The chocolate industry is a complex and intricate realm with layer upon layer of details and processes, all of which can be examined in a scholarly and ethical context. Chocolate from the often discussed “Big Chocolate” companies, such as Hershey and Mars, is too commonly consumed with no thought of the route through which it reached the market. When consumers have begun to question where their chocolate bars (as well as other foodstuffs), they have often found that Big Chocolate is problematic from the production of cacao beans to marketing of their product and every step in between. However, as the practices of these large companies have been revealed to the public, there has been a new movement of small-batch chocolatiers whose goal is to simplify the chocolate making process and ensure fairness for both the producers and the consumers. One such company is Dandelion Chocolate, a small chocolate factory that began operation in San Francisco in the last five years. The following video is from the company’s website and provides an overview of their history and their process.
This video will be dissected in detail later on, but at surface level, one can notice that everyone involved in the company feels compelled to make chocolate the “right” way. They use only two ingredients in their chocolate and source their beans from farms they’ve personally visited and assessed. The Dandelion Chocolate model presents a solution to nearly all of the ethical concerns of the modern chocolate industry by working directly with farmers to achieve fair wages, by taking a genuine marketing approach that does not rely on sexism and objectification to sell their product, and by focusing on the taste of the actual cacao instead of adding unnecessary ingredients.
A fundamental concern in the modern chocolate industry is the treatment of the farmers who produce cacao beans. For many Big Chocolate companies that source their beans from Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, or other West African nations, this is a serious problem. While the chocolate companies may not be solely at fault, cacao farmers in these nations are struggling to get by, despite cacao being the foremost export of the region. In Ghana, specifically, Mikell claims that a lack of state support in the form of subsidies or price incentives, along with the failure of producer prices to keep pace with real prices, has led to nearly unlivable wages for farmers (250). Additionally, a lack of diversity in Ghana’s exports means that the vast majority of the working class is forced to put its fate directly in the hands of the Big Chocolate industry (Mikell 250). However, the poor wages for cacao farmers is far from the full extent of the unethical nature of the industry. An often ignored fact of labor in many cacao-producing countries is the exploitation of children in farming. Carol Off discusses this phenomenon, stating, “As I look at the young faces, the questions in their eyes are the measure of a vast gulf between the children who eat chocolate on their way to school in North America and those who have no school at all, who must, from childhood, work to survive” (8). This quote makes it clear that while American children are blissfully enjoying their Hershey’s bars, children in West African cacao-producing regions are forced to work to survive. Off goes on to discuss accounts of boys as young as 9 years old travelling to areas in which they have no relatives and working on cacao farms, sometimes without pay (121). These practices are nominally being addressed internationally by such agreements as the Harken-Engel Protocol. However, there has been a distinct lack of enforcement of such agreements and child labor and slavery still exist in the chocolate industry. An investigation by the BBC in Mali has concluded that not only are children choosing to work on cacao farms, they are being kidnapped and sold into slavery (Hawksley). One child who was freed from his slavery on a cacao farm claimed, “People who are drinking chocolate or coffee are drinking [child slave’s] blood” (Hawksley). If the chocolate industry does not do something to prevent these practices, they may never change and the lives of the rural working class in West African cacao-producing nations may never improve.
This is where companies like Dandelion Chocolate are helping to improve the ethical practices of the chocolate industry worldwide. Dandelion’s website claims that before purchasing any beans, they travel to the farm, examine their process, and negotiate fair prices for their work. The site claims, “We pay a premium far above the world market price and work to strengthen our relationships year after year in order to maintain our collective commitment to sharing the best and most distinctive cacao” (Our Beans). This practice not only ensures that the owners of Dandelion Chocolate would notice harmful labor conditions, but it cuts out any middlemen that would pull from the income of the farmers. Dandelion has no “Fair Trade” seal, but Deena Shanker explains that a “Fair Trade” certification can cost the farm thousands of dollars. Instead of simply looking for a “Fair Trade” seal, consumers should search for the shortest supply chain to ensure the farmers are truly receiving all of the money the company is spending (Shanker). Dandelion Chocolate sports the shortest supply chain possible, a direct connection between farm and factory, suggesting that they may truly be an ethical solution to the current practices of the chocolate industry.
