Cocoa Industry Background
Chocolate is a product that millions of people around the world consume on a daily basis with Americans alone consuming $16 billion or 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate every year (Reilly, 2013). Despite chocolate companies being distributed around the world the location that the cocoa is sourced is very concentrated. Ghana and the Ivory Coast alone are responsible for the supply of 75% of the world’s cocoa market. The companies that we buy our chocolate from everyday are not the ones that operating these West African farms, rather the task is outsourced to small family run farms, which provide ten million jobs (Cocoa Foundation). Due to the outsourcing of cocoa farming large corporations have little oversight as to how and who is producing this vital commodity. With the relatively recent growth of chocolate these export-oriented countries have seen a growth in the number of cocoa farms bringing in an increased competitiveness.
Cocoa Working Conditions
With the increased demand in cocoa there has been a steep increase in competitiveness, with farms all tying to undercut one another. The easiest way for many of these farms to cut their costs is by employing children and using slaves. This in turn worsens poverty for the nation with children working on cocoa farms in order to generate additional revenue for the family they are also missing out on obtaining an education causing a vicious cycle of poverty.
What is worse however is the high number slaves that end up in cocoa farms as a result of human trafficking. Due to the large amounts of poverty in the West African region human tracking has been able to flourish. In 2004 there was an estimated 12,000 children who had been trafficked into the Ivory Coast cocoa farms. While this number has decreased from 15,000 ten years prior this is still exceptionally high. Children are often brought in from neighboring countries with the allure of making large amounts of money only to be not paid, beaten, and underfed (IPEC). While not undergoing physical abuse these these children ranging from the age of 8-16 are forced to climb trees with large machetes and carry bags that are significantly taller than them. Due to the danger of the job “virtually every child has scars on the hands, arms, legs or shoulders from accidents with the machete” (Food Empowerment Project).
CNN’s David McKenzie
Responses and Reactions
If the situation with slaves and the use of child labor is so bad you may question why you continue to see or consume chocolate on a daily basis and what is being done about these working conditions. The public and media, chocolate companies, government, and NGO’s all play a part in the ethics and motives of companies.
Public and Media
Various media reports drew attention to the issue in the early 2000’s and questioned why slave labor was continuing to happen as well as see who was aware. Stories emerged about young children who had been sold into the system and had escaped, such as Ally Diabate, became widely talked about (TED). While this struck the hearts of many consumers in the western world it did not slow down the chocolate consumption.
What the media attention did do was cause public pressure for tighter regulation and for the chocolate companies to take a stronger stand on the issue. As a consumer your chocolate bunny has gone through the hands of a farmer, a buyer to wholesalers, exporters, importers and manufacturers (BBC). Yet the average consumer is largely unaware of the working conditions and brutality that the cocoa farms face.
Ironically the chocolate companies are one of the biggest helps while maintaining to be of the largest hindrance to the issue. In order to combat the large amount of public pressure a number of alliance’s, initiatives, and coalitions have been created among chocolate companies in order to better the situation. Creating these treaties shows that the companies feel as if they have a duty in eliminating the problem. Yet despite these large corporations vows to better the situation the Ivory Coast government claim that the problem is growing (UCSD). Lawyers and academics are cynical of the many of the chocolate companies plans to remedy the problem with lawyer Terry Collingsworth describing their plans as “a complete waste of time” (BBC). People like Collingsworth attribute the initiatives as a damage control measure opposed to a concern for others’ working conditions. In a philosopher such as Kant’s mind these initiative would be deemed unethical as a result of the company’s motives.
While recognizing that there is a problem chocolate companies are buying a product “long beyond the bean” and attribute the issue as problem further down the supply chain (UCSD). By companies stressing that there is a collaborative approach with one another to regulate one another leads to conflicting interests for the companies. By switching to slave free labor operating costs will increase which will in turn affect sales, negatively impacting the company. This therefore gives companies little incentive to take a proactive and aggressive approach at moving towards their “common goal”. Immanuel Kant’s theory on ethics that people must act out of duty and because something is “good in itself” shows how chocolate companies are acting unethically (Kant).
