The issue of child labour in the chocolate industry is a very hotly debated one. Many multinational companies in the past have been accused of turning a blind eye to child labour in their supply chains. So how can you assure that the sweet treat that you give your child has not robbed another child, in another part of the world, of her childhood?

How come my chocolate is made from child labour?

Well, the bar of chocolate in your hand most likely involves no child labour in its manufacture. Most companies use state of the art machinery to make the chocolatey delights that your children (and probably you too!) so love. It is the production of cocoa – the primary ingredient of chocolate that has always been at the centre of child labour accusations.

An overwhelming majority of world’s cocoa comes from West Africa. Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon – these 4 countries together produce between 75 and 80 percent of the annual global output of cocoa beans.

The cocoa planters here are typically smallholders with average plantation size of 2-3 hectares. The yields of the plantations are also quite low – an average of 500 kilograms per hectare per year. All this leads to very low annual incomes. Indeed, a significant proportion of cocoa planters earn well below the international poverty line. Given their very low incomes, it is very tempting for a cocoa planter to use his children on the cocoa farm as free labour instead of sending them to school.

Child labour on a cocoa farm.
Child labour on a cocoa farm

Many argue that child labour is seen from a very western stand point. The culture in these cocoa growing countries is that of children helping their families in the fields. It is like an apprenticeship that the youngster is going through so that he or she can learn the skills of the trade.

This is a hollow argument. The question to be asked is – given an economically viable alternative, will the family send their child to school or will the family want the child to work on a cocoa farm? Just to bring to everyone’s notice, the average day for a child on a cocoa farm includes working with sharp machetes and potentially dangerous substances like insecticides. Children also are required to carry heavy sacks of cocoa and do other physically demanding work like digging and pruning. All this in hot and humid plantations often infested with mosquitoes and snakes.

An average day in a cocoa plantation isn’t exactly a cakewalk for an adult, let alone a child!

Is there any chocolate that is child labour free?

Yes! There is a way out for the chocolate aficionado in you. You need not consume chocolate with the guilt of ruining someone’s chocolate, half a world away.

Certified Chocolate from Big Chocolate Makers

Big MNCs have woken up to the fact that child labour is very bad publicity for business. They have started investing in their supply chains so as to ensure that the cocoa that they buy is not only child labour free but is also produced in an environmentally sustainable way and the planter receives an increased compensation for his cocoa.

Big chocolate majors have launched initiatives like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan, Hershey’s 21st Century Cocoa Plan and Mondelez’s Cocoa Life. The purpose of these initiatives is to ensure that the cocoa used by these companies is produced ethically and in an environmentally sustainable way. Under these initiatives, these companies invest in their supply chain to ensure that the cocoa planters use the right agricultural practices, their yields increase and they do not use child labour. You should ideally look to buy chocolate produced under these initiatives.

There are also certified chocolate sellers in the market which sell chocolate made from cocoa certified by certification bodies like Ranforest Alliance, Fair Trade or UTZ. These are independent certifications that cocoa suppliers can get when they follow production norms set by the certification agencies. These norms include ensure that the cocoa is ethically and sustainably produced.

For big brands, certification is marked prominently on their packaging
For big brands, certification is marked prominently on their packaging

Bean to Bar Chocolate

We also have bean to bar chocolate makers who manage their supply chain starting right from buying cocoa beans to all the subsequent steps in making of a chocolate bar. Bean to bar chocolate makers are connected directly to cocoa planters. Many of them work hard to ensure that the cocoa planters receive a more benefits in terms of better prices for their cocoa and good agricultural practices.

An additional advantage of bean to bar chocolate is that bean to bar chocolate makers try to preserve the natural flavours of the cocoa beans. Bean to bar chocolate might come in fruity, woody, honey or many other flavours.

Is child labour free chocolate more expensive than normal chocolate?

Certified chocolate manufactured by big players tend to be a little more expensive than non-certified chocolate in some cases. But increasingly, this price gap is narrowing. Some companies are committed to source 100% of their cocoa as certified sustainable. One example is Nestle which claims that all its chocolate and confectionery products sold in UK and Ireland use certified cocoa under the Nestle Cocoa Plan.

Bean to bar chocolate tends to be much more expensive than normal chocolate. Some bean to bar chocolates can be 5 or even 10 times more expensive than similar sized bars made by the bigger companies.

The reason for that is more to do with the scale of operation of bean to bar players. Since bean to bar players operate on a much smaller scale, their products tend to be more expensive. But they justify the premium with the argument that the chocolate is made from sustainable products, is much healthier and maintains the natural cocoa flavours.

The final question that one needs to ask oneself is that isn’t a small premium worth ensuring that an underprivileged child in an under developed part of the world gets a brighter future?

Enjoy the sweet treats!

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