As a Swiss citizen, eating chocolate is my favorite way of supporting the national economy. Alas, this Lenten season, I can only think about it, rather than indulging in it.
And thinking about chocolate can be dispiriting. The truth is that the fabulous final product often hides an ugly sourcing story. I wrote about this a few months ago (here), when Whole Foods removed Hershey Brand's high-end Scharffen Berger chocolate line from its shelves because of Hershey's " failure to assure that the cocoa is sourced without the use of forced child labor."
Forced child labor in West Africa's huge cocoa market is only one sad story from the chocolate front. Another is the continued exploitation of women workers, who routinely earn less than half of what men are paid, for the same job.
A recent report from Oxfam (here; note: launches as PDF) notes that while global chocolate sales keep rising (breaking $100 billion in 2011), the tight control on the market by its largest players has kept that success from reaching the farmers who produce the base crop. Ninety percent of the world's cocoa is grown by small-scale farmers, and most -- especially in West Africa, from which 70% of cocoa is sourced -- live below the poverty line.
And it is the women who suffer the most.
One example should suffice:
While everyone struggles to survive on the meager income made from cocoa, it is the women laborers who appear to fare the worst. Agnes Gabriel, a 37-year-old migrant worker living in Ayetoro-Ijesa [Nigeria] says that one of the jobs she is hired to do on local cocoa farms is lug water to be mixed with pesticides. Other tasks include removing the beans from their pods during harvest time, carrying them to the site where they will ferment and then helping with the drying process. For her efforts, she earns 500 Naira a day, or just over $3. Farmers say women are paid $2–3 for a typical day’s work, while men earn about $7 per day.
What should the companies be doing? The Oxfam report has three steps it recommends: (1) "know and show" how women are treated in their supply chains; (2) Commit to the adoption of a "plan of action" to increase opportunities for women and address inequalities in women’s pay and working conditions; and (3) influence other powerful and relevant public and private actors to address gender inequality (for example, by signing on to the UN Women's Empowerment Principles, here).
What can any one individual do? Know what you buy.
The Food Empowerment Project has a "Food Is Power" list of chocolate products that appear to be produced from areas where child labor / slavery have been reduced if not eliminated (here), but it does not address the issue of gender discrimination.
Oxfam has a "Behind the Brands" scorecard, not limited to chocolate, where consumers can learn more about the supply-chain ethics behind some of their favorite products. Sadly, one of my favorite non-Lenten indulgences, Toblerone, produced by Mondelez International, does not score well on any of Oxfam's seven vectors (land, women, farmers, workers, climate, transparency, water).
I'll happily pay more for chocolate that I know is ethically sourced. But I won't pay more for chocolate if it just means that the CEO's pay goes from $4.2 million per year to $4.4 million.
Transparency, folks. That's what I'm looking for.