The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.
Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.
Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.
Types of Chocolate in the Tasting
(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.
(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.
(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.
(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.
Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.
(1) Direct Trade:
Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
Easy-to-read font that pops out
(2) Fair Trade:
Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso
Observations of Packaging:
“Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)
Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
Observations of Packaging:
“Typical coffee colors”
Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)
Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.
The history of chocolate mirrors the history of mestizaje from Mesoamerica to modern-day Mexico and Central America, with the contemporary product serving as the result of both Mesoamerican and Spanish influences. Even the production of authentic, ancient, or traditional Mesoamerican cacao beverages and chocolate are infused with post-colonial influences, from the addition of new ingredients to entirely new techniques for crafting chocolate. Of these, the introduction of the molinillo, now considered a staple component in crafting traditional Mexican chocolate, represents the culmination of indigenous and Spanish techniques.
Pre-Conquest Mesoamerican Chocolate
Cacao was harvested and consumed as early as the Olmec civilization, with cacao originating from their word for currency, ka-ka-w . The Mayans adopted cacao into their respective civilization–for consumption, as legal tender, and for rituals.
Cacao was essential for social, physical, and spiritual well-being, regarded for its medicinal, spiritual, and aphrodisiac qualities. The Mayan would prepare the batidos and other hot chocolate beverages from the ground cacao pulps. They were also used for arranging marriages, with the term tac haa, “to serve chocolate,” commonly used to describe the discussions in which they would determine marriages while drinking chocolate. Mixtec went a step further, using “cacao” as a phrase for royal marriage . For the Aztecs, only the elites and wealthy consumed it because it couldn’t grow in Mexico, so they had to transport it 900 miles on their back .
Early pre-Columbian religious references to cacao are also prevalent in both Mayan and Aztec artifacts, with the Popol Vuh ascribing cacao with godly qualities and the Dresden Codex featuring cacao throughout, including consumption by the gods . Likewise, in the Madrid Codex, Aztecs believed that cacao beans were the physical manifestation of Quetzalcoatl . Other religious depictions included:
Cacao in fertility rites, with Ixchel and the rain god exchanging cacao.
Cacao tree depictions of royal bloodlines, with deities emerging from cacao trees with pods and flowers to symbolize their royal blood .
Figure: Aztec statue holding a cacao pod.
“Chocolate for the body; foam for the soul.”
Meredith Dreiss, Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods 
The foam produced was of special religious importance, with the foam seen as the most sacred part of the drink . With this reverence toward the froth, the molinillo, as the instrument used to facilitate easier production of the froth, would also be revered and would become deeply intertwined in the chocolate-making process.
Molinillo in Mesoamerica? The Spanish Arrive
Many would expect that the Mayans and Aztecs used molinillos, since they are now regarded as crucial instruments when crafting authentic traditional chocolate beverages, but in fact, the molinillo was most likely introduced by the Spanish, possibly during the 16th century. While it is true that pre-Columbian texts mentioned turtle/tortoise shell stirring spoons and stirrers, there were no mentions of molinillos in pre-Columbian texts. Moreover, it was noticeably absent from the first Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary in 1571 .
Some of the possible confusion could stem from anachronistic depictions of the molinillo, such as the one below:
“The artist has misunderstood the use of the metate [curved cacao grinding stone], and has mistakenly included the post-Conquest molinillo. (From J. Ogilby, America, London, 1671.)
Instead, they used “small, hemispherical bowls” as drinking and mixing vessels, made with materials ranging from ceramics, to decorated calabash gourds (Crescentia cujete tree), to gold (huei tlatoani). Foam was created by pouring chocolate repeatedly between drinking vessels to produce the foam .
It wasn’t until 1780, when Jesuit Francesco Saverio Clavigero, mentioned the molinillo but not the traditional method of pouring the beverage to produce foam .
Molinillo: The Basics
The molinillo, a kitchen tool used to froth hot chocolate beverages, is a carved, handcrafted wooden stick, with a slender handle at one end and a knob at the other . Its name is derived from its circular shape and its motion when used for producing foam resembling that of a molino (windmill) . Each molinillo is unique and varies in size depending on the amount of beverage to be produced. The first iterations involved a simple ball or square at the end of a long handle. However, these soon were adapted to better facilitate frothing. Modern molinillos are crafted from a single block of wood, forming a slender wooden “whisk” with a long tapered handle and a carved knob with rings and other movable parts on the other end .
Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces, as well as square tops instead of rounded .
Using a Molinillo
Frothing hot chocolate beverages with a molinillo is straightforward. Simply put, the slender handle is gripped between the palms, which are then rubbed together to rotate the carved knob back and forth. This motion grinds the chocolate discs used for the beverages against the pestle bottom of the drinking vessel , allowing the beverage to froth within a few minutes.
The motion is so simple, in fact, that the molinillo frothing process is even a popular rhyme among Mexican children and their teachers:
Bate = Stir or whip tu nariz de cacahuate = roughly "your peanut nose" Uno, dos, tres = One, two, three
“Molinillo and chocolate depend on each other–one cannot exist without the other. “
Molinillos are carved from a single piece of wood rotating on an axis. Typically soft wood from trees like the aile mexicano (Alnus acuminata ssp. glabrata) are used for carving because they are odorless and flavorless as to not impact the flavor of the chocolate. The black sections of the molinillo are not painted; rather, the friction from the velocity of the wood spinning on the axis of the machine burns the wood a darker color, which the crafter then polishes. Once the base is completed with all the large grooves, all the smaller notch carvings (helpful for circulating the milk to increase frothiness) are completed by hand .
Each molinillo is unique, and the basic design can be flourished with details such as colored accents or ivory pieces:
Artisanal Molinillo Crafting
For molinillo artisans in areas popular for their chocolate, such as 3rd generation crafter Jesus Torres Gomez, carving molinillos, among other wooden kitchen utensils, is both a skill and an artform, passed down for over 100 years as they continue to modify and perfect their craftsmanship. While he uses a motor to facilitate the rotation of the wood piece, all the carvings are completed by hand. He produces 3 types of molinillos:
Criollo, for making the foam for chocolate atole in the central valleys.
For making the foam for hot chocolate.
More elaborate item to serve as a decorative souvenir for tourists in Oaxaca (not meant to be used).
Similar to the more extravagant uses of chocolate and chocolate-producing equipment in Mesoamerica, these items are often also used for special events, including weddings and quinceañeras (coming of age celebration for 15th birthday) .
Modern-Day Molinillos and “Authentic Recipes”
Contemporary molinillos serve more as a nostalgic artifact than a necessary tool for the average chocolate beverage consumer. For champurrado–traditional Mexican chocolate-based atole– and hot chocolate, recipes available online often include many modifications to traditional recipes, incorporating many ingredients not available to pre-Columbian Mesoamericans. For the thicker champurrado, they are often flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, cloves, and other spices, as well as grated piloncillo (raw, undefined sugar cane).
Likewise, they often include milk instead of water, and they are frothed with whisks or spoons. For “authentic Mexican hot chocolate” recipes, chocolate beverages are not strictly based on traditional Mayan or Aztec chocolate recipes; similar to the effect of molinillos on chocolate crafting, they combine indigenous and Spanish influences. However, molinillos are still incorporated into more traditional recipes, particularly Oaxacan hot chocolate, which uses water instead of milk and is whisked with a molinillo .
 Khan, Gulnaz. “Watch the Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making.”
 Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods.’”
 Festa, Jessica. “Sweet Guatemala: A Look At The Country’s Mayan Chocolate History And Modern Experiences.”
 Martin, Carla D.
 De la Fuente del Moral, Fatima.
 Martin, Carla D.
 Dreiss, Meredith L., and Sharon Greenhill. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods.
 Martin, Carla D.
 Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate.
 Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.”
 CORTV. Jesús Torres Gómez artesano en molinillos.
The well-documented history of cocoa tells the story of an
industry driven by greed. However, the picture that is often painted does not
speak to how this has evolved.
Dating back as far as 1500 BCE to 400 BCE, the period spanning the Olmec civilization, discoveries and research have firmly validated the significant role that cocoa has long-played in both culture and religion (Coe and Coe, 2013). The same history speaks to a past whereby:
origins and producers were exploited by explorers, instigating and contributing to the slave trade for years;
industrialized nations seeking to dominate processing and control greater market share, sparked proxy wars with the imposition of tariffs on imports originating from colonies other than their own (present and/or former); and
saw industrialized nations assume a patriarchal stance that significantly limited powers and diminished the voice of producing origins (former colonies)—lost ground that would take them years to recapture.
The following seeks to detail cocoa’s dark past—one whose opacity perpetuated years of human rights abuses including forced and child labor. Having evolved as an industry, the following will also outline industry’s transition into an ever-increasingly transparent and responsible global industry that remains challenged by perceptions based on its past and wrestling to break free from its dark history.
Cocoa’s Sordid Past and Contribution to the Slave Trade
Spanning the Pre-Classic (2000 BCE to 300 CE) to Post Classic
(900 to 1500 CE) periods, the number and diversity of explorers ballooned,
ultimately leading to a dramatic shift in where and by whom cocoa was produced,
as well as who (specifically which nations and companies) would profit from its
trade, increasingly efficient processing, and mass manufacturing.
Due largely to voluntary and involuntary migration (i.e., the slave trade) the movement of goods and saw Theobroma cacao cultivation spread from its genetic origins of the Amazon Basin and cultural and religious roots which have been traced back to Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico through Central America) (Coe and Coe, 2013).
In what is now present-day Central and South America, during
the early 1500s, under the encomienda system, Spanish conquistadors were
granted rights to force indigenous inhabitants to perform labor in their favor
(Martin, 2019). This led to an irreparable deterioration of culture and loss of
land (Martin, 2019). On the other side of the Atlantic, chattel slavery, the practice
whereby people are treated as property, between 1500 and 1900, it is estimated
that up to 15 million Africans were enslaved, of which 40 out of every 100 died
in waiting or during transatlantic transport. In both cases, indigenous peoples
were forced to cultivate cocoa while seeing little to no profit in return. In addition,
favoritism played into economic positioning among industrialized nations as tariffs
and quotas sought to control production and supply with demand (Leissle, 2018).
As cocoa’s production footprint broadened, applications and
formulations evolved, popularity within consumer markets increased, and its importance
as a traded commodity destined for processing units around the world surged.
As competition grew fiercer, regulation became an ever more critical
element to ensure the crop’s viability. But most importantly, it was introduced
to ensure economic stability for countries and operators who relied on the trade.
This period gave rise to regulatory standards and voluntary certification programs
in cocoa—both of which grew more diverse and exacting during the late 1980s present
Perhaps the most prolific shift, and marking industry’s
acknowledgment that improvements were both possible and needed, with the
enactment of the Harkin Engel Protocol in 2001, accountability, and
requirements to proactively identify instances, address breakdowns, and prevent
arrange of defined human rights abuses took center stage. When introduced, regulatory
requirements and elements core to voluntary certification systems fundamentally
changed how supply chain operators engaged producers, managed their businesses,
interacted with the market, and reported.
