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People in the Western world seem much more interested than they used to be in where their favourite foods come from and how they are grown. They need to be, because the processes behind the trading of the most important commodities, such as cocoa, can be very ugly indeed. Major concerns include the use of child labour and exposure of workers to dangerous pesticides such as lindane. As ever, one solution for the need of ethical chocolate is to buy fair trade.

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Child labour

Thanks to press investigations and television documentaries, the issue of child labour in cocoa farming has been revealed as a serious problem in several countries. One survey carried out by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria found that the majority of children working on cocoa farms were under 14, and that approximately one-third of school-age children living in cocoa-producing households had never been to school.

The chocolate industry has developed a Global Industry Protocol (also known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol), and initially promised a method of certifying that cocoa had been grown ‘under appropriate labour conditions’. The Protocol also aimed to eliminate the worst forms of child labour on cocoa farms in West Africa. Unfortunately, although some progress has been made, www.labourrights.org states that the industry is not doing enough to address labour and associated issues, and consequently the commitments of the Protocol have not been met. Illegal labour may still be prevalent on many farms.

In normal times, Ivory Coast produces nearly half of the world’s cocoa, but, according to a report published in the Earth Island Journal, it is hard to ensure that Ivory Coast cocoa is ‘slavery free’. The country’s cocoa industry has a history of human rights problems. For example, in 2002 most of the foreign workers in the cocoa plantations were driven away by thugs encouraged by the ruling party. Mars and Nestlé have tended to buy large amounts of cocoa from Ivory Coast, whereas Cadbury’s has said that it buys 90 per cent of its cocoa from Ghana, which is a signatory to a tough code of conduct against trafficking of child workers.

Fair trade

Buying fair trade chocolate is currently the best way to avoid support for child labour and commodity traders. All of Traidcraft and Divine Chocolate’s chocolate is fair trade marked, as is Green & Black’s Maya Gold. Traidcraft’s organic chocolate contains fair trade sugar as well as cocoa, and so has the highest proportion of fairly traded ingredients.

Plamil, a vegan company, now has one product certified Fair Trade (Plamil Organic Dairy Free Alternative to Milk Chocolate) and their cocoa is all sourced from the Dominican Republic and fulfils the social standards set out by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation.

The biggest shake ups in the chocolate industry have been the controversial Cadbury Schweppes take over of Green & Black’s in May 2005, closely followed by the Kraft take-over of Cadbury’s in February 2010. It has been promised however that Green & Blacks will be run as a standalone business and to take the brand’s ethical agenda seriously. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk range in Britain and Ireland is now entirely Fairtrade, meaning that 15% of chocolate sold in Britain will now bear the mark.

Tricky issues

One major concern about the cocoa industry is how many chemical fertilisers and pesticides the farmers use. The best protection for the cocoa trees is for farmers to do mix planting, which also enables them to provide their own food, as well as using the income from cocoa to pay for health care, education and other costs. Divine Chocolate highlights how prone cocoa is to diseases. Therefore, in order not to threaten the livelihoods of the farmers and also the Ghanaian economy, the cooperative which owns Divine has chosen for the time being not to be organic.

The pesticide lindane has been banned from agricultural and horticultural use in the EU, on the grounds that it is a hormone disrupter linked to health problems such as breast cancer. It is still used on cocoa plantations, exposing the workers to potential health risks. Chocolate companies say they have no way of knowing whether their cocoa is sprayed with lindane, as they don’t buy direct from the growers. They should be encouraged to do their own tests. To be sure you are eating chocolate which has not be sprayed with pesticides, choose organically certified chocolate from Seed & Bean (www.seedandbean.co.uk) – they offer a wide range of organic and fair trade chocolate and come out at the top of our Ethical Rankings.

Ethical Chocolate Rankings Detailed Table

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): The Organic Seed & Bean Co., Traidcraft, Plamil, Divine, Chococo, Thorton’s, Lindt, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder Egg, Ritter Sport, Dairy Milk, Green & Black’s, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Kitkat, Galaxy, Mars Bar

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