Chocolate: Child Slavery and Rainforest Destruction

Slave-labour chocolate must go: human rights groups

Source: CBC News, Thursday, 14 Feb 2002

NEW YORK – A human rights group has launched a campaign against child labour in the cocoa industry.

Global Exchange announced its “Fair Trade Cocoa” campaign on Valentine’s Day. The group wants to publicize the plight of children being used in the coffee and cocoa industries of West Africa.

The Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo produce most of the world’s cocoa. Farmers there also use child labour to produce that cocoa.

Global Exchange is trying to get consumers to write to chocolate producers such as Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars to change their purchasing habits. It wants the companies to commit to “purchasing at least five per cent of their cocoa as Fair Trade Certified.”

The U.S. State Department estimates 15,000 children, aged nine to 12, are “enslaved” on farms in the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Last year, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association insisted it was not responsible for the problem because chocolate companies do not own the plantations.

Global Exchange is collecting support for its campaign and wants consumers to restrict their chocolate purchases to fair trade chocolate as much as possible.

It’s also pressuring the CMA to add more restrictions to its four-year plan to eliminate child labour from cocoa farms.

The Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed in September by the CMA, the World Cocoa Foundation and manufacturers such as Hershey’s and Mars and several labour organizations.

The protocol establishes independent monitoring and certification of “slave-free” farms to be implemented by mid-2005.

Human rights groups contend the protocol doesn’t go far enough because it is voluntary.

“It does nothing to address the root causes,” says Nina Luttinger of TransFair USA.

“If certification is voluntary, who will enforce it?” asks Anita Sheth of Save the Children Canada. “Who will pay for it? What will happen to the farmers?”

Advocacy groups point out the protocol doesn’t forbid slavery, just the use of children as slave labour.

In Canada, products sporting the Fair Trade logo guarantee that cocoa producers have distributed proceeds equitably and used environmentally sound farming methods. It also means farms are monitored for adherence to standards.

La Siembra of Ottawa is a fair trade company. Its cocoa powder and hot chocolate is now offered in three of Canada’s largest grocery chains ‚Äî Overwaitea, Safeway, Sobey’s.

TransFair Canada is working with other chocolate producers to certify fair trade cocoa products. Its Web site lists fair trade retailers across the country.

Fair Trade Cocoa and the Environment

Source: Global Exchange Chocolate Action Pack (PDF)

Traditional Farming
Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate is derived from Theobroma cacao, an “understory” tree that originated in Latin American rainforests. When grown beneath a diverse cover of shade trees, which is the traditional method, cacao plants provide habitat for wildlife such as birds, butterflies, insects, and animals. Traditional farmers generally use sustainable agricultural techniques including composting, rotating crops, and not applying expensive chemicals and fertilizers. In addition, they typically cultivate cocoa alongside other plants such as banana and nut trees that are used for home consumption and provide additional sources of income.

Industrial Farming – Deforestation
To meet the world’s growing demand for chocolate, “technified”, high yield sun-grown hybrids were developed during the‚ “Green Revolution”, in the 1970’s. Sun cultivated cacao involves clear cutting of planting areas so increased used of these hybrids has resulted in significant deforestation of pristine rainforests in Latin America and Africa. As reported in the Sierra Club magazine, 14% of the Ivory Coast’s rainforests had been deforested for cocoa production by the year 2000. Sun cultivated cacao is also associated with single-crop plantings (“mono-culture”), which removes the biodiversity that is essential for many species in the rainforest and threatens local food security.

Industrial Farming – Pesticide and Fertilizer Pollution
Technified cacao also requires large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticide, which poison local air and water supplies. This has put local animal populations and those who live and work in the community at the risk of being exposed to dangerous levels of these compounds. On top of this, the overuse of pesticides is actually increasing the problems they were designed to control. At a 1998 meeting, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute concluded that the overuse of pesticides had actually encouraged the development of more virulent strains of pests and diseases. This has forced farmers to abandon their farms after only a few years and move on to a new area of the rainforest to start the cycle of catastrophe all over again.

