Chocolate: environmental and social impacts
The main ingredient in chocolate is cocoa, which is derived from cacao plants. Such plants contribute to mass deforestation; cocoa farmers often clear tropical forests to plant new trees instead of reusing the same land. In Côte d’Ivoire, estimates have shown that cocoa farming has contributed to 70% of the country’s illegal deforestation.
Chocolate, as a product in itself, has a negative environmental impact because of its milk powder, sugar and palm oil inputs. Actually, one study found that milk powder and sugar contributed the most to the land use and transformation associated with chocolate, even more than cocoa! The study also showed that milk powder, sugar, palm oil and cocoa butter contributed the most to terrestrial ecotoxicity as a result of their use of pesticides.
The packaging of chocolate products also has a negative impact on the environment. The study showed that packaging had a negative impact on energy use, fossil fuel depletion, water footprint and water waste. Transportation and manufacturing also contributed to the negative environmental impact of chocolate products as a whole.
The cocoa industry has a pervasive problem with child labour, with more than 2.1 million children engaging in hazardous work in the sector last season in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. This number of child workers is higher than in 2010 — the year when big companies like Mars, Nestle, and Hershey’s all pledged to reduce the worst forms of child labour by 70% in 2020. Although, it could be argued that the increased production and prices of cocoa lead to the rise of child workers.
Conditions are considered hazardous, with 50% of children reporting injuries. Often these children spray toxic pesticides on crops without any protective gear, lift very heavy loads of cocoa pods, and use dangerous tools such as machetes. Aside from the actual conditions, the fact that they are working means that they are not going to school which negatively impacts their future livelihoods.