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The Unsustainable & Unethical Practices of the Cocoa Industry

The Unsustainable & Unethical Practices of the Cocoa Industry

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Yesterday, in a moment of exhaustion and in need of a sugar hit, I scoffed a couple of chocolates. A minute later, my mouth was too sweet so I wanted something savoury, then I was thirsty, and then I felt guilty. Sounds familiar right?

But, the guilt we feel at sugar or calories is absolutely nothing compared to what we should feel when we look deeper. Farmer exploitation, deforestation, endangering animals and corrupt management all leave a lot to be desired. The more I looked into it, the more convinced I was that all of the chocolate brands I grew up with were ones that I had no interest in eating again. Instead, I am more accepting of the steep prices of some wonderfully independent and ethical brands out there, and am happy to pay twice as much and eat half as frequently if it means a fairer and more sustainable world for all.

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Ghana and the Ivory Coast are the world’s two largest producers of cocoa. There was a time, not too long ago, when 25% of the Ivory Coast's land was rainforest; today it stands at only 4%. Deforestation is rampant so that more land can be made available for cocoa. This comes at the expense of animals losing their habitats - elephants are now extinct from the Ivory Coast, and 13 of 23 protected areas have lost their primate populations. 

 

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Once the lush rainforests have been cleared to make way for cocoa farming - who works the land? The truth is that child exploitation is rife. According to Cocoa Initiative, 2.1 million children are involved in cocoa farming in Western Africa alone (2018). A key and obvious reason for this, is poverty. Tim McCoy, Vice President of the World Cocoa Foundation, an industry-backed membership body, says “Until we address the poverty issue and raise farmers out of poverty, then this will continue to be a problem.” On average, cocoa-growing households earn $0.78 a day, less than one third of what the Fairtrade International defines as a living income of $2.51.

 

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The horizon isn't all bleak though. Over the last 5-10 years there has been a raft of new initiatives by governments, charities and businesses to combat child exploitation. One of the main aims is to integrate monitoring systems into the supply chains of farmer groups and co-operatives. It's slow and painstaking, with only a small fraction implemented so far. There are ethical chocolate brands paving the way including Tony's Chocoloney in the Netherlands and LAND in the UK which don't leave a bitter taste in our mouths.

 

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