BLOG: Boycott Or Not? Part II.


Last week, Carys presented one side of the boycott debate and highlighted reasons for boycotting. This week, we look at why boycotting might not be the answer.

There is the view that slavery is such a massive issue that it is pointless to do anything as someone else will buy the chocolate so if you don’t. This view is inaccurate if we look back over the impact of buying Fairtrade has had over the last 10 years it is obvious it makes a big difference. The other view is that we don’t boycott but select fairly traded products where possible.

Arguments Against boycotting

  • Boycotting makes things worse. The ICI says boycotting will make things worse. By boycotting West African cocoa the farms that are poor today will be poorer tomorrow if we stop buying their cocoa. They will go from poverty to destitution or to other activities that are a higher risk to the child labourer. These issues cannot be fixed overnight and we need to make cocoa sustainable. Until it is sustainable the farmers and the children need people to keep eating chocolate.

Furthermore, a small increase in cocoa price is not a solution to these children’s problems. A quick fix solution will not work and a long term solution will take time. We need to focus on the cause of child labour, on access to education, healthcare, nutrition rather than just removing children and leaving them without prospects and open to further trafficking.

  • Boycotting could lower prices on the international market and thus force more farmers into the using children as slaves and deepen the exploitation further.
  • Consumer voices can be heard without boycotting. The supply/demand chain reaction still works if we don’t boycott but try to buy fairly traded or traffik-free products as this increases demand, which impacts supply. As individuals, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, but as the collective voice of the consumer we have a huge power. Corporations ultimately listen to the consumer as they have the buying power. For example, Cargill, the cocoa trader, was honest about the reason for their failure to effectively address the problem of slavery. They claimed that they did not have sufficient ‘market incentive’ to eliminate slavery from the supply chain. [1]
  • Reward companies that give details of production. Individuals against boycotting believe that efforts need to be encouraged and those who are fairly traded/traffik-free should be encouraged instead of deterred. They believe that if demand is not increased for fair trade there will be no incentive for other companies to become certified.
  • When do we stop the boycott? Some see that this change will take time and because of the complexities of supply the supply chain and the amount of farms that produce cocoa it may take decades. If this is the case there will be neither the demand for fairly-traded/traffik-free products as we will not be buying their products or the money to invest in the improvement of the farmer and workers lives as no one has been buying their products.
  • Must be pragmatic. It may not be practical to boycott all chocolate or chocolate from a region as it is not adequately labelled.

And for a final twist…

Arguments Against Not Boycotting

Fairly traded labels are inaccurate. For example 29 fair trade labelled farms were suspended due to evidence of child labour. [2]

Chocolate companies continue to certify their products claiming they are ethical and it seems that this is far from the truth. There is therefore no sure way of knowing that the chocolate we are buying is slavery and child labour free despite the Fairtrade label.

Boycotters argue that Latin American cocoa farms have neither slavery nor child labour documented and we should therefore buy exclusively from them regardless of African labels.


Despite not always being optimally meaningful, fairly traded or traffik-free labels increase the demand for fair trade. The greater the demand for fair trade, the greater the incentive from consumer pressure to make trade fairer.

To address the worst causes of child labour, efforts depend on the support of the chocolate industry. However, if we boycott Africa there will be no incentive for anyone to help the poverty stricken farmers or the exploited children who will remain in the poverty trap.

In 2009 a Fairtrade cocoa coop in Ghana supplying Cadbury and Divine suspended 7 out of 33 cocoa communities for child labour[3]. Boycotters may state that this shows that the Fairtrade label does not work where as others may respond by saying that it proves that it’s working. Unlike other chocolate products Fairtrade cocoa is a traceable source so can be monitored in a way other ones can’t.


Whether you choose to boycott or not it is apparent that we should be buying fairly traded or traffik-free products Total boycotting may not on reflection be right for you, or it may be, but either way we should be buying and encouraging others to buy traffik-free where possible. We, as consumers of a luxury like chocolate at the expense of exploited children, have a duty to help end this atrocity through the mobilisation of yourself , other consumers and thus the companies who respond to demand. We have the power to make a change and to end slavery for children in the cocoa industry and to make their voices heard.

How to go Fairtrade or Boycott

Here are some useful websites and apps to help you make the transition to Fairtrade or your transition to boycotting: – Rates the fair trade of corporations from A to F or – comprehensive list of recommended corporations and not and the basis for recommendation = BUYcott the smart phone app tells you whether a product is fair trade through scanning the barcode.



[1] Public response to ILRF action last year ,

[2] Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International. March 25, 2012. “FLO Reponses to: ‘Chocolate: The Bitter Truth.’” Fairtrade International. (7/07/14)