How ethical is that Easter egg you’re scoffing?

Campaigns and Advocacy, GROW, News, Opinion article written on the 29 Mar 2013

People rushing into stores this week to stock up on Cadbury Easter bunnies and eggs for their loved ones should know the chocolate giant has so far ignored consumers around the globe who are calling on it to do better by the women who grow its cocoa.

Following a major consumer campaign, Nestle and Mars yesterday committed to tackle the hunger, poverty and inequality faced by women cocoa farmers.

The win has come just in time for Easter, when Australians are predicted to spend more than $3 billion on chocolate.

Mondelez International, which owns Cadbury and controls 15 per cent of the global chocolate market, has yet to follow suit, despite mounting pressure.

As we contemplate the amount of chocolate we might consume this Easter, few of us know much about how it gets onto our shelves in the first place. Even fewer have considered the conditions faced by the farmers who grow the cocoa that goes into the chocolate.

The truth isn’t pretty. The vast majority of cocoa used to make our Easter chocolate is grown by farmers struggling to earn 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.

Many of these cocoa producers are women – who fare the worst.  A recent Oxfam investigation showed that some women in cocoa supply chains are paid less than half as much as their male counterparts, earning just 2-3 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.

Despite the hard-fought victories in many countries to increase opportunity for women in the workplace, women whose hard work contributes to the chocolate we buy have yet to see the benefits of equal treatment trickle down.

Yesterday’s announcements by Mars and Nestle prove there is hope that things can change for the better.

Mars and Nestle have shown the farmers on which they rely, their customers and the rest of the food industry that they care about conditions such as low pay, discrimination and unequal opportunity faced by the women in their supply chains.

Together with Mondelez, these companies purchase one-third of all cocoa and control 40 per cent of the chocolate market.  Together, they wield immense power to make things better. 

If all these companies change their dealings with the women who grow their cocoa, it would send reverberations across the industry.

Tackling the inequality women cocoa farmers face would help boost the ability of millions to earn a living, meaning more children can go to school instead of working in the field.

Even small steps like ensuring women have the same access to training as men, or reducing the barriers women face in getting credit, tools and fertilisers, will help reduce the unfair burdens with which women farmers deal on a daily basis.

In short, these moves could significantly improve the lives of millions of people.

Oxfam applauds Mars’ and Nestle’s leadership in making commitments to tackle this injustice and we will continue to hold both companies to account and expect them to keep their promises.

Among their commitments are conducting impact assessments on women in their cocoa supply chains in order to understand and show how women are faring; establishing an action plan within a year’s time that will address issues raised by the assessments and lead to the improvement of poor conditions; work to sign on to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles, and engaging with other powerful players in the cocoa industry to develop sector-wide programs to address gender inequality.

Action by consumers has led to this outcome.  Let’s remember what a massive role we can play in urging big business to do right by the people who make their products. 

All eyes now turn to Mondelez.  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 join their competitors and listen.

For decades, companies have put women first in their advertisements; now it’s time for them to do the same for the women who grow their ingredients.

Dr Helen Szoke, Chief Executive, Oxfam Australia

 This opinion editorial first appeared on on 28 March 2013