Quality of life and ethical life choices are important factors in everything we do. Chocolate is a frequent part of our lives as well, for some, a daily part. Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry. When consumers spend money in a business that supports ethical business practices, it can make a difference in lives around the world. Taza Chocolate is one such business.
Taza Chocolate makes stone ground chocolate from organic cacao in Somerville, Massachusetts. Taza has been in business since 2005, and is an example of an ethical and forward-thinking chocolate business (Taza, 2017). Taza devotes much of their time and business planning to ensure their business practices and those of their suppliers, who they refer to as partners, improves the lives of farmers, while reforming the chocolate industry from the ground up. Taza has a wide selection of chocolate, including chocolate bars, gift sets, and even bulk chocolate so people can bake or cook with stone ground, organic, Direct Trade chocolate.
The process of purchasing cacao beans.
Obtaining cacao beans direct from growers is an important part of fair labor practices. Historically, the cacao industry has taken advantage of its workers, ignoring abuse and slavery to achieve a greater profit. An example of this can be seen in São Tomé and Príncipe in the 1900s. Slavery had been officially abolished in 1870, and the cacao industry needed workers, so they began using the system of contract labor, where workers would agree to work a set number of years for a set wage (Satre, 2006, Location 1603). Workers traveling to provide contract labor were “coerced, repatriation was all but impossible, and the death rate was as high as twelve percent” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603). In 1907, long after these abusive practices became public knowledge, “Cadbury still imported 7.4 million pounds of cacao beans from São Tomé, about thirteen percent of the island’s total exports” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603). Today, the chocolate industry is attempting to improve working conditions and payment for cacao farmers through fair trade initiatives. There are several certifications that ensure fair labor practices in the cacao industry, but Taza’s Direct Trade is the first cacao sourcing program that is third-party certified (Taza, 2017). Taza purchases their beans directly from growers with no “predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices,” so that farmers and their families receive more money for the cacao they grow and harvest (Taza, 2017). Every year all five of Taza’s Direct Trade claims are certified by “a USDA-accredited organic certifier” (Taza, 2017).
Direct Trade certified claims by Taza.
The five Direct Trade certified claims Taza makes improve quality of life for cacao farmers and their families while improving the quality of cacao beans used in Taza chocolate. The first claim is that Taza develops “direct relationships with cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017). By visiting Taza’s partners every year and reviewing how much of the money paid for cacao beans reaches the farmers directly, other benefits farmers receive besides monetary payments, and actually meeting and speaking to farmers, Taza develops direct relationships with farmers. The second Direct Trade certified claim is that Taza pays “a price premium to cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017). Invoices are reviewed to verify that Taza has met this claim by comparing the price paid for cacao to the NYICE price for cacao on the same date as the invoice (Taza, 2017). Another important Direct Trade claim is that Taza sources “the highest quality cacao beans” (Taza, 2017). Taza staff perform a quality assessment of every container of cacao beans purchased, and complete an evaluation form indicating the results of each assessment (Taza, 2017). A further Direct Trade claim is that Taza requires “USDA certified organic cacao” (Taza, 2017). This is important to ensure the quality of the cacao used, and Taza provides documentation to support USDA organic certification to the independent certifier (Taza, 2017). The fifth certified claim is a self-imposed action on the part of Taza. It includes publishing a yearly Transparency Report. Taza publishes every year a Direct Trade Transparency Report, so that consumers or anyone else who wants to verify their claims, has all the information to do so (Taza, 2017). Currently, there are links to the report for the past six years available on Taza’s website. This level of transparency in the bean to bar operation is unique in the chocolate industry.
Fair compensation to growers and farmers.
