Attention Chocolate Lovers!

Have you ever wondered where your chocolate comes from? Did you know that much of your beloved chocolate takes a long, obscure journey, leaving behind a trail of poverty?

In alignment with the UNESCO-led Global Media and Information Literacy Week, this article will uncover how the growing global access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can create a more sustainable, ethical and inclusive chocolate industry – and you can help!

From Tree to Table: Cocoa beans are grown in cocoa pods in South America, Central Africa, Central America and Southern Asia. Transforming the cocoa beans into chocolate is rather long and tedious. At first, the cocoa pods get harvested by hand with a machete; the beans are collected, dried, roasted and ground into a powder mixable with other ingredients such as sugar, cocoa butter or milk powder to obtain chocolate as we know it.

A Delicious Treat With a Dark Path

To catch you up on the multilayered and interconnected issues within chocolate production: the families in cocoa communities face many struggles, such as malnutrition, human trafficking, child labour, gender inequality, lack of access to education, and a lack of proper health care and sanitation. 

According to Fairtrade Foundation, many cocoa farmers experience extreme poverty. On average, a farmer earns 6% of the price a consumer pays for a chocolate bar. As a direct outcome of poverty, farmers clear protected forest areas and national parks to meet the intense production demands and provide for their families. 

As progress continues, challenges persist. Detachment from environmental impacts, greenwashing, and false marketing by companies are creating obstacles that we have to address collectively.

Transparency, Traceability and Accountability

What can we do to ensure better conditions in the cocoa sector? And what can you do from home?

We need to look closely at three main pillars that can help locate the issues in the industry and ensure better conditions for the cocoa producers and the environment: Transparency, Traceability and Accountability. 

Transparency refers to revealing information necessary for outlining the supply chain. The goal is to build trust and demonstrate a company’s performance in environmental and social aspects. Transparency can be both geographical information on sourcing and supply chain traceability.
Traceability refers to the ability to track a product. In this case, the cocoa bean’s origin, place of production, and where it was processed. That is crucial to ensure the chocolate we buy is produced sustainably and in a social and responsible manner.
Accountability means being responsible for what you do. It refers to companies’ willingness to recognise errors and answer for their acts, such as complaint mechanisms, audits, and verification. There should be a willingness to revise and improve negative actions. 

According to the United Nations: “People across the world are witnessing a dramatic increase in access to information and communication.” This growing access to information alongside technological advancements makes it easier to trace the origin of the cocoa beans and ensure they were not grown under poor social and environmental conditions. It can help ensure transparency and give buyers access to information about the unjust practices in the industry. Locating the problems through the expansion of available information can force companies to take accountability, which can happen through policy reforms or pressure from civil society and consumers. 

According to Antonie Fountain, managing director of Voice of Organisations in Cocoa (VOICE Network), digitalisation can also ensure farmer participation at the decision-making table: “Digital technology is making it so much easier to bring in the voices that were much easier to exclude. So now, if you want to exclude someone, you need to exclude them on principle”.

With technology, the industry has more access to monitor and target issues in all parts of the supply chain. 

Below is a list of some of the vital technologies that are currently in use to ensure transparency and traceability at the beginning of the supply chain:

  • Mobile phones and WhatsApp groups to connect farmers, giving them a voice on a global scale.
  • Online platforms for virtual meetings allow the excluded and poor to partake in decision-making in the industry.
  • Apps to monitor children and child labour in the industry.
  • Polygon maps for mapping the cocoa farms and ensuring cocoa is not grown on protected lands.

So, how can you help change the industry?

That’s right. You, as a consumer, can have an impact on the other side of the world.

By using technology, you can generate an impact. Information about the conditions of cocoa farmers of your favourite chocolate brands is available right on your phone or computer. Take a minute to read if it is something you support. If not, there are a lot of other brands with good sustainable initiatives you can support to both feel good about the delicious chocolate and the good initiatives you are supporting. 

But be aware of greenwashing. 

Many companies use false marketing to appear environmentally friendly and socially responsible, even when they are not. Researching the company outside its website can help ensure more transparent information.

Your demand for transparency and accountability plays a pivotal role in driving change. Here is where you, chocolate lover, can make a difference. 

You have the final power when you choose who you support. If you want to do more, engage online! Raise awareness and use your voice to empower a collective demand to hold companies accountable and support ethical actions. 

It is essential to hold companies accountable, demanding truthful and transparent practices that align with our values. So, next time you buy chocolate, take a minute to think about where it comes from.

Imagine how far we could get if everyone chose to do it.

Photo Credit: UNDP/Caroline Trutmann