Food; a Question of Ethics: An Ethical Vignette: Coffee and Chocolate

See Food: a Question of Ethics, published in Kindred issue 22, June 07

The global price of both coffee and cocoa beans has fallen; however; profit margins for major coffee and chocolate companies have soared.

In recent years, the coffee industry has been transformed from a managed market where governments played an active role nationally and internationally, to a free-market system where the market sets the coffee price and anyone can participate.

The World Bank and the IMF have encouraged poor countries to liberalise trade and pursue export-led growth in their areas of ‘comparative advantage’. The problem for many of these poor countries is that their ‘comparative advantage’ comes in the form of price pressures on farmers, leaving the farmers with only three cents out of a three dollar cup of coffee. These small farmers may not even get enough to cover production costs, let alone school fees or books for their children. Many families are forced to take their children out of school and put them into their farms to work for no future.

In the chocolate industry the pressure for low-priced product has forced farmers to cut labour costs so much so that slave labour is re-emerging. Often the cocoa farmer’s children, as young as eight or nine, will be forced to go to work on the plantations to help their families produce a larger crop to make more money. In West Africa’s cocoa region, which produces 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa, over 284,000 children work in hazardous conditions. Over 15,000 children are suspected to have been sold into forced labour on northern Ivory Coast plantations in recent years. These children – mostly under 14 – are often physically abused and involved in dangerous work, including spraying pesticides, using machetes and carrying heavy loads.

They have no access to education or health care and have no rights.

Purchasing fair-trade products is one way out of this ethical nightmare. Products can only carry the ‘fair-trade’ label if they have been produced without unfair labour practices, such as low wages and child labour. Fair trade aims to ensure growers or producers are paid a decent wage.

Coffee drinkers and chocolate eaters can ask their local supermarket and cafe to stock fair-trade chocolate and coffee.

However, in addition to buying fair-trade products, global trading reform is vital to improve practices across the coffee and cocoa industries.


World Vision Australia
Oxfam Australia

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