Chocolate Industry: Time to Act; Embrace Science
Multinational companies that are deriving a profit from chocolate products need to take responsibility for their supply chains, particularly if they involve child labor or illicit trade practices, both of which are occurring in the cocoa industry as we speak. The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and other NGOs have raised this issue. Now is the time that Nestle, Kraft, Hershey’s, ADM, Mars and the public-private partnerships such as the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), need to act.
A wild west-type scenario where cocoa is smuggled on motorbikes, through porous African borders, past understaffed and ill-equipped customs officials implies that it’s impossible to regulate the cocoa supply. This may be true locally, but not on the international stage where these global food companies are playing. The fact is, these companies have the means and access to scientific tools that can easily and inexpensively map the products in their supply chains, and thus whether it’s from legitimate sources (those not harming children or cooperative farmers) – or not.
Today, Picarro delivers instruments that can test a food and authenticate its provenance. By measuring the simplest of molecules – specifically the stable isotope signature – we can determine where a food or plant originated. Essentially, we get insight into a natural bar code that can’t be washed off or rubbed away. These instruments are simple to use and field-deployable - even in the most remote and harshest of environments. They can easily be deployed by cocoa company employees, exporters, or cooperatives – and, for that matter, by the palm oil and cotton industries, who face the same problems in their supply chains. At less than one dollar per test, and 150 samples per day, mapping a food product throughout its supply chain wouldn’t take much time or money. In fact, when you consider that memberships to certification and fair trade programs can cost $20,000 each, this is a drop in a bucket for access to the one way you can truly prove a food’s origin.
It’s time for these big consumer brands to take responsibility for their own supply chains (and promote themselves when they do), or better yet, form a consortium and implement an industry-wide testing program using the scientific tools they have readily available.