It might be sweet and gooey and deliciously chocolatey, but, in the UK at least, there has always been a strong moral dimension to the cocoa business.
The big chocolate companies, Rowntree’s, Cadbury’s and Fry’s were formed in the 18th and 19th centuries by Quakers appalled widespread abuse of alcohol among the general population.
Chocolate was the ethical alternative, a cheap treat without the corrosive effects of the demon drink.
But there has also been a dark side to the chocolate supply chain. Much of the cocoa used in Europe comes from west Africa, and there have long been allegations of people trafficking, particularly children, to work in the cocoa industry there.
Now KitKat says it is the first global chocolate brand that will use only sustainably sourced cocoa to manufacture all of its products, and will do so from the first quarter of 2016.
KitKat, of course, was invented by Rowntree’s and is now owned by Nestlé, which bought Rowntree’s in 1988. In fact, the KitKat brand is celebrating its 80th birthday this year.
For the past three years Nestlé has been working with Fair Labor Organisation to eliminate child labour and other human rights violations from its supply chain.
It says the brand already uses only sustainably sourced cocoa, accredited by independent third-party bodies, in products sold in certain markets, but this new announcement extends the practice worldwide, including the United States.
The initiative is part of Nestlé’s commitment to source 150,000 tonnes of sustainably produced cocoa by 2017 via the Nestlé Cocoa Plan.
Sandra Martinez, head of confectionery for Nestlé, said: “We’re delighted to be a flag bearer for the industry, as the first global chocolate brand to announce such a move.
“Sustainable cocoa sourcing helps safeguard the livelihoods of farming communities and delivers higher quality cocoa beans. This announcement will only strengthen consumer trust in KitKat as a responsible brand.”
Legislators both in Europe and in the US, have been toughening up legislation. California took the lead and there are moves in the US congress to bring in a bill to target slavery in the supply chain.
And last month, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act came into force. A key part of this relates to transparency in supply chains. From next month, larger companies will have to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year.
Pressure is mounting on companies to ensure that they squeeze these abuses from their supply chains. And this move by Nestlé means that KitKat just got a little bit sweeter.