“Indulge in a cause”. This is what consumers read when they are first introduced to Endangered Species Chocolate. Upon first sight of the chocolate products, it is clear that Endangered Species Chocolate has a mission more complex than simply providing a sugary treat for its consumers to indulge in. Each flavor of chocolate bar is wrapped in packaging featuring an image of a different endangered species. This is indicative of their promise, which claims “10% of our net profits are donated annually to current 10% GiveBack Partners; each is guaranteed a minimum annual donation of $10,000 and is free to use the funds on projects they deem most important. With over $1.3 million generated in the past three years alone, each chocolate purchase adds up to big support that helps wildlife thrive” (“Promise”, 2015). This dedication to the preservation of wildlife is in conjunction with their promise to adhere to high ethical standards in the chocolate industry. In fact, Endangered Species Chocolate was the first American chocolate company to use fully traceable Fairtrade West African cocoa (“Endangered Species”, 2015). The company produces delicious products with the thought that their commitment to ethical standards makes them all the more indulgent and enjoyable.
Since its formation, the chocolate industry has experienced many ethical problems that companies like Endangered Species Chocolate are trying to combat. When chocolate first became a popular commodity, its production relied on slavery. This was first fulfilled through the encomienda system and then through the enslavement of Africans (Martin & Sampeck, 2015). Even after the abolition of slavery in the countries in which the cacao industry was dependent on slaves, slavery was still uncovered in certain cacao growing regions. However, once the slavery was uncovered, chocolate companies began to boycott these regions (Martin, 2017). Although slavery has become less of a problem in the industry, one of the most apparent problems affecting the industry now is the low quality of life of cacao farmers. The farmers work in harsh conditions for extremely long hours, yet often survive on an unsustainable income. In 2015, a study showed that the average salary for a Ghanaian cacao farming household was $0.50 to $0.80 USD per day (Martin, 2017). This instability has resulted in the use of child labor in some cases in order to sustain the households. A study by Tulane University found that 800,000 children in Cote d’Ivoire and 1,000,000 children in Ghana performed labor related to cacao farming in 2008 (Martin, 2017). Furthermore, the labor conditions of cacao farming have been associated with fatigue, musculoskeletal injury, general injuries to the skin, heat-related illness, and the risk of mosquito-borne disease. Most farmers also lack sanitary areas to prepare food, do not have access to clean water, and do not have areas to get away from the heat (Martin, 2017). For these reasons, government and independent organizations have worked to change policy and create more sustainable working conditions. Fairtrade organizations have helped to create better conditions for the cacao workers and have provided certification for certain companies that meet Fairtrade guidelines. Endangered Species Chocolate effectively helps to reduce some of the problems in the chocolate industry by adhering to ethical Fairtrade standards and being transparent.
What is Fairtrade?
There have been recent efforts within the chocolate industry to focus on becoming Fairtrade registered. In terms of the goals of Fairtrade, Fairtrade America describes “Fairtrade America’s mission is to connect disadvantaged producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and support producers to combat poverty, strengthen their position, and take more control over their lives” (“Work”, 2015). This is accomplished by providing farmers with more fair prices for their products and a strict adherence to standards that protect the environment and worker’s rights (“Work”, 2015). The Fairtrade logo indicates that a product was produced by a small-scale farmer organization that meets Fairtrade standards. These standards include a Fairtrade minimum price as well as the Fairtrade premium, “an extra amount of money that producer organizations invest in products of their choice” (“What”, 2015). These products may benefit the business of the farmers directly, or may go towards projects that benefit the community. Other promises of Fairtrade include long-term direct trading relationships, efficient payment for farmers, no child or forced labor, safe working conditions, discrimination-free workplaces, environmental sustainability, and traceability (Martin, 2017).
In the video produced by Fairtrade America, the farmers who are a part of the Fairtrade cooperative are seen happily performing their daily tasks on the farm. There are also scenes showing how Fairtrade helps women and helps to benefit the communities that the farmers live in. A Fairtrade International Liaison Officer in the area, Anne Marie Yao, explains her opinion of the Fairtrade system and says “To me fair trading means more empowerment for farmers. Fair trading enables them to sell their crops in a fair market while supporting their communities”. The farmers are also shown to be appreciating the benefits of Fairtrade. Oubda Sambo, a cacao farmer in the area, describes how the farmers did not know how to treat their plants to produce high quality beans, but with the help of Fairtrade certification, his farm was able to produce a consistent, high quality product. The video also specifically mentions how the farmers work together and do not depend on child labor to sustain the demands of the farm labor. As seen in the video, Fairtrade contributes to ethical consumption because it allows farmers to receive adequate pay for their work, and the communities also benefit.
Endangered Species Chocolate Role in Ethical Consumption
Endangered Species Chocolate’s commitment to ethically sourced chocolate and promise to give back to the environment are what distinguishes it from other bean to bar chocolate companies. Furthermore, the company is very transparent with their practices, and shares detailed reports of where their beans are sourced from as well as exactly where their donations of profits go to (“Promise”, 2015). In order to convey this to the consumer, each bar is wrapped in packaging explaining the company’s commitments.
Aside from the image of an endangered species, the front of the bar also advertises that 10% of the net profits made from the bars are donated. A full explanation of where the donations go is available on the inside of the wrapping.
