The creamy, luxuriant, dark brown sweet of pure bliss – chocolate is the enticing candy with an irresistible taste of heaven and the Gods. Yet, little do we know, chocolate has had its tie to Gods since its origins in the New World. The story began in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree, termed Theobroma cocoa or “the food of the Gods”, flourished among the Mayan and Aztec civilizations way before the arrival of European colonizers (Coe and Coe, 1996). The cocoa beans were adopted in every aspect of life – beyond food, they were medicine; an offering in religious, marriage, and burial rituals; and money. The social, religious, and economic significance of cocoa was markedly noted by European ethnographers like Bernardino de Sahagun, and with the arrival of Columbus along with other colonizers, cocoa was brought to Europe. Using sugar, Europe transformed cocoa into chocolate, as the delicacy we know today, which quickly became a widely desired, palatable treat for the rich and poor alike. Not long after, chocolate was mass produced by chocolate manufacturers, and consequently, the chocolate empire took root.
Underneath the Veil
Hidden beneath the veil of sweetness, however, the history of chocolate reveals a much more bitter reality weaved with violence. To satisfy the insatiable demand in the chocolate market, chocolate manufacturers turned to an incredibly exploitative system of obtaining their raw ingredient, cocoa. Chocolate, like many other imperial commodities, was the refined product of slavery and forced labor on plantation farms, and the consequences of this system can be felt up to today in the global racial, economic, and social landscapes.
The Atlantic Slave Trade
What fed into the imperial market and its strong economic interests was none other than the trans-Atlantic slave trade that uprooted millions of African people to the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe [figure 1]. An internal system of slavery persisted in Central and West Africa before the European exploitation, and this indigenous slavery provided fuel for the rise of this global slave trade (Rodney, 1966). The local slave trade was initially recorded and taken of interest by Portuguese chroniclers, who, in the 16th century, were the first to engage in the trade trans-Atlantic (Rodney, 1966). Other Europeans soon followed, and the slave trade bloomed into what supported colossal economies of commodities like sugar, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and of course, cocoa. By the 19th century, various countries passed laws to ban the importation of slaves, including Britain, the United States, Spain, France and Portugal, but at that point, demands soared, and cocoa’s market had become wholly dependent on the slave trade for mass production. Here, we saw a surge of illegal slave trading under the pretense of contract labor.
The Chocolate Islands – Cadbury’s Cocoa Scandal:
The persistence of slave labor despite efforts to end it unfolded in the Cadbury cocoa scandal of the 1900s. Cadbury Bros, the British Quaker-owned chocolate company, dominated the market at the time and came under criticism when despite warnings of labor conditions and potential use of slaves, they continued to purchase cocoa produced by the plantations of the island of Sao Tome, a Portuguese colony (Satre, 2005). Notably, Henry W. Nevinson, a journalist who documented his encounters with slavery in Portuguese West Africa in his later published book, “A Modern Slavery” [figure 2], marked that the dynamics of the labor market were as reported – laws passed to ban slavery were worthless, commercial interests begged to be satisfied, and by signing a paper, the slave was a “free” worker and everyone was happy. His report brought into light injustices against native Africans disguised in the legal pretense of contract labor. Disregarding Nevinson and other accounts of anti-slavery campaigners, Cadbury chose to make their own investigations into labor conditions of Sao Tome. Yet, even when these confirmed conditions on par with slavery on the cocoa plantations, Cadbury continued to be a major consumer of the cocoa product from Sao Tome, simply choosing to lobby the Portuguese government to more strictly implement their labor contract laws (Satre, 2005). While Cadbury did make some effort against the use of slavery, they undoubtedly fell short of their Quaker moral and ethical principles of justice and fair trade. The key issue in the persistence of slavery is highlighted here – commercial interests for profit constrain moral action from truly taking root.
Modern Slavery, Child Laborers, Implications
This also comes to explain the reality we see today in “modern slavery”. At the turn of the 21st century, widespread media reports uncovered child slavery on cocoa plantations in Cote d’ Ivoire, one of the major exporters of cocoa to the world market (Manzo, 2005). An estimated 15,000 children workers were found to be working as slaves on the 600,000 cocoa farms in Cote d’ Ivoire and were subjected to inhumane conditions and extreme abuse (Chanthavong, 2002). The existence of a form of labor practically parallel to old slavery in modern times implicates many contributors in play, intentional and non-intentional. Whether it be the cocoa farmers, the slave traffickers, the Ivorian government, the chocolate manufacturers, or us the consumers who buy chocolate at a supermarket, all are relevant to the existence of slave labor and the sufferings it incites. Perhaps the wake of a ravenous market like cocoa and chocolate inevitably demands cheap labor that spirals into exploitative systems of forced labor driven by greed and convenience, but we all have the responsibility to challenge the inevitable. We can begin to ask the next time we stand in the sweets aisle for a Hershey bar, are we playing into the cycle of perpetuating labor abuses? What can we do in our power to mitigate these abuses?
Chanthavong, Samlanchith (2002). Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d’Ivoire. TED Case Studies, Number 664.
COE, SOPHIE DOBZHANSKY (1933-1995)|COE, MICHAEL D. (b. 1929). (1996). The True History Of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Manzo, K. (2005). Modern slavery, global capitalism & deproletarianisation in West Africa. Review of African Political Economy, 32(106), 521–534. doi: 10.1080/03056240500467013
Rodney, W. (1966). African Slavery and other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave-Trade. The Journal of African History, 7(3), 431–443. doi: 10.1017/s0021853700006514
Satre, L. J. (2006). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Athens, OH: Ohio Univ. Press.
