Karl Marx described capitalism as the means with which to dissociate the people from the land. To Marx, capitalism was, ultimately, a method of “divorcing the consumer from the means of production” (qtd. Mintz 54). This dislocation of consumer from what he is consuming has led, over the centuries, to a type of apathy among consumers; the methods used and the people involved with bringing the buyer everything from fresh foods to trendy, tasteful clothing to cheap trinkets are of no importance to the consumer as long as their own, personal supply chains are not disrupted. Rapid globalization has only made this trend more extreme; now more than ever before, buyers are more physically—and subsequently emotionally—detached from the entire process under which their goods are produced. Large companies and corporations, across industries, have taken advantage of consumer ignorance and indifference by employing systems of production that would be illegal in the countries of their consumers. For the sake of easy profit, these companies and corporations from Nike to Shell are complicit in offenses that range from waterway and air pollution to forced eviction.
The chocolate industry is no exception to this dismal picture. The five largest chocolate corporations—Nestle, Cadbury (owned by Kraft), Hershey, Ferrero, and Mars—are all guilty of criminal activity—from human trafficking to child labor to slavery—in their supply chain. There is, however, a counterculture growing within the chocolate industry that directly opposes the amoral practices of the largest chocolate companies. While the bean-to-bar companies of this countermovement appear to provide a feasible alternative to the problems that lie in the cacao supply chain, this appearance is misleading; these bean-to-bar companies do not exert enough power over the chocolate market to enact real change upon the industry as a whole.
Cadbury, one of the Big Five chocolate companies of the world, is a business that has, for more than one hundred years, profited off of consumer ignorance about its treatment of the laborers within its supply chain. In 1901, William Cadbury, the head of the business at the time, heard that slave labor was used to harvest cacao in Sao Tome and Principe two Portuguese islands off the coast of central Africa. Slavery in the supply chain, to the Quaker, abolitionist corporation was unacceptable. Over the next several years Cadbury funded an expedition to the continent to substantiate these claims. The expedition was undertaken by Joseph Burtt. He left Europe for Africa on June 1, 1905 (Satre 32). Four years had passed since the highest levels of the Cadbury Company became aware of potential slavery in Sao Tome and Principe. Burtt returned to England on April 13, 1907. From the two years that he had spent traveling throughout Angola, Sao Tome, and Principe, he had created a damning report documenting in words and in photographs the practices of forced labor on the islands and in Angola, the sources of the slave labor.
For a year after his return to England, William Cadbury forced Burtt’s report through several series of scrupulous edits as a delay tactic (Higgs 136), but by 1908 the report had become available to the British public. Cadbury contended until its publishing that “the main point of the question is not how the servical [servant in Portuguese] is treated, but whether or no, he is a slave” (Higgs 133). For Cadbury, this was a question of semantics not morals.
A scandal erupted throughout Europe as soon as it became apparent that Cadbury Company was, in fact, aware of the slave labor that was used to grow and harvest the cacao that went into its chocolate. Under pressure from European consumers, Cadbury and other European chocolatiers pulled out of Sao Tome and Principe and began to purchase their cacao from West Africa. It appeared that morality and justice had won the day. However, this was not the case. Cadbury had been planting cacao trees in West Africa since learning of the potential of slave labor on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe some seven years before. Not coincidentally, it takes cacao trees roughly seven years to mature. After removing its business from Sao Tome and Principe, Cadbury was able to immediately move its market to West Africa. It is in the countries to which Cadbury and other European chocolatiers moved after fleeing the Sao Tome and Principe scandal—Nigeria, Ghana, Cote D’Ivorie—that the most egregious claims and the most tangible evidence of child labor, child trafficking, and modern-day slavery are present. The unsavory business practices of Sao Tome and Principe that had wound Cadbury and other European chocolatiers deep in scandal continued to occur; only now, these acts were occurring in in new lands and unbeknownst to the conscious consumer.
Taza Chocolate—taza is Spanish for cup, referring back to the history of chocolate which for most of its past has been consumed out of a cup as a beverage—is an example of a bean-to-bar company that acts to address the labor rights issues that have permeated the supply chains of large chocolate corporations, mostly unbeknownst to consumers, for more than one hundred years. Taza maintains a policy of direct trade which, according to its literature, means that the company trades directly with the farmers and farmer cooperatives that produce their cacao (Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report: September 2013 2). This direct relationship with farmers allows Taza to guarantee that they: “only buy cacao from farmers and farmer cooperatives that ensure fair and humane work practices” and “never purchase cacao from farmers or farmer cooperatives that engage in child or slave labor” (Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report: September 2013 2).
Despite Taza’s guarantees and the morality of its business, simply doing the right thing is not enough to enact lasting, industry-wide change in a market that is flooded with popular products that are tainted with labor abuses. Cadbury’s profits in the United States, according to a 2012 article in the United Kingdom’s The Telegraph, is about $799 million (telegraph.co.uk). Taza’s income is slightly more than one one-thousandth of one percent of Cadbury’s . In 2009, Taza’s earnings were slightly over $1 million (bizjournals.com). Cadbury staffs a small town of people; roughly 5,000 people are employed by the company (theguardian.com) whereas Taza employs a fraction of a fraction of that total: 22 (bizjournals.com). The enormity of the difference between these two companies, one bean-to-bar and the other corporate to its roots, is stark. The disparities between the two highlight the slim fraction of the industry possessed by companies that are willing to prioritize quality and farmer relations over the maximization of profits. It also highlights the enormity of the power that large chocolate manufacturers possess; a near-monopoly over the entire industry. How can change occur in an industry that is controlled by organizations that have made their millions from the maintenance of the status quo? How can companies that employ 22 people hope to make a difference in this industry? The alternatives to the problems that lie within the chocolate industry presented by companies such as Taza chocolate are hallow solutions; industry-wide change cannot be enacted while large corporations have such a strangle hold on the entire market. Companies such as Taza are simply too small to exert much change over the palate of the American chocolate consumer.
