The incident may have sparked a chocolate war of its own that will see boycotts of the annual festival.
The documentary, by Danish film maker Miki Mistrati, is about legal efforts to convict Nestlé and Cargill for exploiting children in Ivory Coast cocoa production. It’s distributed by the Danish Broadcast Corporation.
“I put up a poster and I was giving away tickets for the premiere of Miki’s movie,” Friis-Holm explains.
“Bearing in mind that the result of this movie was a new court case against Barry Callebaut and others. And Barry Callebaut is a big sponsor of the Copenhagen Chocolate Festival.
“The poster said Callebaut was part of this child slavery problem. I named them on purpose because they had put up all their roll ups and posters about being green and solving child slavery.
“I will stand up for this. If you disagree then let’s debate this publicly, on the stage right there”
“It’s such greenwashing. They say on one hand child slavery isn’t happening, and then they say they are doing something to solve it. But they aren’t.
“It’s supposed to be an independent chocolate festival, but Barry Callebaut have taken over pretty much half of it, they do a lot of marketing.
“The two head organisers of the chocolate cooperative came to me and asked me to take it down. I said of course I won’t, unless Callebaut takes their greenwashing down – then it would be fair enough.
“They were ‘oh but it creates unrest and conflict’. I said, ‘a little conflict here is nothing compared to what they do in terms of livelihoods for the farmers in West Africa.’
“I had my two eldest kids with me. They could feel the tension. For me it was great to be the dad of real principle. A lot of people came to me and said, ‘we are so happy you did this’.
“The director of Barry Callebaut in Scandinavia then approached me directly. I said, ‘I will stand up for this. If you disagree with me and if it’s important then let’s debate this publicly, on the stage right there.’
“I have as much right to speak as Barry Callebaut. We don’t want to be stooges for the big guy”
“I’m still waiting for the call, I think I’ll wait a long time. The festival organisers had no choice and had to let me keep the poster up. Denmark is a small country, I’ve been at it the longest, I have a pretty big voice. It would have been a huge scandal if they had forced me to take it down.
“I’d paid my money for my stand and had as much right as everybody else to say what I wanted.
“All the small craft guys at the festival decided unless we can have our own festival next year, where we can say this is where you get the real sustainability, not the bogus one, then we’d have a hard time coming.
“We don’t want to be stooges in something run by the big guy.
“The big companies are successful when they act like the thought police because we don’t want to hear sad things, especially not about chocolate.
“Chocolate stories are usually at the end of the news where you show a huge Easter egg or Christmas chocolate Santa that leaves you with a nice glow inside. Reporters say I’m not a solution because my prices are high and my chocolate is for the elite. Then, without a solution, they opt not to write about child slavery.
“I could buy in West Africa, but I would set up a direct relationship with farmers”
“My chocolate is probably three times more expensive than most others.
“I source cacao primarily from Nicaragua, where I was part of a government-funded project. I have a little bit from a guy in Guatamala. I have some of Bertil Åkesson’s beans from his estate in Madagascar. That is for my own brand.
“I also process beans from small co-operatives in Bolivia for a friend and customer.
“And one of my big customers is Denmark’s foremost gourmet ice cream company called Hansen’s. I make all the chocolate for them. They have a vanilla project in Uganda where they grow their own organic vanilla.
“They source a lot of cacao beans there that I turn into chocolate for them.
“I could buy in West Africa, which is where Miki’s film focusses on, but I would definitely need to go there and meet the people themselves and set up a direct relationship.
“In West Africa if cocoa giants raised the price to $2.50 a kilo it would end child slavery”
“Farmers in Nicaragua normally get between US$1 and $2 for a kilogram of beans.
“At the company I helped to set up, for Nicaraguan high quality cacao, farmers are guaranteed 25% above world market price for the wet mass, not the finished beans, so they have less work. And there is a bottom price – if the bottom falls out of the market there is a floor price of US$2.50 as a minimum per kilo. Two years ago when the world market price was US$3, $3.50, they were getting more than $4.
“In West Africa it’s less than $1 a kilo. The cocoa companies give a lot of excuses for not paying a fair price. Their way of thinking is colonial. The big guys have monopolised access to cacao out of West Africa.
“If you could raise the price to $2.50 a kilo that would be a start because it would end child slavery.
“But farmers need to be able to send their kids off to school, they can’t afford this on $2.50. Or plant new trees, or improve things on the farm.
“For $2.50 a farmer can afford to hire grown ups. If we want a system that works, it’s $3.50 upwards.
“You would need to raise the price to $4 to have a really sustainable cacao business. At some point the tree gets old, diseased. At some point you need to invest in what you do.
“In West Africa if you work hard and are bright you cannot lift yourself up”
“We need to create a system where the farmer thinks, next year I will replace these trees or save up for a machine to cut the grass beneath the trees.
“The mind set now is short term because farmers are wondering if they will have food tomorrow.
“It’s worth adding that Callebaut, Mondelez and others in West Africa give loans or pay ‘sustainability bonuses’ to help farmers grow more trees, rather than paying enough to allow them to make their own choices. This keeps farmers growing cacao instead of turning to other more lucrative crops.
“Fairtrade’s minimum price is only paid to the co-operative if they can deliver their beans directly to the shipping port. So, farmers need to be able to pay for transport and building roads.
“In West Africa if you work hard and are bright you cannot lift yourself up. You will never be able to get out of this if you’re in the cacao business, you will always be at the mercy of these big companies.
“The way the industry accepts the situation is racially charged and should be stopped on that basis alone. There’s no reason to underpay someone so they starve.
“Consumers have to wise up. We need a labelling system explaining all the implications”
“The industry thinking goes that the consumer will only pay ‘this’ and then you retro engineer what is paid to the farmer.
“Well consumers have to wise up. We need a labelling system explaining all the implications. Right now, the consumer is numb from labelling. We need the 360-degree understanding of sustainability. If something is cheap, consumers should be able to check whether living wages and living prices were paid, and whether illegal pesticides were used. You have to tick all the boxes.
“We don’t need chocolate. There is no law that says we should have cheap chocolate. This is something we eat for our pleasure that should definitely be without any kind of child slavery.”
Friis-Holm’s understanding of slavery in chocolate began when he was working in California at Elizabeth Faulkner‘s bakery, Citizen Cake.
“One of her chocolate suppliers was Scharffen Berger. I’d never tasted anything like this before,” he says. “We were working with four different dark chocolates, two different milks, two different whites, and this really intrigued me. Scharffen Berger were very clear about their direct relationships with farmers.
“So, that’s how I became aware of child slavery. In the early days there was no understanding that chocolate could have different pricing. Most chefs didn’t understand because chocolate was made from one type of raw material, in their minds. And most people working in chocolate have a romantic feeling about what they do.
“When I started understanding the variability of quality, the truth was unavoidable.”
- For a VIP screening of The Chocolate War in October, please register here.
- Ahead of Easter in 2021 Terrence Collingsworth, Ayn Riggs of Slave Free Chocolate and Paul Schoenmakers, Chief Impact Officer for Tony’s Chocolonely, joined Humphrey Hawksley, BBC foreign correspondent, Carl Schweizer and Juancho Merlin, Founders of Orijin.io and Dan Crossley, CEO of the UK Food Ethics Council at Quota’s event The Ethical Egg hunt, asking just what slave-free options are available on the supermarket shelves. Take a look at the recording here.
- Barry Callebaut has reported 21,000 child workers in its supply chain in the financial year to August 2021