For the regular consumer, chocolate does not mean much beyond the divine sensation it’s given to the human tongue for generations. Short of the socio-political significance it held in the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations, chocolate was merely a tasty foreign cuisine to the European elite of the modern period, and a classically popular dessert now in the age of industrial commerce. However, as chocolate grew from a beloved local staple to a worldwide commodity—backed by household names such as Hershey and Nestle—it became more relevant to discussions of society and politics than ever, tucked under the veil of pleasantly inconspicuous packaging, like so:
The joyous American WWII ad embedded here captures the hidden nature of modern chocolate politics (“‘Chocolate is a Fighting Food!’ – Chocolate bars in the Second World War”). As a commodity broadly supplied by poorer nations but consumed by wealthy ones, chocolate has served as a reflection of global inequality and exploitation since its popularization in the 18th century. Although media conception works to mask this truth, the means of chocolate supply remains harsh and problematic, owing to its history as a source of inexcusably exploitative labor.
Cocoa agriculture shares a long-standing history with slavery. Traces of forced, unpaid labor in collecting and preparing raw cocoa stretch back far, and contemporary observers detail appalling conditions. Although it mostly occurred elsewhere, the slavery associated with cocoa farming has involved horrors similar to the traditional American canon. In his book Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, Youngstown State University Professor of History Lowell Satre writes:
“Human bones littered the sides of the trail, so many that it ‘would take an army of sextons to bury all the poor bones which consecrate that path.’ The bones in the dust were those of slaves who could no longer march, who were too weak to walk. Some captives were simply left to die; many others were killed by a blow to the head…the slavers, whoever they were, had little need to worry about runaways surviving to tell their brutal tale—there was no place for the slaves to run to in the Hungry Country.”
Describing the reports of an English journalist observing 19th century Portuguese West Africa, Satre’s excerpt seems to depict a “brutal tale” indeed (Satre 2005 p. 1). Those workers in African colonies that harvested and prepared cocoa were nothing more than human media through which to meet foreign demand, meant to be cast away and/or brutalized whenever they tried to take on a different role. The violence of such practice was clear, and it combined with a racial component that strikes a note reminiscent of American slavery. Such imagery appears not only in the history of African colonialism, but also in that of other nations with widespread cocoa farming, likely with the accompanying realities. The West Indies were no exception:
The image above was taken in 1890s Trinidad, but the practice of white overseers exploiting darker-skinned laborers continued for decades after, despite worldwide movements to abolish slavery (“Rowntree & its Cocoa Plantations”). When parts of the world began to agree on the depravity of slavery, like practices such as indentured servitude or contract labor came in its place. This meant that, on paper, cocoa farmers were not enslaved, but in reality, they still faced similar issues of little-to-no pay, quiet physical abuse, and “voluntary” lifelong labor commitments, as Satre describes later in his piece (Satre 2005 p. 92). Scrutiny by journalists, researchers, and the like drove these practices further into the underground throughout the 20th century, but it failed to eradicate them completely. And how could it? There seems no better way to optimize business than to extract raw material for almost no cost, process and sell its derivatives at a competitive price, and present to consumers as though nothing questionable is going on. Cocoa farming slavery took on a new form, but in some places, it retained its explicit nature. In others, it was found to exploit those with the lowest capability of resistance—namely, children:
This facet of cocoa politics persisted through to the 21st century, a time where people across the globe feel that humanity had moved past such barbaric systems of labor (“2 Million Child Slaves on Cocoa Plantations in West Africa”). In Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa, author Catherine Higgs writes:
“In 2000 and 2001, newspaper editorials and a television documentary alleged that Cadbury and the French firm Nestle were knowingly buying cocoa harvested by child laborers enslaved on Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa plantations…In 2002 the London-based Anti-Slavery International estimated that approximately 284,000 children worked in the cocoa fields of West Africa…Less clear was whether the employers considered those young workers slaves…Identifying the specific factors (including hunger and poverty at home) that force children to labor on Cote d’Ivoire’s plantations has proved as difficult as it was…in 1905…Today, despite anecdotal evidence collected by a new generation of crusading journalists, African workers remain largely anonymous—and the meaning of slavery and freedom in an African context sometimes unfathomable—to the predominantly Western consumers of chocolate.”
Therein lies both the long-standing narrative of chocolate labor and its clear relevance to consumers today (Higgs 2012 p. 164). Despite being so far removed from the conception of chocolate eaters today, exploitation and inequality still reside at the heart of chocolate commerce and have done so beyond this past century. As much as current media may glamorize chocolate products, as exemplified by the modern ad below,
chocolate is hardly a fix for the world’s issues, and more accurately seen as another form of its problems (“This Panda Dark Chocolate Ad Proves Chocolate Can Fix It All”). As the late British economist Michael Barratt Brown explains in his article “‘Fair Trade’ with Africa” in the Review of African Political Economy, the exploitation that characterizes cocoa agriculture is a systemic issue (Brown 2007 pp. 268-269). Because Western nations have the advantage in industrial processing and manufacture, and cocoa prices were made to remain low starting in the 1970s, countries such as Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are relegated to being long-term exporters of cheap raw material, rather than highly lucrative product manufacturers. To remedy these issues in chocolate supply denotes a tall task, but it begins with the spread of awareness. Empirical research by the likes of Brown, Higgs, Satre, and others shows the importance and relevance of chocolate beyond its food consumption, what with their broad implications about human nature and commerce. With proper study, analysis, and action, perhaps the world of chocolate consumers can one day bring a similar sweetness to the reality of chocolate politics. Equally dark as the complexion of cocoa product is that of its profit-seeking process, but if we continue to see beyond the packaging, we just might learn how to rid the content of all its hidden impurities.
The role of slavery in contributing to the rise of a global capitalist system cannot be understated. Early European colonialism in the Americas and Africa introduced a new crop into European society: cacao. While initially many colonizers were hesitant to consume a project central to many indigenous cultures, they soon saw the benefits of cacao. They sought to export the crop in large quantities to Europe, generating massive profits as they met the rapidly growing demand (Martin lecture 2/12). Slavery was a crucial component in meeting this demand for this new, popular crop. The growth of a world capitalist system dependent on slavery and forced labor was vital to the expansion of chocolate beyond cacao growing regions and the rapid increases in production and consumption that have been seen since the 1800s. Despite the abolition of slavery and boycotts of plantations that rely on slave labor from major chocolatiers in the early twentieth century, forced labor, especially of children, continues to undergird the global chocolate industry.
