The Marxist Guide to Chocolate

A stock photo of chocolate

Tara Brady promises that The Marxist Guide to Chocolate won’t ruin the go-to bar you’ve loved since childhood. 

First, the good news: we’re not going to ruin chocolate for you. Except for maybe Creme Eggs. And Toffee Crisps. And Maltesers. 

Secondly, more good news. Lidl has just unveiled their own brand, reasonably priced Fairtrade, luxury range of chocolate bars. Way to Go! bars come in three flavours – dark, caramelised almonds and sea salt. More importantly, they guarantee cocoa farmers in Ghana the Fairtrade Minimum Price for cocoa and the Fairtrade Premium, an extra sum of money for farmers to invest in their farms and communities. 

This is a pleasing development in an erratic market dominated by big brands that are already contaminated with questionably produced palm oil and soya. And that’s before you get to the cocoa. Most of the global cocoa supply comes from small farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which together account for more than 60% of the world’s cocoa supply.

Côte d’Ivoire cocoa farm households earn only 37% of a living income resulting in entrenched poverty and child labour. According to the 2018 biannual report by the Cocoa Barometer – an extensive document produced by a consortium of not-for-profits – there are currently more than 2.2m child labourers working on cocoa farms in West Africa. Some of these children are thought to have been trafficked from Mali or Burkina Faso. 

Last year, a Toronto-based law firm filed a $550-million class action lawsuit against the Hershey Company alleging that the child labour and slavery prevalent in the company’s supply chain “are so abhorrent, that failure to disclose these practices amounts to a misrepresentation to Canadian consumers.” 

Of course this is a vicious circle. In Ivory Coast, cocoa farmers’ average incomes were less than half of the $2.40 per day, a sum designated as ‘extreme poverty’ within the region. With no money to hire adult labourers, many farmers put their own children to work.

The price of cocoa has collapsed since 2017 when it took a 30% tumble. At least it did for the farmers. In 2019, chocolate companies paid US $4.7 billion less for their cocoa than they did the year before.

Your sticky go-to bar that you’ve loved since childhood is likely attended by horrific levels of deforestation. More than 100,000 hectares of forest in Ivory Coast was cleared between 2001 and 2014, mostly to facilitate the planting of cocoa trees. All told, an estimated 90% of West African forests are gone. Chimpanzee and elephant populations have all but disappeared.

Major brands including Mars, M&S, Tesco, Hershey’s, and Aldi are apt to, well, fudge the issue by hiding behind “partial certification” with “key targets”. Nestlé and Cadbury have their own bespoke non-certified agreements without these “key targets”. Guylian Belgian Chocolate doesn’t even bother with a fig leaf arrangement.  

Better choices include Willie’s Cacao, which practises direct trade: buying straight from the farmers for a premium of at least $500 per tonne; that’s $300 more than Fairtrade prices. Divine, the original Fairtrade chocolate brand is not only 100% Fairtrade, it’s 45% owned by Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghanaian cocoa farmers’ cooperative made up of some 85,000 farmers. Moo Free, Ritter Sport, Lidl, Lindt, and Seed & Bean are all 100% certified and reinvest in cocoa-producing communities.