The obvious response for companies is for them to simply use cocoa produced in other countries were slave labor does not exist or to use fair trade cocoa. Companies however are not incentivized to move production to these other countries due to the increased costs they would have to absorb. Switching to Fair Trade or organic cocoa is an option for the company however this will be expensive for both the producers and the chocolate companies. This is compounded with organic and fair trade only accounting for a combined 1% of the cocoa market. This is worsened when a number of farms in West Africa were suspended for the use of slave labor (Food is Power). While some companies have got on board with fair trade certified products they remain in the minority and show that the accreditation does not guarantee child-free labor.
Nestle on the other hand has been somewhat of a leader in the industry by creating the cocoa supply chain initiative in 2009. The program focuses on educating farmers and improving social conditions. By helping farmers Nestle plans to “make a large and positive impact on the livelihoods of farmers and their communities in our cocoa supply chain” (Nestle). The program however has received some criticism from NGO’s as the program focuses on a narrow segment of the market and ignores 85% of it cocoa supply (Nieburg). While the company knows that it is obligated to make a difference it is committing to the obligation on a micro level. The Nestle website emphasis’ that is tackling child labor in the supply chain which it plans to do through training the farmers in order to “change attitudes and perceptions” (Nestle). While attitudes of farmers may be part of issue it does not affect the salary or working conditions of farm employees instead increases the yield for farmers benefiting the suppliers and in turn the chocolate companies. If Nestle felt truly committed to reducing slave labor why are they focusing on such a small amount of the market or not taking a more aggressive approach?
The governments of both western countries as well as those of cocoa producing countries also have a role in eliminating slavery and the use of child labor. A large problem that the Ivory Coast and Ghana face is the varying levels of acknowledgment that society and government has towards the use of slave and child labor. This is partly a result of ignorance and the need to cover ones own actions a government employee claims that he has “never seen any child slaves in all his travels”. Cultural relativism is also apparent with a farmer claiming that two boys who work for are not slaves they are simply waiting till he has the money to pay them (Raghavan). This attitude of slavery not being an issue or being able to justify it based on the struggling economic times shows how Nestlé’s supply chain program may be beneficial should it be operated effectively. The government’s reach is also limited by the lack of governmental resources and corruption. While strong anti slavery policies do exist they are rarely enforced. This raises larger ethical questions for the countries in which cocoa makes up just a small part.
Governments in chocolate consuming countries are also able to have a large impact largely by increasing public awareness through legislation. In 2001 there was an attempt to add an amendment that would require chocolate companies to carry labels on their products that ensured that slaves did not produce their products. This however never came to fruition as a result of heavy lobbying by the chocolate producers. If there were more public awareness due to legislation highlighting who is or is not acting ethically the process would be significantly hurried along. The US government is still unable to give direct help to the Ivory Coast as a result of a government ban following the over throwing of the democratic government in 1999.
Ultimately if changes and the elimination of slavery and child labor are going to happen there is going to have to be a collaborated effort from government (both in producer and consumption countries), large chocolate companies, and NGO’s. Companies need to be held responsible for the products they are producing but are not solely responsible for the working conditions that their employees face. Rather should be tackled by all involved at the various stages in the supply chain.
As an individual is very easy to feel powerless and unable to make effective changes in the chocolate production industry but you can make a difference. One of the most effective ways consumers can help change the ethics of corporations is through building public opinion. By drawing attention to the issue and voicing your concerns directly to the company is the most effective way individuals can make a difference. Along with this there are various charities and NGO’s that you can give to that are actively pressuring the big chocolate companies and farmers to make changes.
Ultimately under the current circumstances chocolate companies do not have the current motivation to change how and where there cocoa comes from. Companies know that they have a moral obligation to do improve the situation yet will continue to act in a quasi unethical manner till pressure from society is dramatically increased.
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