“Traffic-free chocolate”: advocating opportunities and education for children where cacao is sourced

Because there are so many challenging issues in the production and marketing of chocolate, and seemingly no simple solutions, it is therefore daunting to consider creating relevant chocolate advertising. Nevertheless, I focused on the farming and social justice piece within the cacao supply chain and considered how to offer advocacy. It is the communities and specifically the children affected by the global demand for cacao that I felt drawn to research more and to thoughtfully address. I tried to employ the little that I know of human brain science and advertising: people will filter information through frameworks that have emotional and cultural components, we are wired to act on those issues that are relevant to us, are more immediate, and we generally have less capacity and interest in acting upon long term and/or vague problems in the future. Therefore, for an advertisement about child labor issues in the cacao supply chain to have an impact, it needs to be compelling, visually intriguing, informative, thought provoking, focused, relatable, hopeful, action oriented advertisement that highlights at least a part of the supply chain that concretely links children with the need for advocacy. After noticing an advertisement, I want viewers to pause, read, reflect, and then be motivated to learn more and to get involved in traffic-free cacao aka cacao produced without abusive forms of child labor (and while holding companies accountable to realizing their social justice goals). I did this by attempting to tap into the storytelling techniques that the big chocolate companies have used and the nostalgia that accompanies their proud promotional videos. But the absence and/or underrepresentation of cacao’s origins can be unsettling; advertisements fail to depict the realities of cacao farmers’ lives and often neglect to represent laboring children— I wanted to offer a way into the troubling disconnect between those who consume chocolate and those who are responsible for producing cacao. While all aspects of labor and production can’t be addressed all at once, Figure 1 and Figure 2 essentially attempt to make children visible, real, and worthy of concern.

There seems to be a shadow of Colonialism evident in current social injustice issues in cacao production. The complexity of the cacao supply chain can make tracking traffic-free labor difficult (Berlan 2013, Off 2006, & Ryan 2011); however, as a priority and by pledging a commitment to achieving supply chain transparency, big chocolate companies including Mars, Hershey and Nestle, can make great strides. Some of the big chocolate companies may even identify the need and the company’s commitment to an ‘evolution of marketing’ for example as seen in Mars’ handbook on their Global Marketing Code for Food, Chocolate, Confections, and Gum. http://www.mars.com/global/assets/documents/MMC_Handbook.pdf . But these promises and purported commitments can be lacking and fall flat even when looking for meaningful representation of chocolate products’ supply chain and exploitation at the source. Mars also offers promotional videos for their commitment to buying 100% certified cacao http://www.mars.com/global/about-mars/principles-in-action.aspx#pia-our-supply-chain , We can read on their website that, “Mars will purchase 100% of its cocoa from certified sources,” and claims that “This will be an industry first,” and “Change is in progress! As of 2013, Mars purchased 30% of its cocoa from certified sources,” This video’s claims seem vague at best, and confusing as a consumer trying to find out what this goal really means and how their guiding principles are realized— “quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency, and freedom” (2016). Even this recent video reaches back to a romanticized notion of paternalism and reflects a noble and conscientious company that e.g. wants everyone within the global “family” to benefit. Noble but vague and ambiguous claims are also true of other big chocolate manufacturers. Hershey’s promotional video, “How it’s made,” leaves out the sources of their cacao and only the local Pennsylvania dairies are included in the heartwarming depiction of agricultural contributions to their chocolate products. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4O7gd3zq5U . Along with the proud history, “Chocolate is a happy flavor,” is the message that resonates. And though the video is dated, its message persists, and its play on pride and happiness is what I wanted to carry through to an improved socially conscious chocolate advertisement.

Big chocolate companies may be making efforts to keep pace with consumer concerns through commitments and certifications e.g. Fair Trade practices, etc. (Figure 3). However, these companies also seem to deny that they were founded upon coerced and slave labor while at the same time holding on to an ideal legacy. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to challenge this celebrated, romanticized, enduring ideal depiction and contrast a relevant current day issue along side it. Cadbury’s advertisements from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth hundreds are used in Figure 1 and Figure 2, however, in parallel ways could also reflect the same gap that all chocolate manufactures have had, and still have, in bridging consumption with the sources/origins where cacao is sourced. The paternalism and shadow of colonialism seemed to resonate even today and is why I chose to address past and present, juxtaposing their ‘proud’ historical depictions of innocence and purity with a push for meeting current social justice commitments. It’s not surprising that none of the companies promotions indicate the evil of the worst form of child labor, no images of forced child laborers carrying heavy loads of cacao pods, wielding dangerous machetes while harvesting, suffering with open wounds, or applying chemical pesticides, or felling jungle trees.

