It sounds like a good news story, doesn’t it? Nestle is really helping Ivory Coast by distributing saplings that will grow into disease-resistant cocoa trees. This will greatly boost productivity and improve the quality of the cocoa beans. But is this really a good news story? What about the quality of life for the 200,000 children who labour in the cocoa jungles of Ivory Coast? What about the child slaves trafficked from Burkino Faso and Mali included in that number? Why isn’t Nestle doing something to help these children? They could’ve linked the distribution of these new cocoa trees to programs that are working to eliminate child slavery and end the worst forms of child labour.
The good news story is actually happening in Cameroon, the fourth largest cocoa-producing country. Companies like Mars and Cadbury have been impressed by research that shows that farmers in Cameroon cultivate cocoa trees in a more sustainable way that essentially preserves and renews the rainforest. This is in great contrast to the monoculture cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast where the rainforest is being razed and then with time the cocoa trees are becoming less productive. What impresses me even more is that Cameroon does not have the same high rate of child labour that keeps children from attending school nor is the country known for the same extensive practice of child trafficking and slavery. Martin Gilmour, UK-based cocoa research manager for Mars, says, “We would like to see farmers get higher prices for their cocoa. It would be better for both of us.” And it would help to eliminate the so-called “need” for child labour. So Cargill, a big cocoa purchaser and bulk chocolate producer for companies like Cadbury and Mars, is rolling out its UTZ certification farmer training programme in Cameroon which should dramatically boost their sustainable cocoa output. This UTZ certification means working with the ILO to eliminate the worst forms of child labour which includes slavery and denial of schooling. Thus, Cameroon is already in a better position than Ivory Coast when it comes to child labour and now the chocolate companies are seeing the benefit of investing in Cameroon’s cocoa production in a way that will go further to eliminating the worst forms of child labour and improving sustainability. Excellent! Now why wasn’t this good news story broadcast on TV?
Finally, summer time makes is a great time to tell Hershey’s that we want more from our S’mores! That’s right, we want fair trade chocolate in our S’mores. Hershey’s Chocolate made S’mores to be the popular treat they are, but they don’t produce any fair trade chocolate bars. As a chocolate company they continue to show a resistance to doing anything about the serious child labour and slavery problem in West Africa. I mentioned above that Mars and Cadbury are speaking up and Cargill is listening, but Hershey remains silent. Raise the Bar, Hershey is an excellent website giving many practical ways for us to get involved in the fight against child slavery and abusive child labour in West Africa.
P.S. It’s hard to ever truly find a good news story when it comes to cocoa coming from West Africa. The sources I cited above may have not been entirely accurate in their assessment of child labour in Cameroon’s cocoa industry. This episode of the BBC World TV series "Survivors Guide" looks at the ILO’s project in Cameroon. Sobering, to say the least.