During the same period, industry associations were
established, and collective efforts launched. Among them were groups such as
the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), and the
Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG), all groups representing interests
at every level from all sides.
In due course, regulations and certifications designed to
promote best practices, ensure worker (producer), crop, and environmental
protections, combat fraudulent claims, and ensure accurate reporting and
labeling (i.e., of provenance, certification claims, production practices,
quality, etc.) have improved, expanded, and been welcomed.
Adoption, adaptation, replication, and the proliferation of programs, as well as their capabilities and level of sophistication, continue to evolve rapidly. Not glued simply to factors related to compliance, conformity, or competitiveness, companies are investing significant amounts of resources to align with and exceed regulatory, consumer, and commercial standards and expectations. However, despite advances, and an elongating track record of progress and proactive effort, the industry is often chastised for not doing enough, investing enough, or sharing enough.
Stuck in the Past and Unable to Break the Cycle: The Vilification of the Cocoa Industry
Sampling of Collective Industry Efforts – Programs and Reporting
Seeking to address systemic constraints perpetuating or exacerbating breakdowns, the industry has demonstrated its willingness and ability to come to affect change.
For example, after launching, implementing, and learning
from the original and subsequent iterations of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Cocoa
Livelihoods Program (CLP), after several years of complex negotiations
(balancing risk, exposure, and financial implications), WCF and its member
companies launched, and have developed good traction with Cocoa
Action, one of several WCF initiatives designed, developed, and implemented
with and through its members. While
they admit that it took more time to lay the groundwork that they had initially
anticipated, they ultimately emerged with a thoughtful and thorough platform
that continues to progress well.
Additionally, since its founding in 2002, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI)
has significantly influenced positive movement on all fronts concerning child
labor, including the development of new tools, systems, and metrics to measure
progress. This includes the consultative process that led to the development of
standards for collective and individual Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation
Recognizing that they can only harness so much, Industry has teamed with governments, international standard-setting bodies, research institutions, and others to advance efforts to combat forced and child labor, address its root causes, and improve reporting practices to bolster transparency.
Sampling of Individual Company Efforts – Programs and Reporting
Having worked inside and alongside the world’s leading cocoa
companies, I recall several meetings where heads of responsible sourcing and
on-the-ground activities expressed concern that not enough was being done to
address the root causes. Without taking on migration, land, voting, and school
registration issues, efforts would continue to face challenges. To do this, the
group discussed land ownership and migratory movements of Burkinabe to Côte d’Ivoire,
their inability to secure land, and in many cases, to register their children in
school. While it was not the first, and certainly not the last, this was a good
reminder that addressing the child labor issue was not as clear-cut as many
often like to think.
Beyond programs that tighten controls, incentivize parents
for producing school registration certificates, third-party certification audits
that verify adherence to specific standards and practices, and collective and individual
company efforts to refine and expand CLMRS, the industry continues to improve the
technical scope of their programs.
The following list provides a snapshot of reports detailing global efforts to address a wide range of unique challenges faced by cocoa farming communities—including child labor. These are offered in response to comments made during the recent film screening and panel discussion “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain.” – May 2019 Discussion
Key takeaways from the May 2019 discussion [and report] aligned with similar panels and studies that point to:
The complexity and scope of the issue;
range and number of actors and implications along the value chain at each stage;
need for leaders, officials, and representatives from all sides (public and private), and on all levels (municipal, regional, national, and international) to work together to develop and enact responses that effectively address root causes; and
calls for greater transparency.
Specific to claims around the lack of transparency and access, deficiencies noted during the discussion included the following:
Visibility into supply chain monitoring plans, geographical scope, findings, and improvements; and
the number, frequency, and quality of public disclosures of internal reports.
In practice, the following are evident:
Companies are proactively and thoughtfully engaged in addressing child and forced labor—not merely in response to regulations or calls from consumers or international bodies;
companies are leading in investments in certification programs, traceability systems, coordinating industry-wide efforts and policy formulation; and
the quality and frequency of reporting are there despite claims that it is absent of lacking.
These are vital considerations to bear in mind when looking
at the balance of what is being done, by whom, how it financed, and what is
being said about those leading the way and reporting on it as appeals for
greater transparency play into the vilification of cocoa companies instead of
praise for their role in realizing progress.
While there is much more to bring into the frame, the above
does tell speak to the other side of the story—one that is rarely shared.
Things have come a long way; however, despite grand efforts
to date, many forms of forced and child labor still exist, and the number of
instances of human rights violations are still far too prevalent. To that end, much
more can and will continue to be done. Going forward, stakeholders must move
forward together with the mindful that this is an ever-evolving and continuously
improving process in terms of design, implementation, and measurement.
So while independent company activities and collective industry-wide
efforts have evolved and improved with learnings over the years, there are
programmatic gaps and blind spots that must be proactively and constructively
Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Martin, Carla D. “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain”.
Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. April 24, 2019. Film Screening and
Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor”.
Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. March 6, 2019. Lecture.
Picolotto, A., Giovanaz, D., Casara, J., Loth, Laura W., Lambranho,
L., Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Sabrina, R., and Kruse, T. “Cocoa Supply Chain:
Advances ad Challenges Toward the Promotion of Decent Work”. 2019. International
Labour Organization (ILO), Public Labour Prosecutor’s Office (MPT), Papel
“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film
Screening and Discussion, Part 1” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine
Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.
“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film
Screening and Discussion, Part 2” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine
Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.
“Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) in
the Société Coopérative Ivoirienne du Négoce des Produits Agricoles (SCINPA) Cooperative”.
Olam International. 2017.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of
Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
In the summer after my sophomore year of college, I conducted
research on sustainable development in Costa Rica and Panama. This was one of
the most enriching academic and personal experiences in my life to-date,
especially the week that I spent living on a small-scale cacao farm in
Mastatal, Costa Rica. That magical week involved working and eating alongside
the absolutely lovely family that has owned the land its cacao trees for
Mastatal is a unique agricultural community that lies in the
south west region of the San Jose Province. It is a town that has always relied
on agriculture, usually on a small scale. It has never industrialized and found
a comfortable place in the larger Costa Rica economy, but since the turn of the
century it has revived its economy through agricultural tourism, or agritourism.
Wait… what is agritourism?
Agricultural tourism is a subset of the larger trend toward
ecotourism, a style of travel that involves leaving a small footprint on the
environment, while connecting on a deeper level with it. Agritourism involves staying
and working on a farm with the goal of getting closer to the source of the food
you eat. This trend is generally being driven by global changes in food and dining,
climate and energy conservation, health and wellness, and heritage conservation
(Ciglovska, 278). Four farms in Mastatal, all focusing on different products, use
agritourism as a source of additional income, hosting visitors, giving tours, making
local dishes, and putting the travelers to work. Where I was staying, La Iguana
Chocolate, was the main attraction, because everybody loves chocolate.
The group of students that I was a part of worked alongside
the family that owned the cacao operation, while conducting field research on
the budding agritourism industry in the small town as a whole. The work was
hard but rewarding and gave me closer insight into the process of harvesting cacao
and making chocolate, as well as the struggles of a small scale producer. Chocolate
is made from the beans inside a fruit that grows from a tree, something that I
was unaware of before my time on the farm. Upon arriving we were given a full
tasting, one of the services that is offered to travelers each day. The couple
that operates the farm greeted us with an interesting looking fruit that
reminded me of a squash, and when they broke it open it was filled with small
white fuzzy pods. They encouraged us to take one of the pods and eat the white
fuzzy material off of it, and that was the moment that I found my favorite
fruit. Yes, cacao is my favorite fruit. It sounds crazy… most people have no
idea where the cocoa powder and butter that makes their favorite treat comes from,
or that the raw fruity product could be so delicious. For those of you struggling
to believe me, I have attached a video of a tasting. That first sight of the
cacao pods was only the beginning of my time spent with them over the course of
my time at La Iguana.
The most rewarding part of the whole week was the time spent in the fields harvesting the cacao pods. The work is eye-opening in its difficulty. We started our day with a quick breakfast at around seven o’clock in the morning before packing lunch and all the necessary tools onto the back of a single horse. We then set off through the back of the immediate property, down a dirt, and then mud, road for about a mile until we came to a river. Shoes were removed and the river was crossed, the small dog accompanying us was carried, of course. After we scaled a large hill we finally reached the edge of a forest, situated in higher altitude than we were previously. The walk alone was enough to exhaust the group, but it is highly necessary that the cacao trees are in the perfect environment to grow effectively. Cacao trees need to be in an area with high moisture but good draining, usually shaded by other trees and surrounded by a heavy underbrush of leaves. This is knowledge that has been passed down for generations, since the first cacao tree was brought to Mastatal. These very particular conditions were perfect in this hillside forest, and the journey to reach the trees is absolutely worth it when the trees are highly productive. This is especially true when your livelihood depends on it.
Once we got to the vast area of cacao trees there was important
training that needed to take place. There were several strains of cacao growing
in the field. This meant that the ideal color and shape of the pods that were
ready for harvest could differ from tree to tree. Green pods turn a deep
yellow, but yellow pods turn a bright red. Clearly there is room for confusion. Beyond
that, any pod that has black spots on it must be taken down despite its level
of ripeness. The black spots are a disease that can ruin an entire harvest, Moniliophthora
roreri, but more on
that later. We also had to learn how to properly use the sharp tools to cut the
pods from the trunks of the cacao trees. It seemed like at every step in the
process of growing and harvesting cacao there was only one very specific way of
doing things. While we may have been a bit unprepared, we were set off into the
forest, machete and large hemp bag in hand.
Aside from the
cliff of mud and rushing river that had to be passed to reach the crop, the work
itself was awfully dangerous as well. Costa Rica is home to the Fer-de-Lance,
an incredibly venomous viper who likes to live in underbrush… underbrush much
like that required to grow cacao. Some of the pods are also out of reach,
making climbing a tree with a machete in hand necessary. Once our bags were
full with pods, we hauled them to the center of the forest and all dumped them
out to extract the beans. While working on the pods, we chatted with the family
about how they got started in cacao, and what the biggest challenges have been
in making a living from the crop.
While roughly two thirds of the worlds cacao production happens in West Africa, the plant is indigenous to Central and South America, an area that produces only five percent of the worlds cacao today (Leissle, 16). This is due to the colonial exportation of the production means to an area that was understood as having cheap and abundant labor that could support the booming chocolate industry. La Iguana is one of the few farms still producing cacao in the Mastatal area. We were told that cacao trees were brought to the area in the middle of the twentieth century because the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture saw it as an opportunity to breathe life into the economy of the area. In essence, small scale subsistence and fruit farmers were forced to change their production techniques and land use to cater to cacao. Encouraging shaded agro-ecosystems like cacao also “provide a promising means of addressing the challenges of creating a forest‐like habitat for tropical biodiversity in a rapidly deforested landscape, while simultaneously providing a lucrative crop for local agricultural communities” (Phillips‐Mora et al.).
