How to find ethical Easter eggs
Hot cross buns and chocolate eggs may have, contentiously, been gracing supermarket shelves since the new year, but Easter is actually upon us.
And it appears that Australians won't be shy about indulging their sweet tooths this Easter, with research conducted by the Australian Retailers Association and Roy Morgan anticipating that $1.7 billion will be spent on the likes of hot cross buns, Easter eggs and other special food.
So with chocolate likely to be front of mind for many during the Easter period, some shoppers may be curious about just how ethical, or sustainable, their Easter egg options are. While it's easy to get lost in the taste or the colourful foil it's wrapped in, there's far more to the world of chocolate.
"If you're worried about social conditions, if you're worried about modern slavery, if you're an environmentalist then there are plenty of things to think about," says Stephanie Perkiss, an associate professor at the University of Wollongong.
"I think people just buy chocolate without thinking much about it, and before I actually started reading into it I was the same. But there's a lot more to this industry than what we see for sale on the shelves when we walk into Woolies."
Chocolate's sustainability challenges
Professor Perkiss knows more than most about the subject of sustainable chocolate having been part of a team of academics and researchers, spearheaded by not-for-profit Be Slavery Free, which has produced the Chocolate Scorecard for the past four years.
This year's scorecard, which aims to highlight the less illustrious and often unknown practices involved in the chocolate industry, rated 72 manufacturers, brands and retailers including chocolate giants like Ferrero, Lindt, Mars, Mondelēz (Cadbury) and Nestlé.
Six key areas of sustainability were used to assess the companies rated on the scorecard, including: agrichemical management; agroforestry; child and forced labour; deforestation; living income; and traceability and transparency.
"The main things that we look at are things like traceability and transparency. Traceability is probably the biggest one in the industry because everything else becomes redundant if you can't actually trace where you're getting your cacao from," explains Perkiss.
"We want brands to understand where their chocolate is coming from and in what conditions it's sourced. Some of the smaller companies that do really well on the scorecard can trace it all the way back to the actual farmers and they can tell us how much they're being paid, what conditions they're working in and that there are no pesticides. So once you're able to trace your chocolate, the rest of the questions become easier to answer."
How do chocolate brands stack up?
So when it comes down to it, are some chocolate companies better on issues of sustainability than others? Perkiss says that there are definitely more sustainable brands than others, with companies on the smaller side generally rating more highly on the most recent scorecard.
"If you look at the scorecard, we've given five green bunnies to our top performers and most of those companies are either leading the industry in those six different markers, or are making progress on implementing different policies."
The scorecard uses green, yellow, orange, red and black bunnies to represent the overall rating of a brand or retailer on the six areas of sustainability, with Original Beans, Tony's Chocolonely, Beyond Good, Alter Ego and Halba coming out on top. Meanwhile, Aldi and Dutch multinational Ahold Delhaize were the highest-rated retailers.
As for some of the more well-known makers and stockers of chocolate and Easter eggs in Australia, Perkiss says that it was more of a mixed bag in terms of performance.
"Of the bigger brands we looked at, Nestlé has had a huge improvement over the last 10 years and their programs and policies are really good at the moment. Whittaker's, which is a New Zealand brand, also to do quite well year in and year out.
"Mondelez, which is the maker of Cadbury, have participated for the last few years, but they actually refused to participate this year, which was a shame, and to us it says things about their priorities."
Greenwashing, cost and making an informed choice
Like any ethical or sustainable purchase, Perkiss warns that chocolate lovers will need to keep an eye out for greenwashing - i.e. attempts by some companies to make themselves appear more credible on the sustainability front than they actually are.
"Greenwashing definitely takes place. Even something like a company saying that they're Fairtrade-certified - they don't actually need to tell us how much of their cacao has been certified. So for some businesses, it might only be 10% of their cacao or something like that."
For shoppers wanting to scrutinise a brand more thoroughly, Perkiss says that looking more closely at a company and their mission statement, as well as utilising the Chocolate Scorecard, can give a good indication of a brands' sustainability credentials.
"We think the scorecard is pretty accessible, even on your mobile. So if you've got a Cadbury's bar in your hand and you don't know whether to have that or a packet of Smarties, for example, you can look at the scorecard and decide which company you might want to support."
At the end of the day, consumers will have to make up their own minds and even take into account other factors like the price of an Easter egg or a block of chocolate before making a purchase, because more sustainable brands aren't always going to be the cheapest options.
"You're probably going to pay more for brands who, for example, pay a high wage their staff, but I wouldn't use the price of the chocolate as an indication of sustainability," says Perkiss.
"We're not saying that people should stop eating chocolate because that would never happen and it would likely drive more people in some of these chocolate-producing nations into poverty. We just want everyone to lift their game, so the brands that you support that are more sustainable will hopefully help push the whole industry up - that's the aim."
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