Direct Trade & Ethically Sourced Chocolate

When biting into a Snickers chocolate bar, we typically do not think about the things that went into the making of the tasty treat, but when we consider the production process, the Snickers bar may not seem so delectable after all. Many big name chocolate companies are not very open about the sourcing of their products, leaving room for unfair labor practices. Today, there are a growing number of promising movements towards ethically sourced products including Fair Trade USA and Direct Trade. While Fair Trade USA has made an effort to make labor practices more fair for a number of products such as cacao, the Direct Trade movement is much more promising. Direct Trade definitely has the potential to impact chocolate makers and cacao farmers by moving towards ethically sourced chocolate, but the success of the movement lies in the transparency of each individual chocolate maker’s supply chain and the chocolate maker’s ability to maintain the high quality standard that has made the system popular today.

Movements such as Fair Trade USA are taking positive steps towards truly ethically sourced products, but not all certification systems maintain the high standards they initially set.  The video above highlights the idea that certifications like that of Fair Trade USA tend to make products more attractive than others by appealing to a consumer’s desire to feel they are doing some sort of good with their everyday purchases (Martin). This “feel good” advertising strategy convinces some consumers to flock to the sections of their grocery stores selling products with the Fair Trade USA logo, but many of these consumers are unaware of the impact their purchases are actually making. Fair Trade USA promises that “the money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives”  (Fair Trade USA). While this goal is promising, a closer look at Fair Trade USA’s standards reveals that this certification is not enough to directly impact cacao farmers (Martin). That is, there is no guarantee that money from the purchase goes directly to farmers’ pockets. In fact, farmers must shoulder the high fees and other sub-charges that come with Fair Trade USA certification (Martin). This furthers the idea that very little money makes its way into farmers’ pockets if any at all. In addition, Fair Trade USA promises a fair minimum price for cocoa, but in reality it “barely differs from the current world market price” (Leissle). Further, Fair Trade USA commits to certifying “quality products,” but the system “does not require specific quality levels for certification” (Taza Chocolate). This creates no incentive for farmers to work towards producing quality cacao. Thus, the quality of Fair Trade USA certified cacao beans varies, and there is no room for farmers producing quality cacao to negotiate a higher price for their beans. Ultimately, Fair Trade USA’s commitments are misleading, and “lack of evidence of impact” makes their certification less appealing to informed consumers seeking ethically sourced products (Martin).

Meanwhile, Direct Trade moves beyond Fair Trade USA’s standards to create a clearer connection between cacao farmers and chocolate makers. The real hope is that Direct Trade can be the system that “make[s] for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation” (Shute).Direct Trade has the potential to do so by eliminating the “middleman,” allowing chocolate makers to directly interact and negotiate with cacao farmers (Martin). This process makes it possible for chocolate makers to find the quality cacao beans they need, and it makes it possible to compensate farmers at a “premium price they should earn for the high quality cacao they produce” (Taza Chocolate). This system benefits both chocolate makers and cacao farmers as chocolate makers can seek farms that produce cacao beans with specific desired flavors and cacao farmers can negotiate for better prices for their beans. Direct Trade eliminates the fees that come with Fair Trade USA certification, and due to the direct interaction between farmers and chocolate makers, individual farms are not obligated to join a cooperative (Martin). These details highlight solutions the Direct Trade model has made to some of Fair Trade’s inconsistencies, making Direct Trade more appealing to those seeking ethically sourced products. The video above points out some differences between Fair Trade and Direct Trade, but it ignores key aspects about the two systems detailed in the paragraphs above. According to this video, Fair Trade and Direct Trade make similar impacts on farmers, supporting a false assumption some uninformed consumers may make. This shows just how important it is for consumers to dig a little deeper to find all the facts about these two movements. It also shows the need for Direct Trade advocates to make more information about Fair Trade and Direct Trade available to consumers.

Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Infographic <<>&gt;

A pioneer in this movement is Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate’s efforts to be as transparent as possible include “Taza Cacao Sourcing Transparency Reports” and a number of web pages detailing the methodology behind Direct Trade (Taza Chocolate). The infographic to the right shows an overview of Taza’s cacao sourcing process. Taza Chocolate’s website ( also contains a page detailing the differences between Fair Trade and Direct Trade, and they make sure to support their choice to source their cacao beans via direct trade. These pages not only serve to inform consumers about Taza’s own products, but they also serve to inform consumers about the benefits of purchasing other Direct Trade products. The company is aware that “direct trade standards vary between producers,” so they created a chart listing their “Five Direct Trade Principles” in order to clarify Taza’s standards for Direct Trade (Martin; Taza Chocolate). Taza commits to “work[ing] exclusively with USDA Certified Organic cacao farms that practice sustainable agriculture,” to “pay a premium of at least 500 US dollars per metric ton above the NY International Commodities exchange price on the date of invoice directly to cacao farmers,” to “physically visit each cacao farmer or cacao farmer cooperative at least once a year to build long-term, sustainable relationships,” to “only buy cacao from farmers and farmer cooperatives that ensure fair and humane work,” and finally to “never purchase cacao from farmers of farmer cooperatives that engage in child or slave labor” (Taza Chocolate). Taza’s commitment to transparency is clear. Their standards for Direct Trade maintain their desire to produce a quality chocolate product from quality cacao beans, and they ensure that their exchange and interactions with cacao farmers are fair in terms of pay and working conditions for farmers. Taza goes a step further in terms of transparency by using third parties to certify three main claims (Taza Chocolate). According to Taza, Quality Certification Services and a USDA-accredited organic certifier verify annually that Taza maintains“direct relationships with cacao producers,”  pays their set “premium price” to cacao producers, and continues to “purchase high quality cacao beans” (Taza Chocolate). Taza’s sourcing transparency is a model for all companies looking to source their products via direct trade, but Taza’s transparency also brings forth some concerns about inconsistencies in Direct Trade standards amongst other producers claiming to source their products via Direct Trade.