In understanding the linkages between slavery and capitalism, it is helpful to start at the plantation. While some scholars see the rise of modern capitalism beginning in the 1800s, cacao plantations and plantations of other crops are remarkably capitalistic in their organization, albeit not at the level observed today. As Desmond argues, “the owner supervised a top lawyer, who supervised another lawyer, who supervised an overseer, who supervised three bookkeepers, who supervised 16 enslaved head drivers and specialists (like bricklayers), who supervised hundreds of enslaved workers. Everyone was accountable to someone else. This organizational form was very advanced for its time, displaying a level of hierarchal complexity equaled only by large government structures, like that of the British Royal Navy” (2019). Plantations, at the most basic level, operated as a capitalist firm where workers alienated from the outputs of their labor were forced to make products for the profiting of the firm’s owner. Critical to these firms was a constant supply of labor, which Europeans found through enslaving Africans and forcing them to work on plantations for crops like cacao and sugar, cultivating these commodities that were later sent to Europe.
The figure above shows how millions of Africans were transported to various locations in the Americas to sustain the massive demand for labor on plantations. Without this forced relocation plantations would have been unable to operate, and the commodities generated by them would not have come to fruition. The inhospitable living conditions on plantations, especially Caribbean plantations where slaves had an average life expectancy of seven years (Carrington and Noel 1982), required a steady supply of expendable labor.
While some argue that the plantation represents a proto-capitalism or even primitive version of capitalism (Desmond 2019), Mintz highlights how important the profits generated from chattel slavery on plantations was to the economic growth of Europe as it underwent a capitalist revolution. “The development of new forms of slave-based production in the New World, using imported slaves—perhaps Europe’s biggest single external contribution to its own economic growth. The Caribbean plantations were a vital part of this process, embodying all of these features, and providing both important commodities for European consumption and important markets for European production” (55). The profits generated from these plantations and the commodities they produced were necessary for financing the industrial revolution in Europe (Williams 1994), thus providing the foundation for modern capitalism.
Throughout the 19th century, European nations abolished slavery. Despite this, the burgeoning chocolate industry continued to rely on slave labor in many cacao growing regions. Many chocolatiers, such as Cadbury, discovered that the plantations they sourced their cacao from was dependent on slavery and forced labor to meet the massive demand for the product. Abhorred by the living conditions and the mistreatment of those working on cacao farms, Cadbury called for a boycott on plantations that utilized slave labor to produce cacao (Higgs 2012). Despite how well-intentioned these boycotts may have been, the explosion of the chocolate market into what is now a billion-dollar industry would not have been able to reach the heights it has without a significant amount of forced labor, especially child slavery.
Under the current capitalist system, ethical labor practices are antithetical to profit generation. This extends to all major multinational industries and businesses, and the chocolate industry is no exception.
This video from CNN highlights the dependence of modern cacao plantations has on child slaves in the Ivory Coast. Similar to the plantation model, these young children are alienated from their outputs, often having never tasted the end product. CNN’s reported traveled to the Ivory Coast to find out how the Harkin-Engel Protocol—an international agreement aimed at eradicating forced child labor in cacao production—has changed the state of child slavery on cacao farms. Their investigation uncovered a massive human trafficking network where many children are trafficked across borders to work on farms. Despite the passage of the Protocol, many farmers say that it has changed nothing for those enduring the worst forms of child slavery as the majority of them have not been contacted by anyone regarding child labor on cacao farms.
This graphic from the WSJ highlights the growing demand for cacao over recent years. As the demand has grown, cacao farmers in the Ivory Coast, and other cacao-growing regions—turn to child labor as a cheap form of labor necessary, in their eyes, to make ends meet. Just as the chocolate industry in colonial times relied on expendable labor, so does the modern chocolate industry.
First-hand accounts of former child slaves on cacao farms provide a window into the cruel conditions children are forced to live in. Aly Diabate was 11 when he was tricked into working on a cacao farm by a trader. He described being unable to carry the large loads required of him, often falling from the weight. When this would happen, he would be beaten by the farmer until he got up again. He was forced to live in a single room with 18 other slave workers, where the only opening was a hole in the wall so that air could enter. They had to each share a can as a bathroom. Aly described an immense fear that came from living on the farm, which often kept him from attempting to escape. Luckily for him, authorities were alerted to the farm’s slave conditions, and he was rescued (Chanthavong 2002). Aly’s case of being rescued, however, is an outlier for child slaves on cacao farms, not the norm. Many are not so lucky.
From the onset of the chocolate industry, slavery has been integral to its functioning. Despite the outlawing of chattel-slavery worldwide, many of the world’s most vulnerable are often forced into servitude to meet the global demand for chocolate. As companies express their opposition to cacao sourced from slave labor, the capitalist system prioritizes profits over ethics and is why despite the widespread recognition that the worst forms of child slavery exist on cacao farms, change has not occurred. If it was to, billions would be lost, which is evidently a worse outcome than this continued slavery.
Carrington and Noel, “Slaves and Tropical Commodities,” in Stephan Palmie Francisco Scarano, The Caribbean: A History of the Region and its Peoples, chapter 15
Chanthavong, S., 2002. Chocolate and slavery: Child labor in Cote d’Ivoire. TED Case Studies, 664.
Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 133-165
Mintz, Sidney W. 1986. Sweetness and Power.
Wernau, Julie. “Child Labor On The Rise in West Africa as Demand for Cocoa Grows.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 30 July 2015, blogs.wsj.com/frontiers/2015/07/30/child-labor-on-the-rise-in-west-africa-as-demand-for-cocoa-grows/.
Williams, E., 2014. Capitalism and slavery. UNC Press Books.
