Fairtrade chocolate: ending child labour

We have always been curious about fairtrade. I have made trips and done lots of volunteer work as part of a fairtrade organisation. I believe in the cause.


Earlier this year I visited some cocoa farmers in Sierra Leone. They had recently gained Fairtrade certification, helped to do so by the Ghanaian cocoa growers’ organisation that supplies Cadbury and the Co-op, and part-owns the Divine brand. The farmers told me that having another way of selling their cocoa beans made a huge difference to their incomes, while contracts and guaranteed prices made their business more stable.


The child labour issue should be a huge embarrassment to the chocolate trade. For a long time in West Africa, source of 60 per cent of the world’s cocoa, children have in effect been enslaved. The big companies say they do their best to ensure that no child labour is used in the sourcing of their cocoa. Nine years ago, Nestlé, Cadbury and other companies signed an agreement to eliminate “the worst of child labour”. But a report last year from Tulane University showed that not much has changed: 15 per cent of children working on cocoa farms in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire said they were forced to do so. Very few were paid. According to the US State Department 100,000 children work in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire.


I’m convinced that buying Fairtrade is the best way of avoiding chocolate that is tainted by this cruelty — certainly, the Fairtrade cooperative in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo, acted swiftly when an external audit found in 2009 that a few of its 45,000 farmers were using children.

So we should applaud the big sweet companies for signing up to Fairtrade. But the reason children pick cocoa in West Africa is in part because the cocoa farmers have had so little of the value of the chocolate those same corporations sold. Producers who can barely make a living tend to cut corners. Cocoa’s price has soared partly because years of low prices meant lack of investment in the cocoa farms. And this, say cynics, is one reason why big corporations have gone ethical — Fairtrade farms are in the best shape to guarantee future supplies. Cadbury and Nestlé now boast of helping farmers to plant new trees — “something they might have thought of a long time ago”, says Divine Chocolate’s Charlotte Borger.

Speculators will get most of the benefit from the spike in cocoa prices, rather than farmers. And chocolate is already getting more expensive in the shops. I think we should demand more in return. A label stating “Positively no child slavery in this chocolate” should speed up reforms in West Africa. And Cadbury and Nestlé might source all their brands ethically, not just Dairy Milk and the four-piece KitKat bar. That would taste pretty good.


Chocolate is most people’s guilty pleasure. Wouldn’t it nice to make that sweet treat just a little less guilty? Next time you scurry down the chocolate aisle why not choose something that’s been ethically sourced AND delicious?


– Carl