Why Fair Trade Chocolate?

fair trade chocolate why ivory coast child labour ghanaChocolate is a popular treat that is enjoyed across the globe. Unfortunately, the industry is marred by business practices that force unseemly labour conditions and are not only hazardous to farmers, but also promote the use of child labour and sometimes trafficking. By supporting these methods of exploitation, consumers unknowingly perpetuate the underdevelopment of communities and harm to the environment.

What many people don't realize is that there is a long chain of production that involves harvesting coca, refining the coca to cocoa beans, and shipping the cocoa beans to manufacturing plants for cleaning, coaching and grinding. The beans are then exported to other countries to be prepared in a number of different chocolate products. All of these processes go towards establishing a cost for the chocolate that we consume. Without proper representation within this chain of production however, many of the cocoa producers don't receive a proportional share and will have difficulty providing for their families and sustaining a healthy life.

While many of us enjoy numerous chocolate products throughout North America and Europe, most of the coca that goes into these products is grown in developing countries within tropical regions of the globe. For many of these countries, cocoa makes up the largest portion of the national economy. 67 per cent of the world's cocoa comes from West Africa where the Ivory Coast alone holds 43 per cent of the world market. Within these economies, cocoa accounts for 33 per cent of Ghana's total export earnings and 40 per cent of the Ivory Coast.

Despite being such a large part of their nation's economies however, most cocoa (90%) is grown on family farms smaller than 5 hectares—compared to 5 per cent from large plantations of 40 hectares or more. This becomes an issue when trading within world markets because contracts are typically measured in units of 10 metric tonnes or more. Small family farms typically produce only 1/2 tonne per year however, and aren't able to sell directly to these markets. Instead, farmers must go through middlemen who aggregate crops to sell in world markets.

The chocolate industry is dominated by a vast network of traders who are looking to pay the lowest price for the highest quality of beans. Due to misinformation and lack of communication with end buyers, it is rare that farmers will receive actual market prices for their crops and it is often the traders who are able to profit. As a result, when consumers buy chocolate products that aren't certified Fair Trade, a disproportionate amount of the money goes to paying these middlemen. The result is that farmers will often receive prices that may not even cover the cost of production.

Because farmers are under such pressure, they're often forced to cut labour costs. This often results in families using their children and children from relatives to work their farms from a very young age—while this may not directly constitute child labour, it often results in lost opportunities for education. Many farmers however, will in fact go as far as to use trafficked children and to pay them nothing. Reports indicate that children are often trafficked from Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin, and then brought into the Ivory Coast and other countries in West Africa.

In 2000, the US State Department released a report that they had found approximately 15,000 children aged 9 to 12 who had been sold into forced labour in the Ivory Coast. The report was followed up in 2002 by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), based in West Africa, with a study that found an estimated 284,000 children among 4,500 producers, working on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. The children were reported to typically engage in hazardous tasks such as using machetes and applying pesticides and insecticides without the necessary protective equipment. They will often start at 6:00 in the morning and work through until 6:30 at night and will receive little or nothing in pay.

The Payson Center at Tulane University reported in their 2009 Assessment of Child Labor in the Cocoa Supply Chain in Ivory Coast and Ghana that 15 per cent of children surveyed claimed they were forced to work involuntarily in past 12 months. They also found that almost 50 per cent of children working in cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, and over 50 per cent in Ghana reported injuries in the past year.

Aside from direct harm that many of these children are exposed to, the majority will also miss opportunities to go to school or to engage in more lucrative pursuits. The IITA noted that 66 per cent of child cocoa workers in the Ivory Coast didn't go to school and that about 64 per cent of them were under the age of 14.

Fair Trade certification aims to alleviate the pressures directly related to the low prices that producers receive compared to actual market prices. Fair Trade standards not only include a minimum price, but they also include a premium that is added to the purchase price when market prices rise above the Fair Trade minimum price. The money from these premiums is used by cooperatives to invest in education, health services, processing equipment and loans to members; it goes towards improving the lives of people living within these communities and towards improving production methods to improve yields and to reduce costs.

All Fair Trade cocoa producers are audited regularly to ensure no forced labour is used and that strict child labour standards are enforced according to the International Labor Organization Conventions 29, 105, 138 and 182.

Producers still own and operate their own businesses, but they do so within a network of cooperatives that work together to share information and resources in order to better understand market prices. Fair Trade standards also restrict the use of agrochemicals and encourage sustainability. They offer pre-harvest lines of credit to cooperatives, if requested, of up to 60 per cent of the purchase price.

To learn more about child labour and the chocolate industry, watch the film, The Dark Side of Chocolate, by Miki Mistrati and U. Robert Romano (2010).

For more resources, go to globalexchange.org