By Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia
Published on The Drum, Monday 9 April 2012
No doubt after Easter Sunday, there are a few of us feeling a bit guilty about overindulging in one or two too many chocolates.
Yet most of us will be shocked to learn that there is another unfortunate impact from our annual splurge on chocolate eggs and bunnies every Easter.
Indeed when you look at the facts, it is clear that much of the chocolate we consume in Australia will have cocoa in it that has been tainted by the use of child and trafficked labourers.
An estimated 70 per cent of the world's cocoa supplies come from two countries in West Africa, Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Research undertaken by Tulane University in New Orleans found that between 2007 and 2008 almost two million children were working on cocoa-related activities in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. They found that nearly 50 per cent of these children had reported to have sustained injuries from their work.
World Vision research has found that less than 5 per cent of the world's cocoa supply is ethically certified to have been made without the use of forced or child labour. Unknowingly, we often delight in chocolate and don't realise the true impact of our sweet tooth.
To achieve a significant reduction in exploitation of cocoa fields, companies should increase their current targets for purchasing ethically certified cocoa.
I've been to the cocoa fields of West Africa and have seen this exploitation first-hand. Children labour for long hours in high humidity and use dangerous machetes. In my travels I spoke to children, cocoa farmers and authorities.
Local authorities are trying to come to the aid of trafficked and exploited children. I saw the mug shots of traffickers and was told of trafficking offenders that went to great lengths to transport children from neighbouring countries into the Ivory Coast to work in their cocoa fields.
An agreement known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed in 2001 between Big Chocolate, the United States and the Ivory Coast to eliminate the worst forms of child labour from their cocoa supply chains.
Over 10 years on, actions taken by the chocolate industry have only been gradual. Since the launch of the World Vision's Don't Trade Lives campaign four years ago, we've seen chocolate companies take steps to commit to purchasing cocoa through independent ethical certification schemes such as Fairtrade and UTZ Certified.
The Australian industry is worth more than $1.28 billion, and in 2010 alone it spent $46 million on advertising. To significantly increase ethically sourced cocoa for their products, chocolate companies could pay a small levy of 2 cents in every $10 of chocolate sales. The funding could help train poor cocoa farmers in sustainable practices and to abolish child and trafficked labour.
The levy would be a drop in the ocean compared to sales. It would be industry-wide which would force all chocolate companies to take action, not just those with a good moral compass.
It's easy to become despairing and to feel powerless when we hear stories of child exploitation, but we do have the power to force change in this industry, every time we go shopping.
When you buy chocolate look out for a logo on the packet that says it is ethically certified. World Vision Australia also has a Good Chocolate Guide on our campaign site.
Of course while our consumption of chocolate spikes at Easter, we do buy chocolate all year around. By simply voting with your wallet and choosing fair trade when you buy chocolate you can help to eradicating child labour and also send a message to the big chocolate companies.
As consumers we have a tremendous power to force change in our world. It requires us to be aware of the issues and to care enough to take action with our shopping habits. What we buy off the shop shelves here, has a profound impact on people a world away.