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Column: This Easter, think of those who made your chocolate eggs and bunnies

Irish people are now spending more on chocolate per head of population than any other country in the world, but what do we know about where the chocolate we eat comes from, asks Jim Clarken.

Jim Clarken

FOR THOSE OF us who celebrate Easter, this time of year is one of celebration.  It is a time to reconnect with our communities, our churches and family traditions. But for the religious and secular alike, Easter is also a time for chocolate.

As Lenten promises come to an end, chocolate lovers up and down the country will nibble their way through over 9.5 million Easter Eggs, making big money for chocolate producers in the process.

Irish people love their chocolate

The market is now worth €24 million to €28 million, with Irish people now spending more on chocolate per head of population than any other country on earth. On average, each of us downs 11.2 kilograms of the stuff every year, with the chocolate market now worth €583 million and growing.

Yet even as we savour these delicious treats, too few of us know much of anything about how chocolate gets onto our shelves in the first place. Even fewer have reflected on the conditions faced by the people who grow cocoa, Easter’s most precious ingredient.

The truth isn’t pretty. The vast majority of cocoa that goes into products like Cadbury Crème Eggs and Nestle Kit Kats is grown by farmers struggling to earn a living on tiny farms in countries like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Indonesia and Ghana.  Most cocoa farmers live in poverty and have trouble feeding their families leading to child labour and hunger. Malnutrition among children living in cocoa growing regions is rampant.

Who makes the chocolate we eat?

Many of these cocoa producers are women who fare the worst.  A recent investigation by Oxfam, Behind the Brands, showed that some women in cocoa supply chains are paid less than half as much as their male counterparts, earning just two or three dollars a day for their labour. In one cocoa processing plant in Indonesia a worker told investigators that all of the women employees were fired after they demanded basic rights.

In spite of hard fought victories in many countries to increase opportunity for women in the workplace, women in chocolate supply chains have yet to see the benefits of equal treatment trickle down. But in this season of miracles, the good news is that there is hope that things can change for the better.

Just three companies, Mars, Nestle and Mondelez International (parent company of Cadbury’s), purchase one third of all cocoa and control forty percent of the chocolate market. Together they wield immense power to make things better.  If these companies change how they deal with women in their supply chains it would send reverberations across the industry.

Making changes

Tackling the inequality women cocoa farmers face would help boost the livelihoods of millions of women so their children can go to school instead of working in the field.

Even small steps like ensuring women have the same access to trainings as men, or reducing the barriers women face in getting credit, tools and fertilizers could reduce the unfair burdens women farmers deal with on a daily basis. It could help improve the lives of millions of people. And consumers can make a huge difference.

After more than 60,000 people signed petitions and took action to urge chocolate companies to do the right thing for women cocoa farmers, Mars and Nestlé agreed on Tuesday to make commitments to tackle the inequality, hunger and poverty faced by women in their cocoa supply chains. Both companies will begin by conducting impact assessment in Cote d’Ivoire, the highest cocoa producing country within the next year but have committed to conducting assessments in the rest of their supply chain in the years following.  Mondelēz International, which controls 15 per cent of the global chocolate market, has yet to follow suit in spite of consumer pressure.

Putting pressure on the companies you buy from

By placing the same amount of pressure on them as we did on Mars and Nestlé, there is no reason why they should not follow suit.

The answer doesn’t require us to stop buying yummy treats.  Instead we need to tell companies like Mondelez that we care how they interact with the people who help make their products.  No company is too big to listen to its customers, so if we speak up and show the executives that we care, they will have no choice but to listen.

So as you enjoy your Easter celebrations this year, take a minute to consider what you have done to return the favor to cocoa farmers who made that chocolate bunny and Easter egg possible.

Jim Clarken is the Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland.

Read: Belgium introduces chocolate-flavoured postage stamps for Easter>

PIC: ‘Suitcase crammed full of chocolate and crisps’ pic of the day>

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Jim Clarken

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