The chocolate industry has received significant criticism in the past decades for unsustainable practices stemming from questionable labor practices, use of low quality ingredients, poor production standards and problematic advertisements trends. These troubled elements combined have been brought to light by professionals analyzing the human, environmental, economic and social impact of chocolate on communities across the world. Indeed, most of the problems highlighted within the industry are still rampant today. Very few companies can pride themselves for having sustainable practices from a bean-to-bar perspective. Alter Eco, based out of California, France and Australia, prides itself in providing its clients with “healthy, sustainable and socially responsible foods” (Alter Eco, 2015). Through its high standards for quality and social responsibility, Alter Eco is a powerful response to the problems highlighted with today’s chocolate industry and attempts to mitigate the problems rampant within the multi-billion-dollar industry of cacao.
Alter Eco Foods provides its clients with a multitude of products ranging from chocolate bars, truffles, quinoa, and rice. Mathieu Senard, the co-founder and CEO of Alter Eco, states: [The company] started with chocolate, and then [evolved to] grains such as quinoa and rice. Our goal is to buy directly from cooperatives and, more importantly, pay a fair price” (Kaye, 2017). Alter Eco’s mission remains the same through its line of products. The company prides itself in its concept of “full circle sustainability” for all the products in its line. Full circle sustainability, in its most basic form, presents solutions to most of the problems highlighted by specialists in the chocolate industry. Most of the problematic companies view sales and production as a two-way street between the client and the business. Alter Eco views its everyday business practices from a different perspective by adding the environmental impact of production in their equation. With its globalized market, Alter Eco Foods is showing its competitors that sustainable practices in the labor, ingredients, production and marketing spheres is both attractive and delicious to consumers across the world.
The issue of child labor is an epidemic in Cacao plantations across the globe, and even more dominantly in Cote D’Ivoire. Chanthavong, in his analysis of child labor in chocolate production, writes: “Slave traders are trafficking boys ranging from the age of 12 to 16 from their home countries and are selling them to cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire. They work on small farms across the country, harvesting the cocoa beans day and night, under inhumane conditions.” The problem of child labor, regardless of the production goals, is an incredibly sensitive issue that many governmental and non-governmental organizations are attempting to handle. In its efforts to limit the spread of child labor in Cote D’Ivoire and across the glove, Alter Eco sources its cacao beans from South American farmer-owned plantations, more specifically Peru and Ecuador. Furthermore, the company sources its Cacao butter from Dominican Republic, cutting any sort of possibility for economically- or socially-encouraging abusive labor practices. The company undoubtedly prides itself in its “single origin, highest quality cacao beans.” Alter Eco’s sustainable labor standards go much further than avoiding cacao originating from questionable sources with risk of child labor involvement. The company aims to rectify the issue of unsustainable labor practices through fair trade relationships, development programs, and women empowerment programs. Fair trade relationships are at the forefront of the sustainable labor practices push forth by the company’s values. Professor Martin from Harvard University writes: “Landlessness remains a serious problem among the descendants of enslaved people throughout the cocoa producing world today.” To further remedy these rampant issues, Alter Eco prides itself in sourcing all of its products from small-scale, farmer-owned cooperatives. Alter Eco is partners with the Institute of Marketecology (IMO), Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FTLO). This list of high-level certifications provides clients with the certainty that the labor practices for producers are socially acceptable and sustainable and that the values of the company for providing producers with good living and working conditions are followed.
Alter Eco’s efforts to offer a socially- and ethically-acceptable product do not stop at the location and origin of its labor force. The company put in place a variety of development programs in order to increase the likelihood of sustainability of its producers and workers. Its Fair Trade Premiums, which allocate money throughout the supply chain, have allowed Alter Eco’s sugar cooperative, Alter Trade, to build a training center for their employees in the Philippines, simultaneously serving as an assistance center for families to visit. Furthermore, in its full-circle attempt to provide all workers with social and economic support, Alter Eco addresses an underlying issue in today’s farming practices in its development of leadership and empowerment programs for women. Women within the farming industry are often viewed as second-class individuals due to the utterly and outrageously outdated assumption that they will not be as useful as men on the land. Alter Eco writes: “Gender equality is an important aspect of the Alter Eco business model, all the way down to the field.” Through such a stance, Alter Eco attempts to remedy the gender disparity and inequality within the farming industry through maintaining that “women will assert their due role and space in both the management of the homestead farming economy and in the governance of [the land]” (AlterEco.com).
