Cocoa farmer’s low wages are keeping them below the poverty line

Cocoa farmer’s low wages are keeping them below the poverty line

Cocoa farmer’s low wages are keeping them below the poverty line

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The global chocolate market continues to grow at a substantial rate, in 2010 it was worth $83.2 billion however it is forecast that by the end of 2016, it will be worth over $98.3 billion. These vast profits are not however benefiting the many cocoa farmers across the world.

Cocoa production

Cocoa trees can only grow in areas that are very close to, or actually on the equator. This is because they require a stable hot and humid climate in order to thrive.

Four African countries produce over 70% of the total amount of cocoa beans produced globally; these are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria.

Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two biggest producers; in fact, they are responsible for over 50% of the world’s cocoa supply. The Ivory Coast alone produces over 1.65m tonnes annually, which is equivalent to over 30% of the world’s total and makes up over 60% of the Ivory Coast’s total export revenue.

It is believed that between 40 and 50 million people in the Global South rely on cocoa production for their livelihoods. In the two biggest cocoa producing countries; Ivory Coast and Ghana, 90% of all farmers make the bulk of their income from cocoa, these countries are therefore hugely dependent on cocoa production and therefore the chocolate industry as a whole.

Labor intensive farming

The production of cocoa is very manual and hugely labor intensive as the crop is very sensitive to even the smallest changes in temperature as well as vulnerable to attack from pests and diseases. Over the years a number of companies have spent time and money researching opportunities to ‘mechanize’ the process, this to date has however been unsuccessful.

Over 90% of all cocoa is produced on small family farms, these farms are in fact predominantly only between 1-3 hectares in size.

Cocoa beans

Each cocoa tree yields approximately 25 pods per year, these pods in turn contain between 20-40 cocoa seeds/beans.
Cocoa trees start to produce their fruit at the age of 3 or 4 years and are capable of all year round production. The annual output from one tree is approximately ½ a kilogram of cocoa, this is equivalent to only 450g of chocolate.

Once the cocoa beans are harvested, they are then fermented for roughly 6 days before being dried, cleaned and packed. In the majority of cases, it is at this stage that the product is then sold to a processing plant, these are found almost entirely in the Global North. The cocoa seeds are then crushed, deshelled, roasted and finally ground. This produces “cocoa liquor” which is then either added directly into the manufacture of chocolate products, or turned into cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

Fair trade?

Cocoa farmers make less than $2 per day, putting them under the poverty line. The typical age of people working on these farms is between 12-16 years old, with some reports of children as young as 5 years old. Some will only work there for a couple of months however others will stay through into adulthood.

The shifts are long and the work is dangerous and very physical, with children using sharp machetes and carrying sacks of cocoa pods weighing up to 100 pounds. They can work up to 100 hrs. a week and due to the manual nature of the work, the children are often seen with scars on their bodies.

They receive only basic cheap food and accommodation, and no access to education.

Almost every single person involved in the production of cocoa is Africa will never actually taste chocolate.


The industry in West Africa has recently been alleged to be committing widespread incidences of child cruelty, including allegation of child labor, human trafficking and in the worst cases slavery. Since these allegations, the industry has become very secretive, making ascertaining the truth even more challenging.

Many of the farms accused of these atrocities supply a number of the major chocolate producers, including; Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle.

Fair Labor Association (FLA)

During investigations commissioned by Nestle made at the end of 2014 by the FLA, of the 214 farms visited in the Ivory Coast, 56 of those people working on the farms were under 18, in fact 27 of those 56 were under 15, often working alongside their parents. One example of unpaid forced labor was also found in one of these 214 farms.
The FIA concluded that the expectation that businesses would voluntarily challenge and resolve these problems was not working, and that it was unrealistic to believe that it would. They stated that they felt that stringent controls as well as regular monitoring was the only way to resolve the issues seen throughout the cocoa production industry in Africa.

Many people argue that these issues could be resolved by simply ensuring that a fair price is paid to farmers for the cocoa in the first place.


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