However, many of the farmers that were planting cacao in Mastatal had to stop in the mid-90s when Monilio, the fungal disease discussed above, was spread through the area. We were told that there was no concrete understanding of how the disease came to the area, perhaps on the clothes of a traveler studying cacao. It was clear that this disease could cause hardship that seemed unsurmountable. It was well known that Monilio could be destroy long-term economic viability if even one yield was infected (Evans et al.). After the disease initially hit the La Iguana farm, they could not get enough pure cacao pods and had to revert to selling only fruit from their smaller fruit farm for a living. A highlight is that even in pods with black spots covering most of the fruit, it is possible that the fungus has not yet reached the beans on the inside, and the cacao is still useable.
While La Iguana has implemented a few techniques to diminish the impact of the Monilia on their crop that has allowed them to maintain good harvests, there have been other struggles for the small farm in establishing a sustainable business model. The largest struggle for them, as well as the other farms shifting towards an agritourism model, was attracting the right crowds of people. The research that I ultimately produced from my time there looked at the marketing techniques of each of these farms, and how they are perceived by the surrounding community. I found that the initial launch of these farms as tourist destinations brought the wrong kind of people to the town, creating a tension between the farms and other locals. Jarkko Saarinen is a scholar who has done extensive research in the field, and he made a similar generalization that “high development goals of rural tourism may separate rural communities and tourism actors, which can cause economic and social conflicts, insecurity and locally unwanted changes in rural landscapes.” However, once La Iguana was able to control the crowds they were attracting, and their ability to bring new people to the area started having a positive impact on the greater community, they reached a new level of stability and social sustainability.
However, both the control of tourists coming to eat chocolate from the source, and the control of Monilio are ongoing battles for La Iguana Chocolate as well as other small scale cacao farmers in the region. I am infinitely grateful for the time I was able to spend there, and the friends I made in Mastatal. The knowledge that I gained from living and working in a small agricultural town going through a beautiful economic transformation will allow me to better navigate these communities in the future and work with them on their long term development and sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.
C., et al. “What’s in a Name: Crinipellis, the Final Resting Place for the
Frosty Pod Rot Pathogen of Cocoa?” Mycologist, vol. 16, no. 4, Nov.
2002, pp. 148–52. Cambridge Core, doi:10.1017/S0269915X02004093.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity, 2018.
Phillips‐Mora, W., et al. “Biodiversity and Biogeography of the Cacao
(Theobroma Cacao) Pathogen Moniliophthora Roreri in Tropical America.” Plant
Pathology, vol. 56, no. 6, 2007, pp. 911–22. Wiley Online Library,
Saarinen, Jarkko. “Traditions of Sustainability in Tourism Studies.” Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 33, no. 4, Oct. 2006, pp. 1121–40. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.06.007.
The cafe is cozy and dimly lit, the perfect setting for an interview. Dave and I head to the back and sit at a small wooden table. A few days ago, he had eagerly agreed to be interviewed as soon as I mentioned that the subject of my questions would be chocolate. Of course, he only became more enthusiastic after I mentioned that we would be doing a blind taste test as well. We order a couple of loose leaf teas and two slices of white bread — an odd order at a cafe, but we would need them to cleanse Dave’s palate during the tasting.
I start out by asking Dave how much he likes chocolate, to which he replies, “A pretty large amount.” I then ask him why he likes chocolate, but he seems confused at how to answer. “Well, it has a unique taste,” he says. “It has that melt-in-your-mouth quality. It’s creamy, fragrant, smooth, appealing.” Basically his answer in a few words was that chocolate simply tastes good — it has a good flavor and a good texture.
The question I asked seems simple, but upon closer examination there seems to be no clear answer. Why is the world so crazy about chocolate? In “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving,” author David Benton notes that chocolate is “by far the most common food item that people report that they crave” (205). But is there some scientific reason behind this, or are we just continuing the traditions of ancient civilizations (such as the Aztecs and the Maya) who called chocolate the ‘food of the gods’?
In my interview, I aimed to first look at chocolate from a more historical point of view to examine reasons behind its inherent ‘specialness,’ before comparing this to what we think of chocolate today. I then wanted to examine something a little less black and white — Dave’s general feelings towards chocolate, and why these certain feelings may have developed as a result of pop culture and the media. After this, I wanted to touch on some thoughts about the nature of the chocolate industry and some of the problems in it. And finally, I wanted to try a blind chocolate taste test, to compare my knowledge about chocolate companies with Dave’s blind opinion about the chocolates themselves. I thought it would be interesting to see whether he could taste differences in quality, flavor, and texture.
Chocolate in History vs. Today: What do you associate with chocolate?
“I have fond memories of chocolate from when I was little,” Dave explains. “In a lot of the events I would go to, like performances, they’d have chocolate to give us kids and we’d eat it while watching the performers.”
It might seem rather arbitrary that we associate chocolate with special events and celebrations. However, this has been a pattern throughout history. Going back to the ancient Aztec and Mayan civilizations, chocolate has often appeared in rituals and religious ceremonies. In a sacred Mayan text, the Popol Vuh, cacao appears several times — for example, there are stories about gods being represented by cacao pods (Coe & Coe, 39). Cacao was also linked to marriage rituals (for example, as dowries) and rites of death.
There are many sources that talk about how chocolate has always been special, historically. It has often appeared in religious and spiritual contexts. Such myths about cacao and gods may seem so detached from us now; maybe we are ‘logical’ or ‘scientists’ and no longer widely believe in such tales. But then maybe we are not so far from this mindset as we may initially think. We still romanticize chocolate as being a mystical substance with mysterious powers. Although we may not call it the ‘food of the gods,’ we still hold it with a similar regard. We still serve it at events and special occasions, we still relate it to fertility (it is associated with aphrodisiacs and romance), and yet we cannot easily explain what makes it so special.
For children especially, chocolate is an alluring treat associated with intensity and excitement (as it was to Dave). This may be why marketing to children is such a huge business: children are even more likely to ignore any logical arguments and accept chocolate as being magical. But there is even evidence of adults today thinking of chocolate in this way: for example, in “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered,” James Howe describes a doctor who was trying to scientifically explain the remarkable cardiovascular health of the Kuna people. The doctor notices that they drink a lot of cacao and immediately relates this to their heart health, although he may not have made the same conclusion had they been drinking a common cornmeal drink. And of course, their healthiness turned out to be unrelated to cacao drinking. The doctor had simply been romanticizing cacao, perhaps because it was more mysterious to him.
As for the reason why we are drawn to cacao, it could be scientific: chocolate has been shown to be one of the most complex natural flavors (Brenner, 64), so perhaps we are simply attracted to this multi-dimensionality. Or maybe the fascination of the Aztecs and Mayans with chocolate has carried over to our time. Or as Benton explains in “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving,” it could just be because it tastes good (214). Either way, all we can conclude is that chocolate is mysterious to us and that we still tend to consider it under in mystical context — kind of like how the Aztecs and Mayans did so long ago.
Chocolate and Emotions and Pop culture: How do you feel about chocolate?
“I think of chocolate and happiness,” Dave says fondly. “Yeah, it’s definitely a happy food. I sometimes eat it when I’m stressed, but then I eat a lot when I’m stressed in general.”
It seems that Dave is not the only person who thinks that chocolate encourages happiness. Chocolate is often given as a gift of love or celebration, in order to urge someone to think of you in a fond or romantic way. But because of chocolate’s clear link with improving mood, people often eat it when upset, bored, or stressed. As Benton describes in his essay, there is a link between chocolate and ‘emotional’ eating, and there is also “consistent evidence that chocolate craving is associated with depression and other disturbances of mood” (206). In other words, because we associate chocolate with happiness, our cravings often occur when we are upset.
Dave doesn’t explicitly mention eating chocolate when he is stressed or sad, but he does describe some of the chocolates he likes best: specifically, those small dark chocolate nuggets wrapped in colorful foil with inspirational messages written on the inside. It seems that the companies manufacturing chocolate are aware of its power to improve mood, and they try to exaggerate this effect as much as possible in order to encourage people to keep coming back. And yet, as Benton describes, there is no convincing evidence of certain constituents in chocolate having special mood-improving powers. This is again part of what makes chocolate so mysterious to us; we can look at its components and try to analyze scientifically, but in the end it’s the chocolate as a whole that is inexplicably stimulating.
But what deeper effects could these emotions have? Chocolate encourages happiness for so many people; how can we see the effects of this in the media and pop culture? I ask Dave how he relates chocolate to pop culture. He leans back in his seat, looking a little wistful.
“Oh, romance for sure,” he says, waving a hand. “And holidays… I always buy the most chocolate during those Christmas, Halloween, and Easter sales. And Valentine’s Day, of course — although I haven’t recently gifted chocolate in a romantic way or anything. But I want to.” He goes on to describe a romantic scene of him standing in a park near a bench with snow on the ground, holding a red box of chocolates and a single rose. “I always think of those little red heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Dark chocolates. With a bow.”
It’s surprising how specific these images are; we now seem to inherently relate Valentine’s Day to chocolate without questioning why we would do so. As for the other holidays, they are also important earning opportunities for chocolate-selling companies, especially if those companies take advantage of our associations of chocolate with romance and love. Many a chocolate advertisement will ruthlessly target women, appealing to them as mothers and housewives.
In terms of romance, Dave’s answer reveals the influence that these advertisements and depictions in the media have on us: he never even considers the possibility of a woman gifting a man chocolate. As a male, he assumes that it is his duty to do the giving. And this is no new concept — as Emma Robertson describes in “Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History,” women have been positioned as consumers since the time of the Aztecs (68). So we see again that there are common themes throughout history that have survived even until today.
Ultimately, we know that we crave chocolate because it tastes ‘good,’ and that we consider it an aphrodisiac and so relate it to fertility. We also know that historically, people have also loved and obsessed over chocolate, and wondered at its unusual powers — so much so that they associated it with divinity and spirituality. But in the end, we marvel at chocolate just as much as them. There are few satisfying or scientific answers as to why we associate chocolate so strongly with love, women, and happiness, rather than some other delicious treat. The fact that chocolate has held such an important position since so early in history just enhances its image in our eyes, and we continue to romanticize and fantasize, as can be seen from the media and its influence on people like Dave. At this point, we are fed so much information about chocolate’s link to romance and happiness that I would be surprised if Dave had not described the exact specific imagery that he had.
The Chocolate Industry: What do you know about the industry?
I knew that when asked about the ‘biggest’ chocolate brands, Dave would most likely name Hershey. But I wasn’t so sure about the others.
“I love Lindt, Godiva. Ferrero,” Dave lists. I was surprised. Lindt is the first one he mentions? “And Hershey’s, of course. Hershey’s is comfortable.”
I ask him why it’s comfortable. He describes how one of his teachers used to give him a big Hershey’s Symphony cookies n’ cream bar on his birthday, how he would split it among his friends, and hide it from his parents. “Well, it’s comfortable but the taste is aggressively sweet. I like dark chocolate, mostly.”
