Students at work. Copyright by

Rethinking cocoa production

Students of the Ecolabel school in Vienna 22 pioneered a new concept of sustainable and fair production and consumption of cocoa and chocolate. The school project, implemented together with Oikocredit Austria, contributes to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Four schoolgirls report.

Every day we go shopping and see shelves full of food. Often we don't notice the long way products have had to travel to get to us. Chocolate is no exception to this rule, because it doesn't really matter where it comes from as long as it tastes good. But shouldn't the origin be relevant if it defines the product? We asked ourselves this question as part of a project with Oikocredt.

What is Oikokredit anyway and what does it have to do with us?
Oikokredit is a non-profit organisation that works to help small businesses of disadvantaged people in developing countries and to support innovative projects of various kinds with the help of liquid funds. In our case, it is about farmers' way of life and how to improve it. Together with Oikokredit we are working on realistic solutions, because even small steps in the right direction can bring big changes. The elaboration of the topic is divided into three groups:

Education: the aim is to communicate the topic mainly to the younger generation, but also to teachers and parents e.g. through workshops and Teacher's Guide books, i.e. a book written by students to teachers.
Packaging: The aim is to make the packaging of Fair Trade products more appealing, as the visual aspect often intuitively plays an important role in purchasing behaviour.
Supply Chain: The aim is for all participants in the supply chain to be able to communicate transparently with each other.

To get to the beans, the cocoa fruit must be opened. Copyright by Fairtrade.

How did we achieve our goals?

In order to achieve our goals, we held online meetings on Experience Mondays and also on occasional night afternoons. However, we did not only contact the Oikokredit team, but also "The Mission Earth". Their task was to accompany us on our way with planning sessions, contacts for interviews etc. and to support us as much as possible through the acquisition of 21st Century Skills.

What is the problem with the current situation of farmers?
There are 5.5 million smallholder farmers worldwide. For most of them, cocoa farming is by far the most important source of income. Of the price that consumers in Germany spend on a bar of chocolate, only about six percent reaches the cocoa farmers.

The low wages are not even their biggest problem, but child labour and the catastrophic living conditions (no drinking water, exploitation or corruption).

Cacao beans delivery. Copyright by Fairtrade.

What can each and every one of us do to improve conditions for the people at the end of the supply chain?

Buy fairly produced chocolate instead of conventional (e.g. Fairtrade) and support shops like the "Eine Weltladen" (One World Shop)
Be more aware of consumer behaviour: pay attention to where products come from and don't be influenced by the brand or the design
Educate others about the problem and recommend fairly produced products to each other.
Promote projects and initiatives that seek to help locally.

In general, everyone should know the background story of chocolate production in order to get an idea of the circumstances under which the farmers live. We got a completely different picture with this project and see the whole production with a different eye. Every one of us should do that. Therefore, we appeal to you that before you buy chocolate, you think twice about the circumstances of the people who produce the cocoa for the chocolate and whether you really want to risk buying a bar of chocolate so that people have to continue to live like this.

Lucia Vidovic, Ina Schwarzbauer, Sandra Koppensteiner, Sara Stakic, all from the Business Academy Donaustadt

Oikocredit offers free lectures and workshops on microfinance, ethical investment, sustainability (SDGs), fair trade and fair business for schools from upper secondary level and universities.

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