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!).
Easter’s just around the corner. As you think about celebrating you may be asking, what an ethical Easter egg looks like?
As with clothing, supply chains for key Easter egg ingredients stretch across the globe. The cocoa likely comes from West Africa. Sugar is grown in many countries, but Brazil is the world’s largest exporter. Both child labour and forced labour are used in these industries in these places. Indeed, cocoa and sugar are two of the five goods most likely to have been produced using slave labour, and 20% of the total cocoa-producing workforce are children.
Kids on cocoa plantations have it tough. Some are slaves but most are working for their parents. Cocoa doesn’t sell for much and everyone has to pitch in if the family is to survive. Typically they’re aged around 12-16, but they can be much younger. They work from sun-up to sun-down, hacking weeds, cutting down cocoa pods and carrying 50kg sacks of pods home on their heads. Some children develop hernias from the heavy loads and the majority have scars from machete wounds. At least 1.6 million children are engaged in this work in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
Sugar hides some dark secrets, too. Forced labour is used to cut sugar-cane in many countries, including Brazil (the source of nearly 30%of global sugar exports); working conditions are frequently unsafe and earnings desperately low.
In 2001, eight of the world’s major chocolate companies signed the Harkin Engel Protocol, promising to eliminate or reduce many of the human rights abuses in the cocoa industry by 2005. Sadly, that deadline has been repeatedly extended and the promises still haven’t been met—largely due to under-investment.
If industry promises aren’t enough to improve the lot of the workers, what might be? Let’s try consumer power! Whilst some companies have made promises they’re not keeping, other companies and brands are working really hard to make sure all their workers have a fair deal. If we support them, their market share will increase and more and more people will get to work in good conditions.
When it comes to Easter eggs there are two certifications to keep an eye out for—Fairtrade and UTZ. You’re likely already familiar with Fairtrade, but UTZ has only recently reached NZ from Europe. Both these certifications require that no child labour or forced labour was used, that working conditions were safe and the workers were paid enough to live on. The regular Fairtrade mark certifies that all the risky ingredients in the product were produced in these conditions, but there’s also a ‘Fairtrade Cocoa Program mark’ (basically a washed-out version of the same logo) that just certifies the cocoa. Similarly, UTZ is a cocoa-only certification. Buy regular Fairtrade certified eggs if you can, but the Fairtrade Cocoa Program and UTZ are good back-up options where you can’t.
Unfortunately, we haven’t spotted any full Fairtrade eggs for sale this year, but there are lots of options with good cocoa. Look for Riegelein chocolate bunnies, large hollow eggs from Nestle or Chocolatier, Smarties hide-me eggs (for your Easter egg hunt), Candylishus plush toys with Easter eggs and more. Download our Easter list and follow Just Kai on Facebook for any updates.
My favourite Easter eggs are marshmallow ones, though, and no one sells them slave-free. There aren’t any certified slave-free creme eggs yet, either. But don’t despair; if you like cooking, it’s not that hard to make your own. Better yet, get together with your bubble and cook up a storm. You can share what you’ve learned about the cocoa and sugar industries as you go.
Click through for recipes for regular marshmallow Easter eggs, vegan marshmallow Easter eggs, hazelnut eggs and both regular vanilla and (vegan) peppermint creme eggs. You’ll need moulds to make the hazelnut eggs and creme eggs (I use these) and a few specialty ingredients; the marshmallow ones don’t need any special supplies, although a sugar thermometer and an electric beater are handy.
To make sure your Easter eggs are free of child and slave labour, you’ll need to look for certified ingredients. Trade Aid ingredients are always trustworthy. For sugar, you could also use Countdown’s own brand (which has working conditions certified by Bonsucro). For chocolate, other good options are the Whittakers 250g blocks of milk and dark chocolate (they’re Fairtrade certified, although the rest of the Whittakers range, sadly, isn’t) or either Nestle’s ‘Bakers Choice’ baking chocolate or Countdown’s own brand chocolate (both UTZ certified).
Happy Easter and happy baking!