Picture this: it’s Friday night, and after a long week of work, you are finally preparing for a nice, relaxing movie night with your family. You sit down, put your feet up, and start unwrapping a luxurious chocolate bar in the comfort of your own home. At this point, most of you are probably not thinking about the thousands of hands that went into harvesting, preparing, and producing the chocolate you’re now cuddled up with on the couch. Additionally, many people are completely unaware of the harsh reality and inhumane conditions that the cacao farmers face on a daily basis. This is partially due to the lack of knowledge regarding the chocolate supply chains, as well as the lack of conversation around hardships and unethical labor standards the farmers have to endure. Many of the farmers producing this delicious, luxury product are actually living on less than $2 per day (Granit 2017). Not only does it seem impossible for one person to survive on a mere $2 per day, but these farmers are also trying to support their families and the surrounding community. With these wages, “they earn just enough money from cocoa sales to pay for rice and cooking oil. There’s usually nothing left over” (Off 5). Clearly, this is unsustainable, unethical, and unfair. Eventually, if changes are not made, more and more of these poor farmers will be forced to turn away from harvesting cacao and move towards other crops. If that happens, the industrial, environmentally harmful, production will continue to take over.
When we walk into a store to purchase a chocolate bar we are greeted with a plethora of attractive, colorful, interesting labels riddled with buzz words such as “natural” or “raw” and enticing brand names. However, what seems to be constantly left out is transparency –-basic transparency regarding how much money the farmers are actually earning, what farming methods were used, where and how the chocolate was produced, etc. If that information was highlighted in the advertising of each chocolate bar, it would be almost impossible to avoid, and it would most likely influence the consumers’ purchasing habits. The history and stories of enslaved cocoa farmers are horrific, and many times, unbearable to read. To paint a picture of what many laborers have endured in Angola, the western coast of Southern Africa, “Human bones littered the sides of the trail, so many that it ‘would take an army of sextons to bury all of the poor bones which consecrate that path.’ The bones in the dust were those of slaves who could no longer march, who were too weak to walk. Some captives were simply left to die; many others were killed by a blow to the head” (Satre 1). This is the kind of information that isn’t advertised, the information that many large chocolate companies and manufacturers don’t want the general public to consider when purchasing their product.
I believe it all starts with education – increasing the awareness regarding the injustice within the industry is the first, extremely important, step. This post aims to educate and encourage chocolate consumers to ask questions about the chocolate they are consuming: Where is it coming from? Who produced it? How much are the farmers getting paid? What are their living conditions like? And if we really knew all of the answers to the questions listed above, would we still be able to indulge in chocolate luxury knowing that so many farmers and their families are suffering in order to produce the chocolate bar we are consuming? The answer is not to completely eliminate chocolate consumption, but rather to encourage conscious consumerism through education and brand transparency.
Many misconceptions have formed around this issue of unethical labor standards, and many of those misconceptions formed false biases. For example, the image below shows a young boy struggling to carry a sack of cacao pods. He is unnamed, it wasn’t clear who took the picture, but clearly, the situation appears to represent unethical labor standards. This image has somehow given consumers the incorrect idea that if they just avoid chocolate manufactured with cacao from Africa, the majority of the problem will be solved. Clearly, this idea comes from a lack of education regarding the cacao supply chain as a whole. I think this bias can be improved through education about The Global Slavery Index, research conducted in different parts of the world, and increased transparency across all brand labels.
When I first saw the image above, I was absolutely shocked. Many questions came to mind; one of them being, why wouldn’t the parents protect their children against such harsh labor conditions? Well, as it turns out, “children in cocoa households can fall victim to micro-level pressures (such as family breakdown) which undermine their ability not to enter the workforce and thus make them ‘unfree’. Because this ‘unfreedom’ is part of much wider processes of societal change, it is often undetected in policy circles and is extremely difficult to address” (Berlan 1088). On top of that, arguments have been made that the reason why the attempts to address this issue haven’t been effective is due to the fact that children have different rights in cocoa-producing communities that make it difficult to take action and solve the problem altogether (Berlan 1088).
When striving to satisfy chocolate cravings in a conscious way, there are already a handful of companies on their way to helping us on this journey: Theo Chocolate, Taza Chocolate, eatingEVOLVED, Alter Eco, and Sweetriot to name a few. However, I would like to discuss two companies in depth: Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco.
Not only is Taza Chocolate produced right next door in Somerville, MA, but the company is really diving in and striving to solve the ethical issues around child labor, workers’ rights, and transparency throughout their bean-to-bar process. They 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 partners 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. In fact, you can see exactly what we pay them, right here in our 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report” (Taza Transparency Report 2018). This is the information that every chocolate company should be required to produce and deliver to the public.
