By Fabio Teixeira
RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
The global chocolate supply chain is tainted by the use of cocoa from Brazilian farms where human rights violations are common, a report released Friday said
Among the abuses detailed are farmers forced to work off debts to landowners or in degrading conditions, as well as thousands of instances of child labor.
The document is the result of a joint effort between the Brazilian Federal Labor Prosecution Office and the International Labor Organization, and based on findings from a yearlong field investigation and a series of interviews with authorities and rural workers in the states of Bahia and Pará.
Brazil was the world’s seventh-largest cocoa producer in 2017. It exports processed cocoa products to the United States, Argentina, Netherlands, Mexico, Chile and Uruguay, the report said.
Government data lists Bahia and Pará as responsible for 93 percent of all cocoa production in Brazil in 2018.
“We want companies to take responsibility for their supply chains“, said Margaret Matos de Carvalho, a public prosecutor from the Federal Labor Prosecution Office and coordinator of the report.
On cocoa farms in Pará and Bahia family farmers work in “partnership” with landowners, sharing the profits.
The report, however, said that this relationship can be abusive and, in some cases, be classified as modern slavery
In Brazil, the definition of modern slavery includes debt bondage, degrading work conditions, long hours that pose a risk to a worker’s health or life, as well as work that violates a person’s dignity.
“Most (family farmers) have no place to live, they camp at the rural property. They don’t have proper working tools, and no technical assistance on how to apply (dangerous) pesticides,” said de Carvalho.
Public prosecutors refer to this practice as a “false partnership” in which “workers have no autonomy to choose what to plant, which techniques to use or for whom to sell,” said the report.
Child labor on cocoa farms is a recurring practice, the report said, and is considered normal in the communities where it is practiced, even though it is illegal in Brazil.
The Federal Labor Prosecution Office now plans to meet with representatives of companies that use Brazilian cocoa and use the report to pressure them to demand better accountability from their suppliers.
“We feel they should pay some sort of compensation to municipalities” where the violations happened, de Carvalho said
The Brazilian Association of Chocolate, Peanut and Candy Industries, which represents 92 percent of vendors and chocolate makers in the country, said that the report “will help us better understand the supply chain and map out actions that eventually may need to be taken to solve any existing problems.”
The National Association of Cocoa Processing Industries, which represents the majority of such companies in Brazil, said the president of the association was unable to be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Fabio Teixeira; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)