It seems that so many people have fond memories associated with Hershey’s. But is Hershey’s actually good? All of the other brands Dave mentioned suited his preference for dark chocolate; Lindt and Godiva are known for making higher quality, more expensive products (especially better quality dark chocolate). Hershey’s, however, seems to have established itself as a reliable and homely brand. As seen in advertisements such as the one for Hershey’s syrup, they appeal to family and strive to create good memories to associate with themselves. So it would make sense that people such as Dave would remember Hershey’s fondly, even if their preferences lie elsewhere.
There is a stark difference, in fact, between what American consumers and other consumers think of Hershey’s. Americans, having grown up on it and having forged many good memories with a Hershey’s bar in hand, are more likely to say that Hershey’s tastes ‘like home.’ However, other consumers have commonly remarked that Hershey’s tastes rather ‘like vomit.’ In his chocolate-making process, Hershey unintentionally added the side effect of milk fat fermentation, which creates a sour note in his milk chocolate (D’Antonio, 108). Since the milk is partially soured, it creates an acid that is found in substances such as baby spit-up — but American consumers are now too accustomed to the taste, or perhaps swayed by their pleasant memories of Hershey’s, to notice or complain (Metz).
One other surprising aspect of Dave’s comment was that he failed to mention Mars, indisputably one of the most influential chocolate snack manufacturers. When I tried to bring up candies Twix and Snickers, he commented that he had had a vague idea that such candies were produced by the same umbrella company, but that he hadn’t heard much about it. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mars has always been a secretive company — Forrest Mars had cared about quality and his empire vision and little else. Others had always agree that “Mars’s intelligence operations [were] infamous… they tried to pump information out of… anybody they could” (Brenner, 62). It is clear, then, that the nature of the company also largely impacts what the general public thinks of their brand and products.
I then asked Dave what he knew about unethical labor in the industry, just to gauge his awareness. He commented that he was aware of problems such as child labor in the system. “Consumers are definitely implicated in these problems, though,” he says, almost uncomfortably. “But if I saw a normal chocolate bar and a more expensive one labeled ‘ethically sourced,’ I’d probably go with the normal one. Nowadays it seems like labeling your candy as being ‘ethically sourced’ is more of a gimmick to squeeze more profit out of consumers. If I’m shopping and looking for a few items, I often don’t have the motivation to research the brand then and there.”
In other words, Dave was able to tell that the problem was complex enough that there could be no simple solution. He knew that just adding labels would not be enough to motivate consumers like himself to do research themselves and to start acting upon their new knowledge. As is true in many other situations, complex lives require holistic responses.
Tasting: what do you taste?
I had Dave close his eyes and taste test three different brands of dark chocolate (with a palate cleansing in between each): Cadbury, then Hershey’s, then Lindt. I was interested to see how his opinions might match up with the information I had about each brand.
On Cadbury: “This smells like dark chocolate! It is nutty, quite smooth, not too sweet, and melts nicely. But the taste is rather straightforward. It doesn’t linger.” Rated: 8/10
On Hershey’s: “This has a very odd odor. I’m not sure how to describe it. It melts incredible fast, is very sweet, and tastes a bit like coffee. It tastes lighter than the other one… maybe milk chocolate?” Rated: 7/10
On Lindt: “This smells very chocolatey; no odd scent here. It seems to melt slower though, and it tastes both very sweet and not so sweet at the same time. It does have some astringent notes and it seems to make my tongue dry. It’s very rich.” Rated: 5/10
Dave’s comments surprisingly matched up with what I predicted. He sensed that Hershey’s uses a lower percentage of actual cacao (by guessing that it was milk). He even smelled the sour note in the Hershey’s chocolate. However, he didn’t seem to like the texture of the Lindt chocolate as much, which was unexpected to me since Lindt was the one who invented the conching process. But in the end, he seemed to enjoy all three samples of chocolate (and continued eating them after the interview had ended).
After a closer examination, it becomes clear that chocolate has a complex and rich history, a controversial and influential role in society, and is the center of a competitive and powerful industry. The whole world is obsessed with this single characteristic flavor; so many people are constantly craving it, giving and receiving it, and talking about it. But is this such a surprise? The biggest conclusion at the end of the day is that chocolate is mysteriously delicious — and that perhaps we are not so different from those ancient civilizations and their myths about the ‘food of the gods.’
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain, by Astrid Nehlig, CRC Press, 2004.
Brenner Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World on Hershey & Mars. Broadway Books, 2000.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2019.
“‘Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.’” Hershey: Milton’s S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster Paperback, 2006.
Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, doi:10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.cover.
Metz, Elle. “Does Cadbury Chocolate Taste Different in Different Countries?” BBC News, BBC, 18 Mar. 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31924912. “’The Romance of the Cocoa Bean’: Imperial and Colonial Histories.” Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History, by Emma Robertson, University of York, 2004.
There has been a long history of European powers using exploitative practices in order to build wealth. These practices stemmed from the notion that individuals of a darker skin tone were inferior and less refined than those from Europe and white ancestry in general. This hierarchical system created by the Western world influenced how Europeans approached their interactions with the indigenous people in the Americas and African populations. Due to their cultural and racial differences, both of these groups of people were trapped into forced labor systems, where they had no rights and were given no compensation. The result was two-fold: Native Americans died at alarming rates from disease and harsh working conditions and Africans, while not affected as heavily by disease, were continually exploited and were exposed to the most inhumane conditions and treatment in the history of the Americas. Even though slavery has been legally abolished across the world for over 100 years, it produced a lasting residual effect on prevailing labor practices across the African continent. These exploitative practices have led to cacao farmers being paid pennies compared to the billions of dollars in profits that American and European companies are making from the cacao plant and cheap labor. In addition, child labor has continued to be a common practice that has not been abolished, due to the fact that African farmers cannot afford to pay their workers substantive wages. A few bean-to-bar chocolate companies have recognized these issues and have made strides to institute practices that reverse the trend of exploitation of African farmers. In particular, Divine Chocolate, a chocolate company headquartered in Washington D.C., has taken meaningful steps to evaluate how their practices can mirror the ethical standards of fair trade and non-exploitative business transactions.
The existence of modern slavery, pertaining to the production of cacao, is centered around the exploitative practices that took root in São Tomé and Príncipe in the early 1900s. Slaves from Angola were sent to São Tomé and Príncipe and were stationed on the Portuguese plantations that were scattered across the islands. Amanda Berlan states, “Anti-Slavery International (2004) reports that the use of slaves from Angola was common on Portuguese plantations on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe from the 1880s; according to Clarence-Smith, forced labour in cocoa production continued there until 1962” (1092). While the rest of the world assumed that slavery had been completely abolished, it was very much a part of the everyday culture in São Tomé and Príncipe, mainly because of the growing demand for chocolate all around the world, and the fact that the infrastructure of the islands lent itself to a plantation system. As Lowell Satre describes, “There were about 230 rocas (plantations) on São Tomé and 50 on Príncipe, some owned by individuals, others held by corporations” (10). While the economies of São Tomé and Príncipe were dependent on the production of cacao, Angola’s economy also benefited from these islands’ demand for free labor. However, Angolans were not all keen to the idea of slavery, and some of the native Angolans that potentially were not opposed to the institution of slavery itself were convinced that Angola needed the labor for economic development rather than São Tomé and Príncipe. Satre states, “Though some were disturbed over the institution of slavery, many in Angola complained that labor essential for the development of the province was going to instead create wealth for rich plantation owners on the islands” (8). For the rest of the world, the reality of the continuance of slavery was hidden from the public eye until large corporations that specialized in chocolate became exposed.
Source: “São Tomé and Príncipe.” Rhodes House Archive.
Many of the largest chocolate corporations like Cadbury were buying cacao beans at ridiculously low prices in Africa, and Cadbury in particular was purchasing a significant amount of cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe. According to William A. Cadbury, the company had no idea that the cacao beans it was buying came from slave labor. Satre states, “In early 1901, when William A. Cadbury visited Trinidad…he was told that slave labor was used on the island of São Tomé. Shortly thereafter, this unsubstantiated comment was given credence when the Cadbury company received an offer of a plantation for sale in São Tomé that listed as assets two hundred black laborers” (18). Cadbury’s exposure to these exploitative practices was massive; the company bought 45 percent of its cacao beans from São Tomé each year, confirming that almost half of Cadbury’s revenue was obtained via slave labor. In addition, the details of the offer for the plantation give insight into the scope and magnitude of slavery in São Tomé, given that the island had 230 plantations with thousands of slaves in total. The written work of Henry Nevinson and Joseph Burtt were two of the first forms of documentation that depicted the coerced labor in São Tomé and Príncipe to be distributed across the globe. As a result, many British corporations in the chocolate industry boycotted the cacao in São Tomé and Príncipe and searched for a new area that would supply large amounts of cacao for low prices. All eyes turned towards Ghana, which was then referred to as the Gold Coast, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Even though production of cacao grew significantly during the early 1900s, initially, most cacao farming was small scale; however, when the production of cacao in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire grew at an almost exponential rate, both countries grappled with their own issues surrounding the quality of working conditions. Various aspects of cacao production included clearing the trees, planting the cacao seeds, spraying fertilizers and pesticides, transporting the cacao pods, and slicing open the cacao pods. These duties were completed in environment that proved to be hazardous and dangerous for even adults. The cacao farmers suffered from various diseases, injuries, burns, and lacerations, coupled with the fact that many of them did not have access to clean water, food, or cleaning spaces. Not only did cacao farmers have to work in hazardous conditions, but they also received extremely low wages, which were subject to unpredictable fluctuations throughout each year. The income of each farmer was directly tied to that year’s profits. These farms were being exploited by the major chocolate corporations in Europe and the United States, receiving less than a penny on every dollar these companies made selling chocolate. Given the exploitative power dynamic between companies and farms, farmers were drastically affected financially: each farmer only received a very small percentage of each farm’s revenue. Carol Off states, “By the end of the millennium, Côte d’Ivoire was one of the most indebted nations on earth, even as it supplied almost half of the world’s cocoa to the multi-billion-dollar industry and helped to satisfy the world’s addiction to chocolate. Cocoa farmers slid deeper and deeper into poverty” (118).
Source: Lowy, Benjamin.”Young Boy Uses a Machete to Break Cacao Pods.” Fortune.
