Food & Drink, Food Gifts, News

Unwrapping the ethical concerns of meeting our increasing chocolatey demands

As April approaches, many are hoping for a visit from the ‘Easter Bunny’. However, while its roots reach back to Christianity and the resurrection of Christ, the biggest staple of Easter traditions is the giving and receiving of Easter eggs. According to Consumer Research Group, GWP, its estimated that each child in the UK receives an average of 8.8 Easter eggs every year, with an estimate of between 80 and 90 million chocolate eggs eaten annually in Britain.

Wholesome in its intent, the reality behind the mass production and sourcing of easter eggs, is far from sweet. The chocolate industry has long been associated with ethical issues within its sourcing of its sacred ingredient – the cocoa bean. With average Easter egg exchanges increasing like Christmas presents, mass purchases around the season are placing strains on an already fragile supply chain.

As Easter approaches, we spoke to Nigel Draper, Founder of Sorsco, a company specialising in supply chain and procurement for the food and drink industry.  He was happy to provide insight on the matter and delves into the ramifications of mass consumerism this Easter and the crucial importance of supporting ethical sourcing of cocoa beans.

1. Nigel, with Easter approaching, our appetites for all things chocolate, will undoubtedly be on the rise. But, what are the implications of mass consumerism on the food and drink industry?

Mass consumerism during Easter presents both opportunities and challenges for the food and drink industry. On one hand, it’s a lucrative period for businesses, particularly those in the confectionery sector. However, this surge in demand can strain supply chains, leading to issues such as shortages, increased waste, and environmental impact. This also fuels the practice of unethical cocoa farming, due to needing to fulfil large demands.

2. What are the challenges that the cocoa industry is facing due to the increasing demand for chocolate?

The cocoa industry is encountering several challenges as demand for chocolate continues to rise. The cocoa supply chain, for instance, is complex, often involving smallholder farmers in developing countries. Climate change, diseases, and pests pose significant threats to cocoa production, leading to yield fluctuations and supply shortages.

From an environmental perspective, one major concern is the issue of deforestation. The cocoa industry has been linked to widespread deforestation, particularly in major cocoa-producing countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. In fact, according to the analysis conducted by Mighty Earth’s Chocolates Dark Secret report, between 2001 and 2014 Ghana lost 7,000 square kilometres of forest, or [10% of its entire tree cover], with approximately one-quarter of that deforestation connected to the chocolate industry.

Thirdly, with increased demand comes heightened scrutiny of ethical practices within the cocoa industry. Issues such as child labour, poor working conditions, and fair wages for farmers come under the spotlight, necessitating greater transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain. According to the Fairtrade Association, cocoa farmers earn just 6% of the final value of a bar of chocolate, which is nothing considering the hours of hard labour and the reckless use of pesticides, which can harm the health of those exposed, particularly women cocoa farmers and children.

3. Do brands and businesses do enough to support the ethical sourcing of cocoa beans?

Although many brands boast about their sustainability credentials, findings from reports such as The Chocolate Scorecard study for 2023 highlight a need for wider-scale cooperation from big brands.

The annual Chocolate Scorecard study is the biggest survey of its kind and rates the sourcing policies and practices of 56 of the world’s largest cocoa buyers, including traders, processors, and manufacturers. Yet major chocolatiers like Unilever, General Mills, and Mondelez [Cadburys] have failed to provide any information for evaluation, earning them a ‘broken egg’ rating. This lack of transparency not only raises questions about their commitment to ethical sourcing but also undermines consumer trust.

The study also reported that while 91% of companies have a ‘no-deforestation’ policy in place, there is still a significant gap between policy and practice. Less than half of the surveyed companies have clear improvement plans for their suppliers, indicating a lack of accountability in the supply chain. Without concrete measures to address issues such as child labour and living income for cocoa farmers, these policies may remain mere lip service.

Brands and businesses must take proactive steps to ensure that their cocoa supply chains are free from exploitation and environmental harm. This requires not only robust policies but also effective implementation and monitoring mechanisms. As consumers become increasingly conscious of the social and environmental impact of their purchasing decisions, companies that prioritize ethical sourcing will undoubtedly gain a competitive edge in the market.

4. What steps can companies take to ensure the ethical sourcing of cocoa beans in their supply chains?

Companies should start by conducting thorough due diligence on their suppliers. This involves assessing their practices, transparency, and commitment to ethical standards.

Communication is key to creating an ethical supply chain and by working directly with suppliers and local communities, businesses can ensure that their supply chains are sustainable and socially responsible. Some major brands have made significant steps in their ethical sourcing commitments, with leading chocolate confectionary company Nestlé supporting local communities to build and refurbish 50 schools in efforts to protect children against the risk of child labour. Furthermore, the company has promised to increase its traceability and that by 2025, 100% of its cocoa will be sourced within its sustainability cocoa program.
By prioritising traceability, this not only addresses consumer concerns but also fosters long-term resilience in the industry.

Furthermore, implementing certifications like Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance can also help guarantee that cocoa beans are sourced responsibly.

5. How can consumers contribute to promoting ethical sourcing in the cocoa industry?

Consumer preferences and purchasing habits have already shown a seismic shift over the last few years. The increasing importance of traceability in ingredient sourcing has become a crucial factor for consumers globally, where a study by Ingredient Communications revealed that 52% of consumers would willingly spend over 10% more on food and beverage products containing recognisable and trusted ingredients. Furthermore, a survey by Yara International, found that 69% of participants are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly food options, and an additional 31% stated that they already make sustainable choices when buying food. As consumer awareness and demand for ethically sourced products continue to intensify, it can act as a powerful driver for change. By choosing products that are certified or labelled as ethically sourced, consumers can incentivise companies to prioritise responsible practices in their supply chains.

Ultimately, spreading awareness about the importance of ethical sourcing and supporting initiatives that advocate for fair trade and sustainability can make a significant impact.

6. Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of ethical sourcing in the food and drink industry?

I’m optimistic about the future of ethical sourcing. As consumers become increasingly conscious of the impact of their purchasing decisions, businesses are recognising the importance of integrating ethical practices into their operations.

I believe we’ll see a continued shift towards sustainability, transparency, and accountability throughout the supply chain, ultimately benefiting both people and the planet.

 

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