Latest Posts

Just Kai at 4Cs • August 21, 2020

Monday last week, just before Auckland went into Level 3 lockdown, Heather had the privilege of speaking about Just Kai to 4Cs: a group of senior citizens in Whangarei. They were such an engaged audience and seemed to really appreciate learning about how to buy food that’s free of child and slave labour.

The new Rainforest Alliance • July 11, 2020

Back in 2017, two of the world’s largest certifiers of ethical cocoa, UTZ and Rainforest Alliance, announced they were merging. From September this year we’ll start to see the new logo on product packaging and a new, merged, production standard will come into effect from July next year.

old UTZ and Rainforest Alliance logos

Here at Just Kai, we’ve been on tenterhooks waiting for the announcement of the new standard. As discussed earlier, we feel that UTZ meets our minimum requirements for slave- and child-labour free cocoa but that the old Rainforest Alliance doesn’t. Which way will the new standard go? Will we suddenly find we have a host of new products to recommend (Whittakers peanut slabs and Magnum ice creams!) or will we need to remove all the currently-UTZ-certified items off our list?

new rainforest alliance logo of a green frog in a circle

Estimated read time: 6 minutes

The new standard has now been published and we are, on the whole, pleased. Compared to UTZ, it seems most producers will be the same or better off under the new standard:

  • we feel that Rainforest Alliance has good processes in place to check for both child and forced labour: the things that concern us most here at Just Kai;
  • we expect that smallholder farmers (who make up 80-90% of cocoa producers worldwide) will, on average, be financially slightly better off than they were under UTZ. This will further reduce the risk of child labour on these farms, as poverty often drives parents to set their own kids to work on the family farm;
  • unfortunately, we expect the 10-20% of cocoa producers who are employees working for wages will be worse off, both financially and in terms of health and safety.

Koko Samoa • May 16, 2020

Most countries that grow cocoa are countries where both child labour and slavery are unfortunately used in agriculture. In general, Just Kai encourages people to always look for reliable certifications before buying any product made with cocoa. We do, however, know of one exception: cocoa grown in Samoa. Grateful thanks to Lani Young for drawing our attention to this!

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

yellow cocoa pods ripening on a branch under a canopy of leaves

image credit

In recent months Just Kai has spotted two new brands of chocolate made without child labour. OLA Pacifica, which paused sales for a year or two to research more sustainable production, is back and doing free delivery throughout New Zealand. They exclusively use Samoan cocoa. And Arnott’s has released a range of chocolate blocks inspired by their classic biscuits. Unlike their biscuits, the chocolate blocks are all made with UTZ-certified cocoa. We’ve also spotted new products from Trade Aid, Vego and Nestle, with WFTO, Fairtrade and UTZ-certification respectively. Lastly, we’re sad to report the loss of several Fairtrade-certified products. Oxfam appears to have decided to withdraw from the retail market, so their chocolate blocks and hot chocolate are no longer available. Whittakers has removed Fairtrade certification from their 250g blocks of milk and dark chocolate, although that’s a complicated story. Read on for more detail or check out our full cocoa buying guide.

OLA Pacifica and Arnotts chocolate blocks

Australian sugar • April 17, 2020

Sugar is one of the foods we’re particularly concerned about here at Just Kai. Forced labour and/or child labour is used in many of the countries that export sugar, including Brazil, the world’s largest exporter. In addition, many of the wealthy sugar-growing countries, including the EU and the US, artificially subsidise their sugar industries. This drives down prices for poorer farmers elsewhere, leading to cost-cutting practises like child labour, forced labour and unsafe working conditions.

One way to avoid supporting this is to look for any of the following three certification marks when you buy either actual sugar, or sugary products like ice cream.

WFTO, Bonsucro and Fairtrade logos

Read more about WFTO, Bonsucro and Fairtrade (and what products use these certifications) in our sugar guide.

Another way is to look for Australian sugar. The Australian sugar industry isn’t completely without ethical issues (especially historically), but working conditions are basically safe and child and forced labour is unknown. In addition, unlike the US and the EU, the Australian sugar industry isn’t protected by either subsidies or tarifs, so it isn’t artificially contributing to the problem of low prices elsewhere.

