With Easter not too far away, it might be time to look into what is fair trade chocolate and why you should consider purchasing ethical chocolate this year.
Chocolate consumption across the globe is growing; in 2017 it was estimated that globally 7.2 million metric tons of chocolate is consumed per year. Australians contribute, to this by eating an average of 5kg of chocolate per person per year.
The chocolate supply chain
Most of the world’s cocoa beans come from West African Countries – Ivory Coast (Côte d’lvoire), Ghana, Ecuador and Cameroon, as well as Indonesia – where the humidity is high, there is plenty of rain and protection from wind; and the soil is nitrogen rich. Cocoa is most commonly grown on small farms, providing income for almost 50 million farmers, workers and their families.
Cocoa farming and harvesting is strenuous, labour intensive and precise. Cocoa pods – which flower and bear fruit across the year – need to be cut down from trees manually, using machetes or sticks. The pods then need to be cut open – by hand using either a blade or club - to remove the cocoa beans, which are then fermented, dried, cleaned and packed for exporting.
The beans are then (in most cases) sold to intermediaries who are based in the wealthier countries of the Global North, to be crushed, roasted and ground; turning the cacao beans into a cacao liquor. This is the product that is then purchased by chocolate manufacturers who use the cacao liquor to create our much loved chocolate bars and chocolate products.
The un-fair trade of chocolate
As a result of increased consumption and price inflation, multinational chocolate companies have seen an increase in profits across the last four decades; however the world market price for cocoa beans has declined by half and not even all of this makes it to the cocoa farmer.
It is estimated that cocoa farmers receive just a 6.6% share in the value chain of chocolate production – equating to less than $1.25USD a day. Because cocoa farmers and workers often live below the poverty line, they are vulnerable to exploitation. Poor living conditions, lack of storage facilities and the immediate need for income, means farmers are often forced into selling their cocoa beans at whatever price they are offered.
As a result, cocoa farmers resort to unsustainable farming practices, cutting salaries to their workers and even recruiting child labour.
Because the poorly paid farmers cannot afford to maintain or clear diseased trees from their land, they are forced to continue to grow cacao plants on existing and worn out land (often resulting in more diseased plants and therefore an increase in the use of pesticides); or to seek out new land to utilise – which commonly means the clearing of rainforests.
Workers are usually exposed to dangerous conditions: working with pesticides without protective clothing, handling dangerous tools and working excessively long hours. These workers are usually suffering from malnutrition, are poorly educated and do not have access to clean drinking water. In addition to this, many cocoa farmers employ children (sometimes as young as 5 years old) who are also then exposed to such hazardous conditions. The appeal of child labour also results in child trafficking.
Why you should consider buying fair trade chocolate
Fair-trade International encourages and supports cacao farmers to form cooperatives. Cooperatives allow farmers to have access to more resources and more power in trade relationships which results in overall higher incomes.
Fair-trade International also provides training and education for farmers so that they can learn more about providing safe working conditions, gender rights and sustainable farming practices.
Buying Fair-trade chocolate (and other Fair-trade products) means that those farmers are earning a fair price – and a financial safety net regardless of the global price of cocoa - for their product. This fair price empowers them to implement safe and sustainable farming practices, boost wages, purchase equipment and tools; and/or make a financial contribution towards better facilities and educational services for their communities.