Chocolate and Deception:the truth that lies just beneath the wrapper; an ethical dissection of the Whole Foods Chocolate aisle

Our markets are ethical minefields, with moral and amoral products sitting side by side with little differentiation of one from another.

We as consumers have been deceived. We have, by the intentional omission of truth, been shielded from the true nature of a product that we consume on a daily basis, chocolate. Specifically from the abhorrent means of production that are employed to produce this products main ingredient, cacao. But there are some companies that go far past the current standard to produce a product that is environmentally friendly and ethically produced while other companies work to keep their unethical practices in the shadows.

Whole Foods

 

There are products that stand out as, not only a shining example of how to conduct business in a way that puts people and the environment before profits by producing chocolate with ethically sourced cacao. While perusing the shelves of Whole Foods, one chocolate company’s product stood out among the rest; that company is Endangered Species Chocolate LLC., this is just one of many chocolate brands that can be found at Whole Foods Market and it is arguably the most socially and environmentally friended chocolate company, whose products are found at Whole Foods.

First of all, their product is fair trade certified.

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Fair Trade Certified Seal

 

 

 

According to Fair Trade USA’s, Standard Development Project Plan: Agricultural Production Standard (APS) Public Summary of Objectives, Timeline, and Process December 2015, their mission is to benefit everyone along the supply chain, as well as the environment. “We (Fair Trade USA) believe in the spirit of continuous improvement that revising Fair Trade USA’s Standards will bring additional benefit to Fair Trade Certified™ supply chains. Our intent is to incorporate and replace our existing producer Standards with a single updated Standard that have compliance requirements specific to different sizes of farms.” As one might imagine, this certification is not simple to receive, in fact, there are quite a few requirements one must fulfill to receive the certification. According to the previously mentioned document one must form an expert advisory committee, conduct field testing, analysis, and plan revision, among other stringent requirements.

These are not simple steps that just any company could follow, only companies dedicated to their craft and to making the world a better place could fulfill these requirements. Although the system is a good one, it has its flaws. The largest of which is that there is no way to enforce these requirements or to punish those who violate Fair Trade U.S.A’s standards, aside from removing the certification. So many companies forgo this certification, and it would seem that their sales are not affected by the lack of this certification.

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What Fair Trade Means

Whole foods was the chosen market for this observational exercise, with most of the stores products being ethically sourced it was difficult to find any surface moral quandaries with their chocolate section. Although their chocolate is produced in a way that is more considerate of the environment and people, there is still a long way to go in our journey from exploitation to the conscious and moral production of goods, especially chocolate. With Whole Foods Markets reputation for being an upscale and “trendy” market, one may look on at their ethically produced chocolates as a part of the fad of expensive but “moral” foods, called ethical consumerism. How do the chocolates that Whole Foods stocks stack up against their competitions products? Whole Foods stocks products like Newman’s Own Organics, The Endangered Species Chocolate Company, Green & Black, Clif Bar and Koppers Chocolate while refusing to stock Hershey, Mars, or Nestle chocolate products. That is because the latter companies have been directly linked to the use of child labor, even slave child labor, to produce their African sourced cacao, all the while denying it in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Just last year Tulane University released a report on child labor in the cacao-producing regions of West Africa.2 “In 2013/14, 2.26 million children were working in cocoa production, 2.12 million children were working in child labor in cocoa production, and 2.03 million children were working in hazardous work in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana combined. In the aggregate, the numbers of children working in cocoa production, in child labor in cocoa production, and in hazardous work in cocoa production increased by about 440,000, 360,000, and 310,000 respectively. The percentages of children in agricultural households in each of these categories also rose between the two survey years: 19% for children working in cocoa, 16% for child laborers in cocoa, and 13% for children in hazardous work in cocoa. In Côte d’Ivoire the number of children in hazardous work in cocoa production increased by 46% (from 0.79 million to 1.15 million) between 2008/09 and 2013/14. In Ghana, the number of children in hazardous work in cocoa production decreased by 6% (from 0.93 million to 0.88 million) between 2008/09 and 2013/14. Results in both countries were impacted by strong growth in cocoa production (production increases of more than 40% in Côte d’Ivoire and more than 30% in Ghana between the years of data collection). Some hazardous activities performed by children in cocoa agriculture have decreased while others increased. There was a large decrease in the percentage of children working in cocoa production participating in the hazardous activity of land clearing (-29%) in both countries combined while there was a major increase in the percentage participating in the hazardous activity of exposure to agrochemicals (+44%). Overall, children working in cocoa were less likely to be exposed to multiple types of hazardous work in 2013/14.”

