Cocoa Supply Up, But Ethical Issue Remains

June 7, 2019
Fears of a global cocoa shortage have largely been eradicated by a good crop this year – but the industry’s problems with child labor remain unabated.

Fears of a global cocoa shortage have largely been eradicated by a good crop this year – but the industry’s problems with child labor remain unabated.

The price of cocoa rose 28% last year due to reports of an impending shortage, but prices stabilized this year after good weather led to a good crop in West Africa, source of about three-quarters of the world’s supply. The Wall Street Journal reports that supply is ahead of demand for the third year in a row. If production follows the prediction of the International Cocoa Organization, there will be a surplus of about 36,000 metric tons.

That will keep prices down, which is good news for the chocolate processing industry and its trade customers and consumers. But it’s not such good news from the standpoint of fighting a persistent problem with chocolate production: the use of children to harvest the crop.

Much of the cocoa from Ivory Coast and Ghana, the two largest producers, is grown on small farms by farmers who set their children to work full-time. This labor force is supplemented by youngsters imported from neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali, who in many cases are held virtually captive.

Major chocolate producers promised Congress in 2001 to eradicate child labor from their supply chains within four years. But according to a report in the Washington Post, that promise was made only to stave off federal legislation that would have imposed more stringent measures like mandatory certification. An industry group declared in a 2011 letter to Congress that certifying the provenance of the cocoa it uses was impossible.

Nonprofit agencies like the Rainforest Alliance offer no-child-labor certification, but can visit only a small fraction of West Africa’s cocoa farms and can’t conduct surprise inspections. Raising prices to farmers would at least give them the option of sending their children to school instead of working them on their farms, but the world supply glut and the competitive nature of confectionery processing work against that.

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