Taza is a small, craft chocolate maker in Somerville, Massachusetts founded in 2005, which is dedicated to using one hundred percent stone ground certified organic cocoa, teaches Harvard Professor Carla Martin in her “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food” class. In a lecture titled “Haute Patisserie, Artisan Chocolate, and Food Justice: the Future,” Professor Martin defines craft chocolate as a bean-to-bar chocolate that is “made from scratch, starting with the yet-to-be-roasted cocoa bean in their own facilities using Traditional Methods” (Lecture 12). Ethical decisions made by Taza Chocolate Company throughout their bean-to-bar chocolate discs productions revolve around Direct Trade, which was established by founder Alex Whitmore with regard to sustainability. This paper will provide an ethnographic analysis of Taza as a chocolate company with an emphasis of high quality production in the cacao (the “chocolate tree”) supply chain and fair wages for cacao farmers within the global chocolate industry.
Taza is a chocolate maker, which refers to chocolate companies that produce chocolate in mostly small batches. One of the goals of Taza Chocolate Company is to produce high quality chocolate using traditional stone grinding methods, without “conching,” teaches Professor Martin in a lecture titled “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization” (Lecture 10). In the book, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, the author, Maricel E. Presilla informs that “conching” is a chocolate smoothing process in which sugar is added to the roasted cacao, which was developed in 1879 by the Swiss Rodolphe Lindt (29). “The Lindt innovation…was to agitate the ground mass—either unmodified, or more often, adjusted with additional cacao butter—in a sloshing-and-kneading apparatus called a “conche,” which was inspired by the Mesoamerican metate” (Presilla 29). Whitmore traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to learn from a molinero the ancient, indigenous chocolate making processes (Martin, Lecture 10). In The True History of Chocolate, by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, the authors explain that the Mesoamericans process of making a hot chocolate drink was to grind shelled cacao beans on a heated metate (curved grinding-stone) and then create froth “by beating the hot chocolate with a large, wooden swizzle-stick called a molinillo” (115).
Whitmore strives to build partnerships with cacao producers in places such as the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Belize, Guatemala, and Haiti, as revealed on Taza’s 2015 Transparency Report (“Taza”). Much of cacao production takes place in rural areas and almost all of it is grown on small farms. However, the highest gains do not equate to a good quality of life for the cacao farmers. The goal is that cacao needs to be ecologically and economically sustainable in order to flourish. Cacao is a labor-intensive crop that is environmentally fragile. In order to flourish, cacao needs humidity during all seasons of the year. “With very few exceptions, it refuses to bear fruit outside a band of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator” (Coe 19). “Nor is it happy within this band of the tropics if the altitude is so high as to result in temperatures that fall below 60°F or 16°C” (Coe 19). Another goal regarding cacao is sustainability for the farmer to grow cacao that can resist disease and thereby spawn higher yields. Presilla points out that “around the turn of the century, cacao-growing nations and major chocolate companies began to apply scientific methods to the problem of cacao, and the study of varieties evolved into a precise search for the most highly productive, disease-resistant cacaos” (Presilla 37). “The early twentieth century saw the founding of research centers and experimental stations, of which the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (today a part of the University of the West Indies) on Trinidad soon became the greatest” (Presilla 37). “It was at this point that the Upper Amazon forastero strains entered the commercial picture” (Presilla 37). Historically, cacao was a main export from the Maya to Mexico. In The True History of Chocolate, the authors state that the best cacao was grown in plantations found mostly in Soconusco (the Pacific coastal region of Chiapas and Guatemala) (Coe 36).
Today, companies like Taza are making direct buying partnerships with the farmers growing their cacao beans. Whitmore gives an example of how this impacts farmer’s lives:
Of course, the number of farmers reached is only part of the equation—the type and depth of impact matters as well. For this reason, we are proud that in the nascent cacao markets of Belize, Bolivia, Guatemala and Haiti, our partners raised the local market price, paying farmers more for improved quality cacao. In Belize and Bolivia, we sold tens of thousands of cacao seedlings at subsidized prices in order to increase long-term productivity and farmer income. And in Haiti, we provided cacao farmers with their first-ever access to the US organic chocolate market. Finally, this year we had a greater impact on cacao producers’ livelihoods than ever before. Our partners’ continued growth, coupled with our new relationship with PISA, meant that we purchased cacao from a total of 1,876 small-scale farmers, nearly double the number with whom we partnered in the previous year. These producers, 434 of whom are female, serve as responsible environmental stewards of 3,490 hectares of organic-certified land, 32% more than last year (“Taza Year In Review”).
Frequently, cacao farmers’ involvements and concerns were not taken into account. The farmers are typically not financially compensated fairly. Paying more for cacao is not enough if it does not go directly to the farmers. And, Whitmore was acutely aware of the ethical issues of child labor and fair wages for cacao farmers. This is why Whitmore implemented the chocolate industry’s first third party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program. From the Taza website, in his own words, Whitmore states:
It starts with Taza Direct Trade. We said no to predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices. We created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade (“Taza Direct Trade”).