Tearfund, the Christian development charity, sends out a monthly email to people interested in ethical fashion. They’d asked me to write about ethical food, instead, for their Christmas email. I was honoured that they came back to me for Easter, and asked me to write about ethical Easter eggs. Here’s what I came up with (although without all the lovely images they included!).

Just Kai Easter list 2020 • March 13, 2020

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to shop only at our local supermarkets and dairies, we’ve produced a list of which of these eggs are available at each of the major supermarket chains here.

Did you know that at least 20% of the Easter eggs on sale in New Zealand this Easter will be made with cocoa produced by kids? Children who commonly work 12 hour days in very harsh conditions. Who would want to support that?

Fortunately, you don’t have to! Below are some ways you can get your Easter treats whilst helping your neighbours to flourish :-) - the list can also be downloaded as a pdf here.

It includes Easter eggs (and other chocolatey treats) with either Fairtrade or UTZ certification, as well as a number of cocoa-free options. The range is, admittedly, a bit limited: to extend this, at the end are links to recipes to make your own :-)

summary of advice given in this document
\[pdf]


One of the three certifications Just Kai recommends for cocoa is UTZ. That’s the certification that’s on Kit Kats, milo and many Countdown own-brand products. It’s strong on preventing child and forced labour and also makes sure the farmers are paid a living wage (calculated for their country).

That latter part is really important to us. Most child labour in the cocoa industry is kids working for their parents. Farmers generally aren’t paid a lot for cocoa, and often the whole family has to pitch in to get by. That’s why we value a living wage: it means the parents are paid enough that they can afford to send their kids to school.

If you ban child labour but don’t pay a living wage, you just transfer the problem. Parents will look for other work for their kids, and maybe even sell them to a trafficker if things get really desperate.

logos of UTZ and Rainforest Alliance



However, UTZ is about to be phased out. UTZ and Rainforest Alliance started merging in 2018. From September 1st, that merge will be complete for cocoa. UTZ and the old Rainforest Alliance will be no more, and a new-look Rainforest Alliance logo will replace them.

The current Rainforest Alliance scheme differs from UTZ in that, whilst it checks no child or forced labour was used, it doesn’t certify workers are paid a living wage. For this reason, Just Kai hasn’t previoulsy recommended Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa.

We don’t yet know what the new standards will be. They’re apparently putting in place new measures to reduce the likelihood of the children of cocoa workers simply working in other industries, although it’s not clear what those measures will be. Their new draft standard also has a focus on moving towards ‘sustainable livelihoods’.

We are quietly hopeful this means the new Rainforest Alliance certification will have adequate safeguards in place, and that certified cocoa growers won’t need to send their kids out to work. We hope we will be able to continue to recommend the products that currently have UTZ certification, but we can’t be sure until the new standards are published. Watch this space!

Marshmallow Easter eggs recipe • February 20, 2020

home made marshmallow Easter eggs

Easter is coming - maybe you’re looking forward to eating lots of yummy Easter eggs :-) Make sure you check for certifications when you buy: child labour is very common in the cocoa industry, and both cocoa and sugar are amongst the three foods most likely to be produced with slave labour. If there’s a UTZ logo on your egg, you can be confident the cocoa was free of child or forced labour; and if there’s a Fairtrade logo you can be sure the sugar’s good, too.

Fairtrade and UTZ logos

Sadly, we’ve yet to see anyone making marshmallow Easter eggs with either of these certifications. But happily, they’re pretty easy to make yourself: you don’t even need any special equipment, although a sugar thermometer and electric beater do help.

Tearfund, the Christian development charity, sends out a monthly email to people interested in ethical fashion. For December, they decided to look at ethical food instead - after all, a lot of eating happens around the Christmas season! - and asked me to write something. Here’s what I came up with (although without all the lovely images they included!).

Key statistics • November 21, 2019

Just Kai frequently quotes three numbers:

  • around 40 million people are in slavery today;
  • of those people, around 7 million are making physical goods for sale;
  • around 20% of cocoa is produced by children.

Where do these numbers come from? As forced and child labour are almost-universally illegal, the numbers come from investigations and NGOs rather than official government statistics. In addition, except for the first, they are numbers we have derived from published statistics. Here’s how that was done.