The low and inconsistent wage that adult farmers received was one of the main reasons child labor became commonplace in both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Low and inconsistent wages meant that families were forced to remove their children from school to provide the additional income they needed to live at a subsistence level. As Ryan describes, “One interviewee in a British documentary suggested that as many as 90 percent of Ivorian farms used slave labor. This implied there were hundreds of thousands of slaves in Côte d’Ivoire. A BBC report suggested that 15,000 children were in slavery on these plantations” (48). The statistics pertaining to child labor reveal how central it was to the production of cacao. Children working on cacao plantations were at a greater risk than the adult farmers: “hazardous work…is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. On the cocoa plantation, this is generally defined to include work which involves dangerous machinery, equipment or tools, the handling of heavy loads and exposure to pesticides or chemicals” (Ryan, 48). Children started working and dropping out of school at a very young age and were exposed to tasks that were dangerous for adults to perform. Child labor was essential to the production of cacao and children were very active in all of forms of work in the field. Berlan states, “Of children aged 5–17 years, 39 percent are known to be engaged in economic activities, of which 57 percent are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing and 88 percent are unpaid family labour or apprentices” (1090). In addition to the risky activities that children took part in on the cacao plantations, some of them were placed under physical duress by their superiors; this violence put a strain on the children physically, socially, and emotionally. Off’s account provides an example of how child labor was connected to the emergence of child trafficking: “The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten. 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” (121). Children from areas surrounding the cacao plantations and even in neighboring countries were at risk to be kidnapped and forced to produce cacao. Ryan states, “Traffickers preyed on children at bus stops in Mali, promising riches on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire. Once children got to the farm, they survived on little food, little or no pay and endured regular beatings” (44). These conditions that children had to endure are correlative to the experiences of slaves. Children were separated from their families, forced to work for long periods of time, and stripped of their own dignity while they were still in the developmental phase of their lives. Ryan states, “There were no chains and no irons, but, unable to leave their place of work, they were effectively slaves, harvesting the beans that were the key ingredient for chocolate” (44). Slavery continued to persist and it arose due to the demand of the American and European populations and the greed of the large chocolate corporations that desired to obtain the highest possible profit.
Source: “Child Slavery.” The Independent.
Given these horrific work conditions, government policies and initiatives were created to combat the inhumane treatment of the adult and child farmers. The International Labour Organization set standards of appropriate labor practices and detailed the worst forms of child labor. Even though these standards sent a message that child labor was not acceptable, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire were and have remained in violation of them. In fact, over 500,000 children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire were in violation of the guidelines set by the International Labour Organization. Policies were also put in place with the goal of eventually eradicating the worst forms of child labor and coerced labor in the world. One of the policies is the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which is a voluntary agreement that included governments, chocolate companies, cocoa farmers, and other entities. Off states, “The Harkin-Engel Protocol…would be one of the first fully voluntary arrangements for regulating industry in U.S. history and certainly the most ambitious. The cocoa companies agreed to accept a six-point program designed to eliminate child slave labour in the cocoa chain” (144). In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the goal of the protocol was to diminish the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent by 2015. However, this goal was not achieved, so the deadline was extended to 2020. Various organizations, such as the International Cocoa Initiative and the International Cocoa Organization, have been created to further the mission of the Harkin-Engel Protocol: reduce the worst forms of child labor and forced labor. The International Cocoa Initiative raises awareness around the experiences of children enduring through the harsh working conditions that accompany the production of the cacao plant. It also administers trainings on child labor and the impact it has on the communities in West Africa, working closely with all entities that interact within the world of cacao production and consumption. The International Cocoa Organization serves both cacao consuming and producing countries, allowing for meditation and the recognition of collective interests. In addition to the creation of international initiatives and organizations, major corporations in the chocolate industry have pledged to become more socially responsible regarding their business transactions with cacao farmers. Many corporations have received certifications and label their products as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Utz Certified, etc. in order to emphasize to consumers their adoption of new practices.
Source: “Eliminating Child Labor from Cocoa.” United States Department of Labor.
Divine Chocolate is a chocolate company that has exceeded the efforts of many other major chocolate corporations to improve labor conditions. Divine Chocolate partnered with a co-operative of farmers in Ghana called Kuapa Kokoo, which has significant autonomy over the trading and selling processes of the cacao it produces. Unlike most co-operatives, Kuapa Kokoo actually owns a large percentage of the shares of Divine Chocolate: “Divine Chocolate is the only Fairtrade chocolate company that is also co-owned by cocoa farmers. Kuapa Kokoo farmers benefit not only from the Fairtrade premium on the sale of their beans, but also receive the largest share (44%) of Divine’s distributable profits giving the farmers more economic stability, as well as the increased influence in the cocoa industry” (Divine Chocolate). Instead of cacao farmers receiving less than a penny on every dollar of profit from their product, the members of Kuapa Kokoo are able to increase their income at a rate that far exceeds all other cacao collectives in Ghana. As a result, the farmers are able to live with more stability and begin the process of building wealth. Because the low wage that cacao farmers in Ghana were paid was a central cause of the industry’s heavy dependence on child’s labor, the adoption of this new framework, which raised wages, gave farmers the necessary resources to do without child labor entirely. Because Divine Chocolate is Fairtrade Certified, it empowers the cacao producers by establishing a minimum price for the products they produce and a premium for the products that are sold. Each of these reforms of the Fairtrade system give cacao farmers the ability to improve their living standards, their business, and their community (Divine Chocolate). Another important aspect of Divine Chocolate’s mission is its focus on women’s empowerment: “Projects supported by the [Producer Support and Development Fund] are aimed particularly at empowerment of women, maintaining good governance, and testing different farming techniques — and include an adult literacy and numeracy program, and a model farm project” (Divine Chocolate). Divine Chocolate recognizes the significant role that women play in the production of cacao in Ghana and aims to equip them with the tools to become better professional leaders and more advanced business people. With these ambitious programs and practices, Divine Chocolate is actively trying to revolutionize the cocoa industry. Unlike many large chocolate corporations, which are mainly concerned with how much profit they attain at the end of each quarter, Divine Chocolate has proactively addressed issues surrounding exploitation of African farmers, child labor, forced labor, and the silencing of women’s voices in the cocoa industry. In addition, Divine Chocolate has made an active effort to ensure that the farmers that produce cacao for Divine Chocolate are not only rewarded but are included in the process of building wealth and economic stability. There is more work to be done, but Divine Chocolate has been one of the companies to lead the way in changing the culture of business and chocolate.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies. vol. 49, no. 8, Feb. 2013, pp. 1088-1100.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, New York, The New Press, pp. 1-336.
Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa, London, Zed Books, 2011, pp. 1-175.
Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trail: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, Athens, Ohio University Press, pp. 1-199.
“CANDY!!!” This is what you hear kids of all ages scream when they find out they are rewarded with a delicious candy bar. In many ways we condition the children of society to behave for these treats. Adults and children alike are at the mercy of said delicacies which have been perfected by candy makers all around the globe and the influence candy does have is evident in the way it is advertised and marketed towards us. Children are bribed with these sweets during holidays, any time they receive high marks in school, and overall for just behaving in general. With that being said, it is almost tragic to think that in another part of the world, candy is one of the only ways a child can reward themselves with another day of life. More specifically the production of Cacao and how its successful manufacturing or lack thereof determines the fate of the children who help produce the candy we identify as Chocolate. In this post I will attempt to highlight the negative impact the slave trade has had on children in third world countries when it pertains to the Cacao slave trade and how the high demand for chocolate in the United States and beyond is a direct cause of these children’s misfortune.
It goes without saying that slavery is one of the most inhumane practices to ever be documented by the human race. To force another individual to produce a resource in high commodity through grueling work processes and unsafe work environments for minimal pay is despicable, and yet this practice is ever so prevalent in society today. In regard to Cacao farming, children in West Africa are taken from their homes at a young age and are sold to cacao farms where they are forced to produce cacao beans from the pods they are sent to collect. These children range anywhere from five to sixteen years of age, and a large majority of them continue this work well after they have matured. They are paid less than five dollars for a days work and are expected to produce a substantial amount of product in a short time frame. Who is to blame for this injustice done upon these children who are simply trying to survive and provide for their families in areas where resources are limited? To avoid asking another rhetorical question let’s get straight to the point and acknowledge the fact that we are the source of the problem. Chocolate or rather Cacao, has become as crucial a resource in America similar to wheat, agriculture, and livestock. As previously mentioned above, our society has integrated cacao into our everyday lives in such a way that it would be virtually impossible to reverse the ever growing issue that our high demand for cacao has on the children forced into the slave trade in other countries.
Large corporations that sell chocolate such as Hershey and Nestle to name a few are prime contributors to the continuation of the slave trade as they have yet to stop dealing with the slave traders that take advantage of the children they have producing cacao for them. Due in part to the fact that they are a business making a large profit off of selling chocolate, why would these corporations modify their business strategies if the return on the dealings are more than what they are putting out? Anyone with a brain could see the logistics behind it, but there is a lack of morality in it all that we must acknowledge if we want to prevent future generations from experiencing something similar. The other cause of the never ending cycle that is the slave trade in the Cacao business is the consumer. These corporations pander to the people to ensure a sizeable return from satisfied consumers of their product. We play a sizeable role in the continuation of the diabolical process known as slavery and we must stop turning a blind eye to its prevalence and seek out alternatives that will not come at the expense of children trying to carve out a life for themselves.
According to a company called Slave Free Chocolate, these larger corporations
that produce chocolate, which have become a primary source of happiness in our
country and around the world, are doing very little to ensure the wrong doings placed
upon these innocent children are addressed and rectified. Hershey and Nestle
are two companies that have acknowledged the harsh reality that is child labor
and how they will attempt to limit their contributions to these farms that make
a profit off of the backs of younglings due to slave labor. However, in the
years following these announcements they have done nothing but prove that they
are incapable of changing their business practices to a healthier alternative.
Both corporations have been taken to court on a number of occasions in an
attempt to uncover the truth behind their business dealings, as well as hold
them accountable for negligence in regard to who they choose to do business
with. Their contributions to the slave labor running rampant in third world
countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoireare the reason these children are still
fighting for their lives.
salvaging alone for Cacao beans is not a simple process that your average adult
could simply begin without the proper tools and some form of guidance. Yet
children are being sent into the forest with sharp machetes and large sacks. They
climb dangerously tall trees in an attempt to harvest the cacao pods and bring
them back to their slavers so that they can begin farming for the cacao beans.
They are rushed by their slavers to cut open these Cacao pods to collect the
beans found inside, and the only way they can do this effectively is by using
the machetes provided to them. Many children are injured during this process as
the bean extraction from the plant requires them to hack open the pod with a
machete. There is always a risk that skin and appendages could be taken and still
these children partake in this dangerous task because they have no other
choice. The market calls for a high demand of Cacao and forcing an abundance of
children to produce a plethora of cacao is easier to do rather than hiring
adults and paying them a set wage.