To maintain an ethical and healthy cacao industry, growers need to receive fair compensation. Although slavery has been abolished, cacao farmers in many areas do not make a livable wage. As recently as 2008, in a Côte d’Ivoire cacao village, people “lacked clean water, health care, and decent schools” (Orla, 2011, Location 793). The issue of child labor was brought to public attention in 2000, when it came forward that children were being enticed by traffickers with promises of riches, and brought to cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire, where they “survived on little food, little or no pay, and endured regular beatings” (Orla, 2011, Location 807). In fact, some officials were even “convinced that the farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cocoa groves…and police were being bribed to look the other way” (Off, 2006, Location 1893). In 2001, the Harkin-Engle protocol was signed to help address the problem of child labor (Orla, 2011, Location 807). In 2015, cacao farmers in Ghana earned “as little as 84 cents a day, and Ivorian farmers, 50 cents” (Soley, 2015). Taza visits farmers that they buy cacao from every year, and “only buy cacao from growers who ensure fair and humane work practices” (Taza, 2017). Additionally, Taza pays “at least $500 above the market price…and never less than $2,800 per metric ton” for their cacao (Taza, 2017). In 2016, Taza purchased 233 metric tons of cacao beans, equating to at least $116,000 dollars more in the pockets of growers and farmers in developing countries due to Taza’s forward-thinking labor practices (Taza, 2017). In 2016, Taza paid its Bolivia partner a fixed price of $5,300 per metric ton, and the partner paid 76.4% of this amount to the farmers (Taza, 2017). This set price is paid by Taza even though the price of cacao on the world market may be much lower. As an example, the International Cacao Organization lists the average daily price of a metric ton of cacao in December 2016 at $2,287.80 (ICCO, 2017). Despite this price, Taza would pay its Bolivian partner $5,300 per metric ton for any cacao purchased in December, protecting farmers from the price fluctuations throughout the market. This process ensures higher income for growers and farmers, cutting out the middleman, so they may better support their families. With “most of the world’s cacao farmers living at or below the poverty line of $2 per day” (Taza, 2017), the chocolate industry needs to follow Taza’s actions, and customers need to spend their money with companies that are encouraging humane labor practices.
Monetary compensation is supplemented by other benefits to farmers. Taza’s partners, in addition to paying their farmers more, also provide other benefits that cut costs for farmers and increase profits. For example, all of Taza’s partners “drive to producers’ farms to pick up the cacao in its unfermented form” (Taza, 2017). This saves farmers money on delivery, fermenting, and drying costs, so their profit is greater. Taza’s partners may provide high-quality cacao seedlings, loans to buy farms, food, housing, and many other types of assistance that are meant to help farmers become more successful and live better lives (Taza, 2017).
Chocolate ingredients other than cacao.
The other ingredients used in chocolate production need the same devotion to fair labor standards and wages as cacao. Historically, some chocolate merchants added dangerous ingredients to chocolate, such as “brick dust, chalk, clay, dirt, paraffin, talc, and other items” (Grivetti, 2009, Location 10908). Using organic ingredients that are held to higher ethical standards is important. The sugar industry is tied to the chocolate industry in many ways, and has a similar history as cacao in terms of the treatment of slaves. As of 2013, the Department of Labor cited problems with child labor in the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013). The submission found violations of labor law concerning wages, hours of work, occupational safety and health, child labor, and forced or compulsory labor (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013). It is important for customers and corporations alike to work for better conditions and wages for all workers.
Taza purchases certified USDA organic cacao and sugar from farmers “who respect the environment and fair labor practices” (Taza, 2017). The country of origin of the cacao beans is listed on many of Taza’s products, and the partners are specifically listed in the Transparency Report, so individuals can research and verify fair labor practices. Customers can buy a product with ingredients from a specific country, and support the practices of that supplier by choosing to do business with them. The sugar that Taza purchases for their chocolate is organic, non-GMO, and the supplier is committed to sustainability and fair labor practices (Taza, 2017). Not only are the mills that produce the sugar energy self-sufficient, the “organic farming system has resulted in 20% higher productivity than conventional sugar cane production while reducing Native’s carbon footprint and saving water, soil, energy, and promoting human welfare” (Taza, 2017). Although Native Sugar uses a mechanical harvester, it has retrained its workers for “other positions within the organization” adhering to the commitment to fair labor and making workers lives better (Taza, 2017). Business practices that promote environmental sustainability are important in today’s world. Not only is this good for future generations, it is also benefiting the company economically.
Labor in the production process.
