Let’s talk about chocolate. I must confess that, if chocolate is something that you either take or leave, I most certainly take. In large quantities. In fact, I pretty much always have a bar of some exotic dark chocolate in my freezer, and I pretty much always have an ounce or two every day. I’ve heard it said that chocolate can actually be considered a health food because of the antioxidants it carries- well, I run with that statement.
The chocolate industry has been one of the more controversial parts of consumerism in past years, and is an interesting one because there are so many facets to it: ingredients, ethical factory practices, fair trade, workers and farmers rights, location. Being so complicated and multidimensional, it is very easy for companies to do it either very poorly, or very well. Today, we will highlight our Zero! If you missed yesterday’s post introducing this column, you can read it here.
Our villain for today is Nestle. What is totally mind-boggling about Nestle is that they are one of those companies that ‘own everything’. Seriously, here is a list of companies owned by Nestle:
Hot Pockets (Chef America)
Jenny Craig Weight Loss Systems
Nestle also is a major partner in owning General Mills and Coca-Cola, along with 26.4% of L’Oreal Cosmetics. Each time you make a purchase of an item from any one of these companies, you are supporting Nestle. So, think of these companies, and where your money goes, as we discuss the next few issues.
One of the most unsettling issues that has come to light surrounding Nestle is child slavery. Studies have found that, in the cocoa bean farms in the Ivory Coast, a large percentage of labor was being done by 12-15 year olds, a number of whom had been trafficked there from surrounding countries. In fact, in 2009, Interpol rescued 54 children from a farm allegedly contributing to Nestle products, and made 8 arrests connected to human trafficking. In this same area, there also are allegations of aggressive takeovers of family farms- destroying communities in the process. It is important to note, however, the likelihood that Nestle had no idea that these things were happening in their supply chain- this could potentially be reassuring, but I would rather support a company that takes care to work with suppliers who are ethical as well.
Another point of contention against Nestle is their involvement in the deforestation of Borneo, in the acquisition of Palm Oil (most commonly used as an ingredient in KitKat and Aero Bars). This environmental nightmare not only is destroying precious rainforest space, but is endangering the lives of thousands of orangutans in that area. While protests led Nestle to make statements that they were moving to find other alternatives to sourcing Palm Oil, there is no evidence that this has happened.
Nestle is one of many companies that have been accused of ‘greenwashing’- essentially false advertising in regards to the ‘green-ness’ of a certain product or process. For Nestle, this was pertaining to their bottled water- they have run several campaigns marketing their bottled water as ‘recycled’ or ‘mostly recycled’ when, in fact, few to none of the bottles (or the materials used to construct them) were recycled at all. Such campaigns have ceased, and no changes have been made to the bottled water process.
This story was the kicker for me- though unrelated to chocolate. In 2002, Nestle decided to collect on a $6 Million debt that was owed to them by the Ethiopian government. While one obviously has the right to collect on a debt owed to them, Nestle classily decided to do so while the country was in the middle of a famine. So now, the starving Ethiopian government is forced to hand over all available funds to a chocolate company. Public outrage did reach the ears of Nestle bigwigs, who promised to reinvest all monies received back into the Ethiopian communities.
Want more on Nestle? Read up on their marketing of baby formula in underdeveloped countries in the 1970’s. Research their involvement in union busting outside of the US. Nestle was named both the Most Irresponsible Corporation and as a member of the ‘bottom rung’ on the Ladder of Responsibility by two different organizations.
Bastard Films produced the film, The Dark Side of Chocolate, in 2010, which deals with villains in the chocolate industry. Read more about this project here.
Want to know more about where your chocolate is coming from? All information included in this article is widely available from a simple google search. Visit organicconsumers.org and search ‘slave chocolate’. Hint: Starbucks is the first hit. Bye-bye, signature hot chocolate!
Stay tuned for an encouraging look at our chocolate industry Hero tomorrow!