Chocolate - a bitter treat

Watching the episode about Chocolate of the series "Rotten" on Netflix, it is eye-opening. I am taken back by the ugly truth of the modern slavery and unfairness that millions of cocoa farmers in Africa are suffering to bring us the sweet treat of chocolate. Now whenever I eat chocolate, I can't help but having a double thought...


The majority of cocoa beans, about 70%, is produced in West Africa. Millions of people from countries including Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sierra Leone rely on farming, collecting and exporting cocoa beans as their main income, hence, any change in prices significantly affect their income. In Cote d'loire, in 2017, cocoa beans, taking away cocoa butter, power and finished chocolate, gave the country $3.8 billion, accounting for 37% of the total export values (source: OEC).


However, it has always been an unfair game, as the amount of money that cocoa farmers receive comes just about 6.6% of the value of a tonne of cocoa sold, as there are multiple middlemen in the supply chain, and the sold price of cocoa beans are heavily affected by the buyers (technically in this game, there are millions of farmers, while the number of buyers is handful, an easy economic -101 theory to understand here). In this $130 billion industry, most famers make a tiny tiny portion of it. While the threshold for extreme poverty is $1.90/day (as set by the World Bank), Ghana cocoa farmers make $1/day, and those in Côte d’Ivoire make only $0.78/day. Moreover, while the country's cocoa producers were paid 1,000 West African CFA francs for each kilogram of cocoa, the minimum guarantee price for cocoa farmers were only 825 francs (about $1.45) (2020). With about 1.5 - 2 million cocoa farmers in West Africa, there are about 10 - 15 million dependents on cocoa farming, meaning cocoa farmers here have no other choices but keep on farming cocoa at low prices, sometimes even less than the amount of time and money they invest in.

As the force of market, cocoa farmers keep looking for ways to make more cocoa beans at a lower cost. According to Tony's Chocolonely, there are at least 2.1 million children working illegally for this bittersweet industry, up to 50 hours a week in poor condition, at close-to-nothing (and sometimes nothing) payment, in Ghana and Ivory Coast alone.

As most farmers believe that it is better for them to grow more and more cocoa beans to generate higher incomes, farmers are looking for different ways to expand their production, starting from the simplest way is to plant more cocoa trees. According to Reuters, around 15% of cocoa farms in the world’s top grower Ivory Coast are in protected forest areas. It is not only free to plant illegally into protected forest areas, the soil there is also more nutritious, so it only takes about 3 years for farmers to start harvesting, instead of 5 years if they plant in their own farms.


However, as the production of cocoa beans increase, the price dramatically dropped. In 2017, due to excess supply and the lack of demand due to health awareness globally, the price of cocoa beans dropped by 30 - 40%, from Rs 200-210 to Rs 130-160 per kg, leading to the bankrupt of some major players in the industry.


Understanding the importance of ensuring fairness, equity and human rights for the whole industry, more and more organisations are taking actions. VOICE Network, a global network of NGOs and Trade Unions, is working as a watchdog and catalyst for a reformed cocoa sector, thriving for a sustainable future for all cocoa industry stakeholders. Or Tony's Chocolonely, a unique company that not only sells delicious chocolate but also works towards a 100% slavery free industry.


In Vietnam, the brand Marou, is a rising star of the chocolate industry in Vietnam, with responsible source, farmer supporting programmes and truly delicious products! You can know more about them through their well-written Sustainability reports here.


Let's eat chocolate sustainably!

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