Updated cocoa guide: November 2019 • November 20, 2019

Just Kai is excited to announce even more slave and child labour free cocoa products for sale in New Zealand. We have a new brand to announce (Oxfam) and we have a whole new product category: chocolate biscuits! Chocolate chip cookies from the Cookie Project are made with certified slave-free chcolate. Countdown has also further expanded their range of UTZ-certified chocolate baking supplies. Lastly, we note with sadness that Pana chocolate appears to no longer be Fairtrade certified.

logos for Oxfam, The Cookie Project and Countdown, plus the Pana logo with a red X through it.

Check out our cocoa guide for more slave-free cocoa products, as well as explanations of the certifications mentioned.

Christmas 2019: Festive meal • November 18, 2019

A festive meal that’s good for everyone - isn’t that what we all want? Yet sadly, some of the foods we typically eat at Christmas are produced at terrible cost to people far away. The sugar and cocoa used to make all those sweet treats may well have been grown by slave. Cocoa is also at high risk for child labour: around 20% of all cocoa produced worldwide is produced by kids who work full-time instead of going to school. And, if you’re ditching the ham and turkey for salmon or seafood, be careful with what you buy: fish is the food we eat that’s most likely to be caught or processed by slaves.

However, do not despair! A Christmas meal that’s good for everyone is possible. Read on to find brands of all the high-risk products that have reliable slave-free credentials! Also available as a summary pdf.

Photo by Du Wei on Unsplash

Are you looking for small luxury consumables to gift this Christmas, but don’t want people far-off to suffer so your friend can have a treat? Perhaps you’ve heard that around 20% of the chocolate on sale in New Zealand this Christmas will be made with cocoa produced by kids who are kept out of school to work? You don’t want to support that, but you’re still looking for something nice to give.

We’re here to help! Here’s a range of chocolatey gift options that are certified free of both child and slave labour and where the workers have been paid enough to live on. Also available as a summary pdf.

(Click here for more information on the certifications referred to.)

chopped dark chocolate

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Kingfisher prawns • November 11, 2019

As I reported earlier, Just Kai is currently researching slave-free brands of prawns and shrimp. We’d already identified some slave-free wild-caught unprocessed options. Now we have our first brand of slave-free farmed and processed prawns: Kingfisher. Kingfisher is stocked in PakNSave and New World supermarkets; their range includes prawn cutlets, crumbed prawns, prawns ready for stir-fry, and pre-cooked prawns and shrimp.

packets of all the Kingfisher prawn and shrimp varieties

Prawns and shrimp • October 24, 2019

Just Kai is in the processing of researching our next guide, on shellfish, crustaceans and squid. That means I’ve spent the past couple of weeks learning about the prawn industry. It’s been a fascinating process and I wanted to share some of what I’ve been learning. The prawn industry is remarkably complex!

Firstly, I’ve come to the conclusion that Argentinian red prawns/shrimps and Australian wild-caught prawns are both always OK from a human welfare point of view, so long as they haven’t been processed beyond simple freezing. There are no reports of slavery or child labour on fishing boats in those regions, and the freezing is done right on the boat. That means I already have two recommendations for prawns :-)

plate of cooked prawns

I recently had the honour of speaking to my local MP, Deborah Russell, about why I believe New Zealand needs a Modern Slavery Act. This is legislation that would require large-ish companies trading in New Zealand to report annually on what they are doing to eliminate slave labour from their supply chains. The legislation wouldn’t actually require them to do anything about supply chain slavery, but it would require them to make a public statement telling everyone how much effort they were (or weren’t!) making in this area. Such legislation already exists in Australia, the UK, California (where it’s called ‘Transparency in Supply Chains’) and France (where it’s called ‘Duty of Vigilance’.

I got talking to Deborah about Just Kai when I bumped into her at a community event a few months back; in a follow-up email I mentioned how helpful I’d been finding Modern Slavery Act reports in my Just Kai research and said how much I’d like New Zealand to pass such a law. She invited me to come in and talk to her about it.

Heather and Deborah are sitting at a desk looking at the camera.  A laptop faces them in the foreground.

Esthers: fair trade spreads • July 18, 2019

Did you know that Trade Aid sells wholesale as well as retail? If you have a food business and want to make sure your supply chain is free of child and slave labour, contact them and see if they have what you need :-) You’ll be joining over 2300 Kiwi businesses who use Trade Aid products either in their staff tea rooms or in the goods they sell. Everything from Trade Aid is certified through the World Fair Trade Organisation.

