Worker Rights on Cocoa Farms
Updated: Aug 28
As the chocolate market continues to grow around the world, cocoa farmers are not always reaping the rewards.
With an estimated 7.7 million metric pounds consumed in 2019, chocolate is one of the world’s favorite snacks. Last year, global cocoa production was estimated to hit a record high 4.85 million metric tons. This massive output begins with the simple cocoa bean. The beans long journey starts at the hands of cocoa farmers, largely in Africa and South America.
Unfortunately, while the chocolate market continues to grow around the world, it is generally not the cocoa farmers that are profiting. This imbalance is particularly evident in West Africa, where 60% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown. Cocoa farmers are subject to significant price volatility due to variable supply volumes because of extreme weather fluctuations, political instability, crop diseases and pests. One particularly problematic example is the Ivory Coast. The world market price for cocoa beans has declined by half since the 1980’s with the Ivory Coast farmers only receiving 40-50% of the world market price due to lack of market knowledge and insight.
The result of these challenges is that impoverished cocoa farmer owners find ways to keep their production costs as low as possible, often leading to human and labor rights violations on the cocoa farms such as hazardous working conditions, exposure to pesticides, and lack of access to safe drinking water. Sadly, women and children are frequently those that suffer the most.
In 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed by the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry and the United States Department of Labor to eliminate the “worst forms of child labor” in cocoa growing areas, focusing particularly on the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Sadly, there are still an estimated 2 million children engaged in hazardous work on cocoa farms in these two countries.
With increased traceability procedures, chocolate companies can share with their customers that their chocolate is ethically sourced from cocoa farms that do not violate international human rights standards. ICAM-Agostoni takes care to improve education and infrastructures in the farming communities, as well as training for the farmers themselves. This approach allows us to establish a direct contact with the cocoa farmers and to boost fair working conditions, as well as the quality of the cocoa grown on the plantations. In this way, the company implements an independent process for the verification of the sustainability program, such as the projects set up in the Dominican Republic, Uganda and Peru. ICAM-Agostoni limits the role of the intermediaries and pays farmers a fair price for the cocoa they produce.
This ethical management of every single relationship places the company and the farmers on the same footing, with both becoming trading partners ready to work together to cope with the changing conditions of the markets. ICAM-Agostoni guarantees farmers a fair price, not simply in terms of payment for the harvest, but in terms of overall value, in which importance is also placed on human capital and lasting purchasing contracts, aimed at the creation of a stable business relationship founded on respect and empowerment.
Manufacturers have an obligation to source their ingredients ethically and fairly. Moreover, as consumers become more aware of where their favorite chocolates come from, they can decrease the demand for cocoa beans that come at the abuse of the workers on cocoa farms by choosing brands that source cocoa from farms that treat workers with dignity and respect.