Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
The new law hands unprecedented power over to the chocolate industry in a country that is the world's largest chocolate producer. A broad range of advocacy groups for workers and for the environment have warned that the new forestry codes, which the country's National Assembly recently ratified, will usher in a new wave of unsustainable cocoa production and allow for massive deforestation in forests that are already degraded with deforestation levels over 75 percent, as The Guardian reported.
The law reclassifies 7,700 square miles of protected forest as "agro-forest" and hands control of the forests over to international companies.
"We are opposed to further deforestation of these areas," said Youssouf Doumbia, president of the Ivorian Observatory for the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources, a civil society organization consulted on the proposals, as The Guardian reported. "Politicians have authorized the construction of infrastructure in these agro-forests – but if we do that, it's an open door for the pure and simple disappearance of our forests. They will be wiped out."
Cocoa farming in West Africa, which produces over 60 percent of the world's chocolate supply is known for its unsustainable slash and burn practices. That is where forest is cut down and burned before planting, and then, when the plot was no longer fertile, the farmer moved to fresh forest and repeated the process, according to Michael E Odijie, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, who wrote a recent essay on the plight of West African cocoa farmers for Quartz.
So much forest has been cut down over the last 60 years that there is barely enough left for slash-and-burn. Since 1960, forests in Ivory Coast has decreased from 16 million hectares, roughly half the country, to less than 2 million by 2005, according to Odijie's essay.
The new law, which allows for 24-year land leases, will lead to a loss in property rights for Indigenous communities and create a monopoly for foreign companies.
"There's a risk of a massive land grab situation," said Julia Christian, forest campaigner at Fern, a Brussels-based organization working with cocoa growers, as The Guardian reported. "They're lands currently run by independent, small-scale farmers – but it's going to become a monopoly with companies given exclusive rights to buy cacao."
The rampant deforestation that has occurred since 1960 to meet the world's demand for chocolate has pushed native animals like chimpanzees and forest elephants to the brink of extinction.
The Guardian reported that a Global Forest Watch report showed that Ivory Coast had the second highest increase in deforestation rates in the world. Unrestricted deforestation means the Cavally Forest will disappear entirely by 2061 and the Goin Debe Forest by 2071, according to a report by Mighty Earth. The Mighty Earth investigation found that Ivorian cocoa has depended on protected areas. Since 2000, cocoa planting claimed half of Mont Péko National Park.
In addition to trampling over the forests, the West African cocoa-industry has a horrible record of human rights' abuses. There are more than 2 million children working on West African cocoa plantations and trafficking and slavery are rampant, according to The Guardian.
Farmers often earn less than one dollar per day while working in oppressive heat. They earn 6 percent of a chocolate bar's sale price compared to 80 percent for the manufacturers and retailer, according to Fern, as The Guardian reported.
Cocoa: why the European Union must act now to eliminate deforestation and child labour from the chocolate we love https://t.co/6Sv9gUprvP— Heather Kingsley (@Heather Kingsley)1543852972.0
If you love chocolate, but don't want to support deforestation or human rights abuses, there is sustainable chocolate in the marketplace. So, before stocking up on Halloween candy, you might want to look at the Green America Chocolate Scorecard, which ranks major chocolate companies on their sustainability practices and human rights efforts in cocoa supply chains.
Spoiler alert courtesy of the trade publication Material, Handling & Logistics: the three lowest graded companies were Godiva (F) and Ferrero and Mondelez (both Ds). They ranked worse than Lindt, Hershey (both C), Mars and Nestle (C+).
Meanwhile, Guittard scored a B+. Alter Eco, Divine, Endangered Species, Equal Exchange, Shaman, Theo Chocolate and Tony's Chocolonely all received As.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.