CHECK OUT THE ETHICS OF YOUR CHOCOLATE TREAT
Most people like to indulge in a little chocolate at Christmas - or for that matter, any other time of the year - and this is another product which has its origin in a tree.
Theobroma cacao has been cultivated for its large seed or ‘bean’-bearing pods since at least 1000 BC by the inhabitants of the area we now know as Mexico. Brought to Europe in the 16th Century by the Spanish, chocolate first became popular as a drink, but it wasn’t until 1847 that the first chocolate bar was created.
We now love chocolate so much that the worldwide industry is worth almost £47 billion.
However, there is a darker side to modern day cocoa cultivation. In recent decades, West Africa has been the main growing area, but since 1990 Peru has also seen a massive increase in production. And this is where one of the problems lies, because as consumers indulge, thousands of acres of primary rainforest in the Amazon, Ghana, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire are being cleared to grow cacao. Once they enter the market, these ‘dirty’ beans are virtually untraceable, and find their way into many familiar brands.
Added to this, some growers in West Africa resort to using child labour so that they can keep prices competitive. Many of these children have been abducted, sold to traffickers and end up as unpaid slaves. While most are between 12 and 16-years- old, it’s not unusual for those as young as five to be torn from their families, and it is thought that there are now some 1.8 million child labourers on the cocoa farms of the region.
The work of harvesting the cocoa beans involves long hours and dangerous work, including the use of sharp machetes to cut down and split the pods. It’s no wonder that children suffer terrible injuries, not to mention the fact that they are also exposed to toxic agricultural pesticides which are sprayed on the cocoa trees to kill insects.
No major label can guarantee their chocolate has been made without child exploitation.
However, there is an increasing number of small, independent companies producing ethically sourced chocolate. We can look out for chocolate made from cocoa sourced from wellmanaged plantations outside West Africa, which is almost always responsibly grown. It may be more expensive, but what is that compared to the freedom of a child?
A list of companies producing ethically sourced chocolate can be found at www. slavefreechocolate.org
Cocoa beans from which chocolate is made.