Insight: Chocolate

'Eat good chocolate': local chocolatiers are saying no to unethical cocoa

The bitter with the sweet. Chocolate has an appalling record of using raw ingredients grown by child labour. Local bean-to-bar - and bigger - chocolate makers are changing that

10 March 2019 - 00:00 By LEONIE WAGNER
Chocolatiere Victoria Bain of Chocoloza in Johannesburg fell in love with chocolate in Belgium.
Chocolatiere Victoria Bain of Chocoloza in Johannesburg fell in love with chocolate in Belgium.
Image: Alon Skuy

For every 200g slab of luxury dark chocolate wrapped in shiny paper, at least 1kg of cocoa beans have been harvested by hand. The concern among woke chocolate lovers is that many of those hands might belong to children.

After a recent report exposed some European chocolate brands as benefiting from child labour on cocoa plantations in Africa, it has been encouraging to find that in SA, most chocolatiers are acutely aware of the ethics and sustainability behind their products.

Antonino Allegra of Afrikoa, a bean-to-bar chocolate company in Cape Town, has been working with chocolate for more than 25 years. The pastry chef was introduced to chocolate in his Italian home town when he was 12. When he arrived in SA a decade ago, he was frustrated with the quality of chocolate available and decided to make his own.

Allegra is well aware of the ugly truth that the chocolate industry is built on child labour, slavery and trafficking.

"The issue of child slavery in the chocolate industry is a worldwide issue," he said. "There has been a disconnection between customers, manufacturers and farmers for many decades. We have been disconnected from the fact that cocoa grows on trees and someone needs to farm it. For too long the industry has convinced us that chocolate magically appears. It doesn't; it is hard work."

Chocolate comes from cocoa, which comes from cocoa beans, and 70% of the world's cocoa beans are grown in West Africa. Ghana and Ivory Coast are two of the largest suppliers.

FORCED CHILD LABOUR

The 2018 "Cocoa Barometer" report, compiled by a group of 15 European nonprofit organisations, provides an overview of sustainability developments in the cocoa sector. The report estimates that there are approximately 2.1-million children working in cocoa fields in Ghana and Ivory Coast. It further claims that of these, 16,000 are forced into working on these farms either by their family or by child traffickers.

The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour reported that well over half the children doing hard labour in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms were under the age of 14 and could not attend school because their poverty-stricken families were dependent on their tiny contribution to the household income.

Anele Dziba of Honest Chocolate tempers molten chocolate on a granite slab.
Anele Dziba of Honest Chocolate tempers molten chocolate on a granite slab.
Image: Honest Chocolate

Authors Antonie Fountain and Friedel Huetz-Adams write that child labour is due to a number of issues, including structural poverty, increased cocoa production, fluctuations in the price of cocoa as a commodity and a lack of community infrastructure.

The main culprit, however, is a lack of commitment to eradicating child slavery, whether through conscious exploitation or sheer ignorance.

Afrikoa buys beans directly from a group of about 60 farmers who work together as a co-operative in Kyela, Tanzania. Allegra knows exactly how the farms operate and who works there, because, unlike many chocolate manufacturers, he actually visits the place where his beans grow.

"Chocolate is pleasure, and it needs to be for everyone - for the person that buys it and enjoys every bite, for us so we can create income to support our families and employees, but also for the farmers, who are forgotten most of the time," said Allegra.

SMALL FARMS

Michael de Klerk, a former massage therapist, and Anthony Gird, a social development researcher, used to make chocolate as a hobby, De Klerk in London and Gird in Cape Town. They would share stories of waking up at 3am to make bonbons, which they sold at markets. Eventually they turned their hobby into a business and started Honest Chocolate, a bean-to-bar chocolate company and coffee shop in Cape Town.

Honest Chocolate gets its beans from Kokoa Kamili, a cocoa fermentation facility in the Kilombero Valley in Tanzania, which works with about 2,000 registered smallholder farmers who own between a half and two acres of land.

"This results in a much better tasting bean and the farmer does less work and gets more money," said De Klerk. "As consumers we all want to get the cheapest thing and we often turn a blind eye to where things come from, but business ethics are important. People don't look at a bar of chocolate and ask how much it cost to make. It's super important for us to make sure that the farmer is paid fairly."

INCREASED AWARENESS

Victoria Bain was conducting environmental legal compliance audits in Belgium and thought it would be a good idea to take a chocolate class in the country famous for its sweet treats. She enjoyed it so much she decided to open a chocolate shop when she returned home to SA.

Chocoloza opened in Johannesburg in 2016 in the trendy 44 Stanley precinct. Here, Bain and her team make Belgian-style chocolate with African ingredients.

Though she doesn't buy beans directly from a farmer, she sources her raw chocolate in bulk from a reputable Belgian company, Callebaut, which, together with the Cocoa Horizons Foundation, works directly with farmer groups in West Africa to ensure sustainability and fair trade. The foundation funds farmer training and empowers young people and women.

When people ask why her chocolates are so expensive, Bain answers: "Because you will pay more for a product if you know where it comes from. If I buy chocolate off the shelf, it might be a third of the price but I don't know where it's come from or what conditions it has been grown in. It's an ethical thing and it's a quality thing.

"As a sustainability geek I feel like we're starting to get an awareness of that. More people are becoming conscious about where their chocolate comes from.

"When we opened our doors in 2016 a lot of people weren't aware, a lot of people asked us why it was an issue and why our chocolate was so expensive, what is the difference? I feel like we have a responsibility to educate, to explain where the chocolate comes from and what has the story been to get it to you.

"There's definitely been an increased awareness and I'd like to think we've contributed to that."

COCOA SUSTAINABILITY

SA's small community of bean-to-bar boutique chocolate makers are determined not to contribute to the misery that historically permeates the industry, but what about the big guys?

Even here, we seem to be doing quite well. Mondelez International, owner of chocolate brands Cadbury, Toblerone, Oreo and Milka - and whose products account for about 40% of chocolate market share in SA - has developed an in-house sustainability programme.

Mondelez's Cocoa Life programme aims to help cocoa-farming communities address the challenges they face, with the ultimate goal being to source all cocoa sustainably through this programme.

Navisha Bechan-Sewkuran of Mondelez SA said: "Mondelez International's Cocoa Life programme is a holistic, third-party-verified cocoa sustainability programme. It is grounded in strengthening cocoa communities and inspiring the next generation of cocoa farmers."

AN OCCASIONAL TREAT

Whether the chocolate is made on a large or small scale, investigating and proving the ethical provenance of the raw ingredients undeniably makes the end product more expensive.

De Klerk said that though there is a "big push towards ethical chocolate" from discerning consumers, the biggest barrier is always going to be price.

His solution: eat good chocolate - "good" in both the quality and moral senses - but eat it less often.

"People need to get into the idea of rather buying chocolate that's more expensive and enjoying it only occasionally," he said.


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