Opinion: Buying Slave Free Chocolate Is Not Enough To Stop Colonial Cocoa

Slave Free Chocolate has been surfing through a media storm ever since Tony’s Chocolonely was removed from Slave Free Chocolate’s list of Ethical Chocolate Suppliers. Tony’s Chocolonely established their company on the basis of ending child slavery in the chocolate industry.  It was started by a journalist who had seen the misery of the abject poverty on the cacao plantations in West Africa.  On every wrapper it is written:

“We exist to end modern slavery and illegal child labor in the chocolate industry. Our vision is 100% slave-free chocolate. Not just our chocolate, but all chocolate worldwide. The more people join us and share our story the sooner 100% slave-free chocolate becomes the norm.  The choice is yours. Are you in?”

Slave Free Chocolate applauds everyone who has spread awareness and has with good intent put their hearts and souls into ideas and initiatives that could bring forth the eradication of illegal child labor and child slavery in the industry. Tony’s has done a lot of that and we commend them.  The problem is that nothing to date has achieved any meaningful results. The numbers released last year by the US Department of Labor has the number of exploited children increasing instead of decreasing. We are talking 20 years of this, that is enough time.  I’m not just picking on Tony’s, this goes for the work Slave Free Chocolate has done, the work of all activists, the Fair-Trade programs, through to the programs initiated by a handful of complicit Big Cocoa companies (Mars, Mondelez, Barry Callebaut, Hershey’s, Olam, Cadbury, Cargill, and last but not least Nestlé). If our intention is to truly eradicate child exploitation in the chocolate industry, the apple cart of what is, must be overturned.

Tony’s was taken off the list of Ethical Chocolate Suppliers because of a bad actor – Barry Callebaut who produces the chocolate they sell.  We knew this when we put them on the list but gave them a pass as they were spreading a lot of awareness and had good intentions and ideas to help change the situation.  We gave them a good 15 years to prove their ideas. After the last Department of Labor report was released, I determined that it was time to pull them.  No other company will get on the list if they partner with known bad actors.  We pulled Green and Blacks off the list when they were purchased by Mondelez for the same reason. One being that we don’t want to support tokenism in the industry as that surely will be a hindrance to the results we are trying to achieve. 

When I started Slave Free Chocolate, it seemed clear to me that what needed to happen was for Big Cocoa to act as a cartel, sit down together and make the meaningful changes that need to be made starting with paying a living wage to those in the cacao industry and investing in infrastructures like clinics, schools and sustainable practices for the farmers. Farmers being held in abject poverty is the problem here. Only a handful of companies are purchasing this commodity. The chocolate industry is worth $100 billion, and it is clear that the money and power are here. What is it going to take to bring these companies to the table? At Slave Free Chocolate, this is our concern going forward.  Some things I believe are helping. 

Some countries in the EU are working on transparency laws which can be used to translate into pressure. In the US, International Rights Advocates has filed a new lawsuit against the complicit companies and Slave Free Chocolate has partnered with the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union.

For those that want to help, purchasing slave-free chocolate is of course a way to support ethical businesses, but it’s not enough.  The only thing that is going to make a difference is pressuring Big Cocoa to make the changes they promised to make 20 years ago but haven’t. I am afraid that everything else is just marketing. Marketing is marketing and results are results, and Slave Free Chocolate is only interested in the latter.  To find out ways to help visit Slave Free Chocolate.org.

If this topic is of interest a free online event hosted in the UK by Global Quote will air on March 30th at 14:00 (UK) time. You can register here. Ethical Egg Hunt-Who Sourced your Chocolate.

Photography by Chuck Moravec