When businesses deny fair trade standards, cocoa farmers lead difficult lives. Even when the market is strong and conditions are good, they face challenging and climate-changing harvest seasons. Cocoa prices are low, and there is an estimated 400,000 tons of excess cocoa sitting in western Africa. The Ivorian government has already slashed the price paid to farmers for cocoa, and the Ghanaian government is considering lowering the price they would pay farmers as well. Low prices mean that farmers are operating at a loss, and it puts pressure on these farmers to use child labor.
How did all this come about?
One reason is that industry officials in cocoa have long proclaimed that the best way to improve farmer income is by increasing productivity (or, how much cocoa a farmer produces). Their thought was that by increasing productivity, farmers can grow and sell more cocoa, and earn more money. Chocolate companies and suppliers have been investing in training programs for farmers to help improve their farming practices. While it is important to ensure that cocoa farmers are improving how they grow chocolate and ensuring that they are more sustainable, the imbalanced focus on growing more chocolate has helped contribute to the overstock of cocoa in the Ivory Coast and Ghana
Another reason is that, due to high cocoa prices several years ago, farmers cleared forests throughout western Africa to plant more cocoa trees in hopes of capturing the high cocoa price. Cocoa trees take about five years to mature and – you guessed it – they all came into maturity last year. Some experts predict that there will continue to be an overproduction of cocoa for the next several years.
This combination of farmers growing more cocoa and the increased number of cocoa farms helped contribute to the oversupply of cocoa and lowered price of this commodity. While this has hurt farmer livelihoods, chocolate companies have not been adversely affected by this.
So what can we as consumers do to help support cocoa farmers?
First of all, consumers should continue to keep an eye out for fair trade certified chocolate. The fair trade minimum price for cocoa is designed to serve as a safety net for farmers when cocoa prices sink. The current fair trade minimum price as set by the Fairtrade International (FLO) is $2,000 USD/ton and includes a $200/ton premium, whereas the Ghanaian market price is $1,914, and the Ivorian market price is $1,230/ ton.
But, fair trade alone cannot solve the cocoa crisis. Although it is a helpful first step, fair trade alone is not enough to solve systemic issues that face cocoa farmers face, and that keep them entrenched in cycles of poverty. While it pays a fairer price to farmers, it is still not enough to ensure that farmers can make a living off of cocoa. Plus, fair trade cocoa still does not make up a large portion of the cocoa industry.
It is also important for consumers to continue demand chocolate companies take more responsibility for their supply chains. Although most companies currently have initiatives addressing the different challenges facing the cocoa industry, clearly there is more to be done.
Moving forward with “business as usual” of pushing for farmer productivity is not enough. And the good news is, it seems like the chocolate industry has recognized that simply increasing cocoa production is not enough to help lift farmers out of poverty, and is open to implementing new programs that better address poverty and child labor. For instance, Nestle and the International Cocoa Initiative completed a pilot Child Labor Remediation Monitoring System (CLRMS) program. This program works with communities to identify root causes for why children are working in cocoa fields, and helps address those issues. Although companies are still in the early stage of testing these programs, the initial data looks promising. Rather than punish farmers for using child labor, the program explores the underlying reasons of why the child is in the fields, and works with the family and community to remediate the problem. It is important to note that the programs so far only affect a few thousand people, while the problems in cocoa affect millions of people - and chocolate companies still have more to do.
Check out our 2018 Chocolate Scorecard to see how your favorite chocolate companies compare.
If you have a favorite chocolate that is not fair trade, use your consumer voice by writing to the company through its website or calling the company’s 800 number and letting them know that you care about the issues of farmer poverty and child labor, and want to know that a company you are supporting is taking active steps to address these longstanding social justice problems. Companies take these direct calls and emails from consumers seriously.
You can also take Green America’s Godiva action, and tell Godiva that you want them to become a leader in sourcing sustainable cocoa and fighting child labor.
Godiva is a leader in the luxury chocolate market, and we think it’s time for them to be a leader in fighting child labor in cocoa too. Compared to other major chocolate companies, Godiva has not taken as active a role in sourcing sustainable cocoa and fighting child labor. Godiva is looking to grow its sales to $2 billion – use your voice to make sure their growth not only benefits the company, but also farmers and children.
As a consumer, you have the power to vie for change and vote with your dollars when supporting companies that treat their workers justly with fair trade chocolate systems. Learn how your chocolatiers might be failing you and the planet, then explore better options at GreenPages.org.