The question then becomes are we to blame for being complicit, considering the children are in another country and are not our primary concern because they are not citizens of the United States? So long as they continue to contribute to a service that is provided to us, who cares if we turn our heads in the other direction right? Personally, I feel we have failed these individuals simply because as a country we are considered a super power and we control the eb and flow of the overall market. So, while we have the power to course correct these injustices our demand for the same product presents us with a paradox that is almost impossible to rectify. This alone demonstrates how subconsciously we are complicit because we possess the ability to correct these injustices and yet we are the reason they exist. Not all countries have the liberties we possess here in the United States, and eventually we have to acknowledge the fact that the ease of access to resources in the U.S. has created the lives these children currently lead. Subconsciously, we have been groomed in a way that allows us to be comfortable with getting what we want despite the steps taken to get us there. To take it a step further, let us acknowledge how much food is experimented with here and how America’s irregular consumption of the same foods in different forms has had an inverse effect on the slave trade and by extension the children.
popular belief cacao beans are not solely used to make chocolate. While there
are a variety of chocolates that are crafted from the plant, it is also the
reason we have certain drinks and alcoholic beverages such as Coffee and Brandy. Not to mention cacao
powder, liquor, butter, jam, marmalade etc. are all resources produced from
this one plant. Coffee which is a huge resource utilized by the American people
is right up there with chocolate as a hot commodity item. Corporations like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks have perfected their sales techniques to make coffee an
adults signature “sweet treat.” Seasonal drinks like Pumpkin Spice Lattes and
Peppermint Mochas drive the masses wild and selling them during the
holidays means more work for the children.There are endless examples of how food has its properties modified to be
made into something else useful, but for the sake of this post it illustrates
why the cacao slave trade continues to make a sizeable profit. We have become codependent
on cacao and the many forms it takes and in the end the ones paying the price
are the children working to keep up with our demand for more of this popular
resource. What is even more tragic is the fact that we do not have to support
companies that make their profit off of the backs of innocent children when there
are companies out there that have demonstrated a suitable alternative exists.
There are small companies and corporations that are willing to pay foreigners a livable wage in order to produce the same chocolate products that we love, without putting children in harm’s way. Corporations like Tony’s Chocolonely make it their mission to deliver the consumer a product that is manufactured free from slave labor and in doing so take the fight directly towards corporations like Hershey and Nestle who refuse to change their business practices. They are so proud of these accomplishments that they label their products “free of slave labor” to encourage the consumer to purchase their product over their competitors. One of the primary reasons this is done is the hope that this will encourage larger corporations like Nestle and Hershey to stop dealing under the table with those who continue to practice the use of slave trade with children on their farms. Once they begin to lose business perhaps this cruel individuals may change the way they hire and pay their workers to something a bit more legal.
Keeping all of this in mind, what role can we play in fighting the war against slave labor to ensure that the number of children inducted into this terrifyingly inhumane practice are safe from trafficking moving forward? For starters we must stop funding these mega corporations that are only in the business to make a profit, and refuse to purchase from them again until they present substantial evidence that they are no longer doing business with slavers. As difficult as that may seem, considering these chocolate companies are already so ingrained into our everyday lives, and we as a society are subconsciously unaware of our complicities’ that have led to the slave trades continuous growth, we owe it to the children whose livelihoods are being sacrificed for a profit to bring forth positive change. We should focus our efforts and fund businesses like Tony’s Chocolonely as they have presented us with a more viable alternative for foreign workers who help produce cacao. Livable wages, safer work environments and zero slave labor. Furthermore, we owe it to future generations of children who are raised in the United States and beyond to seek out a safer alternative for years to come. If we did not try to undo these wrongs, how can we look our kids in the eyes and gift them with a candy bar that another child halfway around the world sacrificed so much to make? To that end, no matter the cost we have to do better and it starts by holding everyone accountable including ourselves for past discretions. When I become a parent, I would like to look into my child’s eyes one day and imagine I am looking at the eyes of a child halfway around the world whose future does not look as bleak as it originally used to.
Chocolate is a universal product. Everyone knows this, yet no one can avoid it. No matter what you do at least a few times a day you come across someone selling, advertising, eating or talking about chocolate. The food is so popular that it has become ingrained as a staple in modern society. However, while being a staple of society, most people do not know the complexities behind what it takes to grow, harvest and trade chocolate. Companies fight on a daily basis to find the best cacao for the lowest price. Unfortunately, this pushes chocolate makers and providers towards ingenuine and sometimes unethical practices in order to compete within the market such as child labor, un-fair trade, in-genuine ingredient use and poor environmental impact. These have become major critiquing points for the chocolate industry. The existence of these practices shows how the present day chocolate industry has fallen out of touch with the unique flavor of chocolate, the personal relationships between farmer and consumer as well as with the environment that provides this product. Though many companies participate, in some way or another, in these unethical practices for the sake of convenience or monetary ease, there is a rising number of companies that are devoted to fair practices, high quality ingredients and environmental sustainability. One of these companies is the Grenada Chocolate company, a small group dedicated to setting an example of what chocolate production should be like through their high-quality chocolate, relationship with farmers and dedication to environmental sustainability.
The Grenada Chocolate company was established in 1999 by Mott Green (born David Friedman), Doug Browne and Edmond Brown who had the idea of creating a cooperative amongst Grenadian chocolate makers.1 The company is the first “Tree to Bar” chocolate company to be established in Grenada and prides themselves on fair practice and on the amount that they give back to the local economy of the village of Hermitage in St Patricks. GCC makes their award-winning chocolate using trinitario cacao beans and focuses on creating dark chocolate bars of various percentages and combinations. The story of GCC is very much linked to the story of its founder, Mott Green, who set out to create an ethical chocolate company after thinking about and seeing all the injustice that is committed while people enjoy chocolate without a clue that these injustices occur. After much contemplation, he and his partners bought a small abandoned building in the village of Hermitage and transformed it into a chocolate factory6. This was the beginning of the Grenada Chocolate Company.
In order to combat the ethical challenges within the chocolate industry, he created the GCC and established it as a bean to bar company, a company that makes their chocolate products straight from the cacao beans instead of melting purchased chocolate from a chocolate maker. This has allowed GCC to have control over their whole chocolate making process and empowers them to treat and compensate their workers fairly, something that is a current problem within the cacao industry. As a small company that lies outside the pressures of the modern cacao company Mott Green designed for GCC to be an ethical chocolate company that returns to the basics of chocolate making and selling treating both employees and the environment with respect while creating high quality chocolate in the process.
As such a company GCC has been able to find success while also keeping balance all the important relationships that are a part of chocolate production and showing that it is possible to be both ethical and successful in the chocolate industry. I will discuss a few of these relationships and offer examples as to how GCC successfully navigates them.
Dedication to Wholesome Ingredients
One rising debate within the chocolate industry is the question of whether the existence of milk chocolate and corporation sized candy companies (like Mars and Hershey) have caused people to become accustomed to non-natural ingredients and whether that has led to a decreased appreciation and knowledge of the cacao plant and its varieties. On its own milk chocolate has no faults. However, those who only eat milk chocolate will miss out on the numerous amounts of flavor that comes with dark chocolate and how each type of cacao bean develops different tastes. Even some dark chocolate companies fill their bars with unnatural preservatives and flavorings that take away from the flavor of the cacao bean itself. This shows a disconnect in the relationship between chocolate producer and the cacao bean. While some companies do this in order to cheaply mass produce chocolate products, other companies believe that it is the job of the chocolate producer to work with the cacao and allow its various tastes to be highlighted instead of hiding it in a flood of added ingredients.
GCC does well in being an example of this philosophy and maintaining this balance, as they are devoted to creating chocolate with genuine and natural ingredients in ways that enhance the flavor of the cacao bean. In an effort to maximize the flavor from the cacao bean, GCC grows, ferments and processes their beans on-site (hence the bean to bar status). This allows them to have control of the fermenting process and the flavor profile of their beans while using fresh cacao beans instead of shipped ones allows their chocolate to have a much more intense flavor1. The GCC also uses organic raw sugar and vanilla as the sole sweeteners of their chocolate. In addition to its natural flavors, GCC chocolate is certified organic and free from: animal products, nuts and nut derivatives, milk and eggs, wheat, glutamines, artificial colors, preservatives and several other products that some companies add to chocolate1. This dedication to natural flavor allows for the fruity and hearty flavor of the Grenadian cacao bean to be highlighted and appreciated by all of GCC’s consumers1.
Improving Company Farmer Relations
Another big problem within the chocolate industry is the loss of relationship between producers and farmers. Though most chocolate is consumed in Europe and North America, the main cacao growers and providers are Africa, Asia, Central America and South America, due to their proximity to the equator2. As many big companies compete for the lowest prices of cacao, local cacao farmers are forced to sell their crop for lower and lower prices, threatening their livelihood. This is intensified by the fact that many farmers do not have knowledge of the cocoa world market and have to trust their buyers who act as the middlemen for the middlemen of big chocolate companies. With all these factors in play, local farmers are lost in the complex economical system of cacao trading and receive only cents compared to the billions made by big chocolate companies. This can be seen in the figure below that describes how money flows within the chocolate industry.
Today there are many companies fighting this system with fair trade policies in which companies promise to pay farmers more money than what the market offers them for their cacao. While this is a good start, there is a lot more that needs to be done in order to give cacao farmers a fair shot and compensate them proportionally to the joy they provide to all who eat the chocolate made from their work.
A prime example of what more can be done has already been shown by the Grenada Chocolate Company. In 1964 Grenada founded the Grenada Cocoa Association. The purpose of this group was to act as the center point for all cocoa exporting from Grenada. This meant that farmers had to sell to them in order to get their cocoa abroad. This took away their freedom of to whom they could cell and could only sell to the GCA at the prices determined by the organization, which was usually well below reasonable prices4. It was in this scenario that the Grenada Chocolate Company was founded. After much pushback and intimidation, GCC became not only the first company to chocolate on the island (before all cacao beans in Grenada were exported) but paid their farmers fair prices and exported the chocolate themselves as well. GCC is able to do this by creating a cooperative, a group of farmers that are work together to grow, harvest, and trade a product (in this instance cacao).
GCC not only seeks to pay their farmers well (GCC farmers are payed 65% higher than the average for most cooperatives3), but also empowers their farmers by working with them through the whole chocolate making process, teaching how they ferment and process their beans on site giving them an opportunity to work with the company and grow in knowledge and experience.
Another aspect of GCC that is not necessarily about fair trade but works to mend the producer-farmer relationship is the fact that GCC is very open about the people they work with and seek to inform their consumers about the people who are helping to grow and harvest the food they are eating. They do this by featuring all of their workers on their website as well as including photos of their cacao farmers working. This is interesting because it gets rid of the wall in between farmer and consumer. For once, people can see the people who are preparing the food they love so much. This creates a human connection and makes the idea that these people are being mistreated across the world a harder pill to swallow and is more likely to stir people to action, whether that action is campaigning for stricter fair-trade laws or just purchasing solely from fair trade companies. These actions taken by GCC not only re-establish the producer farmer relationship, but also create a consumer-farmer relationship, something that is much needed if cacao farmers are going to get the support, they need in order to make a living wage.