Centuries after the 350 year long transatlantic slave trade, it is hard to imagine that such a horrific worldwide trade could emerge from one sole underlying purpose: money. As the slave trade continued over time, everything became a price tag from crops to the people, justified on malicious racial grounds fabricated by the elite. I argue that the slave trade emerged as a result of economics that enabled the expansion of the chocolate industry, which resulted in challenges to abolishing slavery in cacao growing regions. Furthermore, I argue that cacao-based slavery is still not abolished to this day.
Economics of the Slave Trade
Europe had weapons, the Americas had crops, and what did Africa have? People. Europe wanted crops from the Americas, the Americas did not have enough people to support this, and Africa wanted the weapons (and some textiles) from Europe (UNESCO). Thus, a trade emerged. The economics of the trade started with the origin of “African Kingdoms” who”prospered from the slave trade,” but after only a few years, “meeting the European’s massive demand created intense competition” between kingdoms (Hazard). A deep-rooted moral complex soon surfaced: “capturing slaves became a motivation for war rather than it’s result” (Hazard). Kingdoms now needed more weapons from Europe to defend themselves during slave raids.
The economic prosperity continued in the New World where the slaves were sold. As seen in the images from Flickr below, which detail how humans were priced, slaves were viewed as a price tag and treated as a mere commodity. The entire slave voyage was seen simply as a “financial venture for owners and investors,” which “proved to be greatly profitable” (UNESCO). A slave could be sold multiple times in a lifetime multiplying their economic effect. Trade workers’ ultimate job was to sell the slaves at the highest price possible, meaning they often “disguise[d] the physical bruises and wounds… in order to hide their ailments” further contributing to the unethical economic driven tragedies of the trade (UNESCO). The slave trade altered societies and economies across the continent.
The greater economic impact came not from the increase in economic prosperity of the trade at the time, but rather the long lasting impact the trade placed upon Africa, still permeating society today. As Anthony Hazard explains in his TedEd video, “not only did the continent lose tens of millions of its able-bodied population, but because most of the slaves taken were men, the long term demographic effect was even greater” (Hazard). He continues explaining by the time the Americas and Europe finally outlawed the trade, “the African kingdoms whose economies it had come to dominate collapsed” (Hazard). Because of the slave trade, the future of Africa was devastatingly rewritten forever.
Why does chocolate play such an important role in the slave trade? Chocolate comes from Cacao beans, which date back to Mesoamerican societies, as early as the Olmec Empire (Dr. Martin, Lecture). Cultivating cacao is a labor intensive process that requires a humid tropical climate. For this reason, Europeans could not and did not want to grow cacao. Thus, when the Europeans discovered chocolate from South America—as early as 1591—and demand for cacao continually increased, colonialists forced local indigenous people to supply the cacao that would be transported to Europe (C-Spot). Eventually, this practice proved difficult with not enough people to maintain the expanding cacao fields, and eventually the slave trade emerged. This simply shows that “one of the stimuli of the… slave trade was Europe’s appetite for not only sugar but chocolate, too” (Duducu). As it was a “brutal, backbreaking job that nobody wanted to do,” it became the “standard job or slaves” (Duducu). The cacao industry now relied, grew, and thrived on the backs of slaves.
Challenges to Abolition in Cacao Growing Regions
Why did challenges to abolition arise specifically in cacao growing regions? Because chocolate had transformed into a good available to everyone, not just for the elite (Dr. Martin, Lecture). By the 18th century, sugar and chocolate was involved in almost every aspect of European life including medicine, religion, socioeconomic class, gender and sexuality, and politics (Dr. Martin, Lecture). It is no coincidence that cacao demand grew even further in the 1820s, as innovations in chocolate production began with Coenraad Johannes van Houten inventing a new process resulting in powdered chocolate that “soon led to the creation of solid chocolate” (Fiegl). This caused a “cascade of further developments” in chocolate production allowing for easier consumption with better taste (Christian). Not only did this cause cacao demand to increase, but it also came at a time when abolition movements were at their peak worldwide encouraging a heightened resistance from slaves as their labor demands increased. Had chocolate not recently transitioned into the realm of daily consumption by Europeans, then there is sufficient evidence to believe that abolition would have taken hold sooner.
As the market for chocolate expanded, “a number calculated at ‘nearly ten percent of the volume of the whole transatlantic slave trade’ went to work on the cacao plantations in Brazil” (Moss and Badenoch, 30). During this time, Brazil was a colony of Portugal. Although Portugal was one of the forerunners of Europe to abolish slavery within, they did not abolish slavery in Brazil until 1888, nearly 20 years after Portugal abolished slavery in their African Portuguese colonies (Brown Univeristy). This shows just how important chocolate was to Portugal, resisting abolition only in Brazil for an extra two decades with the purpose of maintaining their cacao production.
Cacao Expansion into Africa
Although slavery was abolished everywhere in the Caribbean chocolate producing colonies by the start of the 18th century, chocolate production in Africa was beginning to boom as a replacement. As formerly mentioned, when the transatlantic slave trade was outlawed, the African economy crumbled and desperately needed a replacement for revenue. The first expansion of cacao from its previously limited production region in the Americas occurred in 1822 (a few years after the end of the slave trade) when it arrived in Africa (Christian). By the end of the century, cacao production would spread across the continent exponentially as seen in the bar graph below. The cacao industry would shift from its homeland in the Americas to Africa at the turn of the century producing over 70% of the world’s cacao today (Winton).
With 60% of revenue coming from cacao on the Ivory Coast, farmers still earn less than $2 a day (Food Empowerment Project). This forces them to turn to slave and child labor. Most children are aged 12-16 and face dehumanizing workloads and violence inflicted from the farm owners (FEP). African cacao farmers violate almost all of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Laws (FEP). The video below shows how slavery in cacao production truly has not been abolished, only transformed. The current cacao workers are still battling demoralizing working conditions, unpaid labor, minimal food, and no access to education; the only difference between the 17th century and today is that these workers are now children.
