We love chocolate. But one can lose one’s appetite given the fate of many cocoa farmers. Chocolate made from fair-trade cocoa doesn’t make a dent in our wallets, but it does help small farmers in Africa, Central and South America to have a better life.
The abuses on cocoa plantations, especially in West Africa, have been known for at least twenty years. Back in 2000, a BBC television report shocked the world. The journalists uncovered the trafficking of children from Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo. Human traffickers had sold the girls and boys as slaves to grow cocoa in Ivory Coast. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 71 percent of all cocoa beans in 2018 came from Africa – and only 16 percent from South America.
The pictures were followed by press reports and non-governmental organizations commented. The European Cocoa Association, the association of major European cocoa traders, called the allegations false and exaggerated. The industry said what the industry often says in such cases: the reports are not representative of all growing areas. As if that changes anything.
Then politicians reacted. In the United States, legislation has been proposed to combat child slavery and abusive child labor in cocoa farming. It would have been a sharp sword in the fight against child slaves. Would. Extensive lobbying by the cocoa and chocolate industry overturned the draft.
Fair trade chocolate – without child labor
What remained was a soft, voluntary and non-legally binding agreement known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol. It was signed in 2001 by US chocolate manufacturers and representatives of the World Cocoa Foundation – a foundation supported by the largest companies in the industry. The signatories pledged to end the worst forms of child labor – such as slavery, forced labor and work that is harmful to health, safety or morals – in the cocoa industry.
It happened: hardly anything. The time of procrastination began. To this day, children work in the chocolate industry. They have become a symbol of the unfair trade of the cocoa industry. In 2010, the Danish documentary “The Dark Side Of Chocolate” showed that the Harkin-Engel Protocol was virtually ineffective.
A 2015 study by Tulane University found that the number of children working in cocoa plantations has risen sharply. In the main growing areas of Ghana and Ivory Coast, around 2.26 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 work in cocoa production – mostly under dangerous conditions.
And often not at all to support their families: human rights organizations have been pointing out for years that many children who work in cocoa production are very likely to be victims of human trafficking and slavery.
Fair cocoa: Fair payment instead of child labor
But the reality is complicated. In fact, reducing child labor on cocoa plantations would not help solve the problem of unfairly traded chocolate. On the contrary: it could even exacerbate the poverty of smallholders.
This was shown in the 2009 study “The Dark Side of Chocolate” by the Südwind Research Institute. Their author, Friedel Hütz-Adams, explains the reason: After several food companies had warned their suppliers not to use child labor during the harvest, the farmers’ yields had declined. Companies such as Mars, Nestlé and Ferrero had demanded that child labor be avoided after coming under pressure over reports that underage workers were being employed on the plantations.
The solution lies not only in the ban on child labor, but in fairer payment for small farmers, the economist continues: “They don’t let their children work for fun, but because they depend on it.” Fair trading conditions are necessary. The situation of cocoa farmers and their families can only improve if their income increases.
Cocoa cultivation must be worthwhile again
The large corporations that process cocoa can no longer avoid a commitment that improves the income situation of the small cocoa farmers. Because there were surveys in Ghana, according to which only 20 percent of cocoa farmers want their children to work in this profession. Many would rather change their cultivation – for example to rubber.
And the main exporter, the Ivory Coast, is also threatened with trouble. In many regions there, the land rights issue has not been clarified. In many places, local leaders, known as chiefs, have allowed immigrants to clear and farm land as long as they grow cocoa. If there is a land rights reform and farmers can decide for themselves what they grow, there could also be a large-scale flight from cocoa here.
Fair chocolate helps against impoverishment
Because the cultivation of cocoa is hardly worthwhile for many farmers. The price of cocoa has been a long way from its all-time high for decades. In 1980, cocoa farmers received almost 5,000 US dollars per ton of cocoa, adjusted for inflation, in 2000 it was only 1,200 US dollars. Meanwhile – in the summer of 2020 – the cocoa price has risen again to around 2,100 US dollars, but that is still not a sufficient amount. Fair trade cocoa, on the other hand, is paid better: as of October 1, 2019, the Fairtrade minimum price rose to 2,400 US dollars per ton.
In general, prices have fluctuated greatly for years. The reason is not only different yields from the cocoa harvests, but also the – sometimes changeable – political situation in the countries of origin. In addition, there are the consequences of financial speculation and exchange rate fluctuations of the dollar, which make the price difficult to calculate.
The low price of cocoa is impoverishing many farmers: worldwide, cocoa is grown on around four and a half million farms, and many millions of people make a living from growing and selling it. However, more badly than right, and that, although in 2019 more cocoa was produced with around 4.8 million tons than ever before. If the farmers can live even less than before and therefore change the agricultural product, the cocoa and chocolate industry, which is worth billions, has a problem.
Fair trade chocolate is making progress
The fair trade organizations have calculated how high the price of cocoa would have to be in order to guarantee the farmers a decent income. This is the minimum price that farmers receive in the Fairtrade system. This way you can plan your income with certainty. If the world market price rises above this approach, the price paid in fair trade also rises.
In Germany, however, the lion’s share of chocolate products is still manufactured conventionally. Chocolate made from fair trade cocoa remains a marginal product, but it has made great strides, especially in recent years. Sales of Fairtrade cocoa in Germany increased more than tenfold between 2014 and 2019, from 7,500 tons to around 79,000 tons. The main reason: Fairtrade International launched its cocoa program in 2014, which involves many thousands of farmers. Unlike the classic Fairtrade seal, the focus is not on the certification of the end product, but on the raw material cocoa itself.
Fair cocoa in Germany
The rapid increase in fair cocoa shows that the topic has reached local consumers and manufacturers. According to Transfair, the proportion of fair trade cocoa is now around eight percent. Whether you consider that to be astonishingly high or woefully low is a matter of taste.
What the Germans definitely still have a taste for is chocolate. We treat ourselves to the equivalent of 95 bars (according to the Federation of German Industries) per capita and year. Maybe we’ll also think of the cocoa farmers with our next other purchase and treat them to a fair price. It’s not complicated: fair trade chocolate can now be found in every discounter.