Esther Lewis is one of their new trade customers this year. She’s got a business selling sauerkraut, jam and almond butter. Both the sugar and the chocolate that goes into her chocolate almond butter come from Trade Aid.

jar of Esthers chocolate almond butter

NB: We updated this post in October 2019 but have pulled those updates into a new post for Christmas 2019 and restored this post to its original form.

Are you looking for a ‘consumable’ gift, but don’t want people far-off to suffer so your friend can have a treat? Here’s some options that are free of child and slave labour and where the workers have all been paid enough to live on.

(Look here for more information on the certifications referred to.)

chopped dark chocolate

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

In the first version of our fish oil guide, Just Kai said we couldn’t be confident Swisse fish oils were slave free. We knew that they were Friends of the Sea certified, but limitations to that certification meant we couldn’t be confident of Swisse’s oils. However, today we received further information from them and we are now reasonably-certain they are slave free.

Below is the information about Swisse now presented in our guide.

Swisse logo

Note from August 2020: this article is now out of date. Whittakers is now sourcing almost all their cocoa through Rainforest Alliance. This means that almost all* their cocoa now has robust checking for child labour. It is a disappointment that their 250g milk and dark blocks are no longer Fairtrade certified: Fairtrade has stronger human welfare standards than Rainforest Alliance, plus it covers the sugar in the blocks, not just the cocoa. However, it is great that almost the entire range* is now free of child labour in its cocoa supply.

* they’re not sourcing through Rainforest Alliance for their single-origin blocks (other than single-origin Ghanaian), so their Samoan and Nicaraguan blocks aren’t Rainforest Alliance certified. We are confident that the Samoan blocks (of which there are currently two) are also free of child labour, but don’t know about the Nicaraguan ones.

We had a question recently about Whittakers. Our cocoa guide highlights that only their 250g ‘creamy milk’ and ‘dark Ghana’ blocks are Fairtrade certified. On their website, Whittakers says: “we only source our other beans from the Ghana Cocoa Board, which is committed to ensuring the cocoa industry there is conducted in a socially responsible manner.”

Is this good enough? We don’t think so.

Some months back one of our neighbours asked us if the cod liver oil she takes is slave free. It’s been a bit of a challenge to find an answer, but we now have good news and bad news. The bad news? We’re not confident the brand she’s been taking is slave free. But the good news? We’ve identified two other brands we are confident are :-)

As well as looking into cod liver oil, along the way we looked into all major brands of fish oils and omega 3 supplements we found for sale either in supermarkets or online pharmacies. You can read our detailed findings here.

We recently spotted that Countdown’s chocolate hazelnut spread, as well as much of their baking ingredient range, has transitioned to UTZ-certified cocoa. Yay!

These join the Countdown own-brand drinking chocolate range and the Countdown chocolate-coated peanuts, raisins, almonds and licorice, all of which already use UTZ-certified cocoa.

It’s great to see Countdown is steadily rolling out point 11 of their 2020 Strategy. In that, they committed to “Source key raw materials and commodities sustainably to an independent standard by 2020.” For their own-brand products the independent standards they have chosen are Bonsucro, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certifications, all of which also have working condition standards.

Vegan marshmallow Easter eggs • April 07, 2019

My regular marshmallow Easter eggs contain two non-vegan ingredients in the actual marshmallow: gelatine and egg white. They’re also not suitable for vegetarians, Hindus or Muslims (due to the gelatine) or pregnant people (because the egg white is raw).

For the vegan ones, the gelatine has been replaced with agar agar (which gets boiled in with the sugar as it doesn’t work unless you boil it for a bit) and the egg white with aquafaba (chickpea cooking water). Various proportions needed changing to get a good texture, although the clincher was changing the cooking method. Instead of beating the sugar/agar agar mix then folding in beaten aquafaba, the sugar mix is drizzled onto beaten aquafaba with continuous beating. I’m not sure why that makes such a difference, but it led to a vastly fluffier product :-) The idea for that came from here.

The butter in the ‘yolks’ is replaced with 1:1:3 water:olive oil:coconut oil (with thanks to The Ice Cream eBook for teaching me that a 1:3 mix of olive oil:coconut oil gives a similar texture to milk fat). The milk chocolate coating is replaced with fairly traded vegan dark chocolate.

home made vegan marshmallow Easter eggs

Fairly Traded Easter Eggs 2019 • April 05, 2019

Did you know that at least 20% of the Easter eggs on sale in New Zealand this Easter will be made with cocoa grown by kids who are kept out of school to work? Kids who commonly work 12 hour days and are frequently beaten. Who would want to support that?