It is impossible to put a numerical dollar value that the slave trade revenued economically due to the incalculably large number of 17 million slaves that were sold and due to the long lasting economic impediment forever placed on the African economy. But it is certain that the slave trade permanently set Africa back economically which inarguably in one of the reasons cacao farmer poverty, and as a byproduct child slave labor, has become so prevalent in present day society, even decades later. Although Africans outside of Africa fought so hard to abolish slavery, it still exists to this day within the continent as a direct result from the exportations of tens of millions those people that would fight to stop it.
“Brazil: Five Centuries of Change.” Brazil Five Centuries of Change, library.brown.edu/create/fivecenturiesofchange/chapters/chapter-3/slavery-and-aboliton/.
Hazard, Anthony, director. The Atlantic Slave Trade: What Too Few Textbooks Told You – Anthony Hazard. TED, TED-Ed, 22 Dec. 2014, ed.ted.com/lessons/the-atlantic-slave-trade-what-your-textbook-never-told-you-anthony-hazard.
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.
Chocolate is a product whose production is too often ambiguous and somewhat unethical. It is never one’s intention to consume a product made through an unethical venue unless one is an especially evil and demented person whose goal is to exploit another for their own satisfaction. Sometimes, a delicious bite of chocolate comes with an unknown consequence. Ever since the public has become more aware of the exploitative process of child labor, slavery, and unfair pay that sometimes accompanies making chocolate, some companies have risen to the forefront of responsible chocolate by ensuring their process does not take advantage of anyone and by using the bean to bar tactic. Alter Eco is one of these companies who makes responsible bean to bar chocolate. They directly source 100 percent of their products from small scale farmers. They responsibly pay their farmers through the fair trade act and even provide their farmers with assistance that goes beyond fair trade pricing. They ensure their chocolate is quality by producing it in a controlled environment so it can be delivered to one’s door guilt free.
To understand why Alter Eco is such a responsible and rare company in the chocolate business, one must understand the meaning of bean to bar and why it is so important in today’s chocolate making climate. Bean to bar is a simple concept but seems to not be as prevalent as it should be in the chocolate industry. Bean to bar refers to a model of trade in which the company making the chocolate controls every aspect in the production of the chocolate itself.(1) This means that the company does not use middlemen when buying cacao, and controls where and how the chocolate is made up until the product is finished.(2) A common misconception with bean to bar is that it is conflated with the chocolate being artisan high quality chocolate. Many bean to bar chocolates are in fact high quality artisan chocolate still, including Alter Eco’s fine chocolates. A common misconception with bean to bar is that it is conflated with the chocolate being artisan high quality chocolate.(3)Many bean to bar chocolates are in fact high quality artisan chocolate still, including Alter Eco’s fine chocolates.
Problems plaguing the chocolate industry are extremely worrisome for the international community. Chocolate is too often not a victimless product, and child labor that breaks international law such as close to 1.8 million children who are subject to the worst forms of child labor on the Ivory Coast alone is used to produce the cacao that is consumed in chocolate bars.(4)The amount of child laborers being used is much higher than acceptable, although this problem is much more complicated than one might think. A lot of families depend on their children to help them with bringing in the cacao beans in farming season, but this also is not considered the worst form of child labor. (5)Slavery was the foundation of cacao production from its inception from the encomienda system up to the triangular trade system, and has not fully left the cacao production industry.(6) From the Cadbury case after slavery was abolished in West Africa where the Cadbury company continually bought cacao from known slave using farms to the forms of child slavery and slavery in the Ivory coast of Africa, slavery has plagued cacao production. (7)Too often farmers are forced to sell to middlemen for below the fair trade price which is a set price that has been adopted by some chocolate companies they have agreed to pay cacao farmers. (8) According to Green America’s chocolate scorecard, Mars, Nestle, and Hershey do not purchase sustainable cacao from farmers- sustainable meaning cacao is sold at a price at which the farmers can live off of- at a rate of 100%. In fact, Mars only purchases 50% certified cacao, Hershey checks in at around 70%, and Nestle at 42%.(9)This means that three of the top chocolate producers are not paying their cacao producers prices that they can even live off of.(10) This is an atrocity that Alter Eco is trying to address in their bean to bar process.
Alter Eco directly deals with their cacao farmers unlike many bigger corporations such as the Mars company who only used 50% certified cacao in 2017, and was given a C grade in the Chocolate scorecard which grades companies on where they get their cacao from, how much of it is certified and sustainable for farmers, and the programs that company has in place to help improve the cacao farmers situations.(17)Alter Eco received an A grade on this.(18) Alter Eco values their relationships with their small farm farmers, and they make it possible for small-scale, farmer owned cooperatives to be able to invest their profits directly into improving the quality of life and the quality of products in their communities.(19)All of Alter Eco’s products are 100% fair trade certified, which means that all of their farmers are paid fairly for their cacao and other products being bought from them.(20) This price ensures sustainable production and living conditions for the farmers and their families, and comes with a premium to help support the growth of cooperatives in the community.(21)This is much different than other larger chocolate corporations. These larger corporations have more capital and influence, yet do not wield it as well as Alter Eco does. For example, many larger companies buy cheap cacao through middlemen rather than directly going to the source like Alter Eco.(22) This is unsustainable cacao and Green America does a good job of measuring just how much sustainable cacao larger corporations purchase- not a lot. This is irresponsible on the part of these larger companies because of the potential of good they could do for the farmers- who on average are three times their yearly income in debt- if they just tried to be more conscious of social issues surrounding cacao production and chocolate production as Alter Eco is.
Not only does Alter Eco buy directly from small farmers at fair trade prices, but they provide assistance to their farmers past just a simple economic deal. Alter Eco supports programs that train members on the farms with programs ranging from agricultural workshops all the way to entrepreneurial workshops and education workshops for the children of the farmers. This is a long way from buying cacao from farms that employ children for little to no pay or even use child slavery.(23)They also provide medical exams for the farmers and their families, help to provide reforestation in the regions in which they buy chocolate, and even provide the farmers and their families with new stoves to combat the poorly ventilated stoves that a lot of cacao farmers typically have in their homes.(24)They also provide financial loans to their farmers if required which helps the farmers -who are often struggling financially- to be able to provide for their families in seasons that do not produce as much cacao as they might have hoped for.(25)Alter Eco clearly is socially responsible and has the people, not the payout on their mind as they go about buying their cacao beans straight from the source. This is why they received the high mark of an A from one of the most reputable social justice watchdogs in the food industry in Green America.