This includes donations to the African Wildlife Foundation, Xerces Society, SEE turtles foundation, Rainforest Trust, Wildlife Conservation Network, SEEtheWILD, and Chimp Haven (“Promise”, 2015). All of these organizations are committed to species conservation, habitat preservation, and humanitarian efforts. Their website provides an impact report that gives detailed explanations of the work done by each foundation. In the report, the current CEO, Curt Vander Meer, explains “We’ll keep doing our part, creating chocolate too delicious to resist, with one goal in mind – to grow our GiveBack, year after year. With your support, there’s no limit to the good we can do” (“Promise”, 2015). In addition to their dedication to transparency involving donations, Endangered Species Chocolate also makes information regarding the effects of Fairtrade avaliable through their website. Their sourcing Fairtrade sheet educates consumers on where their cacao is sourced from, and how the farmers from these areas use the benefits of Fairtrade to improve their practice and community (“Promise”, 2015). The company attracts ethically conscious consumers, as the bar allows for ethical consumption that derives from principled and transparent production while also providing support for other ethically-oriented organizations.
This commitment to an ethical product is seen throughout their branding. On their website products page, the company explains “our milk and dark chocolate bars and bites are made with ethically traded, shade grown cacao and natural ingredients. Learn about at-risk species by reading the inside of each 3oz. bar wrapper. And the best part? 10% of net profits from your purchase are donated to support conservation efforts!” (“Products”, 2015). These promises to support ethical business and give back to conservation efforts appear to excite consumers and give them more reason to indulge in chocolate. One excited consumer shared her experience with the chocolate on twitter saying, “Today I bought a chocolate bar that states that 10% of its proceeds go to a wildlife organization to save endangered species. #yay”. Endangered Species Chocolate is unique in that it excites consumers through their use of endangered species awareness, yet further educates customers, who may not previously have been aware of the problems in the chocolate industry. The company also attempts to excite and educate customers of their doings through social media.
Endangered Species Chocolate produced a video thanking their customers, in which they explain the moral benefits of buying their chocolate. The video shows one of the communities from which their chocolate is sourced, displaying scenes of cacao harvesting and community involvement. The text of the video explains “ESC supports before the bar […] ESC supports a better bar […] ESC supports beyond the bar”. This is reflective of their commitment to supporting the chocolate farmers, the chocolate production workers, and supporting a cause beyond the chocolate industry—wildlife conservation. The video appears to be less centered around their chocolate products, and more focused on the benefits they provide to the global community. The importance of the ethics surrounding the production and consumption of the product is stressed, as importance of chocolate is greater than the product itself.
In the past two decades, the purchase of foods that are considered to be more ethical has increased drastically. In an analysis of the chocolate market, sales of organic chocolate increased by 70% from 1999 to 2000. At the time, the president of the Endangered Species Chocolate company said that he believed this increase was a result of a more ethically-conscious consumer, explaining “The state of organic chocolate is extremely healthy. What drives this market forward is increased awareness and the intelligence of the customer” (Curtis, 2000). In terms of certifications, Endangered Species Chocolate is committed to a variety of ethically and health-minded promises. These include certifications for Fairtrade, Non-GMO Project, Vegan Action, gluten-free, Kosher, and RSPO. These certifications are reflective of their commitment to high ethical standards. Consumers appear to be influenced by these certifications, and the Fairtrade certification has had a particularly large effect on consumer habits. From 2004 to 2012, sales of products certified by Fairtrade International increased by almost 4 billion euros (Austin, 2016). Consumers are in fact motivated to pay a little extra if they believe it goes to a good cause. It is for this reason that companies like Endangered Species Chocolate are able to have an impact on the problems in the chocolate industry. However, there have been some criticisms regarding Fairtrade certifications.
Is Fairtrade Good Enough?
Although Fairtrade sounds as though it is an extremely effective and positive measure for benefiting the lives of farmers, it has faced some criticism. In the video produced by Fairtrade America, Anne Marie Yao had explained that she believed Fairtrade to be empowering to the farmers, but this may not always be the case. To begin with, the standards that a farm must meet before being certified are rigorous, and it is not possible for some small-scale farmers to meet the criteria (Austin, 2016). Therefore, farmers that may desire to commit themselves to Fairtrade practices may lack the resources to do so. This disadvantage to small-scale farmers is seen in the data indicating that 54% of Fairtrade certified producers are located in nations that are considered to be “upper-middle income” (Sylla, 2014). It is possible that Fairtrade benefits producers who may not need the assistance in comparison to small-scale farmers who lack basic resources. Another possible problem with Fairtrade that has been examined is that hundreds of products have received the certification, making it difficult to understand exactly what qualifies as Fairtrade. Furthermore, for every U.S. dollar more that is spent towards a Fairtrade product, only $0.03 goes back to the country in from which the product came from (“Good”, 2014). Fairtrade does provide benefits to the farmers that receive the verification, however, the benefits may not be as wide-spread and accessible as previously believed.
The Future of Chocolate
Although there are still many ethical problems in the chocolate industry that require solutions, companies like Endangered Species Chocolate are taking necessary and important steps towards improving the chocolate industry. These steps include using ethically-sourced products in their production, and being transparent with their customers. Although Fairtrade and other ethically-oriented certifications do not solve all of the problems in the cacao farming industry, they are a starting point for future changes that may transform the chocolate industry and make it more ethical for producers and consumers. Endangered Species Chocolate has committed itself to high ethical standards, and it is an important example and start in creating effective long-term solutions.
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