The production process has become highly mechanized for many chocolate companies. Historically, laborers produced chocolate using basic tools. Some cacao farms, like Hacienda Buena Vista in Puerto Rico, began using hydropower to increase production and change the roles of workers. It is impressive to see, with one pull of a lever, water rushing down and causing large equipment to start processing cacao, or coffee, or corn. The process of making stone ground chocolate keeps the historic element alive, while mechanizing chocolate production. Taza uses “traditional Mexican stone mills, called molinos, with hand-carved stones that turn inside” the mills (Taza, 2017). Workers pay close attention during the process to ensure quality that cannot be achieved through high production automation.
Recipes for chocolate are an important component of a chocolate company. Many of today’s chocolate recipes contain ingredients traditionally used in different cultures. Cinnamon has been used traditionally in cacao recipes, and Taza uses it in some of its chocolate recipes (Taza, 2017). Chili is also an ingredient to some of Taza’s products, similar to the “ancient Mesoamerican tradition of adding chili to chocolate” (Coe and Coe, 2013, Location 3828). Additionally, vanilla, various nuts, sea salt, coconut, coffee and other ingredients are used today to make a chocolate bar that is both traditional and current.
Value of the product.
For consumers in developed countries today, and some developing countries, chocolate is an affordable luxury. Taza’s chocolate is reasonably priced given the quality and commitment to the cacao community of growers that encompasses its business model. A Taza chocolate bar or disc are for the most part between $5.00 and $7.50 (Taza, 2017). That is a reasonable price for organic chocolate, at least given prices for organic chocolate in the Caribbean. An artisan chocolate bar made here in Puerto Rico is approximately $10.00, and they are small bars. Organic chocolate is a relatively affordable luxury that enriches our lives.
The chocolate industry as a whole is making strides towards incorporating more humane practices into its business model. However, large companies are slow to change. Small, independent chocolate businesses have the ability now to make positive changes in the lives of farmers and their families, showing larger businesses a better way to operate and improving the lives of those they do business with. Taza Chocolate is one such company who appears to look at every aspect of their business in trying to improve the lives of others while growing a successful chocolate company and delivering a high-quality products.
Coe, Michael D., and Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. Kindle ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Grivetti, Louis E. “Dark Chocolate: Chocolate and Crime in North America and Elsewhere.” Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.
International Cocoa Organization website. Retrieved from: https://www.icco.org/statistics/cocoa-prices/monthly-averages.html?currency=usd&startmonth=12&startyear=2016&endmonth=12&endyear=2016&show=table&option=com_statistics&view=statistics&Itemid=114&mode=custom&type=1
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: Anatomy of an Industry. Kindle ed., The New Press, 2006.
Orla, Ryan. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Kindle ed., Zed Books, 2011.
Satre, Lowell J. “Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business.” Journal of British Studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2006. Retrieved from: https://oup.silverchaircdn.com/oup/backfile/Content_public/Journal/ahr/111/5/10.1086/ahr.111.5.1603/2/11151603.pdf?Expires=1494532181&Signature=Bktk0Wtwlcjwcjdb8gNc0UvvCVDVd8BNVD8Z4iKlCR9HALBUWSYbk55G2xWUJaxbqlN4Zvxkhe6860o3tEN~-8IS7dCLOuIUwFuh5pyob2uamoCVT~W-mzPbaBebkCVoWo1ywvI4HCJBf-fHA9k2e2bmNLlrGL0BxhqnMblaLW2HuEJWqY1lTAtB-4m60OXMHRyDWrsajBcFPLbHyQ8erLkEQelz2yZBq5lumwXYQ3m2M8so1i6LVviTHWrgXuokMQfgIlMrrjy6XKxoH71bHKuMAu20Ph8wNY3Rd70Q6yOIobiKhaBV6xhRrC8kjzuWuB6SCIqGldwX3B1006WE~w__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIUCZBIA4LVPAVW3Q.
Soley, Allison. “Cacao Farmers Still Aren’t Making enough money: Cocoa Barometer review shows young farmers no longer replacing older farmers due to extremely low wages.” 1 July 2015. Candy Industry website. Retrieved from: http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86817-cocoa-farmers-still-arent-making-enough-money.
Taza Chocolate website. Last accessed 10 May 2017. https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza.
United States Department of Labor, “Dominican Republic Submission Under Central America-United States Free Trade Agreements.” (7 September 2013). Retrieved from: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/our-work/trade/fta-submissions#DR