The issue of unsustainable environmental practices within the chocolate industry is one Alter Eco addresses with strength. Indeed, as stated earlier, Alter Eco prides itself in adding the environment in its equation for sustainable production practices, which is something very few businesses work towards. Professor Martin from Harvard University, in her presentation entitled “Psychology, Terroir, and Taste,” states that Terroir and Harvesting practices can strongly affect, both positively and negatively, cacao quality and quantity. Furthermore, “the use of pesticides on the farms can lead to the destruction of part of the soil flora and fauna through both physical and chemical deterioration” (Ntiamoah, 2008). Alter Eco prides itself in assuring that all of its cooperative farms maintain their fields within American and European standards for organic certification. Such a certification makes sure the consumers are aware of what they are getting: a product “free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and [that] must not [have been] processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering” (Henry, 2012). Such sustainable ecological and organic practices put forth Alter Eco’s values in promoting a product that is good for farmers, earth, and consumers. Alter Eco’s efforts in promoting sustainable environmental practices do not end at the farm or on the plantation. Although the company goes to great lengths to maintain its organic certification, it even goes steps further in pushing forward its values of sustainability. Through its commitment to becoming a carbon-negative business, Alter Eco has already received its Carbon-neutral certification, which confirms the company offsets the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) as it produces. “Alter Eco works closely with PUR Project and [its] farmers to plant trees for the amount of CO2 [produced]” (Alter Eco, 2017). Furthermore, in its efforts to become a carbon negative business, Alter Eco started its emission subdivision called PUR Project. “Contrary to offsetting, which consists in handling carbon compensation in other places by uncorrelated people and means, the insetting includes the handling of carbon compensation into the commercial dynamics of the company” (PUR Project, 2017). In other words, Alter Eco’s insetting efforts are rooted deeply in the idea that you must give back to the soil and air from which you took. In having an impact within its supply line, Alter Eco can assure that its efforts are not in vain, and that, although it plans to plant an additional 7,776 trees in 2017, the 28,639 trees (Alter Eco, 2017) already planted since 2008 are truly being put to good use to reinvigorate the soil from which so much is produced.
Alter Eco’s efforts to make their products more environmentally-friendly do not stop at their carbon-neutral status. They indeed go even further to make their products truly “full circle sustainable.” The packaging in which their chocolate and truffles are placed are fully compostable. Plastic and the conventional polyethylene packaging are quite detrimental to the environment due to the astronomical quantity of plastic sent to landfills or that finishes its life course in the oceans. The packaging developed by Alter Eco provides an eco-friendly alternative to the original plastic packaging found for most chocolate bars. This new packaging is made from compostable materials, GMO free, and without any toxic ink. Mathieu Senard adds: ““We believe the impact of our packaging is just as important as the product itself. How could we call ourselves a responsible, sustainable company when much of our packaging was going to landfills to live for hundreds of years?” (Alter Eco, 2015). This question raised by Senard is one answered by very few companies, which makes Alter Eco that much more efficient in its goal of changing the dynamics of chocolate production across the globe. To top off its environmental goals, Alter Eco has partnered with the 1% For the Planet Fund, which gives 1% of the company’s sales to a non-profit with environmental improvement goals.
Plastic packaging is an increasingly problematic issues in the world.
Alter Eco’s new packaging does not use plastic.
Businessman David Ogilvy was once quoted for saying: “The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.” Advertisements and marketing are truly at the forefront of the chocolate industry’s sales. Whether it is for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, or Halloween, chocolate advertisements are all over television networks, the internet, and social media. Nonetheless, there are many problems and complaints associated with today’s chocolate industry and its marketing techniques. During her lecture at Harvard University about “Race, Ethnicity and Gender” in today’s chocolate industry, Professor Carla Martin elaborated on today’s chocolate marketing techniques and its associated prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. Most of this discrimination comes in the form of racism or sexism. Women are portrayed as irrational in the presence of chocolate while men are portrayed as sexualized bodies. Simultaneously, race is also being portrayed in stereotypical and offensive ways. Alter Eco attempts to go against all these rampant problems with marketing for chocolate. The company presents its potential buyers with an honest, informative advertising. Fagerhaug (Honest Marketing, 1997) writes: “The main point about honest marketing is to run the business in such a way that a customer at any time can feel the certainty any customer longs for; that he or she made the right choice.” When a customer purchases a product from Alter Eco, there is a directly associated certainty in the quality and honesty of the product received.
In conclusion, Alter Eco attempts to provide its clients around the world with a sustainable chocolate product that tackles most, if not all the problems associated with today’s chocolate market. Through its fair labor practices, honest ingredients, conscientious production techniques and reliable advertisements, Alter Eco gives its customers exactly what they can expect. If more companies put as much care and attention in their products as Alter Eco does, the world would be a much better place. Alter Eco is undoubtedly part of the solution to the problems in the world’s chocolate and cacao industries.
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