While the ability of the small chocolatier to exert large-scale change over the entire chocolate industry is weak, there is hope for change in the chocolate industry, the desire for a shift from profit seeking to moral business is not entirely lost. In a survey of ten undergraduates here at Harvard, I compared people’s willingness to purchase Taza chocolate versus Cadbury chocolate over four different sectors: price, taste, company-farmer relations, and overall.
Procedure: The procedure of the experiment was scripted so that I would give the exact same information to every subject. The two bars of chocolate used in this experiment were: Taza’s The Belize Bar and Cadbury’s Royal Dark Dark Chocolate Bar.
Experiment: There were four phases to the survey. The first phase was to determine the economics of the consumer. The subject was told the price that was paid to purchase both the bars of chocolate that they were going to sample. The Cadbury bar cost $2.37 for a three-and-a-half ounce bar whereas the Taza bar cost $8.99 for a three ounce bar. Then they were asked: based only on price, which bar of chocolate would you be more likely to purchase?
The next phase of the experiment was designed to address the taste of the consumer. The consumer ate a small sample of both chocolate bars and then answered the question: based solely on taste, which chocolate bar would you be more likely to purchase?
Next came the phase of the experiment that was meant to determine the consumer’s empathy. Subjects were read from a script that detailed Taza’s motivations for being in direct trade with farmers and its guarantees for being direct traders: no child labor and no slave labor. Next, subjects were read a script about Cadbury and its signing of the Harken-Engel Protocol and its lack of evidence regarding any efforts to stop the labor abuses that are occurring in its supply chain. Then the subjects were asked: based solely on the information that you have just heard: which bar of chocolate would you be more likely to consume?
The final phase of the experiment was to determine the overall buying tendency of the subject. The subject was asked: overall, which bar of chocolate would you be more willing to purchase.
Results: The results of each phase of the experiment are documented in the four pie charts below.
A slim majority of the subjects, after learning of Cadbury’s complicity in child labor and slave labor were willing to pay the extra money to purchase a Taza bar rather than a Cadbury bar.
Interpretation: These results may not be as optimistic as they sound, however. All the subjects that I surveyed were Harvard students. Harvard undergraduates are not necessarily representative of the entire United States. Firstly, the ages of everyone I sample range from 18 to 20 years of age; this is hardly representative of the broader United States population. Harvard students also may feel a greater desire to be socially involved and active in social issues than the rest of the United States. This can been seen through the fact that the majority of my participants stated that they would purchase Taza Chocolate overall, but that the consummation of chocolate in the United States shows that the vast majority of chocolate consumers will, overall, purchase Cadbury Chocolate. But, what can be said of the results of my survey is that the majority of those sampled were swayed by their knowledge of Cadbury’s inaction to preventing child labor and slavery in its cacao supply chain. In other words: change, albeit small, is possible.
In order for change to occur within the chocolate industry of the United States, consumers must be educated about large chocolate corporations’ treatment of those who labor in their cacao supply chain. Taza’s Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report, is a good example of a company being upfront and educating its customers about the benefit of its product. However, educating a consumer base that is content with purchasing cheap chocolate will require more than simply an annual report. But, where should this desire to educate come from? Should it come from the small chocolatiers or from advocacy groups or the media or from the consumers in the form of a desire to learn? Surely, the large corporations want nothing more than to put a blanket over this whole issue; change cannot originate with them. The government is not the solution to this problem either. Government is not impervious to money: what funds the campaigns of politicians? Big chocolate companies have so much money, spending millions of dollars to fight for deregulation and a lack of administrative involvement in the darker side of their industry would be an easy sacrifice to make.
Small chocolatiers do not have the clout to change an industry of corporations, the government would not be willing to take on such a powerful opponent, and the corporations that control the business of making chocolate would never have the desire to enact any real change upon a system that is making them so wealthy. The answer is that only the consumer can change the chocolate industry. The deep pocket of the collective consumer is what will allow for change to come to the industry. Only the consumer is powerful enough to make large chocolate corporations make any attempt to change the status quo. The consumer, himself, must also be willing to change the status quo. Marx’s statement that capitalism’s purpose has been the removal of the consumer from the producer is not inaccurate. The consumer must overcome the apathy of separation that lies between them and those who labor in the cacao supply chain of the largest chocolate companies. The overcoming of apathy occurs through education. Which brings us full circle: where should this desire to educate come from? Should it come from the small chocolatiers or advocacy groups or the media or from the consumers in the form of a desire to learn? The answer to this question is a combination of the two. Small chocolatiers must promote their products as viable alternatives to the chocolate of large corporations, advocacy groups and the media must promote and raise awareness for the issues that are involved with complicity in the chocolate industry. And, finally, consumers themselves must be receptive to these voices. Then, and only then will change within the chocolate industry truly occur.
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