Friday, 3 November 2006

Consumers Force Chocolate Industry to Take Steps to Stop Slave Production

Are those steps enough? What consumers ought to know and can do Dateline: Sunday, February 10, 2002 By Paul Pellizzari The global chocolate industry knows there's a problem at the source of its main ingredient. Every pound of chocolate we buy uses 400 cocoa beans, but for thousands of African boys working on farms and plantations in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, the harvest brings the incalculable theft of freedom and childhood. Companies like Hershey's, Nestle, and M&M/Mars have banded together with the world's chocolate makers to tackle the problem, but some think it's not enough: US-based Global Exchange wants Hershey's and M&M/Mars to change how they buy ingredients. It's demanding they go fair trade. According to testimonies gathered by researchers and journalists, parents from impoverished regions in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo sell their children for as little as 35 US, believing that slave traffickers will pay sojourner wages they can send home. But instead of money, the daily shifts of 12-plus hours earn the boys malnourishment, nighttime lock-ups on wooden planks, and beatings from farm owners and supervisors. Slave cocoa is indistinguishable from the rest Why is colonial-era bondage tainting love's fondest delectation? "Low world prices are a detriment to small farmers," said Caroline Whitby, managing director of TransFair Canada. Since 1996, raw cocoa's value has fallen 24 percent, and West African governments have exacerbated the situation by abolishing commodity boards, leaving small farmers to deal with the fluctuations of free global markets. "Slave labour cuts costs," she concluded. Global Exchange wants the companies with clout to imitate the fair traders: it is asking Hershey and M&M/Mars to commit to "purchasing at least five percent of their cocoa as Fair Trade Certified." Big companies do not want slave chocolate staining their names, but the problem starts with great confusion. Beans come from brokers who buy from all kinds of farmers and send them to processing plants mixed together, so that slave cocoa is indistinguishable from the rest. If sophisticated multi-nationals cannot tell a bondage bean from a clean one, neither can consumers. Fear and Change While children fear the punishing hand of their masters, the global chocolate industry worries about invigorated regulation and the kind of activist campaigns that have followed shoe, clothing, and drug brands. So, industry has attempted to act voluntarily and control the solution before one is imposed. "The consuming public has a very important relationship with our industry and the industry knows it," said John Rowsome, President of the Confectionery Manufacturers Association of Canada (CMAC). In November 2001, representatives of the global cocoa and chocolate industry signed the "Harkin-Engel" Protocol, setting a four-year timetable to comply with the International Labor Organization Convention (ILO) 182, and eradicate "the worst forms of child labour." Acting on behalf its 90-plus confectionery members, the CMAC signed it on behalf of the Canadian industry. Currently, two Canadian cooperatives, La Siembra of Ottawa and Just Us of Nova Scotia, produce cocoa powder and chocolate bars with fair trade certified cocoa and sugar. They guarantee farmers a price of 80 cents per pound-twice the global rate of 40 cents-and pass the cost onto consumers. To determine the extent of forced labour on cocoa farms in West Africa, the world's chocolate makers have initiated a large-scale survey to assess conditions, engaging researchers from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. Tracking the slave trail is not easy, because most of the estimated 600,000 cocoa farms operate mostly in remote rural areas. Industry will also establish an "Enforcement Program," a "System of Monitoring," and a "Public Reporting" process, Mr. Rowsome added. These mechanisms involve the ILO, an agency of the United Nations, as well as international unions, and NGOs like Free the Slaves. These groups will monitor corporate implementation of "Harkin-Engel" and provide expert advice. Fair Trade Choices Before attempting to certify its cocoa as "child-free," industry has shown it will collaborate with labour and human rights advocates. Has compassionate commerce finally come of age? Fair Trade proponents, who for more than a decade have worked to help sugar, tea, coffee and cocoa farmers in developing nations, believe there is a better model: companies must contract directly with farms and plantations and avoid the brokerage chain altogether. Only then can they verify slave-free harvests. Caroline Whitby also points out that the current industry plan does not deal with fluctuating prices, a condition that leads directly to exploitation. Any product with a Fair Trade logo, like the one certified by TransFair Canada, guarantees consumers that cocoa producers have distributed proceeds equitably and used environmentally sound farming methods. Fair trade importers and distributors pay a set minimum price, provide credit help, commit to longer term trading relationships, and promote sustainable practices. FairTrade Labelling Organizations (FLO) then monitor farms in Latin America, Africa and Asia for adherence to standards. Currently, two Canadian cooperatives, La Siembra of Ottawa and Just Us of Nova Scotia, produce cocoa powder and chocolate bars with fair trade certified cocoa and sugar. They guarantee farmers a price of 80 cents per pound-twice the global rate of 40 cents-and pass the cost onto consumers. Debbie Moore, of Just Us! Coffee Roasters, which distributes La Siembra cocoa, says that her customers, mainly patrons of health food stores and alternative cafes, sometimes pay a premium of up to 30 percent for cocoa (or 5.95to 6.50 for a 224 gram package). The mark-up reflects the real costs of the cocoa powder which covers the costs of production and includes organic and social premiums. "Fair Trade products are only priced higher than non fair trade products about 50percent of the time," says Kevin Thomson, an owner-member of La Siembra. By 2005, however the global industry says it will have a monitoring process in place that will guarantee cocoa that is free of worst forms of child labour Despite its high-end niche, Fair Trade is gaining momentum and flirting with the mainstream. La Siembra cocoa powder and hot chocolate has penetrated three of Canada's largest grocery chains - Overwaitea, Safeway, Sobey's - and in March 2002 it will launch its "Cocoa Camino" brand with two 100 gram chocolate bars that will compete in the segment best known to chocolate consumers. "Our certified fair trade organic chocolate bar is going to be priced lower than the leading organic brand in Canada," Mr. Thomson said. Options for Consumers Will we soon see big chocolate makers offering fair trade products? Industry is waiting for the results of its survey before deciding what to give consumers. Kevin Thomson, an owner-member of La Siembra thinks a price guarantee for a primary ingredient such as cocoa is unlikely to come from companies like Nestle. By 2005, however the global industry says it will have a monitoring process in place that will guarantee cocoa that is free of worst forms of child labour. "Its aggressive, but we're going to meet it," Mr. Rowsome said. "We want to be able to verify and back up what we say we are doing. The solution has to be verifiable." Along with buying fair trade cocoa, consumers can let multi-national companies know that they want to see a fair trade label on their favourite brands. When companies see that people are voting with their dollars, they pay attention. They can contact the corporations individually, or get in touch with the CMAC. Kevin Thomson does not expect the multi-nationals will reach the higher standards required to be fair trade certified. But if the multi-nationals did take fair trade seriously, he will welcome the competition. "We want to encourage them to change their trading habits. If they knock us out of the market, it has been time well spent," he said. Story courtesy of Straight Goods (http://www.straightgoods.com)

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