Once Alter Eco pays a Fair Trade price for their cacao that they buy directly from farmers that they have relationships with, they leave the beans to ferment for a week in a wooden crate.(26) This allows for the cacao’s pulp to liquify and for complex chemical changes in the bean itself to take place to enhance the flavor of the cacao. Once this process is finished, the beans are laid out under the sun until their moisture content reaches approximately seven percent. This can take up to three weeks to complete. Once the beans are dried, they are shipped to Alter Eco’s chocolate manufacturer in Switzerland.(27) When the beans arrive to Switzerland, they are roasted for hours to which brings out the flavor of the bean, and then the roasted beans are broken down and their skins are taken off. (28) These broken down pieces of cacao are known as nibs.(29)The nibs then are put under a heavy stone and ground down.(30) This process brings out cocoa butter from the beans and leaves the remaining cocoa mass. (31)The cocoa butter and cocoa mass are then put into the conching process. This process consists of the cocoa products being slowly mixed into other ingredients while slowly being heated throughout the conching process.(32) This process takes multiple hours, and the longer the cacao and other ingredients are conched, the better and smoother the chocolate will be.(33)Once the conching process is done, the chocolate is molded and packaged to be sent out for chocolatiers to enjoy.
Bean to bar chocolate is often one of the most socially responsible ways to make chocolate, especially when Alter Eco does it. There are plenty of issues in the chocolate industry that can not be fixed all at once, but Alter Eco is doing everything they can to ensure that they are making a difference in an industry packed with powerful corporations who should be more socially responsible than they are. The chocolate industry is plagued with child labor and modern day slavery that dehumanizes people. Farmers are not paid as well Alter Eco buys straight from the farmers of their cacao at a sustainable price for the farmers 100% through fair trade, so the farmers can have an income that will support their family year round, even in down years. Not only do they pay sustainable prices, but they go the extra mile to ensure that the farmer’s families are healthy, ensure their equipment is safe, loan extra money if they need, and have outreach programs to advance the lives of the farmers’ families and improve the quality of their products. They go above and beyond for their farmers because Alter Eco believes in contributing more into the world than they get out of it. From purchasing the beans from farmers who they have a relationship with up until the cacao is sent to Switzerland to be made into fine chocolate, Alter Eco is the premier responsible chocolate making bean to bar company. They provide a blueprint for what larger companies ought to be doing and contribute to the community of chocolate by making the most responsible bean to bar chocolate in the world.
At Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe in Cambridge, Massachusetts there is an extensive selection of chocolate. In fact, the offerings cover an entire wall of the store and are split up into 5 sections. Upon inspection of the makeup of the selection of Cardullo’s chocolate, it is apparent that several groups of sections are broadly representative of certain types of chocolate. It further becomes apparent that the categories of chocolate one finds in Cardullo’s progresses from the front to the back of the store as follows: luxury chocolate, bean to bar craft manufactured chocolate, cheap and common chocolate. I will examine the brands representative of each of these categories at Cardullo’s and identify that luxury chocolate brands offer brand name and popular flavoring, bean to bar brands offer ethical supply chains, and that common chocolate offer the lowest prices. As such, Cardullo’s commitment to being a “gourmet” shop reveals the word “gourmet” can have many meanings in the world of chocolate. Gourmet chocolate can have to do with brand recognition as luxurious, or with being an ethically committed niche craft maker, or as being in line with popular tastes.
There are complex ethical concerns involved with cacao production, most importantly regarding child labor and unsustainable living conditions for cacao farmers. The center of these ethical issues is West Africa. There is considerable evidence that cacao production in West Africa has used and continues to use child labor (Berlan, 1089). Child labor on farms in West Africa was first brought to attention by reports of such slavery in 2000 (Ryan, 44). Orla Ryan in Chocolate Nationdescribes,
“Traffickers preyed on children at bus stops in Mali, promising riches on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire. Once children got to the farm, they survived on little food, little or no pay and endured regular beatings…. They were essentially slaves, harvesting the beans that were the key ingredient for chocolate” (Ryan, 44).
Given the evidence provided to the public the Harkin-Engel protocol was introduced, which was a voluntary agreement among chocolate manufacturers to end child labor. However, Ryan asserts that “nearly a decade later, very little has changed on the farm” (Ryan, 44).
Although the use of children on farms in West Africa is prevalent, it has been argued that this is in fact necessary and part of the culture. Ryan spoke with a Ghanaian buyer who asserted “In an African household, everyone contributes to the family’s welfare, a Ghanaian buyer told me. He had accompanied his mother to the farm from the age of 5” (Ryan, 45-46). Amanda Berlan articulates that “In the broader context of Ghanaian society, child labour is well-documented. Of children aged 5–17 years, 39 per cent are known to be engaged in economic activities, of which 57 per cent are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing and 88 per cent are unpaid family labour or apprentices” (Berlan, 1090). This is a framing of child labor as “apprenticeship,” rather than slavery. However, it remains that children do not really have a choice in these situations. If their parents require them to work on the farm and learn the business, the children are not in a position to pursue other options. Further, this can be argued to be a manipulation of facts from remote areas to advance interests not aligned with the interests of those who live there (Off, 160). Even if this is true, however, there is the necessity of improving these farming communities in general. As Ryan notes, “It is also doubtful a boycott of slave-produced beans would make matters better. A ban on beans from the region would devastate millions of families reliant on cocoa to survive. These kinds of threats or bans, however well-intentioned, can backfire dramatically” (Ryan, 51-52). As such, a rejection of West African producers should not occur, especially for bean to bar chocolate manufacturers. Kristy Leissle aptly asserts,
Certainly media attention to slavery allegations makes it easy for consumers to reject West Africa as a ‘‘safe’’ source of chocolate. But when artisans or mid-size companies (such as Tcho) offer a bar from West Africa, they apparently can generate significant sales. As Tcho has proven with its best-selling Ghana bar, and Divine with its entire product line, West Africa bars can be successfully sold in the U.S.—provided the maker has already inspired trust with a clear statement of its social mission” (Leissle, 29).
