As ‘Big Cocoa’ Farms Are Called Out For Child Slave Labor, Askinosie Emphasizes Transparency

Jun 12, 2019

Shawn Askinosie walks alongside Tanzanian cocoa farmer and good friend, Mr. Livingston. Askinosie has gone on over 40 origin trips to source the cocoa beans his company uses for its chocolate.
Credit Shawn Askinosie

After the Washington Post ran an investigative story about large chocolate manufacturers using cocoa harvested by enslaved child laborers, a local chocolatier took to Facebook to express his concern – and to explain what his company does differently. 

 

Askinosie Chocolate is more expensive than your average chocolate bar — and there’s a reason for that, as founder and CEO Shawn Askinosie explained in a Facebook Live video.

The reason is pretty simple. Askinosie can personally verify that the chocolate you get from his company is made without slave labor. How can he be sure? That answer is pretty simple, too. He’s got direct relationships with farmers across the globe, with many of those relationships spanning over a decade.

He also pays farmers more for their cocoa, he said. 

“Over the last 13-14 years, on average we have paid farmers 55% more than what they would have otherwise received at farm gate,” Askinosie said in his video.

Compared to what “Big Cocoa,” as Askinosie calls them, pays their farmers — that’s a good chunk of change. Askinosie even takes it a step further by helping farmers open their bank accounts, so he’s able to pay them directly. Often, this is the farmer’s first time having a bank account. 

Askinosie told KSMU this is important to understanding the greater issue, since problems like child slave labor often exist in poor economies.

 “The price of cocoa is unchanged for the last 30 years when adjusted for inflation. Well, their costs haven’t remained the same. This is unthinkable that a farmer would be making a product and the price of it hasn’t changed, but yet, everything else has gone up,” Askinosie said. 

 On top of that, some of these farmers make only a dollar per day on average, despite all of the work they put into tending and harvesting their crops. 

Askinosie acknowledges that it can be difficult for farmers to adhere to a higher level of human rights when they’re facing extreme poverty themselves. 

“I mean, it’s one injustice laid upon another,” Askinosie said. 

Askinosie said the companies that are guilty of sourcing their cocoa beans from farms where child slave labor takes place could be paying a lot more for the cocoa beans. He’s been crunching these numbers for the the last 14 years, and he’s come to the conclusion that making these human rights changes wouldn’t dramatically impact their profit margins. 

Askinosie Chocolate is based on Commercial Street in Springfield, Missouri, where its chocolate is made. It was named one of Forbes’ 25 Best Small Companies in America and has won numerous national and international awards. The company publishes its “Transparency Report” on its website; that’s where you can find data on the contracts Askinosie has made with cocoa farmers, and every price the company has paid for its cocoa.