Photography by Emily Grundy
Easter is over for another year and the chocolate hangover is wearing off. For most of us, chocolate is a delicious treat, even though we feel a bit guilty for devouring that family size block. But are we feeling guilty for the wrong reasons? For chocolate to even reach our salivating mouths, cocoa has to be farmed, but not all of it under ideal conditions. According to research conducted in 2010 by Tulane University, over 1.8 million children in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana work in cocoa-related activities. While not all of these are victims of forced child labour (the 2005 International Labour Organization’s (ILO) report estimates that number to be at least 280,000 children), many work under hazardous conditions.
The Ivory Coast provides 43 per cent of the world’s cocoa supply and according to the ILO, houses at least 200,000 children working on the farms. Each day, these children are expected to perform perilous and sometimes life-threatening tasks, such as applying pesticides without proper protection. Beyond this, an investigative report taken out by the British Broadcasting Company found that children would work for at least 80 hours a week. To put that into perspective, most managers of Australian retail stores are only allowed to work 48 hours per week. This, of course, leaves little time for any sort of education.
But it doesn’t stop there. It has been reported that many of these children are victims of child trafficking. They would be either sold to human traffickers by their parents in poverty-stricken countries or stolen from their homes. The ILO found that 12,000 children in the Ivory Coast didn’t have any relatives in the area, indicating that they may have been trafficked.
A strong advocate for removing forced child labour from the cocoa industry is Oxfam Australia. Their shops only carry Fairtrade Certified products, including chocolate. As the evidence of forced child labour and trafficking in the cocoa industry piled up, the term ‘ethical eating’ gained traction. Society has gained a conscience when it comes down to what we’re putting in our mouths. Nandini Guharoy, manager of the Carlton Oxfam store, agrees. “I think ethical eating is trying to do your best and trying to purchase foods that have the Fairtrade tick,” she says.
Fairtrade makes sure that farmers in third world countries are getting paid an appropriate amount for their produce. Their goal is to first move the farmers out of poverty so that they can pay their workers. “We get asked questions like: ‘Why is a bar of chocolate $4.50?’ The simple answer is that…it’s a Fairtrade bar of chocolate and we pay [the farmers] a lot more than a larger, private company would,” Guharoy says.
In Australia, the highest selling block of chocolate is Cadbury DairyMilk. Since 2010, this block of chocolate has been Fairtrade Certified. However, according to World Vision Australia, Nestlé and Cocolo are the only two major chocolate brands that stock 100 per cent Fairtrade Certified products in Australia.
Since May 2012, the University of Melbourne has been a certified Fairtrade university, which saw the instigation of the Fair Trade Steering Committee (FTSC). Their job is to encourage the university community to use Fairtrade products in order to make a difference. On campus, 15 outlets serve Fairtrade approved tea and coffee. According to the FTSC’s annual report, “the number of Fair Trade tea/coffee units purchased from January to November 2012 was 585 and from January to November 2013 were 1,497. This equates to an increase of 273 per cent”.
Accordingly, the UMSU-affiliated Oxfam Group has thrown its support behind the initiative.
“We are planning a campaign about promoting Fairtrade approved chocolate and confectionery on campus, but that comes down to the shops’ discretion,” a representative from the club said.
Over the 13 years that Guharoy has been working in Oxfam stores, she has seen a sharp increase in Fairtrade products being sold. “[Awareness] keeps growing every year…thanks to a lot of the younger generation who are extremely aware of ethical eating, Fairtrade products and the cruelties out there,” Guharoy explains.
Despite Fairtrade’s best efforts to eradicate forced child labour from West African cocoa farms, the fight to stamp it out completely is far from over. For Guharoy, it’s horrendous that a child will put their life at risk so that we can enjoy a cheeky endorphin hit. “It moves you to tears.”