CNN’s investigation into child slavery in the chocolate industry, ‘Cocoa-nomics,’ will air on CNN International from February 27 at 2100 GMT / 2200 CET. Watch the trailer here. For full tune-in details click here
Abidjan, Ivory Coast (CNN) — As I flew down to Abidjan it was the free luxury box of chocolates being handed out in Business Class that set me thinking. I was about to land in the country from where the beans which made the chocolate originated.
Although I was here to delve into the economics of chocolate, I also realized I needed to know what the farmers who grow the vital raw material — the cocoa beans — actually thought of the stuff we eat so liberally.
Something told me I might find a use for the chocolates, so I took the box with me rather than scoffing them on board.
One week later, we were in the middle of a remote farm, a few hours out of Abidjan, and this thought returned. I had spent days talking about the economics of this industry, and trying to work out who was to blame for the appalling poverty we had witnessed. I had seen diseased trees and visited experimental farms. I had heard from cooperatives and sat in tribal meetings — but I had not seen any chocolate.
More than a third of the world’s cocoa is grown in Ivory Coast, West Africa.
The cocoa industry supports more than 3.5 million people there.
Many cocoa growers work on small family-run farms. Jean inherited his two-hectare plantation seven years ago when he was just 11, after his father died.
François Ekra owns a seven-hectare plantation in the Ivory Coast; he is also the leader of the local farmers’ co-operative in his village, Gagnoa.
But Francois says Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry is in trouble, with many young people preferring to move to the capital for work rather than toil on plantations.
Farmers carry their beans to local markets to sell them to middlemen, who trade them to wholesalers.
The wholesalers sell beans in bulk to large chocolate companies; this means the growers see only a tiny proportion of the profits.
The cocoa industry is also blighted by child labor; up to 800,000 children are thought to work in the sector across the Ivory Coast.
Campaigners say cocoa companies must do more to end the practice of child labor.
Nestle’s Jose Lopez meets villagers in the Ivory Coast who work in the cocoa industry; the company has pledged to do more to support those at the bottom of the cocoa value chain.
The company has helped to build schools in the Ivory Coast as part of its Cocoa Plan.
By investing and helping to raise educated, business-minded young people, the company hopes to secure a sustainable cocoa supply in the future.
Cocoa-nomics: Faces of the cocoa industry
Can reform ever come to cocoa industry?
Cocoa-nomics: Income of cocoa farmers
‘Cocoa-nomics’: The issue of child labor
In this village there was a small stall, selling crackers, fruits and, peculiarly a wide range of antibiotics which frankly shouldn’t be taken without first getting medical advice!
But there was no chocolate to be seen. None. Of course, I realize it’s very hot and the stuff melts, but it still seemed a bit odd that nowhere was there any chocolate.
Then it dawned on me. These farmers and their families, had never tasted chocolate — let alone knew the various types which are made.
I had thought it was apocryphal that the farmers who grow the beans had never tasted the final product. I never expected to come across it myself. But here I was, in the middle of a village meeting — and we decided to see what they thought of the stuff.
Since we were filming with Nestle, my producer, Matt Percival still had a couple of Kit Kats (slightly the worst for wear after a week in his case!!!) and of course I had the luxury chocolates which I was going to use as a too-clever by half prop next to some beans or trees.
We decided to do a chocolate tasting. We quickly realized protocol dictated the tribal elders tried the Kit Kat first. It became the defining moment of this trip and my experience of Cocoa-nomics.
That look on the elders faces as they tasted a humble Kit Kat. A big, toothless grin came across one of the faces. There was much laughing and cheering. Where children would normally clamor for the stuff, here they held back. They didn’t know what it was all about.
Well, one Kit Kat doesn’t go very far in a village of tribal elders — so we broke out the luxury box of chocolates.
I tried to explain the diagram and what it meant — that one has nuts, this one is strawberry cream — it didn’t matter. One by one, the elders, then the children tasted these chocolates. One woman was quite overcome and kept wanting to try more!
If this was all, you would rightly say it was as gimmick and no more. But the farmers are far more astute than that.
They wanted to know how much I had paid for the Kit Kat — and were amazed, horrified and bewildered when I told them roughly a $1 a bar.
With their cocoa fetching a minimum of $1.5 a kilo they were working out the profit the industry was making on one bar.
This was a fortune for the farmers who earn a pittance. But the farmers were not bitter about this — not yet anyway.
They kept saying “our cocoa makes this.” There was an enormous pride in their voices and attitude that they were part of this process.
I wondered to myself, why the chocolate industry — the manufacturers, processors and distributors — didn’t make more of an effort to ensure the farmers at least knew what their crop was creating.
Cynics will say it’s because they don’t want the farmers to know how valuable their crop is to the companies. I don’t think so.
So we left the farmers having had their little taste of chocolate luxury. And on the drive back to Abidjan I reflected on “that moment.”
Letting the farmers understand their crops use will not make them dissatisfied. There was such a pride in their faces and voices as they realized, now, for the first time, they knew what they were helping to create.
On the flight back home, when I looked at the box of chocolates being given out, or even now when I take a Kit Kat (150 are eaten globally every second) I smile and wonder at the farmer who grew the cocoa and hope it won’t be too long before the farmers and their children eat the stuff again.