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How to tackle abuses in the chocolate industry this Easter

Environmental and human rights activist Etelle Higonnet explains what you can do to create change in the chocolate industry this Easter. 

What’s your favourite thing about Easter? For many of us, Easter means chocolate – and lots of it. After all, the British are some of the most dedicated chocolate consumers in the world. And Easter is the global blockbuster time of year for chocolate sales.

But chocolate also brings with it a bitter back story, both human and environmental.

Chocolate has a deforestation problem 

The cocoa industry is linked to widespread deforestation. In fact, cocoa is one of seven commodities most commonly linked to deforestation around the world. From independence in 1957 and 1960 up to 2017, the top two cocoa producing nations, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, lost roughly 94% and 80% of their forests. Cocoa production was the single largest cause of forest destruction, contributing to roughly 1/3 of overall forest loss. The climate and wildlife crisis lurks behind our beloved Easter eggs and other chocolate treats.

Appalling rights abuses also run rampant in the cocoa industry. Right now the cocoa in our chocolate is almost all produced by farmers living in extreme poverty, making less than $1/day on average. Women cocoa farmers earn on average only 23p per day. The cocoa industry is also notorious for slavery, child labour and reckless use of pesticides which can harm the health of children who are exposed, as well as women cocoa farmers.  

This has been recently highlighted in the Channel 4 documentary which investigates child labour in Cadbury's chocolate supply line.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s now much easier to buy ethically-produced chocolate, and consumers should demand higher standards from the handful of companies that control the world’s cocoa industry.  

UK laws are not working

Consumer action is even more important in countries where the governments are not taking the necessary steps to address the impacts of the chocolate we import. This is especially true in the UK, where industry and government are both asleep at the wheel. 

The UK brought in the Environment Act in late 2021 which, among other things, requires better environmental standards for commodities produced in rainforest areas. Yet, it doesn’t cover cocoa and is unlikely to do so for several more years.  

Even major food companies like Tesco and McDonald’s have urged Britain to adopt tougher rules to protect tropical forests, but to no avail.

The UK is failing in another way too. It has yet to join countries like Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Japan, in creating a regulatory framework known as an Initiative for Sustainable Cocoa or “ISCO”. 

ISCOs create shared definitions for sustainable cocoa, set clear and ambitious targets, and monitor progress. They bring together private sector, government agencies, civil society organisations and sometimes businesses in chocolate-consuming countries to promote sustainability. According to Mighty Earth, although their implementation has been a bit uneven and needs improvement, “ISCOs have tremendous potential to enable industry to transition to sustainable cocoa.”  

So far, the UK has not even tried to create an ISCO, and is falling far behind other countries.

But it’s essential that stakeholders in the UK come together to craft a robust collective ISCO. This means the government must step up and join forces with the UK’s myriad small chocolatiers, plus giant chocolate manufacturers like Cadbury, and supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, as well as civil society organisations like WWF UK and Chatham House. 

Unless they do this urgently and seriously, the UK will continue to import cocoa tainted by gross human rights abuses and environmental destruction.

Basket wtih chocolate egg and Easter bunnies

What can consumers do?

1. Buy ethical chocolate

In the absence of meaningful UK regulation, or a viable public-private platform like a UK-ISCO, British chocolate consumers can still take matters into their own hands, and buy ethically

If enough of us do it, that makes a huge difference. This is where the Easter Scorecard comes in, a platform that ranks and grades over 83% of the world’s chocolate, including the brands selling most of the chocolate in all the UK. Companies are graded on traceability & transparency, child labour, living income for farmers, deforestation & climate, agroforestry, and pesticide use. Basically, that’s all the key pillars of sustainability in chocolate.

If consumers buy, eat, or gift the most ethical chocolate they can, this can truly make a difference. It’s like voting with your wallets, and it can send a strong market signal to the chocolate industry. Sharing your actions online, through social media or talking to family and friends can support others to do the same.

Check out the Easter Scorecard for Sustainable Chocolate.

2. Call for government action

UK organizations and citizens can also pressure the government to act:

  • send a one line message to the Sustainable Commodities Team at due.diligence@defra.gov.uk. You could write something as short as “Include cocoa as commodity in secondary legislation of The Environment Act and ensure an end to abuses in the cocoa industry”
  • fill out the consultation form from DEFRA on the due diligence provisions in the Environment Act.
  • tweet, Facebook message, call, email, or write to your MP with a simple message: “I call on you to ensure an end to the widespread human rights and environmental abuses in the cocoa industry. We must ensure that cocoa entering the UK is ethical and sustainable. We need a UK Initiative for Sustainable Cocoa now! Please champion a UK-ISCO.” Find your MP online via the Parliament website

3. Sign a petition, or several! 

You can add your name to more than 2 million signatures on over 100 petitions – just choose the ones you like best. 

They are all collected on the Mighty Earth website.

Petitions can make a huge difference!

4. Find out more

You can watch the Channel 4 documentary which investigates child labour in Cadbury's chocolate supply line.

About the author

Etelle Higonnet is an environmental activist who has worked at the National Wildlife Federation, Mighty Earth, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. She has long fought to reform the palm oil, rubber, soy, and cocoa industries. She was named a Chevalier of France’s Ordre National du Mérite (National Order of Merit) for her work to protect the environment.