The ethical side of cocoa farming primarily relates to the treatment of people, as environmental concerns are largely dealt with by good sustainability practices. The sad truth is that our cocoa industry is plagued by the following practices:
- Widespread Poverty
This is how we deal with each of these issues:
1. Child labour
St Vincent and the Grenadines has ratified all key international conventions on child labour, and established its own laws to regulate the issue. However, a recent report found gaps in the legal framework that is required to adequately protect children from the worst forms of child labour, including the minimum age for hazardous work and the use of children in illicit activities.
This concern does not apply to us, as we obtain our cocoa from two sources:
(i) Over 90% is from our farms.
All of our employees are aged 18 or over and have provided proof of this in the form of an NIS number. All are paid directly into their bank account; we make no cash payments, nor do we engage in piece work of any kind. As such, there is absolutely no possibility of any child labour on our farms.
(ii) Around 10% comes from selected farmers who sell their cocoa to us.
Growing cocoa is not widespread in St Vincent. Our farmers grow cocoa in addition to their standard cash crops such as bananas, dasheen, and other ground provisions. None of these farmers grow more than a few acres, which eliminates the need for child labour. Moreover, we know each of our farmers on an individual basis and visit them regularly.
In all of our 11 years farming cocoa in St Vincent, we have never come across a single incident of child labour. This is our absolute promise.
2. Forced Labour
Despite being a relatively poor country with significant unemployment, St Vincent and the Grenadines is highly inclusive. Being so small - only 14 miles long by 9 miles wide - everybody knows everybody! SVG has a parliamentary system, independent judiciary and Civil Service with a robust Labour Department, which addresses any charges of employee mistreatment.
Moreover, all of our farmers cultivate relatively small areas of land (on average 2 to 5 acres) which means they can farm their land on their own, negating the need for additional cheap labour. For these reasons, we have never come across a single incident of forced labour in our cocoa industry.
St Vincent has clearly defined forest boundaries, with all of the lands beyond this owned by the Crown, and there is a functional forestry department that monitors this.
Aside from it being illegal, we have no reason to establish cocoa beyond this area as we have plenty of our own farm land (which is carefully GPS mapped) within the forest boundary. Furthermore, being such a small country, any attempt by us to cut rainforest would be reported to the authorities within hours, and met with severe penalties - quite right!
4. Gender Inequality
We have a strict gender equality policy operating throughout the company, from equal hire to pay. The ratio of our male and female employees does vary depending on the department, such as most of our field workers and farmers being men, while more of the employees in our office and factory based in Kingstown are women.
Being a poor country, many in St Vincent do struggle, but there are very few instances of absolute poverty. This is because there is a government support programme that helps those most in need, and because many families look after each other.
As for us:
(i) Our rates of pay are higher than the government’s minimum levels and are way higher than Fairtrade’s recommended rates.
(ii) Likewise, the amount we pay farmers for their wet cocoa (currently XCD 1.50 per wet lb) is significantly higher than the recommended Fairtrade rate.
... So, we have absolutely no risk of poverty anywhere near our cocoa project.
6. Giving Back
Our cocoa company also runs a ‘giving back’ program, which is primarily aimed at local schools and facilities near our larger farms. The important thing to note is that we don’t do this via an aid agency, but rather do the work ourselves. For example, we recently completed the refurbishment of the computer room at the Westwood Methodist School.