Phillip Minton M.D.

Fairtrade Labeling in Chocolate Production: Is it the best answer to child slave labor and other concerns?

In fair trade on May 6, 2012 at 5:37 am

I recently read a Facebook post asking me to sign a petition demanding that Lindt take steps against child slave labor in the production of chocolate. It seemed incredible that such a large, old and respected producer of high end chocolate products would not have addressed this issue. This motivated me to research the topic.

As it happens, Lindt has actually taken significant steps to fight child slave labor and other abuses in its products. However, they are not jumping on the Fairtrade label bandwagon. Instead, they are doing something that they deem superior, and that only large profitable companies like them can do. They are attempting to directly control and/or monitor all of the production from farm to retail outlets.

What this means in regards to the child slave labor issue is that they are taking several significant steps that seem to make sense. Instead of relying on a third party organization to ensure the Fairtrade standards in the cocoa beans they buy, they are:

  1. limiting their African purchases to the nation of Ghana, because it has stricter national laws and enforcement to fight illicit child labor and child slavery; plus they have
  2. bought a part interest in the companies that purchase the beans so they can more directly control and monitor exactly how the beans are produced; and they are
  3. joining with other producers to ensure high standards.

In order to better understand what Lindt is doing, I include next some excerpts from their website.

“Lindt strongly condemns child labor and remains committed to eradicating it from cocoa production. To that end, over the last few years, Lindt has initiated a number of important steps within its cocoa supply chain and dedicated US $5 million to address this highly complex issue. Of note is:

  • Lindt imposes within its supply chain strict and thorough process control from sourcing of ingredients to production and distribution of its premium chocolates. Doing so enables Lindt to monitor and continuously improve sustainability in all aspects of our operations.
  • Lindt’s focus is to ensure that the same high sourcing standards for cocoa beans apply for our entire product portfolio, rather than only offering few products with a third party controlled the Fairtrade label.
  • Lindt cocoa beans are sourced from different South American and Caribbean countries, and from Ghana.
  • Within the West African origins, Lindt has chosen Ghana as its exclusive origin country since it is known for high bean quality and strict state control of the cocoa industry.
  • Lindt owns a minority participation in the Ghanese company collecting the cocoa beans from farmers and thus takes responsibility for those operations.
  • Each bag of cocoa beans sourced from Ghana is fully traceable back to the individual farmer village, allowing audits and checks to uncover and promptly abolish any form of child labor.
  • Lindt pays a premium of US $60 on each ton of cocoa sourced from Ghana into a foundation (SourceTrust.org) that finances infrastructure, education and health projects in its farmer villages in Ghana.”

Child labor is a complicated issue for our industry and many others. While Lindt has made strides to engage on and address this issue, it’s one not easily tackled alone.

The Lindt company welcomes continued collaboration within the industry – in part through our partnership with the World Cocoa Foundation and our commitment to assuring that the raw materials for Lindt’s whole product range are sourced to comply with the highest ethical and moral standards.”

In this article I have focused on Lindt, because it was specifically mentioned in the Facebook posting. I think my research shows that large chocolate producers can be good international “citizens”, and indeed are trying to use reasonable efforts to ensure that the standards we consumers all expect are being implemented. They may not be doing it always through the Fairtrade label certification, but who is to say that their methods are not superior to the Fairtrade labeling currently in vogue?

It seems to me that the main thing we consumers can do to ensure that the big chocolate companies do their best to alleviate reprehensible child labor is to make sure they know we care about it, and expect them to use their power, influence and wealth to maintain acceptable standards of social responsibility.

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