Sustainability in Supermarkets: A Sweet Controversy

By Francesca Dakin • BA Archaeology and Anthropology

Since the vote for Brexit and the triggering of Article 50, we as consumers have experienced an increase in the price of our weekly shop. This is prompting more and more individuals to opt for supermarket own-brand products that are more economically friendly. However, less friendly is the store’s approach to their own-brand product’s supply chain. This is particularly clear in the case of many leading supermarket’s own-brand chocolate, much of which is sourced from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. These are among many countries in the Global South where social and environmental issues associated with the production, processing and transport of cacao are rife. The majority of these problems stem from rampant inequality in the shares of value held by the cacao farmers as opposed to the manufacturers and retailers.

image2-19Such an economic imbalance – whereby millions of cocoa farmers in the Global South account for only a 6.6% share of the value chain of chocolate – means that farmers are living well below the extreme poverty line1. This has a knock-on effect in regard to the exploitation of farm workers that toil for long hours with little pay. Similarly there are gross exploitations of child labour laws across the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where there are over two million children involved in hazardous work on cocoa farms. These conditions, endured by both workers and children, are in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization.

In an attempt to reduce the cost of production and to feed the desires of industrialized nations, cacao farmers will expand growth into more productive soils through the clearing of rainforest areas. Though this provides farmers with a cheap, fertile soil that supports a high yield, deforestation disrupts the delicate nutrient cycle, promoting faster degradation of the area’s delicate latosol. This unsustainable manner of growth also creates a boom-and-bust cycle of development which, when coupled with the low and fluctuating cacao prices, does not leave the farmers any more financially stable.

image1-17Aside from these negative social impacts, this mass scale deforestation has a devastating impact on the environment. During the processing and transport stages of the chocolate’s supply chain more forest is felled and burnt to fuel the drying process. Thereafter combustion of fuel used in inter-continental transport to manufacturers and retailers emits carbon dioxide, contributing to the enhancement of the greenhouse effect, global warming and ultimately climate change. Not to mention the additional environmental issues inherent in the production and supply of the milk that is added to various strengths of chocolate.

The example of cacao is but one in a sea of issues relating to unsustainable practice in food production for the global market. Abuses occur on local and national scales in relation to local and indigenous cultures, social injustice and the environment. Although these issues are being tackled by organisations such as Fairtrade Foundation, Traidcraft and Survival International, the greatest power of the consuming community lies in the voices of its people – and their purchasing power. Choosing to buy Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance Certified products yourself increases demand and thus increases the likelihood of a wider choice in fair trade products in the future. Similarly asking supermarkets to make a #supplychainge in favor of farmers that are members of protective initiatives like the Cocoa Organic Farmers Association, consumers can affect real change in the lives of children, farmers and workers in production areas like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Choose to make a difference, and think big. Think Global.

1Bittersweet Chocolate: The truth behind the international chocolate industry (2016).

More information is available below:
Twitter: @ThinkGlobalUK

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