On the website, they explicitly explain their commitment to quality, Fair Trade prices, and openness to address issues throughout the supply chain. “Our commitment to cacao quality and ethical trade is matched only by our belief in transparency. In 2012, Taza published the industry’s first Transparency Report and reported the higher-than-Fair Trade prices we pay our partners as part of our Direct Trade program. We do the same every year, and in 2016, we upped the ante again when we published farm level pricing and tackled tough issues of value and fairness in the supply chain. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we aren’t afraid to ask hard questions around what it takes to be seriously good and fair for all and to share what we learn with others” (Taza 2019). It’s so important to increase awareness about companies such as Taza because they truly lead by example by showcasing their strong values and great mission statement. Their transparency is incredible, and the best part is that they are ready and willing to share their information with others and inspire them to take action.
By practicing Direct and Fair Trade, developing real relationships with the human beings behind the harvesting, and sourcing from Middle and Latin America, Taza not only ensures high-quality ingredients but also shortens the supply chain, and therefore eliminates slave-labor from their production process. Taza is a company I am proud to support.
Alter Eco is more than just another delicious chocolate company, it’s a company on a mission to promote “activism through food” (Alter Eco 2019), by producing Fair Trade, organic chocolate, while also improving the lives of the cocoa farmers and using environmentally friendly packaging. And, it’s free of preservatives, palm kernel oil, and soy. Talk about the perfect opportunity for conscious consuming! By creating and sustaining this full-circle approach, Alter Eco is changing the chocolate game as we know it. “Our products and packaging have evolved over time, but our values continue to guide every step forward. Together with our farmers, employees, investors, and customers, we’re taking an adventure through food, and creating a vision of the future that’s fair, prosperous, healthy and mouth-watering. Though we can’t all break bread at the same table, we like to think that every time we crack open a bag or bar of Alter Eco here in the States, we’re sharing a nourishing moment with Maria in Peru, Gustavo in Bolivia, Grover in Ecuador – and you” (Alter Eco 2019). I love the sense of community, equality, and inclusivity that Alter Eco embodies.
Medical Care — Alter Eco strives to create a healthy, and enjoyable, environment for their employees which includes providing the benefits and resources they deserve. For example, Alter Eco’s Fair Trade Funding goes towards member training, improved facilities (new kitchen stoves, etc.), medical exams, education advancement, financial loans, and reforestation. Because most of the farming communities are located in remote areas that can be difficult to access, medical funding is provided to ensure that farmers and their families are receiving the care they need and deserve. The medical funding includes Cholesterol, Triglycerides, and blood pressure analysis, as well as female wellness exams to prevent cervical cancer (Taza 2019).
Education and Training — Having the opportunity to receive an education is so important, and not having that opportunity is absolutely unacceptable. In one of the required readings this semester, I read about a lot of instances in which children were unable to receive a formal education. For example, “One man, who was kept out of school to work for his father, told me: ‘Being illiterate, people wouldn’t give me a chance; I feel like I am missing a lot’” (Ryan 46). Improving education through member training is also a priority at Alter Eco, so Fair Trade funding also offers workshops and training sessions that cover subjects such as agricultural practices, biodiverse crop formations, organic compost and agricultural practices, quality control, and even talking to parents about the importance of providing their kids with the proper education. Entrepreneurial ideas are supported and encouraged as well.
There is still a long way to go when it comes to solving the inequality, unethical labor standards, and inhumane working conditions in the chocolate industry today. Although, as demonstrated by the examples above, there are already a few companies striving to make a positive difference by shortening the supply chain, implementing Fair Trade and Direct Trade practices, and using that funding to better the lives of the farmers and their families. From now on, I will do my best to do my research before purchasing chocolate as well as food in general, so that I can be sure my money is being used to fight for a cause I believe in. I hope you will consider doing the same. R
- Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” 2013.
- Granit, Maya. “Opinion: Getting to Know the Chocolate Supply Chain.” Devex, 6 Oct. 2017, www.devex.com/news/opinion-getting-to-know-the-chocolate-supply-chain-91182. Retrieved May 3, 2019
- Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
- Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.
- Satre, Lowell. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens: Ohio University Press. (2005).
- Taza Website: Taza Chocolate. (2018). 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2019 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report
- Grommet, The. “TAZA – Stone Ground Organic Chocolate.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 Nov. 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sClYF2PB9nY.
- http://jeromepowers.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Cocoa-Child-Laborer.jpg Image from: “Jérôme Powers Blog.” Jérôme Powers Blog | Jérôme Powers, jeromepowers.com/wp/.
- “Our Story.” Alter Eco, http://www.alterecofoods.com/pages/our-story.
- Posts, Blog. “You’re Not Only Buying Chocolate, You’re Supporting Communities around the World.” Alter Eco, Alter Eco, 10 Oct. 2017, http://www.alterecofoods.com/blogs/blog/youre-not-only-buying-chocolate-youre-supporting-communities-around-the-world.
- Taza chocolate transparency report photo: Taza Chocolate. (2018). 2018 Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report. Taza Chocolate Website. [Online image]. Retrieved May 3, 2019 from https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/2018-transparency-report