Shade-grown and Organic cocoa
Cocoa production need not be destructive and can actually be beneficial if done properly. The World Watch Institute noted that traditional cacao farming could in fact bring the damaged Brazilian rainforest back to its richly diverse natural state. World Watch Institute also reported that, because traditional methods allow for more room between cacao plants, they naturally minimize the spread of the common diseases that bring farmers to use chemical pesticides. As for the many species that thrive in the shady rainforest, Russell Greenberg of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has said: “So long as chocolate is grown under forest shade trees that means some habitat for migratory songbirds is being saved, as well as species diversity in resident birds, lizards, mammals, and insects”. Jeff Parrish of the Nature Conservancy also stated that Cacao habitats can harbor high species richness equal to or even surpassing that of forest. Although cacao should not replace forest, as many bird species can only survive within large intact tracts of forest habitat, cacao has been shown to clearly supplement forest habitat and enhance the survival of threatened species in an increasingly fragmented landscape. Since cacao can buffer national parks and reserves from more damaging practices, it can serve as a mutually beneficial land use for both farmers and conservationists alike.

Certification for Organic and Shade-grown Cocoa
Many cocoa farmers still use traditional methods, growing cocoa organically under a shade canopy. These farmers benefit not only by having cleaner air and water, but generally receive better revenues because organic cocoa yields a higher price than conventional cocoa. You can support sustainable practices and the farmers who use them by buying chocolate and cocoa products that are certified organic and shade-grown. Organic chocolate is certified in the US by organizations such as Quality Assurance International and Oregon Tilth. Cocoa is certified as shade-grown by the Rainforest Alliance. Organic Commodity Products, Inc. is also developing standards for this purpose.

Fair Trade certification and sustainability
Sustainable farming is the traditional route for the small farmers who make up Fair Trade cooperatives because they tend to be the best stewards of the land and possess the highest interest in keeping the natural environment healthy for their families and future generations. In addition, small farmers typically have not had the money to cut down forests or purchase large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As a result, the majority of Fair Trade Certified cocoa is shade grown and either passive or certified organic. Although Fair Trade criteria do not mandate organic and shade grown methods, several aspects of the Fair Trade system support sustainable production and farmers are actively encouraged to seek organic certification. Fair Trade criteria ban certain pesticides and require the use of integrated crop management, where organic methods of pest/disease control and fertilization are emphasized over chemical ones. Fair Trade cooperatives are also required to set aside revenues for technical workshops, which often address the benefits and proper use of sustainable techniques and thus promote their increased use.

Some certified organic chocolate is produced with cocoa from Fair Trade cooperatives, but unless a product is Fair Trade Certified, there is no guarantee that the farmer received the benefit or that adequate prices will continue. Outside of the Fair Trade system, middlemen may hold back large portions of revenue or charge unfair fees for their services, and prices can fluctuate widely. In the Fair Trade system, farmer cooperatives are paid directly and receive a minimum of $.88 per pound for organic cocoa.

This amount is higher than the Fair Trade price for conventionally grown cocoa ($0.80 per pound), representing another incentive for organic production in the Fair Trade system.

Fair Trade farmers speak about sustainability
Fair Trade farmers realize both the environmental and economic benefits of using organic methods. Isidoro de la Rosa, director of the Conacado cooperative in the Dominican Republic said: “With the Fairtrade income, we were able to implement a fermentation program to improve the quality and to convert our production to certified organic. This improved our position in the export-market”. Similarly, Cayetano Ico, chairman and farmer from the TCGA cooperative in Belize stated: “Our objectives for the next years are to promote production of organic cocoa among our members, to promote environment education and awareness concerning the eco-system and to diversify production. We still need to learn a lot and gain experience in trading and marketing. Fairtrade gives us this possibility”.

In sum, we believe that paying farmers a fair wage and offering incentives for ecological practices is the best way to encourage sustainable farming. Organic and shade-grown certification labels have made important contributions in promoting sustainable techniques that benefit farmers, the environment, and consumers. However, we still need to ensure that the benefits of organic farming techniques reach the farmer as well as the consumer and the environment. Fair Trade guarantees this. Consumers who want to do what is good for the workers, is good for trees, birds, and our shared environment can buy chocolate that is multiply certified: Fair Trade, Organic and Shade Grown.

Get involved & learn more!

Global Exchange Fair Trade Chocolate Campaign

Rainforest Alliance

The Nature Conservancy

Bright, C. (2001). Chocolate Could Bring the Forest Back. World Watch Magazine.

Pennybacker, M. (2000). The Hidden Life of Chocolate. Sierra.