C for Effort: Divine Chocolate’s “Rebranding” of Women Cacao Farmers

While it is no secret that historical and contemporary advertisements represent the world through sexist, racist, and classist lenses, depictions of cacao farmers in advertising and other forms of media are frequently problematic and deserve more attention. A widely publicized video created by the group Metropolis with the political agenda of drawing attention to Ivory Coast cacao farmers’ living conditions came under scrutiny for its imperialist, essentializing representation of cacao farmers. There is no denying that cacao farmers live in extreme poverty, but Metropolis staff crafted this video to depict cacao farmers as ignorant of the world around them, which is simply offensive and does these farmers a great disservice under the guise of “activism, partially inspiring a terrific response video from the ONE Campaign (Lockwood). Given this background, one would expect that an advertisement intended to portray Ghanaian women cacao farmers as worldly consumers of chocolate would be a step forward; however, I argue that although Divine Chocolate’s advertisement does some good in portraying a cacao farmer as an elite consumer, the company fundamentally misses the point in constructing this woman’s image through a problematic Western lens and without consulting her in how she would like to appear.

“Equality Treat” portrays cacao farmer Beatrice Mambi as an attractive consumer with the means to purchase chocolate and other luxury goods, but the advertisement does not successfully transcend fundamental problems of the Western gaze.
“Equality Treat” portrays cacao farmer Beatrice Mambi as an attractive consumer with the means to purchase chocolate and other luxury goods, but the advertisement does not successfully transcend fundamental problems of the Western gaze.

Although at first glance “Equality Treat” appears to depict Beatrice Mambi as an independent, powerful consumer of chocolate, more careful analysis reveals a problematic reliance on her feminine body and her exotic location to sell Divine Chocolate, as well as an erasure of her identity as a farmer.1 The ad pictures Mambi dressed in elegant clothing and delicate jewelry in front of a blurry image of cacao trees and fermenting cacao beans and holding a small piece of chocolate. The text identifies her name, her location (Ghana), and that she is a co-owner of Divine Chocolate as a cooperative member. Leissle, who argues that these ads “promote Africa’s roles in industrial production and luxury consumption” in a constructive manner (121), rightly praises the ad for beginning to move beyond the pre-industrial and/or tribal depictions of African women workers commonly seen in the West (126). Leissle goes as far as to conclude that this ad series shows “women farmers as potent actors in transnational exchanges of raw materials and luxury goods” (122). It is indeed a great improvement to have a representation of a cacao farmer as someone who can enjoy the final processed fruits of her own labor; however, Mambi’s presentation in the ad leaves much to be desired. Her seductive gaze, exposed skin, and the visual emphasis on her hip only support the tired adage that sex sells. Leissle’s article makes it clear that the cacao farmers were not involved at all in the conception of the ad (124-125). Furthermore, the lack of details of cacao production (the image is hazy and many Westerners would not recognize the fermenting cacao in the background or the cacao trees) coupled with the absence of obvious farming technology renders this cacao farm in the exotic “Africa” as defined by the ad’s Western audience. It also works to erase Mambi’s identity as a cacao farmer—the word “farmer” is mentioned nowhere in the ad—which defeats Divine Chocolate’s attempt to subvert the existing gap between cacao producers and chocolate consumers.

Despite lacking in anything resembling aesthetic value, this response attempts to present cacao farmer Fatima Ali explicitly as both producer and consumer, respecting her agency as an active participant in the Divine Chocolate enterprise.
Despite lacking anything resembling aesthetic value, this response attempts to present cacao farmer Fatima Ali explicitly as both producer and consumer, respecting her agency as an active participant in the Divine Chocolate enterprise.

Constructing Ghanaian cacao farmers as consumers of chocolate, although powerful in response to typical essentialist representations of farmers, is not completely groundbreaking. Indeed, in her insightful analysis of women’s relationships to chocolate in the Rowntree chocolate company, Robertson states, “whilst men may be the bearers of chocolate, women are positioned as consumers early in the narratives” (68). Robertson is speaking here primarily about white European women in this quote, and so positioning Ghanaian women in a role that is typically feminized in the West is unlikely to code as powerful without the addition of a destabilizing element. This response advertisement attempts to retain Divine Chocolate’s positive first step in presenting cacao farmers as chocolate consumers, while simultaneously reaching beyond the limitations of the Western gaze.2 If rendered with more artistic ability, this ad would show Fatima Ali in full body (not just as a headshot), holding a machete used to harvest cacao pods in one hand and a sizable piece of chocolate in the other, the masculine machete subverting the feminized trope of women eating chocolate. She stands in what is obviously a cacao forest, which in conjunction with the machete positions her identity as a cacao farmer as noted in the identifying text. An additional luxury good (several possibilities are shown) codes Ali as a successful consumer to Westerners for whom chocolate is a commonplace item. Finally, the suggested quote combined with the text highlighting Ali’s accomplishments is intended to retain her agency within the broader scheme of the cacao supply chain.

Divine Chocolate made a good first effort in bridging the divide between producers and consumers of chocolate in the contemporary industry, but their final product is insufficient. Why not depict a collegial group of women farmers from Kuapa Kokoo, dressed as producers, consumers, and everything in between? Why not produce a series of advertisements with individual women in strong, powerful poses, each citing her reason for participating in the cooperative? Best of all, why not simply ask the members of Kuapa Kokoo how they want to represent themselves and the brand they co-own to the public? If Divine Chocolate truly wants to put its values into action, equal collaboration and partnership with these Ghanaian women cacao farmers is a better way to positive and accurate representations of women farmers in advertising campaigns.

Notes

  1. This advertisement is part of a larger series of five different advertisements, each featuring a Ghanaian women cacao farmer, published in print media in Britain by Divine Chocolate in early 2005 (Leissle 121).
  2. It is important to note that I, as a white Westerner with no direct experience of cacao farming or cacao farmers, have my own limitations in creating this response advertisement. I will attempt to address these issues in my concluding thoughts.

Works Cited

aaas119e58. “Response Advertisement.” 6 Apr. 2015.

Divine Chocolate. “Equality Treat Advertisement.” Source: Martin, Carla D. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Apr. 2015. Class Lecture.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies. 24.2 (2012): 121-139. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Lockwood, Sarah. “Exploiters or Exploited? Cocoa Production in West Africa.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 25 Mar. 2015. Class Lecture.

Metropolis. “Mini Metropolis: Cacao farmers in Ivory Coast.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 15 Apr. 2014. [Posted earlier on other websites.] Web. 8 Apr. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woAG4tp90Dc

ONE Campaign. “Cocoa na Chocolate.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 3 Apr. 2014. Web. 1 Apr. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrEX4jpVtzQ

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire. Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s