Fortunately, you don’t have to! Below are some ways you can get your Easter treats whilst helping your neighbours to flourish :-) - the list can also be downloaded as a pdf here.

Ferrero mini eggs glamour shot

Why we support Nestle • October 15, 2018

Around the world today countless people are being abused in the supply chains of large multinationals: either directly through their working conditions, or indirectly through the destruction of their environment. If we want this to stop, it is crucial that we either support Nestle, or boycott multinationals altogether. A selective Nestle-only boycott can do nothing but harm people who are current victims of the misbehaviour of large multinationals companies.

Why would we say such a thing? After all in the 1970s Nestle actively foisted infant formula onto mums who had no access to clean water to make it up, convincing them it was modern and hence better than breastfeeding. Tens of thousands of babies per year died from diaorrhea as a result. There was a widespread boycott of Nestle products as a result.

But have you noticed what happened subsequently? I’ve only discovered this relatively recently and have been really surprised by what I’ve learned.

Wildness Chocolate • October 19, 2017

I recently heard about a really cool chocolate company - Wildness Chocolate. I was really impressed by the founder, Marie Monmont, when she was interviewed on Nine to Noon on Radio NZ National. Kathryn Ryan asked her what she looked for in her suppliers and she said:

  • number one: no child labour
  • number two: environmental sustainability
  • number three: quality

I pricked my ears up, as that’s pretty much my priority order, too!

It became clear in the interview that she has a deep commitment to worker rights, both in Brazil (where she sources most of her ingredients) and here in New Zealand (where she manufactures). All the packaging is done by inmates of Rimutaka and Arohata prisons, for example, and she goes in and works alongside them. They are paid a living wage, as well as gaining skills that will hopefully improve their employability when they get out.

Hazelnut chocolate Easter eggs • April 11, 2017

Note: this recipe involves making your own chocolate hazelnut filling. If that sounds too much like hard work (or you can’t source hazelnut butter), a good alternative filling is Countdown own brand chocolate hazelnut spread. It’s made with UTZ-certified cocoa :-)

No one seems to be selling fair trade Easter eggs in New Zealand this year, so last week my friend Anna and I again got together to make our own. We use fair trade chocolate: this way we can be confident our Easter treats are a blessing not only to those who receive them but also to all those involved in their production :-)

home made hazelnut Easter eggs

I am extremely concerned about the high levels of abuse in the cocoa growing industry. I am not willing to pay for people to be abused just so I can have a treat!

My bottom line is this. If the workers who grew the cocoa for a particular chocolate brand didn’t earn enough to feed themselves and send their children to school, or if they were subjected to serious abuse, then I won’t buy that product. As far as we are able, we are committed to living lives that allow our global neighbours to flourish.

How do I identify which chocolate is good to buy? Below I state my minimum labour standards, discuss briefly how I assess common claims made by chocolate brands and why I love certification, and then expand on these at greater length.

Home-made creme eggs • March 18, 2016

On Wednesday, my friend Anna came over for our annual Easter egg day, where we make Easter eggs together. You can’t buy fair trade Easter eggs in New Zealand (except for expensive artisanal ones - even the boring hollow Cadbury eggs don’t seem to be on sale this year). We want Easter eggs to eat and give away, but not at the expense of people being enslaved and abused to produce the cocoa, so, for some years now, we’ve made our own :-)

We’ve been doing great marshmallow Easter eggs for some years now, but this year I think we’ve finally nailed how to make creme eggs!

Classic vanilla creme eggs: nine milk chocolate creme eggs

UTZ certification • February 24, 2016

I’ve long been a supporter of fair trade*: I want the people who produce the goods I use to:

  • have been paid a decent wage;
  • be working without coercion;
  • not be children**;
  • not be being exposed to poisons without suitable protection.

UTZ is a new-ish certification that meets these criteria.

UTZ certfied logo and Nestle cocoa plan statement "The Nestle Cocoa Plan works with UTZ to ensure a better future for cocoa farmers and even better chocolate for you."