One of the most important products in the coffee-house trade is again under question for the ethical nature of its sourcing – chocolate, which is often said to account for approximately 20% of the average café’s turnover, is once again the subject of allegations of child slave labour. A major film on the subject, to be premiered at Chocolate Week on 8th October, will allege that ‘much of the chocolate produced in the Ivory Coast is still dependent on child slavery’.
Some years ago, the film Black Gold created a considerable stir by highlighting the lot of coffee growers and their workers… it appears that the same is about to happen for the chocolate industry, when the film Nothing Like Chocolate appears.
This year’s Chocolate Week will run from October 8-14, and is the trade’s main event for talks, tastings, demonstrations and samplings. This year, the main talking point may well come from the film which shows the work of ‘anarchist chocolatier’ Mott Green, the man who formed the Grenada Chocolate Company, as a one-man rebellion against the ‘entrenched industry practices of irresponsible corporate greed, tasteless, and synthetic products’.
In the rain forests of Grenada, he has used solar power and small-scale antique equipment in a genuine worker-owned co-operative, to turn out what is now not just a high-quality chocolate, but also an extremely expensive one.
Along the way, we learn that while 70 per cent of the world’s chocolate comes from one African region, much of its harvesting is dependent on not just slave labour, but child-trafficking to provide the workforce, and that cocoa bean prices are blamed for actually causing civil war in west Africa… to which, it is alleged, western governments have turned a blind eye, being influenced by the capitalism of chocolate.
It is said that one of America’s most famous chocolate brands ‘cannot guarantee slave-free cocoa in its chocolate’, and this film promises to ‘expose the practices and politics of how chocolate has moved from a sacred plant to corporate blasphemy’. One speaker in the film refers to the finding that in 2001, some fifteen thousand children were illegally transported to work on the chocolate harvest, and another says that ‘the scale of slavery in the 21st century is getting larger’.
This is not the first time that the subject has been put before the British trade. Six years ago, the outspoken David McKernan, of the Java Republic coffee roastery in Dublin, formed his Other Bean chocolate brand in protest at what he had found when he researched the subject of chocolate farming.
“Chocolate farming is horrendous hard work – it’s appalling,” he said. “There is a huge amount of physical work involved. The pods have to be cut down from huge heights, and while sometimes they use a long stick with a machete on the end, sometimes they have to climb. The beans don’t just fall out of the pod – it’s very hard to get them out, and that’s physical work as well. Very hard work, for very little reward.
“And the industry has been up to its neck in child labour. All the producing countries say they’re against it, but it is certainly still a huge factor. There are kids working in slave conditions, and that’s a fact. They say in some countries it doesn’t happen, and I don’t believe them – the chocolate world is worse than the coffee one.”
It is, McKernan said at the time, a particularly bitter irony that what is probably the most ‘indulgent’ product we buy is also the one which treats its workers worst.
“Absolutely it is – chocolate is the ultimate indulgence, and yet the conditions for the growers can be appalling. There’s a lot of middlemen in this, screwing the farmers, the chocolate companies have managed to cover it all up, and the public just doesn’t know.”
McKernan said at the time that “if I ever get out of coffee, I’ll set up a ‘real chocolate company”.
The film to be previewed in October shows the story of how Mott Green did just that.
His chocolate can be found in the UK – the produce from his Grenada company can be sourced through Rococo of London.
This film may be a benchmark in the trade’s attitude towards chocolate.
Chocolate Week runs from 8th-14th October 2012 and will again finish with the consumer show, Chocolate Unwrapped, on 13th and 14th, which now moves to a bigger venue, at Covent Garden’s original Flower Cellars.