gender inequality, poverty and social injustice.

Rainforest Alliance

Not-for-profit organisation Rainforest Alliance is the ‘global leader in sustainability certification’. A coalition of farmers, businesses, governments and forest communities across 70 countries, Rainforest Alliance’s mission is to protect the world’s forests, advance human rights, improve the livelihoods of farmers and forest communities, as well as helping farms and businesses become more resilient in the face of climate change.

A product or ingredient stamped with the iconic red – eyed tree frog seal means it has been ‘produced using methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental’, with farmers rigorously assessed using independent, third – party auditors. The certification programme focuses on commodities that are ‘facing urgent environmental and social challenges’ including cocoa, tea, bananas and coffee.

Rainforest Alliance implements sustainable agriculture and community forestry in cocoa-producing areas of West and Central Africa, along with helping farmers adapt to a changing climate by investing in robust agricultural landscapes.

With 2 million+ certified farmers and 5,000+ companies choosing certified products and sustainable business practices, the Rainforest Alliance stamp empowers consumers to ‘choose products that contribute toward a better future for people and planet’.

Looking to find out more about fair trade certifications?

In response to the ‘context of significant changes within the fair trade sector’ joint partners Commerce Équitable France, Fair World Project (FWP), FairNESS and Forum Fairer Handel created the International Guide to Fair Trade Labels. The guide is a ‘comprehensive analysis’ of the leading international fair trade certification labels; helping consumers better understand the policies behind the logo.