Saturday, 7 April 2012

Ferrero and Lindt and Chocolaty Ethics

There is a petition getting a lot of play online:

End child slave labour in your chocolate this Easter

... it says.

Lindt and Ferrero chocolates use suppliers who use forced child labor - it is alleged.
Cocoa is sourced mainly from Africa, from countries with extreme poverty. In these countries it is not uncommon for every member of the family to work just to stay afloat. Removing custom from these people without another way to make a living will just make their situation even more desperate.

One of the ways to improve things is to source products under contracts which improve the conditions of workers with respect to their economies. There are exploitative conditions where employers keep large profits to themselves, where there could be a more equitable distribution of wealth, and this can be enforced by contract. You want to be my source of raw materials, you have to provide decent conditions for your workers.

The claims in the petition are very worrying - so I took some trouble to check them out.

With Lindt, I found they publish their contractual terms of conduct for suppliers - which do in fact require decent workplace conditions and the most stringent standards available for human rights. Slavery, any form of coerced labor, and child labor are expressly forbidden. In response to emails, the company strongly and credibly reasserts that they ethically source their cocoa.

I have tried but cannot find any recent evidence that either company is not enforcing their contracts.

However - reading between the lines the complaint is not that the companies cocoa is unethically sourced but that they have not made a commitment against child labor. Well clearly they both have made a public statement of commitment so I wonder if the problem is that they have failed to join a particular scheme?

There is a problem with this in that there are no standard schemes to ensure ethical sourcing. A company that fails to sign up to one may still have committed to another or just enforce their contracts in-house.

Campaigns like this are harmful to human rights activism in general and genuine child/slave labor efforts in particular. They harm these efforts by distracting attention from genuine trouble-spots and generally muddying the issues: they are crying wolf.

Before passing on a sensational claim heard over the internet, do check it out. But also - check before dismissing one. Better yet - if you start a campaign - make it easy for people to check by linking to the sources you use to support your claims. If you do not provide evidence, do not expect support.


  1. Dear all, thank you for getting in touch about this very important issue. Lindt strongly condemns child labor and remains committed to eradicating it from cocoa production. To that end, over the last few years, Lindt has initiated a number of important steps within in its cocoa supply chain and dedicated US $5 million to address this highly complex issue. Please read more on our commitment and stance against child labor here:
    Greetings from Switzerland