Our Planet

Industry sustainability
Cocoa and child slavery
Palm oil & deforestation 

Cocoa is a major crop and so its environmental impact is important.  There are many organisations with an interest in improving the impact of cocoa and the human rights and sustainability of those subsistence farmers that grow most of the crop.  


The blog “What’s happening in the cocoa industry in 2023’ details the latest initiatives and is a source for some optimism. Some headline items:

·         The price of dried beans has increased more than 50% in 2023 - a result of a perceived looming cocoa shortage. 

·         World Bank funding to make Ghana’s cocoa industry more attractive and sustainable, including involving more women

·         The 2023 EU Deforestation Regulation

Cocoa and child slavery

Child working on Ivory Coast cocoa plantation

The first allegations that child slavery is used in cocoa production appeared in 1998. In late 2000 a BBC documentary reported the use of enslaved children in West African cocoa production. Other media followed by reporting widespread child slavery and child trafficking in cocoa production. Child labour was growing in some West African countries in 2008-09 when it was estimated that 819,921 children worked on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast alone; by 2013-14 the number grew to 1,303,009. During the same period in Ghana, the estimated number of children working on cocoa farms was 957,398 children.
The cocoa industry was accused of profiting from child slavery and trafficking. The Harkin–Engel Protocol is an effort to end these practices. It was signed and witnessed by the heads of eight major chocolate companies, US Senators Tom Harkin and Herb Kohl, US Representative Eliot Engel, the Ivory Coast ambassador, the Director of the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor and others. It has, however, been criticised by some groups, including the International Labor Rights Forum, as an industry initiative which falls short.

According to Sona Ebai, the former Secretary General of the Alliance of Cocoa Producing Countries: ‘I think child labor cannot be just the responsibility of industry to solve. I think it's the proverbial all-hands-on-deck: government, civil society, the private sector. And there, you really need leadership.’

Reported in 2018, a three-year pilot program conducted by Nestlé with 26,000 farmers mostly located in Côte d'Ivoire, observed a 51 per cent decrease in the number of children doing hazardous jobs in cocoa farming. The US Department of Labor formed the Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group as a public-private partnership with the governments of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire to address child labour practices in the cocoa industry.

On April 10, 2020 Reuters published ‘Child labour still prevalent in West Africa cocoa sector despite industry efforts’. The article indicated, while the draft of a report funded by the US Department of Labor is yet to be finalised, reducing child labour is falling short of the targets set in 2010 when companies including Mars, Hershey, Nestle and Cargill pledged to reduce the worst forms of child labour in their West African supply chains by 70 per cent by 2020.  The report estimated that approximately 2.1 million children in the two countries’ cocoa sectors are engaged in child labour which includes work by under 12s and by older children that is hazardous or exceeds a certain number of hours. This is unchanged from the 2016 report of Brian O’Keefe. Reuters noted the Ghana cocoa regulator Cocobod spokesman Fifi Boafo rejected the report’s findings.

Palm oil & deforestation

Palm oil has a history going back 5,000 years. Recently land clearing for palm oil plantations has become a serious environmental issue.

Palm oil is cheaper than cocoa butter and is used as a substitute in some chocolate. Check the label!

The use of palm oil in food products has attracted the concern of environmental activist groups; the high oil yield of the trees has encouraged wider cultivation, leading to the clearing of forests in parts of Indonesia to make space for oil palm monoculture. This has resulted in significant natural habitat acreage losses of the three surviving orangutan species. One species in particular, the Sumatran orangutan, has been listed as critically endangered.
Oil palm use is identified as far back as 5,000 years. In the late 1800s, in a tomb at Abydos dating back to 3000 BCE, archaeologists discovered a substance they concluded was originally palm oil. It is believed traders brought oil palm to Egypt. Palm oil from E. guineensis has long been recognised in West and Central African countries: European merchants trading with West Africa purchased palm oil for use as a cooking oil in Europe and palm oil became a highly sought after commodity by British traders for use as an industrial lubricant for machinery during Britain's Industrial Revolution. Palm oil formed the basis of soap products, such as Lever Brothers' (now Unilever) Sunlight soap and the American Palmolive brand. Palm oil was overtaken by cocoa in the 1880s with the introduction of colonial European cocoa plantations.

The highly saturated nature of palm oil renders it solid at room temperature in temperate regions making it a cheap substitute for butter or hydrogenated vegetable oils in uses where solid fat is desirable, such as pastry dough and baked goods production. 

Indonesia is the world's largest producer of palm oil, surpassing Malaysia in 2006, producing more than 20.9 million tonnes, a number that has since risen to over 34.5 million tons (2016 output). Indonesia expects to double production by the end of 2030.