Champion of Environmental Sustainability
The last problem within the chocolate industry that I will talk about is the environmental impact of chocolate production. While chocolate is an amazing product to enjoy, like any other product, its production has an environmental impact that, if not monitored, will ultimately be harmful to the environment and will cause long term affects that will ultimately affect chocolate production and society in general. An example of this can be seen in the journal article “Environmental impacts of chocolate production and consumption in the UK,” by Antonios konstanas, in which the environmental impacts of various UK chocolate products were analyzed. From this analysis Konstanas’ team found that the amount of Carbon Dioxide produced by the UK chocolate industry lied in between 2.91-4.15 kg of CO2 produced per kg of chocolate produced. They also found that it takes around 41 MJ (Millijoules) of energy to create a batch of chocolate5. Noting these findings, it is important for chocolate producers to emphasize sustainability and work towards having a smaller carbon footprint within their harvesting, creation and transportation processes.
Once again GCC is leading the charge in this aspect as they seek to make their chocolate lifecycle completely devoid of carbon dioxide production and excessive energy consumption. In order to achieve this goal the Grenada Chocolate Company created one of the world’s first solar powered chocolate factories. GCC uses a combination of solar panels and grid power to power their chocolate making machines while keeping a propane fuel generator on hand in case of power outages. This emphasis on renewable energy is a step in the right direction of using clean energy to make chocolate and thus decreasing the product’s carbon footprint.
GCC also seeks to take the carbon emissions out of transport costs as much as possible. While the company usually delivers chocolate to nearby islands via sailboats1, getting their product to the main lands has always been an environmental challenge. However, in 2013 GCC partnered with the Tres Hombres Engineless Cargo Ship to ship over 50,000 chocolate bars to Europe, performing the world’s first ever mass sustainable, carbon neutral, chocolate delivery across the Atlantic1. While this was only a one-time thing, it emphasizes GCC’s devotion to restoring the relationship between chocolate producers and the environment.
Like every billion-dollar industry, the chocolate industry has its challenges as well as ethical obstacles that need to be hurdled before the industry can be seen as completely ethical. Whether product-wise, personal or environmental there are several problems within the industry that can be solved through respect, ingenuity, unity and admiration for the cacao fruit. The Grenada Chocolate Company is a perfect example of this. Such a company models exactly how not only chocolate, but all product companies should interact with their suppliers, the environment and each other. This company was created from nothing by Mott Green who wanted to show the world what a chocolate company should look like and how it should behave and sere its community. Since then GCC has been a hidden gem in the chocolate world, constantly pushing the boundaries of modern chocolate ethnics and leading the word to a brighter and more chocolaty future. Sadly Mott Green Died on June 1st 2013 while working on solar power machinery for cooling chocolate during transport overseas3. However, his memory lives on in GCC and the values that he instilled into the company that serves as a model chocolate company, inspiring and teaching future generations of chocolate makers.
Note: Over the course of this research project I fell in love with the Grenada Chocolate Company and even more its founder, Mott Green. Green devoted his life to helping others and sought to make all of his experiences and the experiences of those he served, absolutely genuine. His death was a tragic loss to the world of chocolate and society in general. To understand both him and GCC a bit more check out this 30 minute video about Green, his values and GCC!
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them…
Climate Change is when long term weather patterns are altered, though this can occur naturally within ecosystems, it can also be caused by human interaction with the environment. The ramifications of future climate change on the cacao industry are devastating. The specific effect of increasing global temperatures will be discussed within relation to those most affected by it within the cacao production chain; small farmers. It is only through study and education that cacao cultivators can learn to plan and adapt to the ever increasing chaos that is climate change.
Theobroma Cacao (cacao tree) is endemic to the tropical area from Southern Mexico to the Amazon basin. Cacao is geographically sensitive, having a limited growth region between 20 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. However, as cacao production globalized, the vast majority is now farmed in a small range 10 degrees north and south of the equator. Cacao is a very sensitive crop and for it to successfully grow many conditions must be met within the ecosystem including high humidity and a short dry season. Consistent temperatures between 21 and 23 degrees Celsius are required in a region with high rain and nitrogen rich soil (Lecture Notes). Ultimately, rainforests and tropical wet environments are where cacao flourishes. The difficulty of growing cacao is what makes it such a valuable asset. Historically, it was the difficulty in attaining cacao from the new world that made it such an important social commodity within Europe.
In 1896, a Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius proposed the theory of global warming. He hypothesized that increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) within the atmosphere would increase the temperature on the planet’s surface. He concluded that the industrial revolution and its use of fossil fuel burning was significant enough to Earth’s environment to cause global warming. Since Professor Arrhenius proposed the idea of global warming, there has been a 1.7% increase in annual global temperature and air quality has the highest carbon dioxide levels seen in 650,000 years.
Chart showing Historical Increases in Annual Global Temperature
Centuries of exploitation and experimentation, led to Theobroma Cacao being transplanted globally to where the leading producers of cacao are now Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in Western Africa produce more than half of the world’s chocolate. However, research shown in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that, those countries will experience a 3.8°F (2.1°C) increase in temperature by 2050, and a marked reduction in suitable cultivation area (Laderach et. al).
Suitability for Cacao Production West Africa
As seen in the maps above, by the year 2050, increasing temperatures will push the suitable cacao cultivation areas uphill. The IPCC reported that Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana’s optimal altitude for cacao cultivation is expected to rise from 350–800 feet (100–250 meters) to 1,500–1,600 feet (450–500 meters) above sea level (Laderach et. al). Ironically, it is not the increase in surface temperature associated with global warming that will affect cacao production, but rather evapotranspiration.
Evapotranspiration is the loss of water that occurs from the processes of evaporation and transpiration. Evaporation occurs when water changes to vapour on either soil or plant surfaces, transpiration is the water lost through the leaves of plants. The danger to cacao production comes from increasing evapotranspiration, the higher temperatures projected for West Africa by 2050 are unlikely to be accompanied by an increase in rainfall, according to standard carbon dioxide emissions scenarios. Ultimately, as higher temperatures squeeze more water out of soil and plants, it’s unlikely that rainfall will increase enough to offset the moisture loss.
The majority of global cacao is produced by small landholders, meaning those owning less than five acres. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana in Western Africa have over two million cacao producing farmers, all succeptible to the fluctuating price of cacao. Climate change threatens the health and local economy of farmers who depend on income from cocoa for survival. The inherent risks associated with cash cropping (physical dangers to self, lack of regulation) are faced by cacao producers.
In a geographic area where climate change will be exceptionally disruptive, cocoa covers over 5 million acres in Cote d’Ivoire and 3 million in Ghana, more than anywhere else on the globe (Ruf et al). Due to the small land size of privately owned farms, production is predominantly only cacao leaving the farmer vulnerable for hunger as no other crops are produced. The remote location of the farms limits much needed access for improvement. Meaning, the lack of access to a proper infrastructure decreases the possibility of higher cacao production. Farmers do not have access to tools needed for improvement; equipment, seedlings, transportation. Cacao is labour intensive, from seedling to packaged treat. A major problem affecting cacao producers is finding suitable labour. As cacao is grown in mostly third world countries, there are third world problems. One being, the exodus of youth from rural to urban areas which leaves an aging farming population with nobody to continue the family tradition.
The timeline to produce cacao beans is 3 to 5 years. The ever increasing demand for chocolate within Europe and North America (11 pounds consumed annually) outweighs the amount that will be able to be produced due to climate change. RESULTS = CHOCOLATE SHORTAGE
Climate change vastly alters cultivation conditions. In West Africa, for cacao production to survive in the future it needs to be relocated to a more rugged or low mountainous terrain. Though that sounds like a simple solution; move the farms, it is an impossibility without disrupting the cultural, social and economic lifestyles of millions of people. In Ghana, the perfect future growing conditions will be located in the Atewa Range (a protected reserve) where farming is prohibited. A true dilemma for Ghana farmers; illegal deforest to grow cacao or preserve the nature reserve for future generations?
What is ironic is that the deforestation experienced in West Africa, specifically Côte d’Ivoire, was somewhat based on creating cacao plantations. Cacao has been referred to as a pioneer crop; something grown after the forest has been cleared. Instead of replanting aging and dying plantations, many farmers found it easier to migrate to the edge of forests and start new plantations. During the second half of the twentieth century, the cacao frontier moved from the drier east to the wetter southwest of the country, a migration fueled by massive immigration of prospective cacao farmers from the Savannah (Ruf et al). With rampant poverty running through West Africa, little consequence is given to environmental concerns when personal and familial survival is at stake.
Education is needed for cocoa farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture (CSA). These are practices that foster resilience to climate change while sustainably increasing cocoa productivity. The private sector plays an integral part in the long-term sustainability of the cocoa sector and action is needed to further their investment and engagement in measures that will enable farmers and the industry to adapt to pressures from climate change (deGroot).
There are ways of protecting cacao from current and impending climate change; one is to have companion trees. Cacao trees can be protected from high temperatures by planting companion trees such as banana or plantain. If properly spaced and maintained, these trees can protect cacao from soaring temperatures. This method of farming can reduce cacao leaf temperatures up to 40°F, sequester carbon that would otherwise be lost from the soil, make cacao trees less vulnerable to pests, and provide nutrient-rich leaf litter as well as protection from wind and soil erosion (Rajab et al).
Companion trees offer many side benefits for cacao farmers. They offer ventilation which helps to reduce the incidences of fungus on cacao. Plus, by planting companion trees the farmer is increasing and varying the farms productivity. Instead of solely relying on cacao for financial survival there is a second or third crop that can produced for profit while helping cacao to flourish. By adding companion trees the biodiversity of the ecosystem is improved. A true win – win?? As positive as the use of shadow crops sounds, there are of course disadvantages including the possibility of severe drought. When there is limited access to water, the shadow trees could take needed water away from the cacao tree.
Currently, there is a race against time to develop new varieties of cacao that can help combat not only increased temperature from climate change but also a variant that would be hardier. The large chocolate manufacturers (Big Chocolate) are working with scientists and farmers to develop a disease immune and drought resistant strain of cacao. There are many critics who dispute altering cacao for taste and historic concerns but with the impeding change of climate, Big Chocolate is investing in science for its survival.
Various Types Cacao
With cacao being such a temperamental crop to grow, it is no surprise that the seeds are recalcitrant. This means that the seeds do not survive the drying and freezing process because they lose their viability in temperatures less than 10 degrees celcius. Cacao beans cannot be stored in regular gene banks, so breeders have difficulty maintaining different strains. Geographically, climate change is altering where natural cacao is grown. With deforestation, pollution and increase in urbanization; seeds must be safely stored to ensure the diversity of cacao. The sustainability and diversity of cacao must be preserved, it is surprising that the private sector has not come further in ensuring the continued survival of original cacao strands.
Where will the epicenter of future cacao production be? With West Africa losing up to 90% of its suitable cacao growing areas, who will dominate the future cacao trade? There are too many variables to hypothesize an answer. Besides the aforementioned effects of climate change that will decimate cacao production, add in unstable political regimes and potential military conflicts. Education and scientific experimentation are the only viable solutions for the continuation of cacao production.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., vol. 1, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
de Groot, Han. “Preparing Cacao Farmers for Climate Change.” Rainforest Alliance, EarthShare, 20 Sept. 2017.