West African cacao can be used responsibly, even given its history. In fact, it is necessary that manufacturers involve themselves with these farming areas in order to help them benefit and grow, rather than harming their economic situation further. As such, policies of fair trade and direct trade have developed in which chocolate producers are directly involved in the sustainability of the cacao growing communities. It is in this context of ethical issues within the cacao supply chain that we will examine the chocolate companies offered at Cardullo’s and compare how ethical commitments within the chocolate manufacturers align with price and brand recognition as well as how these relationships affect placement within the store.
The first section of Cardullo’s chocolate selection, closest to the storefront is a collection of luxury (i.e. recognizable brand and highly priced) chocolate companies. However, these companies are variable in their ethical commitments. Here we can see the sections we are talking about:
The most prevalent company in all of Cardullo’s selection is Godiva. Godiva chocolates are allocated four shelves in the store. The offerings are mainly boxes of a variety of chocolate truffles. These boxes go for a high price of $20 – 40 each. Godiva had successfully branded itself as a luxury brand, as we can see in this advertisement.
The use of gold and wine associates Godiva with a luxurious existence. Godiva’s cacao, however is sourced from West Africa, the center of the child labor matters. Nonetheless, on Godiva’s website, they describe that they are a member of the World Cocoa Foundation, a leading nonprofit that fosters sustainable farms, strengthening the cacao farming communities. They write, “Godiva believes that protecting children is a shared responsibility across the cocoa industry… We have a policy that requires all of our suppliers to be in compliance with applicable labor laws and regulations.” Yet, Godiva received an F from Green America’s evaluation of their supply chain ethics. This was due to their having no labor certifications and none of their cacao having been certified as ethically sourced to date even though they have a promise to be 100% certified by 2019.
There are two other brands, Neuhaus, and Chocolat Bonnat, that appear to fit into the same category as Godiva, that is, highly priced (and thus luxury items) and not apparently or fully committed to pursuing an ethical supply chain. Most similar to Godiva, Neuhaus is given three shelves in the store and also is mainly boxes of mixed chocolates. These boxes sell for $40-70 and as such can be characterized as luxury items. Further, on the Neuhaus website there is an emphasis on the deep history of the company. This history tracks its ups and downs as well as innovations. However, there is no suggestion of concern with supply chain ethics. Chocolat Bonnat has two shelves in Cardullo’s and offers bars of dark chocolate sourced from different areas for around $12. Although their cacao beans are sourced from areas that haven’t been hubs of child labor (e.g. Mexico, Peru, Madagascar, Brazil), there is nonetheless no mention of ethical concerns on their website. Like Neuhaus, they have an extensive history of the company. They also have a seven minute video on the process and soul of cacao harvest, but not mention of the moral issues that accompany that harvest.
There are however, luxury priced chocolate brands that reveal concern for the ethical supply chain in the Cardullo’s selection: Butlers, Castronova, and Milkboy. Butlers is represented by only a couple of bars in Cardullo’s, which sell for $22 and thus are luxury items. Butlers, on their website articulates, “We use sustainably sourced cacao through Cocoa Horizons because we believe that sustainably sourced cocoa makes for better chocolates and better livelihoods for the farmers who grow and nurture it.” In fact, in 2018 the chairman of Butlers went to meet with women that they had been empowering in these communities by training them in the techniques of growing cacao on the Ivory Coast, exhibiting a commitment to the improvement of these communities. Castronova is another brand priced in a luxury range of $15 for a bar. This chocolate is made from Colombian cacao beans, likely separated from child labor issues. As the founders write on their website,
“We salute the few, craft chocolate makers that are taking time and care with each part of the chocolate making process, releasing the full potential of the bean; those who are supporting careful farming and fermentation, the ones who ensure farmers are paid a fair wage through an ethical and sustainable supply chain, and those who skillfully grind, roast, and sweeten without diluting the bean’s essence.”
Milkboy chocolate also falls under this category with bars priced at $20. Milkboy chocolate is UTZ certified, which requires good agricultural practices, social and living conditions, and farm management. This certification requires investment in farming practices that aid individuals at all stages of the supply chain, ensuring better futures for the cacao farming communities.
The next section, located one step further toward the back of the store, is composed of bean to bar chocolate manufacturers as well as Fairtrade and Direct Trade certified manufacturuers. Here we can see the sections we are speaking about:
Bean to bar means that the companies are fully involved in every step of the creation of their chocolate, from the growth of the beans to the manufacturing process. The main bean to bar brands in these sections are Fossa, Antidote, and Taza. Fossa is a bean to bar craft chocolate maker priced around $13 for a bar. Taza likewise is a bean to bar manufacturer priced around $5 for a bar. Finally, Antidote is a bean to bar manufacturer priced at around $10 per bar. We can note a symmetry here between bean to bar companies and Direct Trade certified companies. Antidote, a bean to bar manufacturer claims they practice direct trade, writing on their website, “Prioritizing quality and flavor over certification allows us to foster direct relationships without Ecuadorian partners and pay them wages that are far above market rate. We are practicing direct trade with all cacao beans and some other ingredients cutting our any middleman.” Taza likewise is Direct Trade certified. The alignment between direct trade and bean to bar is that direct trade is focused on the quality of the beans. And, as Antidote succinctly explains, this focus forces the manufacturer to be closely involved with the farming communities it sources from. This intimacy leads to a care and necessary ethical unveiling of the harvesting process. Note that these companies tend to have a lower price point as well.
