How Kiwis can buy better chocolate this Easter

While supermarket shoppers are dazzled by foil-wrapped bunnies in anticipation of Easter, the cocoa industry will sigh in relief: it has, once again, concealed its dark underbelly stuffed with child labour and modern slavery. 

Cocoa is in the top five imported goods at most risk of using slave labour. An estimated NZ$14million of risky cocoa is imported into New Zealand from West Africa annually, where around 30,000 people are enslaved on cocoa farms.

I get it – it’s a lot to take in. I love curling up on the couch to watch an episode and indulge in my favourite chocolate treat too. But if we pause before we buy and consider the people behind the bar, we can help create change.

Tiny hands and exploitation

In 2019, a journalist asked a boy on a cocoa farm how old he was. The boy answered “19”, but in the brief moment the farm overseer looked away, he wrote “15” in the sand. He’d been out of school, harvesting cocoa beans since he was 10.

More than 1.5 million children work on cocoa farms in West Africa, some as young as five.

The children work from sun-up to sun-down, hacking weeds, cutting down cocoa pods and carrying 50kg sacks long distances on their heads. Some develop hernias from heavy loads and the majority have scars from machete wounds. 

Why? Chocolate companies compete for the cheapest labour to ensure the highest profit. This leaves impoverished farmers desperate for cheap or free labour.

In Cote d’Ivoire, children are tricked onto buses and trafficked to cocoa regions. They’re promised a decent wage, an education, and a new bike, but they soon discover false promises and physical violence if they try to go home. 

What are companies doing about all this?

To find a solution, chocolate companies have turned to certifications and organisations who work to provide fairer payment and reduce child labour. These include Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and World Fair Trade Organization.

Companies are also choosing more transparent suppliers like Uncommon Cocoa, as well as sourcing from regions where there are no known issues of child labour in the cocoa industry, such as Samoa.

But even with these actions, exploitation is so prolific in the major cocoa-growing regions and the cocoa market is so unfair, that it’s nearly impossible to guarantee slave-free chocolate.

Certifications are critiqued for not being rigorous enough and the high costs of maintaining certification sometimes mean the extra payments for cocoa beans aren’t even translating to higher wages.

So, does this mean you should avoid chocolate altogether? Not quite. There are definitely options for buying better!

Better chocolate to buy this Easter

Given the current industry, Tear Fund believes the best approach is to choose chocolate that is both Fairtrade and organic.

Second-best would be to choose brands that are Fairtrade certified, a WFTO member, or use single-origin Samoan cocoa. If you still can’t find something, go for brands that are Rainforest Alliance certified or show they’re paying more for their beans. The list and image below show brands available in your supermarket as well as some boutique brands.

The truth is many chocolate companies rely on exploitation to maintain their level of profitability. The only way the chocolate industry will create lasting change is by paying a price for cocoa beans that allows a living wage for farmworkers.

It’s up to chocolate companies to raise the bar and it’s up to us to make better purchasing decisions and use our voices to demand change.

Interested in knowing more, including steps you can take to hold your favourite chocolate brand accountable? Check out our full article Spilling the Beans: The Bitter Truth of Chocolate by Tearfund NZ (exposure.co).

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