The Direct Trade model does eliminate most of the issues buyers have with the Fair Trade USA certification system, but there is room for inconsistency due to the lack of set standards for Direct Trade. Buyers who directly source from farmers can have different standards when it comes to what a premium price is, what quality cacao is, and what the expectations are in terms of purchasing cacao from farms with fair working conditions (Martin). Some chocolate makers such as Dandelion Chocolate seem to be following in the footsteps of Taza Chocolate in terms of the transparency of their cacao sourcing process. Dandelion Chocolate released a “2014 Sourcing Report” (found here: <<>&gt;) detailing the origins of the beans they used to make their chocolate bars (Our Beans). A page from the sourcing report is shown below, and it shows just how detailed Dandelion Chocolate chose to be about the farms from which they purchased their cacao beans. In the reports they include details about the country in which the cacao was grown, the specific fermentation process, and the specific drying process used by the farmers (Gore). This is important to both the consumer and Dandelion Chocolate as they emphasize their desire to highlight the flavor of their beans in each chocolate bar they make (Our Beans). In the sourcing report they also included details on prices per metric ton paid for the different types of beans and some notes on the labor practices on the farms (Gore). While Dandelion does provide a vast array of details regarding their sources, their claims are more vague and they are not clearly listed as commitments the company promises to keep. Taza’s standards may not necessarily be the only fair standards, but a clear statement of the company’s standards and proof of verification add value to the Direct Trade claim. Dandelion Chocolate’s transparency and detail with regard to their cacao sourcing process is still far greater than that of many chocolate makers. For example, while Undone Chocolate claims that their bars are “made with ingredients full of integrity,” there is not much information in terms of their cacao sourcing provided on the company’s website (Bean to Bar). The website does mention that their beans are “sourced from small producers” and that they pay $500 over market price per ton of cacao, but the lack of detail about the source of their beans leaves unanswered questions (Bean to Bar).While Undone Chocolate may be maintaining standards similar to those of Taza Chocolate and Dandelion Chocolate, the lack of transparency does not allow us to assume that these standards are met.

A page from Dandelion Chocolate’s 2014 Sourcing Report <<>&gt;

Ultimately, the success of Direct Trade in the chocolate industry depends on the level of transparency chocolate makers choose to use. More transparency with regards to cacao sourcing and a verification of this process keeps individual chocolate makers accountable for the standards they set for themselves. This transparency allows Direct Trade certification to maintain its value in the eyes of consumers and avoid losing credibility much like the Fair Trade USA certification already has. Direct Trade truly has the potential to make the chocolate industry one that is ethically sourced, and companies like Taza and Dandelion Chocolate are already leading the way.

Works Cited

“Bean to Bar.” Undone Chocolate. Undone Chocolate, 2014. Web. 03 May 2015.

Fair Trade Certified. “Buy Fair. Be Fair.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 27 September 2013. Web. 03 May 2015.

Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA, 2015. Web. 03 May 2015.

Gore, Molly. “Dandelion Chocolate 2014 Sourcing Report.” 2014. Dandelion Chocolate. Digital File. 03 May 2015.

Gore, Molly. “Dandelion Chocolate 2014 Sourcing Chart.” 2014. Dandelion Chocolate. Digital File. 03 May 2015.

Leissle, Kristy. “What’s Fairer than Fair Trade? Try Direct Trade with Cocoa Farmers.” YES! Magazine. YES! Magazine, 04 October 2013. Web. 03 May 2015.

Martin, Carla D. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 06 April 2015. Class Lecture.

“Our Beans.” Dandelion Chocolate. Dandelion Chocolate, 2015. Web. 03 May 2015.

PBS Food. “Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 08 May 2014. Web. 03 May 2015.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare to Bare How It’s Done .” NPR: The Salt. NPR, 14 February 2013. Web. 03 May 2015.

“Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certified Cacao.” Taza Chocolate. Taza Chocolate, 2015. Web. 03 May 2015.

“Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Infographic.” 2015. Taza Chocolate. Digital File. 03 May 2015.


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