Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Chocolate and Child Labor

The chocolate industry is really taking a beating with accounts of child labor problems.  I've read several articles on the subject and I can't deny the fact that this seems to be a real issue.  I can say however that many candy companies appear to be attempting to change this and I really think it's because people are better informed on the subject.  In many cases, the articles I read on the subject are very harsh and one sided, however it's important to read into every side on this issue to get a better understanding.


1 comment:

Antonie Fountain said...

As one of those working for an organisation criticizing the process, let me explain why we are so critical of current progress.

First of, Industry promised ten years ago that they would eradicate this problem by 2005. They are nowhere near that solution. In fact, speaking to the VP of one of the world's largest chocolate producers just a few weeks ago, she said they 'never should have made that promise in the first place'. In other words, they aren't planning on delivering on that problem.

Secondly, a lot of the work done in improving sustainability in cocoa (as you rightly state, there is progress being made) over the last few years has primarily been focused on improving the productivity and yield of the farmer through farmer training. Though we welcome these initiatives - farmer training is a very good thing indeed - they are not solutions to the problem of child labor, or even of the 'Worst Forms of Child Labor' including trafficking , hazardous work etc...
In fact, speaking to another VP of yet another large chocolate manufacturer not too long ago, he mentioned (off the record, so I'm not going to say who it was) that this increase in productivity is worrisome to them. Simply put: more productivity is a higher harvest. Higher harvest means the need for more labor. Which - in his words, not mine - means that they are worried that an increase in productivity might lead to an increase in trafficking and labor abuses.
A second in-fact on that: speaking to yet another high exec of one of the worlds largest cocoa companies (yes, I speak to these people on a regular basis) I asked how much of their farmer training programme was spent on informing farmers on the issues of the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Child Labor in general. Her answer was as shocking as it was simple: none.

Thirdly, most of the large chocolate companies (with the exception of Mars) are unwilling to make any statements for the future. They only communicate when something has actually been changed (as is the case of Nestlé announcing a fairly traded Kit Kat in Spain just two weeks ago with no prior notice. The companies are, to put it mildly, not very transparent in their sustainability practice, nor in their plans for the future. This makes it very hard to monitor progress for the civil society organisations, as well as near impossible for 'normal consumers' to know when and if the chocolate they like to buy is actually free from a travesty such as child slave labour.

Fourthly, all of the efforts up to date are gloriously insufficient. The Payson Research Institute of the Tulane University, who for the last 10 years were hired by the DoL and Big Cocoa to report on progress in the fight against Child Labor, have stated that the efforts pale compare to the size of the challenge.

Until the efforts to tackle this problem are equal the challenge at hand, and the efforts are actually aimed at eradicating the programme, with a clear and measurable timeline, clearly communicated to consumers, we will continue to push Big Cocoa to stop abusing children to be able to make cheaper chocolate for all of us. This chocolate has too bitter a taste for my liking.

Antonie Fountain
antonie AT stopthetraffik DOT nl