Chocolate bunnies, cute baby animals, brightly colored eggs – these are just some of the cheery images that Easter may conjure up for you. Yet there are dark secrets behind what goes into some of your favorite Easter chocolate treats. Whether you’re observing Easter for religious reasons, making an Easter basket for fun, or simply waiting for Easter candy to go on sale the day after, here are a few things that may have gone into your chocolate. And don’t forget to check out our Chocolate Scorecard to see how your favorite chocolate companies compare when it comes to being good on your taste buds – and being good for farmers.
It has been almost two decades since the dark truth of chocolate came out: that child labor was pervasive throughout the cocoa industry, and our chocolate treats were produced by child laborers. Today, there are still over two million children working hazardous jobs, like applying pesticides or carrying heavy loads, in cocoa fields in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are the two largest producers of cocoa, accounting for about 60% of the global cocoa market.
Two million children. That’s the equivalent of all of the children in the state of Michigan.
And while most major companies have made commitments to source more certified cocoa (e.g. Fairtrade, UTZ, or Rainforest Alliance), certification alone is not enough to address underlying issues that contribute to child labor, such as farmer poverty and lack of infrastructure.
Historically, cocoa farmers have cleared out forest areas to grow cocoa. Once the cocoa trees grow old, farmers move to a different region and begin the process again. But 90% of West Africa’s forests are gone – and a landmark report from the environmental NGO Mighty Earth found that cocoa was a main driver of this. Mighty Earth also found that cocoa that was illegally grown in protected forests was found in most major chocolate companies’ supply chains.
Most major companies have made pledges to end deforestation in cocoa through the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, making commitments to no new deforestation and increasing reforestation and traceability efforts in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Although a promising step, it is crucial for the commitments to be expanded worldwide. Furthermore, in December 2018, a year after the initial CFI commitment to stop deforestation in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, Mighty Earth found that deforestation was still occurring.
The International Cocoa Initiative and Verite recently published a report on forced labor in the cocoa sector of Cote d’Ivoire. Cote d’Ivoire produces about 40% of the world’s cocoa supply. A study published by Tulane University and Walk Free Foundation estimated that 0.42% of adults in Cote d’Ivoire were involved in forced labor, although due to the hidden nature of forced labor and human trafficking, along with size of the cocoa industry in Cote d’Ivoire, the actual number may be higher.
The Verite report found that migrant workers from Burkina Faso, Mali, and non-cocoa producing regions of Cote d’Ivoire – both adults and children – were most at risk of forced labor. Workers were susceptible to deceptive recruitment, debt bondage, and non-payment of wages. Workers who had to rely on employers for multiple necessities in addition to work, such as housing or food, were also more vulnerable. Wages could be as low as $150 USD for a year’s worth of work – and workers may get hit with wage deductions when they’re paid at the end of harvest season, or not get paid at all.
I’m looking for some chocolate to fill my basket – what should I look for?
The good news is not all chocolate is created equal. Some chocolate companies are leaders in treating workers and the environment well, and produce delicious chocolate.
Check out Green America’s Chocolate Scorecard to see how the major companies compare when it comes to their efforts to address child labor – and learn about some of the sustainable companies that are doing more for people and planet. Shop from Green America Business Network members, as they have to pass our standards for social and environmental responsibility to become members. And finally, look for chocolates who have certifications such as Fairtrade, Fair For Life, or Rainforest Alliance when you go shopping – although certifications alone cannot solve the underlying reasons for the challenges facing the cocoa industry, they are still a helpful tool for companies and consumers.