Express your Affection with Fair Trade Confection: Supply Chain Justice’s Valentine’s Day Campaign
Materialising as our first-ever article publication, Supply Chain Justice authors Noushka Summerfield and Luise Schroter introduce our readers to the intricacies of the global chocolate trade, inviting us on a journey through the prismatic perils of consumerism, blind-buying, and what we can do to seize control of the practices we pay for.
On February 14th, supermarket shelves will be piled high with heart-shaped chocolates and truffles, but few consider the darker heart at the core of these chocolate’s production.
Noushka Summerfield & Luise Schroter
Cheap chocolate comes at an expensive human cost, with 1.56 million children, some as young as 5-years-old, forced to work in the cocoa industry in Ghana and the Ivory Coast alone. Brandishing advanced and minacious apparatus like chainsaws and machetes which leave many children brutally scarred, they are tasked with cutting cocoa bean pods from the trees. The pods are then packed into sacks weighing more than 100 pounds when full, and carried through the forest. On many farms, children are also exposed to agricultural chemicals which are often used to increase the yield. The children often do not wear protective clothing. These tasks constitute hazardous work that is prohibited for children by Conventions No 138 and 182 of the International Labor Organisation (ILO).
Depending on their age (and yet without prejudice to their youth) between 12% and 34% of children in agricultural households in the Ivory Coast do not attend school. This is often because parents, who are not paid enough for the cocoa they sell, are forced to include their children in undertaking farm labour instead of sending them to school. However, the exploitation of child labour is not limited to the families of cocoa farmers. Children are also trafficked from other parts of Africa to work on cocoa farms. In one village in Burkina Faso, almost every mother in the village has had a child trafficked onto cocoa farms. Once abroad, the children are managed by a middleman who gets paid by the farmer. Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years if ever.
The root of this problem is simple: the price of cocoa is not high enough. Many farmers are currently paid less than $1 a day, which is far below the extreme poverty line. In the Ivory Coast it is even less, at $0.78 a day. Although 25-33% of all cocoa is certified under ethical labels, e.g. Fairtrade or UTZ, even they cannot guarantee that no exploitation was used in production. While Fairtrade sets a minimum price and a price premium to give farmers some security, this price is still too low. UTZ does not even do that. As long as farmers do not earn a living income, they will not have enough to pay the workers on their farms a living income either and child labour and slavery will continue to pervade the industry. Within their $103 billion-per-year industry, chocolate companies have the power to end the use of child labour and slave labour by paying cocoa farmers a living income for their product. The Ferrero company alone could provide a living income of $5,500 per household in the Ivory Coast for all of its 90,000 cocoa farmers and the Ferrero family would still get an annual dividend of $211 million a year, compared to the unbelievable $730 million they got in 2020.
In light of this, the activist group Supply Chain Justice is currently taking on Valentine’s Day. Supply Chain Justice is a student movement at the University of Edinburgh. It was founded as a working group of the Amnesty International Society in November 2021 and wants to raise awareness of the human rights abuses happening in corporate supply chains. In the end, consumers are also often unaware of the human cost in the products they buy, unwittingly financing this system of using unfair pay, forced child labour, slavery and unsafe working conditions. Buying ethical alternatives can go a long way in incentivizing companies into leaving behind unethical practices. Moreover, Supply Chain Justice supports a “Failure to Prevent” Act in the UK, similar to the Human Rights Due Diligence Directive the European Commission wants to propose this year. It would require companies to engage in human rights due diligence consisting of identifying and assessing the risk of human rights abuses happening in their supply chains, taking mitigating and preventative actions, providing remedies, and disclosing this procedure. There is no such obligation right now, but Supply Chain Justice is collecting signatures for a petition to prompt parliamentary discussion.
Supply Chain Justice pursues the two-pillar approach of raising awareness to change consumption patterns and supporting a Failure to Prevent Act through campaigns. Its first campaign focuses on the chocolate industry and Valentine’s Day. Starting with in-depth research on the industry, the main issues and ethical alternatives, it created both an online and on-campus campaign. Online, Supply Chain Justice provides templates with information on their website, Instagram and Twitter for people to like, share and post with #stopchildlabour2022 and #supplychainjustice. They got in touch with the Edinburgh Fairtrade City Group, various NGOs and influencers to ask them to spread the message. On-campus, Supply Chain Justice will distribute flyers, stickers and free ethical chocolate samples on the 9th, 10th, 11th and 14th February in front of the University of Edinburgh Main Library.
At a time when people want to materially express love and care for those around them, Supply Chain Justice urges the public to extend this care to the people whose labour has been brutally exploited in the production of chocolates. There are accessible ethical alternatives including: Alter Ego, Beyond Good, Cacao Crudo, Chocolate and Love, Cox & Co., Divine, Doisy & Dam, Eat Your Hat, Endangered Species, Ocelot, Pacari, Shaman, Seed and Bean, Theo Chocolate, Tony’s Chocolonely, Willie’s Cacao. Supporting these companies will also put pressure on mainstream chocolate brands to reform their practices to avoid losing their customers.
Supply Chain Justice encourages students to come visit the on-campus booth to get free ethical chocolate and start a discussion on child labour, brands and what else can be done. More information is provided on Instagram @supplychainjustice, Twitter @supplychainj and the website www.supplychainjustice.com. For even more information, students can visit the website of The Ethical Consumer Magazine which rates companies in different industries according to their ethical behaviour.
About the Authors:
This article has been co-authored by Noushka Summerfield and Luise Schroter.
Noushka is a writer for The Student Newspaper at the University of Edinburgh and a second-year student in English Literature. She has joined Supply Chain Justice only two weeks ago but has been an active member ever since.
Luise is a postgraduate student in International Law. She is the Campaign Manager of Supply Chain Justice and originally founded the working group in November 2021 with some other students.