In closing, it’s difficult to create a positive tone in the advertisement while not inadvertently celebrating chocolate’s dark past, but not to alienate consumers either, nor get so diffuse in criticism as to loose a meaningful message of accountability and advocacy. Furthermore, I did not want to oversimplify issues nor promote western ideologies. It’s easier to analyze/criticize existing advertisements than to create an original and effective advertisement. Bottom line, advocacy needs to adequately push back against the idealized legacy and blindness/deafness of first world consumers. Accountability includes partnering with local communities and culturally sensitive agents while committing to transparency in the supply chain.

Word count: 999


The Guardian. (2015). http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/12/shellshock-                   cadbury-comes-clean-on-creme-egg-chocolate-change

Berlan, A. (2013). Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on             Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. Print

Child Labour. (2015). Our commitment: eliminate child labour in key categories. Nestle.               Retrieved from http://www.nestle.com/csv/human-rights- compliance/child-labour

The Great American Chocolate Factory. Video. Available at                                                                       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4O7gd3zq5U

The dark side of the chocolate industry. Documentary. Available at                                                        http://www.africanglobe.net/business/hershey-investor-sues-cocoa-records-africa- farms-child-labor/

Hershey Investor Sues For Cocoa Records On Africa Farms That Use Child Labor. (2014,                  March). Editorial staff. Retrieved from           http://www.africanglobe.net/business/hershey-investor-sues-cocoa-records-africa-     farms-child-labor/

Mars: Global Marketing Code for Food, Chocolate, Confections, and Gum. Handbook                       available at http://www.mars.com/global/assets/documents/MMC_Handbook.pdf

Off, C. (2006). Bitter chocolate: investigating the dark side of the world’s most                                   seductive sweet. Print

Principles in Action. (2016). Our supply chain. Mars video available from                                            http://www.mars.com/global/about-mars/principles-in-action.aspx#pia-our-supply–        chain

Ryan, O. (2011). Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Print

Wenau, J. (2015, July). Child Labor On The Rise in West Africa as Demand for Cocoa Grows.            The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from                 http://blogs.wsj.com/frontiers/2015/07/30/child-labor-on-the-rise-in-west-africa-as-demand-for-cocoa-grows/



Traffic-free chocolate and child advocacy: pushing back against socio-historical trends reflected in chocolate advertisement

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 12.01.57 PM.png

Figure 1: An advertisement appealing to consumers’ ethical concerns while encouraging advocacy for children and communities within the cacao supply chain. Placed within a socio-historical context, this advertisement highlights a trend that all too often disconnects the consumer of chocolate from sourcing and production of cacao. By pushing back against the enchanting charming illustration that cast a long shadow from its colonial origins, these contrasting images create a dialogue between past and present, consumer and producer, from illusions of purity to real accountability and transparency. Without ignoring or whitewashing the past, I want to rebrand chocolate with a more realistic and relevant focus and with a message of hope.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 12.49.28 PM.png

Figure 2: Similar to Figure 1, this is a positive ethical appeal for social justice within the cacao supply chain that focuses on children. By contrasting historical advertising illustration of white school children joyously released from school while grasping chocolate bars, with actual photographs of happy children in and at school in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire: historically imperial consumer communities versus current producer communities, storybook children with real children. This advertisement is intended to push back against the onesidedness/blindness too often promoted by big chocolate even today, to refocus a dilution of ethical trade efforts by big food, to include the global community of children while pushing Cadbury to up its commitment for supply chain transparency and specifically child advocacy.

N.B. I’m wary of the glorified depiction of a smiling happy farmers with clean clothes, but a hopeful message is key; as well I wanted to avoid, for instance, replicating some of the framing of the Fair Trade posters, though educational, fall short when they are too data and image dense for viewers to digest.

Figure 3:  Nestle states clear objectives on their website, and it is possible to appreciate the enormity of the task:


             “Complete action plans to reduce child labour in our cocoa,

               hazelnut and vanilla supply chains, with 60 000 farmers trained on

               child labour practices, 60 schools built or renovated, and 80% of

               co-operatives covered by a child labour monitoring and

               remediation system (100% by 2016).” (Child Labour, 2015)


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