A Word About Your Halloween Candy….

Forests that are cleared and replaced with cocoa plants in West Africa. Image: Washington Post

Today is the day after Halloween, which means that many of you are probably snacking on fun-size candy as you’re reading this. While we don’t want to put a damper on your sugar high, we do want to keep it real about the state of cocoa farming. The Washington Post has written two pieces this year that examined the two biggest issues plaguing the chocolate industry: child labor and deforestation. As they reported,

  • The world’s chocolate companies have missed deadlines to uproot child labor from their cocoa supply chains in 2005, 2008 and 2010. Next year, they face another target date and, industry officials indicate, they probably will miss that, too. As a result, the odds are substantial that a chocolate bar bought in the United States is the product of child labor.
  • Although Mars Inc., vowed in 2009 to switch entirely to sustainable cocoa to combat deforestation, a major contributor to climate change, they’ve yet to meet this goal. In fact deforestation has accelerated in West Africa, the source of two-thirds of the world’s cocoa.

Child Labor: Washington Post reporters spent a month traveling through Côte d’Ivoire and found that child labor in the cocoa industry continues to be a pervasive issue throughout West Africa.

  • About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa where, according to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, more than 2 million children were engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions.
  • One reason is that nearly 20 years after pledging to eradicate child labor, chocolate companies still cannot identify the farms where all their cocoa comes from, let alone whether child labor was used in producing it.

To date, there have been few consequences for companies that have failed to meet their child labor commitments. Human rights experts say that if cocoa farmers were paid more for their crop (about 40% more) then the reliance on child labor (slavery, really) wouldn’t be necessary. Just like with many foods, the price of cocoa does not reflect its true cost when you factor in the human and environmental tolls.

Deforestation: As the Post reported,

  • In 2017, 40 football fields of tropical forests were lost every minute, spurred by growing demand not only for cocoa, but also for palm oil, soybeans, timber, beef and rubber.
  • Although illegal mining accounts for some of the destruction, much of it is the work of hundreds of thousands of poor cocoa farmers seeking to expand their plots by felling mature trees, often in national parks and protected forests.

Additionally, as Yale e360 reported, lax laws in places like Côte d’Ivoire help chocolate companies easily exploit forests and intact ecosystems. All in all, deforestation is driven by many of the same forces that enable child labor, namely that poor cocoa farmers are desperate to survive and turn to clearing forests as a way to earn money. 

Why This Matters: Most people are unaware that the candies they love contribute to human suffering and the destruction of ecosystems. It seems as if just about everything we purchase is bad for the planet in some way and that can certainly feel overwhelming. However, we chocolate consumers do have the power to push companies to follow through with their sustainability commitments. Spread the word about these stories to your social circle, message companies to let them know you won’t buy their products until they change, and also look for more sustainable alternatives for your chocolate fix.

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