With Valentine’s Day coming up and Easter the next big chocolate-centred occasion on the horizon, concerns are being raised about the prevalence of child labour in the chocolate industry.
According to World Vision, the use of child labour on cacao plantations is widespread, and the organization is urging Canadians to think twice about the kind of chocolate they purchase.
“The bitter truth is children are doing dirty, dangerous, and degrading work in the chocolate industry,” says Cheryl Hotchkiss, manager of World Vision’s End Child Slavery campaign.
“They get hurt swinging machetes to cut down cacao pods. They get sick from pesticides and toil in extreme heat with little pay, poor nutrition, and no health care. They’re separated from their families and can even be abused by employers.”
Approximately 2 million children, some as young as 8 years old, are involved in cacao farming worldwide, the majority in West Africa.
Most children work on poverty-stricken family farms that have suffered under declining cocoa prices in recent decades. However, thousands of children are also trafficked and sold into slave labour to work on cacao plantations for little or no wages.
If public pressure can bring more ethical chocolate to store shelves in Europe, we can use our consumer power to do the same in Canada.
— Cheryl Hotchkiss, World Vision
The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), a collaborative effort, between industry, labour unions, and civil society, was established in 2002 to help address the problem, with some of the world’s biggest chocolate makers publically pledging to use only ethical cocoa in all of their products by 2020.
The Harkin-Engel Protocol (aka Cocoa Protocol), an international agreement aimed at ending the worst forms of child labor and forced labor in the production of cocoa, was also signed in 2001.
While this is encouraging, about 95 percent of chocolate sold worldwide is still not certified to be free of child, forced, or trafficked labour, says World Vision.
Most companies are also not yet consistently working with third-party certification organizations to monitor and verify that their cocoa is actually child-labour free, says Hotchkiss, something World Vision hopes to change.
“One serious issue within the industry is, how do you verify and monitor that the supply is ethical?” she says, adding that consumers can look for logos on the chocolate wrapper from organizations such as Fair Trade International, Rainforest Alliance, or UTZ, who measure whether the product is ethically made.
Finding Ethically Produced Chocolate
A new website and free app called ChocoFinder, developed by Toronto filmmaker Lalita Krishna, aims to help Canadians find chocolatiers that sell ethical products in their area.
World Vision also recently unveiled its Good Chocolate Guide, which lists ethical chocolate brands and products that can be found in many Canadian grocery or specialty stores.
Thousands of children are trafficked and sold into slave labour to work on cacao plantations for little or no wages.
According to the guide, brands such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, Camino, Green and Blacks, Ikea, and President’s Choice make the ethical grade. However, Canadian companies such as Ganong, Laura Secord (owned by Nutriart), Purdy’s, and Rogers’ Chocolates have yet to publically commit to selling 100 percent ethical products by 2020.
“We’ve written to them asking them what their intentions are,” says Hotchkiss.
“We haven’t heard back from them, and so we’re hoping to keep pursuing them to try and get that information so we can actually find out whether they are planning on joining their industry leaders in their commitment of foreseeing ethical cocoa by 2020.”
Hotchkiss says consumer demand is key in changing industry standards, and more Canadians are now willing to pay more for products that they can trust to be ethically produced.
According to a recent World Vision poll, 60 percent of Canadians said they would be willing to spend more on a product if they knew it was child labour-free.
“Every country seems to be increasing the degree to which they are purchasing ethical products,” she says, adding that consumer demand has done much to help change ethical chocolate standards in Europe.
“Child labour in supply chains is not an easy problem to solve, but if public pressure can bring more ethical chocolate to store shelves in Europe, we can use our consumer power to do the same in Canada.”
On average, Canadians consume about 5.5 kg of chocolate each year, which according to World Vision equals the equivalent of nearly 2,600 M&Ms.
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