Chocolate can serve as a feel good treat, but be sure to know where your cocoa comes from before throwing a bar down on your grocery store conveyor belt. According to the Integrated Regional Information Networks, three-quarters of the world’s cocoa comes from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. These countries employ an estimated 284,000 child laborers, even after international governments working in conjunction with big businesses have introduced self-policing legislation to try and eliminate these practices.
International measures have been taken to try to cut down on this numbers, but experts are convinced that the true problem stems from unfixed cocoa prices, where farmers end up being paid a fraction of price of the finished chocolate product. The Harkin-Engel Protocol, commonly referred to as the Cocoa Protocol, is an international agreement by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, and signed by United States lawmakers, the Ambassador of the Ivory Coast, and eight major chocolate companies. The agreement originally set a deadline of 2001 to achieve its goals of assessing the extent of the child labor problem, forming multi-sectoral advisory groups, and building towards more credible industry standards. This deadline was unmet. The revised 2008 deadline brought few results, leading labor rights groups to speculate that the agreement was a way for gigantic chocolate companies to save face while governments collected data under the guise of ending exploitation.
However, the lack of results from big businesses doesn’t mean that consumers need to give up their favorite treats. Small batches of farmers in countries like the Dominican Republic have banded together to sell certified fair trade products. The National Confederation of Dominican Cocoa Producers represents “9,500 small-scale growers” and their products can be purchased online. Other fair trade certified chocolates (as well as other items) can be found on this site and an explanation of what makes fair trade fair here.
So, if who makes your chocolate ( or coffee!) is important to you, look out for these symbols next time you choose.