While aid agency Oxfam said its Fairtrade Easter chocolate sales were up 50% this year, Reverend Tim Costello, Executive Director of World Vision Australia said the bulk of chocolate sold in Australia could not be guaranteed free of child labour.
“Over 55% of all the world’s chocolate comes out of Ivory Coast and Ghana, and they’re the two countries I’ve visited,” Rev Costello said.
“I’ve seen the trafficked children, working with machetes splitting open the pods, children who don’t get to go to school.”
The neighbouring west African nations of Ivory Coast and Ghana are the world’s largest producers of cocoa.
In the early 1990s, reports of child exploitation in the countries’ cocoa fields spurred calls for action to end child labour.
A voluntary agreement between cocoa processors – The Harkin-Engel Protocol – was developed in 2001, however, it faced continuous criticism and more independent voluntary systems to guard against child exploitation have emerged.
In the Australian market, three of the five leading chocolate companies participate in ethical cocoa certification programs.
Cadbury (now owned by Kraft) is sourcing Fairtrade Certified cocoa for their Dairy Milk milk chocolate range, Mars is sourcing Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa for their Mars Bars, and Nestle is sourcing UTZ CERTIFIED cocoa for their four-finger Kit Kats.
Italian chocolatier Ferrero has so far made no commitment to sourcing ethically produced cocoa, saying it preferred an “industry wide approach”.
This improved the well-being of farming communities by encouraging sustainability of cocoa supply, the company said.
“Ferrero has always preferred to establish direct relationships with producers and/or suppliers of its raw materials, building commercial partnerships based on dialogue and transparency,” a spokesperson said.
“Until we are 100% sure that all the cocoa sourced is sustainable we prefer not to use any ethically certified labels on our products.”
Swiss chocolate maker Lindt has previously said that it cannot source ethically certified cocoa due to quality commitments.
The company was unable to provide a comment in time for the publication of this story.
According to World Vision Australia, the increasing consumer expectation for companies to rely on sustainable and ethically certified cocoa sources has raised participation in independent cocoa certification programs.
The programs aim to raise awareness of ongoing farmer poverty, failures to invest in improved farming techniques and the decline of tree productivity.
Stephen Knapp, CEO of Fair Trade Australia and New Zealand, said the poverty of cocoa farmers in developing countries was the “main driver” of these problems.
“The farmers are trying to make ends meet and grow enough crop and provide for themselves and their families. If we put systems in place here they’re getting a better price for themselves and an additional amount they can invest in their community.”
Rev Costello said certification schemes were not enough to eliminate the worst forms of child labour and ensure a fair price for farmers by 2018.
The organisation has called on Australian chocolate companies to pay a level of two cents on every $10 of chocolate sales to help stamp out the use of child labour in the cocoa industry.
“This levy will certainly clean up the supply chain for Australian companies to ethically source their chocolate,” Rev Costello said.
“Money raised from the levy will be used to monitor village farms and declare they’re not using child labour, and help with greater fair pricing for farmers.”
“The chocolate industry is not short of financial resources to do this. They have just spent money at the wrong end of the supply chain for 20 years.”
Rev Costello said consumers played a part in promoting the ethical production of cocoa and should only buy fair trade certified products.
The organisation hopes that volumes of ethically certified cocoa will reach 25-40% of global production by 2020.