When we think of chocolate in America we often think about a bag of M&M’s or a Snickers bar or a Kit-Kat. Regardless of the specific image it probably makes your mouth salivate thinking about the sugary, chocolate taste we all have come to love. What we don’t think about when we hear the word chocolate are terms such as slavery, child labor, certification or transparency. Chocolate industry analysts predict the global chocolate market will experience annual sales of $98.3 billion by 2016, the result of an annual growth rate approaching 3 percent. The chocolate market is large and rapidly growing but it has also dealt with growing concerns regarding ethical issues in the cacao-chocolate supply chain. Large chocolate corporations are in an arms race with one another to break into emerging markets and produce more efficiently that they are often more concerned with profits than certain ethical issues.
The company Hello Cocoa is a small-batch bean to bar company based in Fayetteville, Arkansas that pride themselves on “connecting people with flavors and cultures around the world.” (8) As they say on their website, “through ethical and direct trade, we strive to create relationships with locals and friends abroad to create an excellent chocolate experience, all in effort to cultivate community around chocolate.” (8) Hello Cocoa is a socially conscious company that combats many of the issues facing large chocolate corporations today. This essay will provide an ethnographic analysis of Hello Cocoa and explain why they are part of the solution to changing the cacao-chocolate supply chain.
The most publicized issue in the cacao-chocolate supply chain is the prevalence of child labor. Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean, which grows primarily in Western Africa, Asia and Latin America. In recent years, organizations have begun to expose the widespread use of child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa that supply to some of the industries largest companies such as Hershey’s, Mars and Nestle. In response to this finding, the industry has become incredibly secretive, making it difficult for journalists to access farms that exploit child labor and thus difficult to disseminate information to the public. To put things in perspective, 60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from the cacao industry, however, the average cacao farmer earns less than $2 a day. In order to keep prices competitive they often resort to the use of child labor.
There are several obvious issues with child labor such as the long, intensive hours spent on a cacao farm and the day-to-day hazards of working with dangerous tools such as a machete. Above all else though is the deprivation of the rights of the children themselves that violate the International Labor Organizations Child Labor Standards. 40% of child laborers in the Ivory Coast do not attend school. Depriving children of an education is unjust but it also robs them of any hope of breaking the cycle of poverty. The industry has begun to eliminate what the ILO calls the ‘worst forms of child labor’, but they still have a long way to go to create any substantial change. The real transformation will occur when chocolate companies take it upon themselves to not tolerate child labor and refuse to buy beans that were the product of human rights violations.
Hello Cocoa is one company that is ahead of the curve on these issues. They write in their mission statement, “We are passionate about travel and meeting people; this is an essential foundation of the Hello Cocoa experience and was the original inspiration of our company. We want to introduce our fans and chocolate-lovers to friends, lifestyles, cultures & landscapes around the world. And it all starts with a simple greeting, hello.” (8) Since they prioritize human relationships and human connections so highly, they have absolutely no tolerance for farmers that use forced child labor. The mission statement of Hello Cocoa says everything you need to know about the direction this company intends to go. What if we could do a bit of good in the world one chocolate bar at a time? In an industry that is increasingly focused on turning a profit, Hello Cocoa is a leader in ethics and moral sustainability.
Another topic that is widely debated in the chocolate industry has to do with fair trade. Fair trade is a certification process that helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. The Fair Trade USA website claims, “Our rigorous social, environmental and economic standards work to promote safe, healthy working conditions, protect the environment, enable transparency, and empower communities to build strong, thriving businesses.” (7) Any company that is fair trade certified is mandated to comply with the following rules:
- No child labor (forced or otherwise exploited)
- No workplace discrimination (gender equity and freedom of association)
- Regulations on product ingredients
- Safe working conditions and reasonable work hours
- Environmental sustainability
- Traceability and transparency
There is no denying that the intention of Fair Trade organizations is to eradicate issues that trouble the chocolate industry, however, there have been a number of critiques questioning its effectiveness.
Critics of fair trade say that it hurts poor, non-certified farmers whereas it helps rich farmers. This is because the cost of being certified is very high and thus many small farms cannot afford to apply for the certification process even if they are abiding by the fair trade regulations. This means that a chocolate bar you buy at your local grocery store that is not fair trade certified could actually be produced in the same way as chocolate that is fair trade certified. This is harmful to small farms because retailers are willing to pay more for fair trade beans then for regular cacao beans. Further critiques say that the regulations and inspections done by fair trade committees are rather lenient and occasionally allow non fair trade ingredients in fair trade products.
Hello Cacao combats this fair trade issue by engaging in direct trade. “Direct trade is a form of sourcing practiced by some coffee roasters and chocolate companies, referring to direct sourcing from farmers, with standards varying between producers.” (9) Direct trade does a better job of promoting direct communication and price negotiation between buyer and farmer without having to deal with an intermediary. It is typically a more transparent process that places greater emphasis on the quality of production. Their website says, “By doing business with cacao distributors that uphold ethical and sustainable standards, we impart dignity to (or empower) cacao farmers. And when we engage in direct trade, we strive to empower farmers by paying a fair wage directly to the farmer, while also seeking to establish a long-term relationship from which both of us benefit.” (8) Hello Cacao also uses no preservatives, non-GMO pure cane sugar and organic cacao beans to ensure high quality chocolate.
The first step that must be taken in order to eradicate these issues and reward companies such as Hello Cocoa who conduct their business responsibly has to do with transparency. As has been discussed in this essay the deception and covering up of illegal activity is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with by implementing punishments. In order to hold companies responsible for their actions, regulations have to be put in place that mandate the release of information to the public. Customers have the right to know what they are purchasing and the right to educate themselves. The majority of consumers would not purchase chocolate if they knew it was produced illegally or unethically, however, the majority of consumers today are in the dark regarding many of these issues. Hello Cocoa is one of the rare companies that relishes transparency because they have nothing to hide. Attached to this essay is a video found on their website that details the complete bean-to-bar process of making chocolate. They also outline whom they purchase their beans from and the relationships they maintain with each group of farmers. This is obviously easier to do since they are a small company but they have made it a priority in their business model to place greater importance on ethical chocolate production and that is why other companies in the industry should look to emulate them.
- World Cocoa Foundation. March 2012. “Cocoa Market Update.” http://worldcocoafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/Cocoa-Market-Update-as-of-3.20.2012.pdf. (2/27/14)
- Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer. March 31, 2011. “Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.” Tulane University. http://issuu.com/stevebutton
- BBC. March 24, 2010. “Tracing the bitter truth of chocolate and child labour.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8583000/8583499.stm. (3/01/14)
- Sackett, Marjie. “Forced Child Labor and Cocoa Production in West Africa.” Human Rights & Human Welfare (2008). https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/slavery/africa.pdf. (3/01/14)
- Kramer, Anna. March 6, 2013. “Women and the big business of chocolate.” Oxfam America. http://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/women-and-the-big-business-of-chocolate/. (3/04/14)
- Grossman-Greene, Sarah, and Bayer, Chris. 2009. “A History of Child Labor, Child Rights, and the Harkin-Engel Protocol.” Tulane University. http://www.childlabor-payson.org/meetings/Ghana_Consultative_Meeting_2010/Documents
- Fair Trade USA.” What Is Fair Trade? Fair Trade USA, n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
- “Our Mission.” Hello Cocoa. Hello Cocoa, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.
- Martin, C. (04/06/16). Alternative trade and virtuous localization/globalization. (Powerpoint Slides). Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bYUY0UWg0Y1h2TTA&usp=sharing