I emailed Fr Steve and asked whether I could write a piece for this week’s Newsletter and he enquired what the topic would be. I replied with three words: Lent, Choco-late and Slavery and Fr Steve then replied ‘I have given one of them up – guess which one!’

Two of my grandchildren have also given up chocolate as I suspect many hundreds if not many thousands have followed suit in the UK. But there is much more to the whole chocolate industry and manufacture that many of you may not be aware of and which is a very sad story attached to this popular sweet.

Ever since my 3-year studies in Catholic Social Teaching (CST) (by way of Fr Ashley’s encouragement, I might add), I see more and more aspects of CST in many ordinary day-to-day activities in our lives and the adverse impact on the vulnerable and marginalised often in the developing and under-developed countries of the world; and one the most harrowing stories is connected with much or all of the chocolate we consume which is based on illegal child labour and modern day slavery, especially in West Africa.


Nothing in this world seems fair and honest and this is the case with the chocolate supply chain. The chain starts with millions of farmers who produce cocoa and ends with the billions of consumers who enjoy chocolate. But what about the bit in the middle? This section is dominated by a handful of chocolate giants who profit from keeping the price of cocoa as low as possible. As a result, farmers are forced to live in poverty, and that leads to illegal child labour and modern-day slavery. Almost everywhere in the world, chocolate lovers are provided for with a wide range of flavours to enjoy. Big chocolate companies make a lot of chocolate and of course- a lot of profit. Nothing wrong with that, without profits a company will go bankrupt. So far, so good. However, less good is how those profits are made – by exploitation at the start of the value chain, where people live in extreme poverty.

Have you ever considered how much a cocoa farmer makes per day?

The average cocoa farmer in the Ivory Coast earns 78 Euro cents a day. It is impossible for any family to be asked to live at this level of poverty or support a family for that paltry amount, even in West Africa. In Ghana and the Ivory Coast, 1.56 million children work under illegal conditions because the harvest doesn’t give their parents enough income. How many of us think this is fair and equitable? There are around 2.5 million farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast which produce more than 60% of all cocoa worldwide. Worse still, recent studies have confirmed that at least 30,000 people are the victims of modern slavery – adults and children who are being forced to grow cocoa and don’t get paid a penny for it. In fact, it’s highly likely there are far more victims than that because areas where cocoa is produced illegally have not been included in the studies.

How does the system work: It works like this: Big Choco – the chocolate makers – buys the cocoa at the front of the cocoa mountain. They don’t look on the other side of the mountain; they can’t see the living conditions of the farmers who grow ‘their’ cocoa. They refuse to take real responsibility for the problems of the farmers on the other side of that mountain. And you might be thinking “Alright, so what about certified cocoa beans?” They don’t guarantee humane conditions either!

The world market price of cocoa fell by 40% in mid-2017 thanks to a good harvest and market speculation. In the Ivory Coast, the price guaranteed to a farmer for his cocoa fell by almost 40%. So, the decrease of the farm gate price (still) has a tremendous impact on the lives of farming families in the Ivory Coast. The price drop offered major advantages further along the chain. Big Choco saved around $ 4.7 billion in buying costs. So, where did all that money go? Now that’s a good question. We the consumer, certainly didn’t notice any price reductions (except our own price reduction in stores.)

So, what is this to do with Lent? Lent is a time we use to sort out our lives, prayer, fasting and alms giving; what about making a commitment to buy Fairtrade chocolate only; ask your super-market about their supply chains; look at the packaging, take action and be motivated during Lent to make a stand for the vulnerable and marginalised; for the children bonded in their life to a system of illegal slavery and for their parents, their village and their community. In Lent we can say Enough is Enough we will speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. (Proverbs 31:8).