With spending on chocolate in Australia expected to exceed $200 million this Easter, there are calls to ensure what you buy is fairtrade and slavery-free.
It’s estimated that more than two million children are working under hazardous conditions on cocoa plantations in West Africa, and some are slaves, according to Save the Children.
Ivory Coast, the world’s leading cocoa producing country, is expected to ship a record crop this year of more than two million tonnes, according to the ICCO market review.
The country supplies 30 per cent of global demand for cocoa beans, feeding an industry valued at more than AU$130 billion. And most of the beans are grown on small family farms, where farmers and their children labour to earn only a few dollars a day.
“Many children are involved in harmful work in the industry and obviously there are physical risks of using machetes and big knives, so the children get injured all the time,” said Karen Flanagan AM, principal child protection advisor for Save the Children.
“So, when children get injured that reduces their life chances.”
Save the Children teams in West Africa focus on improving outcomes for children, girls in particular.
“I visited a coastal village in Ivory Coast earlier this year, where Save the Children International is trying to provide education for girls so they have the opportunity to earn a living,” Ms Flanagan told SBS's Small Business Secrets.
“It was a gender transformative program, so girls don’t drop out of school and don’t end up in harmful work or get trafficked.”
Save the Children welcomes certified labeling initiatives like Fairtrade, which advocates for better working conditions and improved terms of trade for farmers and workers in developing countries.
“Start at Easter to check the label, and do it every week at the supermarket as well. Don’t buy products that we know are harmful to children.”
Some Australian chocolate makers have joined the campaign for change.
“As a family business we need to support other small family businesses out there, and whether they are directly next to us or on the other side of the world,” said Madelaine Partsioglou, from Xocolatl Artisan Chocolates in Melbourne.
We need to support other small family businesses out there ... whether they are directly next to us or on the other side of the world.
- Madelaine Partsioglou, Xocolatl
“Most cocoa farms are family-owned businesses, and their children are working in the business, just like we are.”
The Partsioglou family care about the people harvesting raw cocoa pods and select their nine annual tonnes of imported raw materials carefully.
On its web site, Xocolatl’s main European supplier says it sources 100 per cent sustainable cocoa and invests part of the purchase price in farmers and their communities.
“On our marketing materials we have our family-to-family statement and we make the conscious decision to only purchase certified couverture chocolate” Madelaine Partsioglou explained.
The guaranteed minimum price for Fairtrade cocoa is also rising by 20 per cent.
The Partsioglu family has visited international cacao plantations and they’re willing to pay a little more for Fairtrade ingredients, having seen the benefits first-hand.
“The 10 per cent extra we pay goes to farmers to help them improve cultivation processes, and increase the yields. So they can benefit financially, and the rest goes to help education perhaps to provide a teacher for remote areas or to build roads, phones or send nurses to go to outlying areas,” said Christos Partsioglu.
Madelaine's sister Tina is a qualified nutritionist who has also visited farms in West Africa.
“In Ghana, we went to see a school that was being built by the money from [Fairtrade] chocolate sales, and we saw classrooms and a room of computers as well which other schools didn’t have,” Tina said.
Easter is a busy time for the chocolate making family, producing handmade delicacies for their three Melbourne stores.
“Our chocolate sales double over Easter and it’s an important time for cash flow, on par with Xmas,” Madelaide said while serving customers in their Kew store.
“Pretty much for the month before Easter, you can assume nothing else is happening other than chocolate,” she added.
“People are making a much more conscious choice to purchase fair trade these days.”
On its website, Fairtrade urges consumers to support its aims at Easter, to “empower small-scale cocoa farmers in developing countries to improve their lives and livelihoods, invest in their communities and control their futures”.
“We have made a huge difference already. The Millenium Development Agenda has helped to halve the number of children in harmful work, from 170 million in 2000 to 72.5 million by 2016, and we want to cease [all harmful work for children] by 2030. It’s a big goal, but we believe it’s possible,” Ms Flanagan said.