Chocolate Ads and the Opacity of the Chocolate Supply Chain

Most chocolate advertisements today focus so much on consumers and sales that they ignore the important social issues that complicate chocolate production.  One such neglected issue, is the opacity and inequality of the chocolate supply chain which enables child labor and exploitation.  Since large chocolate companies have the power, means, and platform to make an impact, they could, and arguably should, be using some of their advertisements to advocate for transparency in the chocolate supply chain.  In doing this, they would be able to raise awareness of this important issue.  In addition, chocolate companies should also commit more money to solving this problem.  These strategies will not only reveal and fix discrepancies in the chocolate supply chain, but will also encourage the general public to be more ethical consumers.

One promotion that could have been used to make such a statement was the wildly popular “Cadbury Eyebrows” commercial that aired in 2009 (Figure 1 below).

In the commercial, viewers witness two young children in nice clothing about to take a school photo.  Then suddenly, the boy plays a tune, and the children start eyebrow dancing.  The video reveals children letting loose and enjoying the moment.  A probable intention of this advertisement is to show that chocolate brings people joy and to encourage children to ask for chocolate.  Although this commercial was well received by the public and makes people laugh, when looked at critically, the ad is irrelevant to chocolate, is overly fixated on consumer entertainment, and demonstrates the opaqueness of the chocolate supply chain.

The fact that the ad isn’t even about chocolate and spends a whole minute entertaining consumers is somewhat troubling.  It implies that chocolate companies may be only focusing their attention on the consumer part of the supply chain rather than making sure there is equality and transparency in the entire chocolate supply chain.  As a matter of fact, studies have shown that there are worrisome issues within the supply chain, but the opacity of the chain makes many consumers and even chocolate companies unaware that these problems exist.  One example is the exploitation of children in the initial stages of chocolate production.  In a 2009 Tulane University study, it was revealed that over 500,000 children working on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana “worked in breach of the ILO guidelines and national laws on minimum age and hours” (Ryan, 49).  Furthermore, many of these children were exposed to dangerous conditions and over half reported having an injury (Ryan, 49).  This study reveals that child labor is rampant on cocoa plantations, and most consumers are unaware of it due to the obscurity of the supply chain.

It is important to note that Cadbury has addressed the issues of opacity and exploitative labor in the past and was somewhat successful (Satre, 13-32).  Continuing this mission would make the company look responsible and help them attract socially conscious consumers.  Furthermore, if Cadbury took a public position on these matters, it would enlighten consumers simply because “most people who eat chocolate don’t know where it comes from” (Off, 8).  As a profitable company, Cadbury could also invest money to improve the equality and clarity of the chocolate supply chain.  In general, all large chocolate companies should fund causes that would positively affect the supply chain because “the amounts of money [that could eradicate issues in the supply chain] are not large in comparison to the worldwide profits they make” (Ryan, 44).

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Figure 2. “Response” Ad

In response to the “Cadbury Eyebrows” commercial, another advertisement was created to demonstrate how chocolate advertising can be used to make a powerful statement, reveal that opaqueness in the supply chain exists, and highlight that “there is a vast gulf between the [people] who eat chocolate and those who work their whole lives to produce it” (Off, 8) (Figure 2 above).  In the “response” ad, two girls delighting in their Easter basket filled with chocolate confections are contrasted with an African child carrying a basket of cacao pods.  The distinction seems clear: the girls are happy and anticipating the wonderful taste of chocolate while the African child seems malnourished and unhappy. When looking at the ad from left to right, a viewer would at first feel good, but then upon seeing the boy would reflect on the true costs of chocolate.  Therefore, this ad’s intention is to reveal that while chocolate is a tasty treat and it is not necessarily wrong to consume it, there are social issues that need to be addressed.  The ad also encourages people to question and reject companies that utilize harmful child labor because “child labor is not so sweet”.

Another interesting aspect of this “response” ad is that the photo of the African child may not be truly reflective of the supply chain and child labor.  As an image from Google search, the photo of the African child could very well be a boy gathering some cocoa fruit on the family farm instead of an exploited child laborer.  Therefore, in the context of the ad, this photo can not only be used to expose the inequality between consumers and producers, but also highlights the point that there is little transparency in the supply chain by the fact that we don’t really know how to identify child labor.

Overall, the “Cadbury Eyebrows” commercial falls within the larger trend of advertising in which companies focus too much on consumers and overlook the opaqueness and inequalities of the chocolate supply chain.  The “response” ad is meant to serve as an example of what an impactful ad could look like and further reveals that there is a lack of transparency in the chocolate supply chain.  The “response” ad rebels against advertising trends, raises awareness, promotes equality between consumers and producers, and encourages action.  If more chocolate advertisements emulated the “response” ad and chocolate companies used their influence and money to highlight some of the exploitative practices in chocolate production, hidden inequities in the supply chain such as child labor could gradually be reduced (Ryan, 61).

If you are interested in seeing another ad that makes a statement similar to that of the “response” ad” see Figure 3 at this link: http://www.treadkindly.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/free-trade.jpg

Works Cited:

Off, Carol. Bitter chocolate: Investigating the dark side of the world’s most seductive sweet. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2006. 2-8.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate nations: Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa. Zed books, 2011. 44-61.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on trial: Slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Ohio University Press, 2005. 13-32.

Figures Cited:

Figure 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVblWq3tDwY (Accessed April 6, 2015)

Figure 2. (left) https://smartypots.wordpress.com/tag/science-laboratory/ (Accessed April 6, 2015) (right) http://thefrogblog.org.uk/2010/06/12/eradicating-child-labour-how-rainforest-alliance-certification-can-help/ (Accessed April 6, 2015)

Figure 3. http://www.treadkindly.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/free-trade.jpg (Accessed April 9, 2015)

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