Another well-documented problem with the chocolate industry is the use of gendered stereotypes and sexual objectification in their advertisements. Dhanyashree writes, “Among the various forms of mass communication, advertising is often condemned as the most sinful when it comes to perpetuating sexism and exploiting sexuality” (117-118). Dhanyashree goes on to explain that women’s bodies are a proven, effective way to sell products, but corporations should not perpetuate this culture of objectification. Such advertisements are seen every day by the American consumer and are the primary mode of selling chocolate in the country. For example, in the following advertisement for Godiva chocolate, the consumer hardly notices the chocolate, as the sexually posed woman is the centerpiece of the image.
Dandelion Chocolate, however, does not use any such practices in their marketing strategy. In the above video, there is no discernable difference between the male and female employees of the company. All genders appear to be equally important in the production process and the focus is on the actual product, not the people in the video. Additionally, in all of the images found on the company website, Dandelion Chocolate appears to focus nearly exclusively on their unique chocolate making process for marketing. Below is a typical image from the website which shows men and women visiting a cacao farm and learning about how they beans are produced. Dandelion avoids the use of sexualized and targeted marketing, maintaining its ethical status from production to advertising.
One potentially problematic aspect of the Dandelion marketing campaign is that in the video shown above, nearly every featured employee is white. This is problematic because it may, in some ways, exclude black Americans and other people of color. However, while this remains problematic for other reasons, it may simply be that the demographics of this area of San Francisco necessitate a mostly white employee population. Dandelion Chocolate can be said to have an ethical marketing strategy in that they focus on the production of their chocolate instead of distracting the consumer with sexualized visuals and ideas.
One of the more minor ethical problems of Big Chocolate in the modern world is the bastardization of the chocolate flavor. The majority of chocolate consumed in the United States contains a surprisingly small amount of cocoa. In addition to cocoa, sugar, and milk, a traditional Hershey’s bar contains cocoa butter, milk fat, soy, and “natural flavor” (Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar). Additionally, as is mentioned in Dandelion Chocolate’s video, industrial chocolate companies tend to over roast their beans to standardize the taste of every chocolate bar they produce. Much like wine or coffee, chocolate can have a quality of terroir, hosting a different taste in chocolate with ingredients from different regions. Bill Nesto explains, “The key circumstance that obstructs the expression of terroir in chocolate is the distance, both real and conceptual, between the farmer growing cacao and the factory that transforms the cacao into chocolate” (132). Thus, when the beans used by Big Chocolate companies have to travel through several different people and companies before reaching the factory, they lose their distinctive regional taste. Dandelion Chocolate, however, once again provides a solution to these problems. Every chocolate bar Dandelion produces contains 70% cocoa and 30% sugar. Thus, Dandelion removes all extraneous ingredients and standardizes their bars such that the only differences in taste come from the differences in bean origin. These differences are celebrated instead of hidden and each bar includes a label stating where the bean originated. Dandelion Chocolate seeks to provide its consumers with true, ethical chocolate, and is consistently transparent about its process and ideals.
Dandelion Chocolate is a part of a new wave of chocolate producers that seek to achieve ethical business and marketing practices. This trend opposes the traditional chocolate companies, five of which control to vast majority of the chocolate market. Dandelion Chocolate may be inaccessible to many consumers due to its small scale and high prices, but the chocolate industry would be greatly improved if more companies were to follow the Dandelion model. The high price of their chocolate bars is due in part to the high prices they agree on with their source farms, a justifiable reason for the cost jump between Dandelion and large companies like Hershey. Dandelion Chocolate provides genuine and tangible solutions to the primary ethical issues that have been brought forth in the chocolate industry in recent years and is an excellent model for the future of the industry.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate; The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: The New Press, 2006. Print.
Mikell, Gwendolyn. Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana. New York: Paragon House, 1989. Print.
Nesto, Bill. “Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 10.1 (2013): 131-135. Print.
Dhanyashree, C.M. “Objectification of Women in Advertisements: Some Ethical Issues.” Research Journal of English Language and Literature 3.1 (2015): 117-120. Print.
“Our Beans.” Dandelion Chocolate. n.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2015.
Shanker, Deena. “A Guide to Ethical Chocolate.” Grist. Grist Magazine, inc., 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 2 May 2015.
Hawksley, Humphrey. “Mali’s Children in Chocolate Slavery.” BBC News. BBC, 12 Apr. 2001. Web. 2 May 2015.
“Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.” Hershey. The Hershey Company, n.d. Web. 4 May 2015.