Handley, Liam. “The Effects of Climate Change on the Reproductive Development of Theobroma Cacao.” ProQuest, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016.
Rajab, Yasmin Abou, and Christoph Leuschner. “Cacao Cultivation under Diverse Shade Tree Cover Allows High Carbon Storage and Sequestration without Yield Losses.” PLoS ONE, vol. 11, no. 2, 29 Feb. 2016.
Ruf, François, et al. “Climate Change, Cacao Migrations and Deforestation in West Africa: What Does the Past Tell us about the Future?” Sustainability Science, vol. 10, no. 1, 18 Nov. 2014, pp. 101–111.
Schroth, Götz, and Christian Bunn. “Vulnerability to Climate Change of Cacao in West Africa: Patterns, Opportunities and Limits to Adaptation.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 556, 15 June 2016, pp. 231–241.
The exploitation of people of color in the chocolate industry is almost as old as chocolate itself. Ever since Europeans utilized native peoples in Mesoamerica and later enslaved Africans to produce cacao, there has existed an inherent link between race and chocolate, a relationship not only seen in the production of chocolate but also in chocolate advertising. Just as Black individuals were and are utilized for their physical labor, they were and are being exploited for advertising.
The consumption of
cacao dates back to the Mayan and Aztec societies of Mesoamerica. When settlers
came to the Americas, exploitation and forced labor came with them. The Spanish
introduced the encomienda system in which Spanish settlers were supposed to
protect and care for native peoples in return for voluntary labor when in
reality the settlers seized lands and forced natives into pseudo-slavery
working long hours without pay resulting in the deaths of many. Though cacao had
been introduced to and was being brought back to Europe, it was primarily used
for medicinal purposes until sugar began being added to cacao which made it
more palatable for Europeans. Emma Robertson, a professor and scholar at La
Trobe University, states that “this was ‘thanks to the emergent slave-based sugar
cane economy of the Americas’. The story of chocolate subsequently becomes increasingly
intertwined with that of European imperial politics…Chocolate thus first gained
meaning in England as a product of imperialism” (Robertson 67). As time went on—around
1900—some cacao production shifted from the West Indies to West Africa,
particularly in São Tomé. The Cadbury company became a center of attention for
its labor practices and accusations that it utilized slavery in São Tomé during
this period. William Cadbury responded to these claims by stating, “I do feel
that there is a vast difference between the cultivation of cocoa and cold or
diamond mining, and I should be sorry needlessly to injure a cultivation that
as far as I can judge provides labour of the very best kind to be found in the
tropics: at the same time we should all like to clear our hands of any
responsibility for slave traffic in any form” (Satre 19), though he refused to reveal
a bill of sale for the plantation as it “specifically identified human beings
as property” (Satre 19). This is an example of chocolate companies blatantly
and knowingly minimizing the perceived severity of their production practices
of Black individuals goes well beyond just labor practices. As Robertson
explains, “The use of black people in advertising has a long history. As Jan
Pieterse demonstrates, products made available through the use of slave labour,
such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black
people to enhance their luxury status” (Robertson 36).
The exploitation of Black people did not stop with cacao production. The image above is an advertisement for Rowntree, an early 20th century power-house chocolate and sweets corporation that still exists today and has developed the Kit Kat among other recognizable treats. It depicts a young Black girl named Honeycomb using broken and stereotypically Black verbiage to convey the benefits of her Rowntree beverage. It is one of many chocolate advertisements to utilize a caricatured Black subject to sell a product. On using Honeycomb specifically for a powdered cacao beverage, Robertson states, “Though processed by western industry, cocoa powder is closest to the ‘raw’, colonial material. The two Rowntree characters only exist through their relation to the cocoa, effectively disempowering them. There is no recognition of the actual connections between the commodity and the labour of black people in the colonies” (Robertson 42). Thus, not only does the Rowntree company exploit and make a caricature of the idea of blackness, they either intentionally or unintentionally, directly linked their advertisements and the subject therein to slavery.
In a similar vein, above is the advertisement used for Banania, a French chocolate drink, from 1915. It depicts a Senegalese infantry soldier with a red fez, a uniform item worn by Senegalese soldiers. This advertisement presents a caricature of this man by depicting him with a stereotypically large smile as well as the slogan for the product “y’a bon” (translating to “it’s good”) which is derived from the pidgin French commonly spoken by these Senegalese solders. The popularity of the product cemented the character with the slogan, making the Black man portrayed on the ad and packaging and this lower form of language inseparable.
Finally, the above
video is an advertisement for the Spanish chocolate, Conguitos. This commercial
goes even farther to portray Black individuals as “the other.” Whereas the Rowntree
and Banania advertisements both push racial and colonial traits and themes on
the subjects of their ads, this commercial depicts the subjects as extremely stereotyped
natives, completely naked, living in small straw huts, and carrying spears. The
music in the background aids in this stereotyping, a light flute and
tribal-sounding drum. In the final scene of the commercial, the animated character
rolls uncontrollably and the video fades into the character essentially being
turned into a ball of chocolate which is then consumed by a white actress. This
is concerning on a number of levels. This aspect of the advertisement effectively
conveys that the people of color in their eyes are consumable and expendable at
the hands of a white individual, a clear similarity to the treatment of Black
slaves and laborers in cacao producing regions. Overall, these advertisements
speak volumes for the influence that the chocolate labor practices and
production had on advertising and how much the colonial mindset permeated every
level of the chocolate industry.
Looking toward the
modern-day chocolate industry, in terms of production and cultivation, much has
changed and yet much has stayed the same. Today, a majority of the world’s
cacao comes from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Though the methods and aspects of
production may have changed—for instance, instead of massive plantations owned by
large corporations and companies, today a vast majority of cacao is produced by
smallholder farmers on relatively small plantations—the exploitation of African
peoples for labor and production of cacao seems to be a constant in the
chocolate industry. The same way companies utilized slavery and pseudo-slavery
in centuries past, even in the cacao industry of today’s day and age, companies
have established a form of pseudo-slavery by offering the lowest prices
possible for beans and creating a cycle of debt or living for growers.
After a series of
small wars and conflicts around the turn of the century, some of which had to do
with conflict over coveted cocoa groves, Côte d’Ivoire was in shambles. Carol
Off, a Canadian journalist and author, states, “By the end of the millennium, Côte
d’Ivoire was one of the most indebted nations on earth, even as it supplied
almost half of the world’s cocoa to the multi-billion-dollar industry and helped
to satisfy the world’s addiction to chocolate” (Off 118). This situation of
debt and vulnerability resulted in mass corruption and exploitation of labor,
essentially slavery. Cacao growers had no other choice. Due to the fact that
cacao is a tricky crop to grow and harvest, only being able to do so by hand
for the most part, the amount able to be produced per unit area tends to be
very low. This dilemma is exacerbated due to the smaller cacao farms of today. Órla
Ryan, an author for the Financial Times, a publication in London, explains, “On
most the production per hectare is either low or very low. In many cases, yields
have been stagnant for some time. Roughly one-third of farms yield as little as
137.5 kg per hectare. What this means is that the poorest farmers can make just
$500 a year, an income which makes it impossible to do little more than survive”
(Ryan 59-60). When looking at the differences between slavery and this modern
system of cacao production, there is an obvious difference in that today the
growers are getting paid an actual wage, but looking realistically, $500 is not
an income that can sustain a healthy life for one person let alone families in
which the farmer making the $500 is the primary income source. Thus, farmers
must look for options to solve their situations since most cannot afford to hire
laborers which usually comes in the form of using their own families to work on
the farm, which includes their children.
work is a slippery slope as there are many instances in which it is completely
fine and others where it is not. Ryan describes how the International Labor
Organization’s (ILO’s) standards for what constitutes the worst forms of child
labor is contextualized in the chocolate industry: “‘work which, by its nature
or the circumstances in which it is carrier out, is likely to harm the health,
safety or morals of children.’ On the cocoa plantation; this is generally
defined to include work which involves dangerous machinery, equipment or tools,
the handling of heavy loads and exposure to pesticides or chemicals” (Ryan 47-48).
Child labor offers just another area of exploitation in the cacao production
process. In many cases, child trafficking also plays a role as children are
brought to plantations and intimidated out of reaching out to authorities (Ryan).
Off describes the story and mission of Abdoulaye Macko, a man who took it upon
himself to liberate conscripted child workers from the cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire.
“The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the young people almost to
death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during
the night, and were frequently beaten 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” (Ryan 121). This goes beyond helping
parents, cousins, or other family with light work around the farm. This is
systematic and calculated abuse and exploitation of a vulnerable population for
the purpose (knowingly or unknowingly) of improving the profit margins of the
large chocolate corporations.
We have now looked at how labor practices have changed (or refused to change) but how have chocolate advertisements changed to adjust to the modern market? First, let us take a look at Banania, the company with the stereotyped Senegalese soldier, above. The lifelike depiction of the character has been traded out for the head and hand of an animated version of the same character. The identifiable red fez remains a constant. One major change is the smile which is still distractingly large but now the lips are thick and bright red. This aspect simply adds to the stereotyping involved in this character. In an attempt to solve an outdated and stereotyped subject, Banania did away with most of the harmless aspects of the character and kept or amplified the caricature aspects, though the French pidgin slogan is gone which is for the best.
The next advertisement, shown above, is for Magnum ice cream. It depicts a Black woman whose shoulder is cracked resembling the cracking of the chocolate shell of a Magnum ice cream bar. Overlooking the issue of the sexualization and fetishism of the ad (which is common in chocolate advertising and too extensive of a topic to cover here), Magnum uses the woman’s race in a botched attempt at visual wit, thus adding to the extensive history of utilization and exploitation of Black people. In addition, the fact that the inside ice cream is vanilla further degrades the woman shown as, in an ice cream bar, the ice cream is the thing that matters, thus the chocolate shell and therefore this woman’s race are simply things one must get through into order to reach the vanilla (read: white) center. Finally, this ad for Dove chocolate below further demonstrates the blatant utilization of race and the exploitation of Black individuals for the benefit of the chocolate company. In this case, the man’s face is not even shown, hammering home the idea that this does not need to be anyone in particular, just a Black man. The Magnum and Dove advertisements are not intentionally reminiscent of the racially charged ads of the prior century, but advertising companies and departments need to both understand the society we live in today in which no one’s race should be utilized for commercial gain as well as a basic background of the history chocolate as to not make these kinds of mistakes.
Just as labor and cacao production has evolved and yet also held onto key defining elements up through the modern era, so has chocolate advertising. In both cases, basic improvements were made, such as there no longer being colonialism or slavery in their truest forms or no longer having racially charge language and stereotyping in advertisements. Yet, both also held onto elements of their past. The economic and commercial model that chocolate producers work within keep them in a state of pseudo-slavery and advertisements still use race to sell products and link chocolate to the race of people that cultivate cacao in its rawest form.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive
Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.
Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.
Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of
Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.