The Sydney Morning Herald reports that behind the foil-wrapped seasonal merriment and the squealing delight from Easter egg hunts is an industry with a dark side.
Cocoa farming is deeply implicated in forced and child labour. It is subject to climate-change impacts that threaten production. Farms impinge on protected forests. And the huge corporations that dominate the world chocolate market know this, have failed to eliminate it, and continue to rake in the profits.
“The cocoa supply chain is very, very broken,” says chocolate maker Deniz Karaca. “The more you find out about it, the more surreal it becomes. You can’t believe it’s happening. Is it really true that children get stolen from their home country, transported to another country, and made to work for free? Yes. And why? So we can enjoy chocolate, a luxury product; something you don’t need to eat at all. All the big companies know about it. Their answer is, ‘What are we going to do? Stop buying cocoa?’
“Multibillion-dollar corporations are willing to close their eyes to all these issues. They set up something to tell their customers and put on their websites. It’s an alibi. They could pay people properly for their beans but that’s not as economical.”
Karaca felt bad about his chocolate, too. “I didn’t do the right thing,” he says. “It was too hard, too expensive, too much bother. I feel guilty for that. But I got to a point that if I wanted to keep making chocolate, I wanted to do the right thing. The idea that the people growing the beans were living in poverty so we can have a luxury product that they never even get to try, that just didn’t sit right. I had to do things differently.”
The only way to be sure – or surer – that cocoa farmers are paid well is to source beans directly or through trusted dealers. The Australian commodity price for cocoa beans has fluctuated between $3.09 and $3.50 per kilogram over the past year. “The cheapest we buy cocoa beans at is $9 a kilo,” says Karaca. “I can go tomorrow and buy $6 a kilo finished chocolate from Callebaut. I would say it about anything – chicken, chocolate or shoes – if it seems too cheap, it is too cheap. There’s something wrong somewhere along the way.”
Three-quarters of the world’s cocoa beans come from the West African countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana. Ivory Coast farms about 40 per cent of the world’s supply on about one million farms, most of them tiny family operations of one to three hectares. Ghana supplies a further 35 per cent from an estimated 800,000 farms, again most of them smallholdings.
The price of cocoa beans is tied to the futures markets in London and New York, and farmers are usually at the mercy of middlemen, who are squeezed in turn by those further up the supply chain: the huge manufacturers such as Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Olam, Kraft, Nestlé and Mars.
The industry is growing at 5 per cent a year and is expected to be worth more than $US180 billion by 2025.
Meanwhile, the average African cocoa farmer earns less than $US1.20 a day, not quite half the amount considered a living income. Many live without electricity or running water, without phone or internet, disconnected from the markets that impinge on them.