West Africa’s Cocoa Producers Take On Global Chocolate Manufacturers

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli
Cocoa producers
Cocoa producers Ghana and Ivory Coast have formed a chocolate industry equivalent of OPEC to counter a colonial-style relationship with chocolate-makers. In this Tuesday, May 31, 2011 file photo, farmer Issiaka Ouedraogo arranges cocoa beans, laid out to dry on reed mats, on a cocoa farm outside the village of Fangolo, near Duekoue, Ivory Coast. Image: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File

Ghana and Ivory Coast have banded together to form a chocolate industry equivalent of OPEC —  the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries which controls much of the world’s oil supply. 

The two-country chocolate cartel has decided to charge an extra $400 per metric ton of cocoa produced, which is currently trading around $2,500 per metric ton, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Ghana and Ivory Coast produce nearly two-thirds of the global supply of cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, contributing to an industry worth more than $100 billion a year in sales, the New York Times reports.

Of that $100 billion, Ghana and Ivory Coast make about $6 billion from cocoa sales.  The biggest beneficiaries are the world’s largest chocolate makers such as Nestle and Hershey.

Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo has accused the global chocolate industry of keeping his country locked in a colonial-style relationship where it provides raw materials only to import the finished goods.

“Chocolate is a $100-billion industry and we who produce 65 percent of the raw material make less than $6 billion from the sweat and toil of our farmers,” said Akufo-Addo

Chocolate has one of the least equitable supply chains of any processed food, according to MakeChocolateFair, a Europe-based group that campaigns for justice in the global cocoa industry.

The result is an extractive smallholder cocoa farming system that leaves farmers in extreme poverty while the big manufacturers make millions off of their intense labor.

Most cocoa farmers in Ghana earn between $980 and $2,600 per year and some live in areas with no electricity or running water, according to CocoaInitiative.

The decision by the world’s top two cocoa producers to join forces is expected to raise the cost of chocolate products but may help pull some cocoa farmers out of poverty.

In addition to unfairly profiting off of farmers in general, the chocolate industry has been accused of child labor. 

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In 2001, chocolate manufacturers including Mars, Nestle, and Hershey, signed an agreement to eliminate child labor from their supply chains in Ghana and Ivory Coast, according to CNN.

That agreement failed to produce a child-labor-free industry in those countries. 

In 2015, the U.S. Labor Department found that the number of children working on cocoa farms had actually gone up to an estimated 2.1 million from around 1.75 million children in 2010 — a 21 percent increase from five years earlier.

Rather than eradicating it entirely, the industry has since signed a more realistic target of reducing child labor by 70 percent in 2020.