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Chocolate's bitter truth

  • 03 April 2023
There's a long-standing debate between Brits and Australians over Cadbury chocolate. I stumbled upon this in secondary school when my old Latin teacher, on loan from a school in Lincolnshire, expressed a hammed-up, almost pantomime level of disgust at the Australian counterpart of the purple-wrapped chocolate. Too bitter! Awful stuff! For him, Cadbury's was another example of Australia’s obvious inferiority to Britain, and at the time I felt a twinge of something like offence, encountering a newfound pride in the Australian Cadbury’s which had been so callously maligned.

That was several decades ago; a time when, come Easter, you could safely consume as many little chocolate ovoids as you liked without the slightest sense of guilt other than what you might feel after one too many. But over the last 20 years, reports of human rights abuses in supply chains in the chocolate industry have made at least paying attention to the industry a moral imperative. We’ve been talking about (and eating) a decent amount of chocolate at my house lately, and with Easter around the corner, the question of ‘which chocolate is better’ extends beyond taste. I love a good Easter egg hunt, anticipating the joy of watching my children search for glimpses of shiny foil in the garden. But the more I read around it, the more I wonder about the likelihood of child labour going into the production of the treats filling their pockets.I try to be an aware and concerned consumer, but it feels a little complicated out there. Walk down the confectionary aisle of your local Coles and you’ll see constellations of ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’ certifications decorating the corners of chocolate wrappers. Some of these are recognisable: Fairtrade. Rainforest Alliance. Others, less so. Evidently, not all certifications are made equal. A look at this year’s Chocolate Scorecard, developed by a coalition of groups coordinated by Be Slavery Free, invites a deep dive into a whole world of supply chain criteria. 

Many chocolate companies seem interested in getting this right, and have been for some time. The only problem is that child labour and poverty continue trending upwards in cocoa farming areas. A Macquarie university report from 2020 tells us that ‘more than two million children under the age of 15 years old work in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast and Ghana. Many are the children of farm labourers, but others are also sold to farms as bonded labourers from neighbouring Burkina