Perusing Businessweek some months ago, the ad before you caught my eye as disarming and warm. Unlike typical advertisements with themes of domination and competition in this periodical and others like it, this ad featured a subject close to many people’s hearts: chocolate. The ad was playful, with a CEO, tie loosened, a drink (ambiguously white) and a grin, seated next to a large chocolate bear encased in gold foil. The spectacle is in an elegant floor of a high rise, oak and gold paneling framing the complacent evening city below. The theme is Lindt & Sprüngli, through collaboration with Credit Suisse, have achieved yet another year of growth! Both Swiss companies, come off as shinny and gleaming as the thin golden foil wrapping the bear.
A more thoughtful view, framed primarily by the lessons from our course, sees a message quite different than the one intended by the advertisers. Cute chocolate gold bears, happy CEOs and proud banks do not simply materialize out of thin air. The smiles, drinks and the gold and oak paneling are at the pinnacle of a business that as we learned, causes enormous misery and hardship for millions.
Most of the cacao that feeds the world’s appetite comes from a region where there is poverty, limited employment possibilities, cultural rationalization of unappetizing life choices, and overwhelming macro economic structures which shove West Africa to the bottom of the global pile – these factors are the primary causes of child labor in the chocolate industry.[i] None of this is depicted in the Lindt and Credit Suisse ad. There is some validity to this, as Lindt claims it does not source cacao from the Ivory Coast[ii], where child labor is endemic in cacao production. However, in a Tulane study from 2008, figures indicate that child labor in cacao production is even more prevalent in Ghana (a source for Lindt) than in the Ivory Coast[iii]. Another study from Tulane for more up to date figures is ongoing[iv]. Several organizations and individuals who have studied this issue further have attempted to compile lists of chocolate companies that are 100% child labor free.[v][vi]None of the big manufacturers appear.
In response to the opaqueness of the situation on the chocolate industry’s dependence on child labor, I present an alternative ad, a parody and satire of chocolate ads, that uses some features of the first ad, namely their declaration of another year of earnings growth and also a few minor aesthetic qualities. It seeks to criticize the use of, and gain from child labor in the chocolate industry as a whole.
The alternative ad uses an image of a child laborer in West Africa, shot by photographer Henrik Ipsen. It was the cover for the film The Dark Side of Chocolate. Besides the barefoot child lugging the sack of cacao pods (each cacao pod weighs almost a pound[vii]), the most prominent figures are the bunnies, each with a fierce growl. They are a dark parody of the numerous invented characters marketers use to pitch chocolate. But our bunnies are different. The one on the far right sports a loosened tie, in flattering imitation of the executive in the first ad. This bunny is a chocolate executive, in a more typical posture of a manager demanding more productivity! More efficiency! Higher earnings! He too, wants to beat analysts’ earnings expectations!
The bunny on the bottom left represents the manager in another guise: enforcing speedup. He is flashing a stopwatch to the child, urging him to work faster, work more, haul more cacao! Speedup is a technique that reduces the workforce, but not the work, meaning the workers remaining have more work on their hands.[viii] Since the kid is all alone, we may easily imagine him doing the task of several men. Above the rabbit on the right is an assault rifle. That represents the physically coercive nature of child labor. Others argue that workers in developed states are duped into slavery through mental coercion[ix], Africans more skeptical must be forced to work using the knife and the gun. On the left side above the managerial rabbit is a financial calculator. It has useful buttons for cash flow, amortization, and especially compounding interest (“the most powerful force in the universe”, says Einstein[x]). But somehow, the button on morality is not featured on this year’s model.
Other images depict the material rewards that the laborer will help bring to the managers and stockholders of the cacao industry, a heteronormative male fantasy: a soaring executive jet with plush seats and phenomenal views to whisk an executive to a vital meeting or a majority shareholder to a getaway. Below the child’s sack, sits a swift and glossy Italian supercar to ride through glitzy boulevards in triumph! Around the necks of many rabbits hang heavy jewelry, fatuous, but expensive nonetheless; the rabbits announcing to the world that they have ‘it’. Behind, a rabbit in black tie, (in respite from his arduous tasks ensuring the constant flow of money to the relevant hands), escorts a harem of female rabbits. Any objections to the gender double standards are silenced by his seven-figure cash compensation and a generous stock option package. Above all is a stock ticker, seemingly telling the world how hard the rabbits worked this year. How much of that was due to the kid’s efforts we do not know. Only he does.
[i] AAAS119E Lecture 3/25/15, Slide 13.
[ii] Letter from Lindt & Sprüngli to Juliet Bennet: http://www.julietbennett.com/2009/09/11/chocolate1/#.VSgWn_l4rYg
[iii] AAAS119E Lecture 3/25/15, Slide 16.
[iv] Survey Research on Child Labor in West Africa’s Cocoa Growing Areas:
[v] Stop Chocolate Slavery: http://vision.ucsd.edu/~kbranson/stopchocolateslavery/goodchocolateproducts.html
[viii] All Work and No Pay: The Great Speedup: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/speed-up-american-workers-long-hours
[x] Quotes on Finance: http://www.quotesonfinance.com/quote/79/Albert-Einstein-Compound-interest