Kit Kat Chunky and Kit Kat Chunky Peanut Butte...

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Last week it was my pleasure to sit on a panel with Carol Hirt of Not4Sale Australia, the anti-slavery group, in a discussion about the documentary film The Dark Side of Chocolate.

A question from the floor that got me thinking was, What certification should we be looking for?

While she was happy to give the benefit of the doubt, Carol did make the observation that industry-run certification efforts would surely warrant closer examination than those led by concerned citizens.

She also observed that the big chocolate companies have a track record of releasing one Fairtrade product with little promise of further action.

It recently passed 10 years since the chocolate industry signed the Harkin Engel Protocol, intended to eliminate child labour. Not only has child labour manifestly not been eliminated; there is no clear evidence that it has even been reduced in the last decade.

The chocolate industry has been treating itself pretty lightly and when you take a look at who polices them it is hardly surprising. Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, has in ten years managed to get one single product fairtrade certified: The Chunky Kit Kat. One has to ask how serious a commitment this represents. The primary effect, so far as I can see, is to ward off criticism by showing that the company is doing “something”.

Their certifier is the industry-backed Utz Certified group (whose logo appears on Chunky Kit Kats). Unlike the better-known Fairtrade certification, Utz Certified does not set a minimum or guaranteed price for producers, making it a considerably cheaper option for companies seeking ethical endorsement. Instead it works on the principle of ‘continuous improvement’. Well I guess having one product line endorsed, after ten years, is better than none but it’s not exactly a six sigma black belt result.

Lawyers figured this out a long time ago

I stand to be corrected but I can’t see what motivation industry-led initiatives have to set very high standards. There is an ancient legal maxim, Nemo iudex in causa sua, which translates to “No one should be judge in their own case”. In other words, the industry groups are funded by industry and talk only to industry (funnily enough). Not to NGOs. Not to local suppliers. Not to governments. It’s just difficult to imagine them being too hard on the people who pay their salaries. We are all a bit like that; that’s what independent auditors are for. Personally I’m going to look for the blue and green Fairtrade Certified logo next time, I have a lot more confidence in it.

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