 

 

Shortly after these findings were published three class action lawsuits were filed against the chocolate companies, Whole Foods does not keep in stock: Nestle, Mars, and Hershey. The human rights law firm Hagens Berman assert that these companies have violated California state laws by not disclosing the fact that they use, and depend on, child laborers to produce their products. The lawsuit was brought on by private consumers who have stated that they would not have purchased these companies products if they had known that child labor was this readily used.

In an interview with Confectionary News, a Nestle spokesperson stated that it would contest these allegations. They also stated that the issue of child labor was too complex to be resolved through something as simple as a lawsuit. They stated, “Identifying and eradicating child labor in the Ivory Coast’s supply chain calls for proactive and multi-stakeholder efforts over time. The issues cannot be properly addressed through lawsuits such as the one filed in California”. The Mars and Hershey company commented in more the same way, citing the complexity of the issue. Even if this lawsuit does little more than make a few people aware of these issues, then it has done some good.”

 

Upon reaching out to Green and Black, I was able to secure an interview with Richard Buino, a Mondelēz International, Inc. (Green and Black Parent Company) company spokesperson. He stated that, “We share your (the general public’s) concern around labor conditions in cocoa and condemn child labor. We have been trying to find solutions to this issue, working with our industry and supply chain partners as well as directly in origin countries through the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership. In 2012, we stepped up our efforts with our Cocoa Life program, a $400 million investment in cocoa farming communities. We believe Cocoa Life provides us with the best opportunity to address the root causes of child labor through the specific actions we take to combat the issue (detailed in our Guidance Document) and our holistic, community-focused approach. We’ve published our first Progress Report on Cocoa Life this February.” You can read the Progress Report here and the Executive Summary here:

 

He went on to say, “Cocoa Life aims to improve the livelihoods of more than 200,000 farmers and about one million people in cocoa farming communities across Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, India and Indonesia. The impact of the program on-the-ground will be independently verified and assessed by a team of Harvard University researchers and shared publicly. We expect Harvard to publish the first set of results soon. It’s a long journey, but ultimately we intend to source all of our cocoa sustainably.”

 

These are companies in stark, ethical contrast to the Nestle, Mars, and Hershey, companies that seem to be waiting to be called out for the issue of child labor like Cadbury did so long ago, before seeking solutions. Companies like Green and Black and Endangered Species Chocolate appear to be taking a proactive position on all of these issues instead of harping on the complexity of the issue they are working for a better future.

When it comes down to it, I’m sure you can guess what a brand of chocolate Whole Foods carries. Green and Black, Endangered Species Chocolate and like companies’ products.

 

In conclusion, it is difficult, but not impossible for consumers to find out exactly where and how their chocolate is produced. Armed with this knowledge it is of the utmost importance to choose the product that rises above current ethical standards in order to have a more positive effect on communities and the environment. We must not treat this trend towards conscious consumerism as a fad, but as a movement we all can invest in because it will help to bring about positive social change on a global scale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Chocolates, Lake Champlain. “Fair trade chocolate: Fair for life certification.” Lake Champlain Chocolates. 2013. Web. 9 May 2016.

Endangered Species Chocolate. “Our Promise | Endangered Species Chocolate.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 May 2016.

Endangered Species Chocolate. “Chocolatebar.com.” Endangered Species Chocolate Impact report. 2015. Web. 5 May 2016.

Fair Trade USA. “Standard Development Project Plan: Agricultural Production Standard (APS).” fairtradeusa.org. 2015. Web. 7 May 2016

 

Newsy Business. “Did A Child Slave Make the Chocolate Bar You’Re Eating? – Newsy.” YouTube. YouTube, 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 May 2016.

Nieburg, Oliver (Confectionary News). “Mars, Nestle, And Hershey Face Fresh Cacao Child Labor Class Action Lawsuit.” 30 Sept. 2015, Web

 

Species Chocolate, Endangered. “Promise.” Chocolatebar.com. Endangered Species Chocolate, 19 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 May 2016.

 

Trade Winds, Fair. “Guide to fair trade labels.” Fair Trade Winds. n.d. Web. 8 May 2016.

 

 

University, Tulane. “Final Report.” childlaborcocoa.org. 30 July 2015. Web. 7 May 2016

 

 

Wellman, Nathan. “Beware of these nine popular chocolate brands that exploit child slaves.” News. U.S. Uncut, 31 Oct. 2015. Web. 6 May 2016.

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