After reports of labor injustices by Big Chocolate companies were revealed, smaller chocolate companies began to grow a conscious and purchased cacao that met Fair Trade standards for more suitable labor treatment and financial earnings. With reference to the past, this evolved because cocoa farms were condemned for using child labor to collect cacao beans in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire on the Ivory Coast of Africa during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Ivory Coast produces nearly forty percent of the world’s supply of cacao, according to author Carol Off. Off, in the book Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side Of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet, explains the unscrupulousness of the child labor injustices involved in Côte d’Ivoire. Child workers were not being paid and many were abused on the cacao plantations. “The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten” (Off 121). “They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely the effects of physical abuse” (Off 121). Additionally, labor injustices of cocoa production in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire involved illegal trade in human trafficking and exposure to harmful chemicals. Similarly, the Coe’s explain that “several million African children, many of them trafficked from neighboring countries such as Mali, work under terrible conditions throughout the year, suffering from the powerful pesticides that are used to combat cacao diseases, cutting themselves with the machetes that they must wield to open the pods, and never in their short lives receiving medical treatment or seeing the inside of a school” (264). Unfortunately, officials kept quite concerning Ghana’s child labor problem because they were worried that it would hurt the cacao sphere, according to Órla Ryan, in a chapter titled “Child Labour” in the book Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying For Cocoa in West Africa (47). Special emphasis has been paid toward the eradication of child labor in the cocoa supply chain in West Africa since the Harkin-Engels Protocol law in 2005. The Harkin-Engels Protocol goal was to achieve the end of child labor in the cocoa fields, but in reality this is not the case. Thames and Hudson argue that the “protocol was virtually toothless in African countries undergoing political violence and even civil war” (264). In part, this gave rise to Fair Trade certification in the chocolate industry. Small craft companies like Taza encourages using Fair Trade practices to spurn child labor and to pay fair wages to provide a sustainable income for the cacao farmers.
Fair Trade is a labeling system developed to help consumers support products that come from farms that have been certified to provide fair wages and safe working conditions for farm workers. Off pontificates:
It must be made with no abusive labour practices, in particular no child or slave labour. Chemicals can be used in the growing or manufacturing of a product so long as workers are provided with adequate protective clothing and air quality…An additional fair trade premium is paid to the cooperative or company, which is supposed to be used communally, to build clean water systems or provide schooling for the children of workers. But the most important aspect of the fair trade system is that it gives people in the developing world some advantage in the amoral jungle of supply and demand where the profit motive reigns supreme (283).
However, there are Fair Trade cons. For one, certification is quite expensive and it is only available to small-organized co-op farms where the farmer must pay annual certification fees up to ten thousand dollars in order to be eligible (Martin, Lecture 10). Furthermore, there are quality concerns since Fair Trade does not regulate the quality of the chocolate, except to ensure that the conditions under which it was grown meets their economic, social and environmental standards (Martin, Lecture 10).
Taza Chocolate is inclined to favor Direct Trade more than Fair Trade. Taza is a forceful advocate of a global attempt to promote sustainable cacao farming. Additionally, Taza Chocolate Company is an advocate for liable labor practices on cacao farms, which is a major component of their Direct Trade. Direct Trade standards are influenced and regulated by the manufactures that visit the farms on a regular basis to ensure that all standards are being met and to determine the quality of the cacao. A key benefit is that this builds strong relationships between the maker or manufacturer and the farmers who meet their standards at no additional cost to the farmer. Whitmore provides the evidence:
A second major theme this year has been community and the growing connections between our sourcing partners. In late 2014, we hosted the owners of ÖKO Caribe, Adriano and Gualberto, at our factory in Somerville, MA. In the summer of 2015, three of the original Maya Mountain Cacao staff, Anna, Deon, and Gabriel, traveled from Belize to join our summer BBQ and meet the customers who enjoy their cacao in the 77% Belize Bar. We also facilitated visits between our partners for the first time, enlisting the fermentation and drying expertise of ÖKO Caribe’s Gualberto in order to support improvement at the Alto Beni Cacao Company’s cacao processing operation in Bolivia (“Taza Year In Review”).
While both Direct Trade and Fair Trade are principled, Direct Trade ensures that the farmers are not just rewarded for simply growing cacao, they are also rewarded for growing excellent cacao under industrious environments. From Taza’s 2015 Transparency Report, they state: “We visit the cacao producers we work with at least once per year” (“Taza”). Additionally, founder Whitmore understood that Taza chocolate needed to be manufactured to save innocent lives that would in other respects be lost to extreme labor injustices. It was an ethical decision to implement Direct Trade. This is evidenced when he states, “We only buy cacao from growers who ensure fair and humane work practices; We only purchase Certified USDA Organic, non-GMO cacao that meets our high quality standards and is approved by the Taza Tasting Panel for its seriously good flavor; We pay a least $500 above the market price—a 15 – 20% premium—and never less than $2,800 per metric ton for cacao” (“Taza Transparency Report”).
To conclude, the chocolate industry plays an important role within the fair trade market through the development of fair labor certifications, especially Direct Trade certification, which illustrates that when consumers hold manufactures accountable by demanding supply chain transparency and when chocolate manufactures provide high quality cacao products, this results in a fair price that is passed on to the farmers. Taza is one such company. Taza Chocolate Company is a principled and transparent company that cares about people throughout the supply chain within the cacao community. Alex Whitmore demonstrates an altruistic attitude and ethical leadership in his decision to initiate the Direct Trade Certification program. Certification labeling prohibit child labor, however more research and checks are needed. Chocolate companies like Whitmore of Taza can lead the way to sustainable business practices that build relationships with cacao farmers.
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2013.
Images. https://chocolateclass.wordpress.com/wp-admin/upload.php?item=29022. (Cited 10 May 2016).
Martin, Carla D, lecture “Modern Day Slavery,” Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. 23 March 2016.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side Of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, New York, New York, 2008.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press. Berkeley, CA. 2001.
Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying For Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books Ltd, London, UK, 2001.
“Taza,” <https://www.tazachocolate.com>. (Cited 10 May 2016).
“Taza Transparency Report,” <https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Transparency_Report_2015.pdf?10448975028103371905>. (Cited 10 May 2016).