The other ethical certification is the Fairtrade certification, which is an explicit commitment to bettering the farming communities. The companies in this section that have this certification are Chuao and Pure 7. The Fairtrade certification ensures safe, healthy working conditions for cacao farmers as well as bettering the communities they live in. Chuao articulates that part of the additional income they make goes back to the farming communities to invest in education and healthcare. These also sell at a lower price point, Chuao at $6 a bar and Pure 7 at $5 a bar.
The final category of chocolate at Cardullo’s is the cheaper and common chocolates, such as Kinder and Milka. Here we see this section:
Both of these cholate producers offer milk chocolate that is highly sweetened, appealing to the common appeal of sweet soothing chocolate candy. They also both sell for about $2 a bar. Now, both of these companies have some sort of ethical commitment. Kinder is UTZ certified, part of the Fairtrade cocoa program, and also Rainforest Alliance certified. Milka is part of the Cocoa life sustainable sourcing program. Thus, these mass producing and popular manufacturers do not sacrifice ethical sourcing in their production.
Cardullo’s we have examined the central three categories offered: luxury, bean to bar and Fairtrade certified, and cheaper, common candy. Within the luxury category, there is a mix of ethically bound and non-ethically bound companies. The bean to bar and Fairtrade certified are necessarily ethically bound. Finally, the common candy chocolates are also ethically bound. Given this variation in price and ethical commitment, it appears Cardullo’s is not taking a strong stand on what “gourmet” chocolate is. They offer to their consumer the option of viewing gourmet as expensive, as ethical, or as simply tasty. Indeed, the luxury items are toward the front of the store, but this does not imply a judgement on what is important, but more common business sense to have the more expensive items more prevalent. Nonetheless, Cardullo’s wide variety of ethically sourced chocolate products is impressive and aids in exposing consumers to the possibility of chocolate that is produced via an ethical supply chain, aiding in the issues that face chocolate production today.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol 49, 2013, . pp. 1088-1100.
Snickers is the one of the
top selling candies around the world. According to a 2015 report, Snickers sold
approximately 405.3 million units and generated a revenue of $386.2 million.
Snickers is one of the many candy brands under the Mars Wrigley Confectionery
(Mars) umbrella. As one of Mars’ most successful candies, Snickers serves as an
indicator about the extent in which Mars is a responsible chocolate
In the analysis it will
show how Mars does not commit to the five principles it has set out for itself.
From its level of sustainability to the advertisement campaigns it has
distributed over the years, Mars has not demonstrated the industry leading
ideals it claims to uphold in its company, a company that sells its products to
more than 180 countries. Mars neglects its responsibility as a world leading
producer of chocolate, and looking through the lens of the “world’s
best-selling candy bar” will reveal areas of much improvement. As a company
that looks to constantly grow, and appears to have an unceasing appetite, much
like the subjects of one of its advertisements (seen below), it appears that it
will cut corners and feed into false and dangerous stereotypes in order to
satisfy that hunger. As their famous ad campaign popularly coined, “Snickers,
you’re not you when you’re hungry.”
According to Mars before
any decision is made they consider 5 key principles: Quality of work and
contributions to society, Responsibility (as individuals and a company) to act
now, Mutuality of benefit to their stakeholders, Efficiency to use their
resources to maximum effect, Freedom to make their own decisions.
As a company that has been around for more than 100 years, it seems obvious
that it would be able to hold itself to such high ideals and still experience
high levels of success. However, as will be revealed, their desire to benefit
stakeholders seems to be their strongest decider.
An important point of
emphasis for Mars in order to seek higher revenues for their iconic candy bars
is through their advertisements. No matter how great a candy bar is, people
still need to want to buy it.
James Miller, global head of strategy for Mars
at BBDO, an advertising company, revealed what
made their six-year ad campaign so effective. Miller attributed the success of
the campaign to the fame it was able to attribute through expert commercials
and recognizable celebrities, such as Betty White, Aretha Franklin, and Rowan
Atkinson who portrays his famous character Mr. Bean.
Miller speaks extensively
about where Snickers was lacking in its public persona, and how the people of
BBDO looked to help Mars boost Snickers market share and retain its throne on
top of the chocolate bar industry.
Miller, unsurprisingly, leaves out numerous examples of the ways in which Snickers and other chocolate manufacturers have attempted to sell their chocolate in racially and heterosexually charged ways.
Snickers’ Fumble on Superbowl Sunday
In 2007 Snickers released a commercial during Super Bowl XLI that was met with strong criticism from many LGBTQ advocacy groups.
The commercial was accompanied by footage released on Snickers’ website that showed professional football players reacting to the actions in the commercial. The excuse for the content of the commercial was to “capture the attention of Snickers’ core consumers.” Correctly identified by the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the suggestion that in order to be a man does not include kissing other men is completely reprehensible. The assertion that “core” Snickers consumers enjoyed the commercial completely alienates people of the LGBTQ community that may have enjoyed Snickers, and feeds into the ostracizing of people that identify as LGBTQ.
Unfortunately, in the
chocolate industry the form of feminizing chocolate and the association of
hetero-female sexuality is not a new phenomena. Though two men kissing is no
less manly than whatever acts are considered manly, such as working on a car or
causing physical pain to another man, Snickers looked to feminize the two men
that accidentally kissed, claiming that such an action is not manly. Emma
Robertson in Chocolate, Women, and Empire
identifies the early marketing of
chocolate as being something that women consume and is reserved for
The images of elegant women being courted by men were common images seen in
advertising. However, the images and sexualization of women as it pertained to
chocolate transformed into chocolate turning men to be “women-like” and,
according to Snickers, making men
momentarily lose their sense of manhood.
How would portraying that
message be quality a quality contributor to society? How would mocking the idea
of men kissing, and isolating LGBTQ members be responsibly? With those heavy
questions, one would imagine Snickers would not be such a tasteless decision
twice. Think again.
 Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
One of Snickers’ latest commercials features singer-songwriter Elton John and rapper Anthony “Boogie” Dixson. The seemingly light-hearted transformation of an iconic pop star turned gritty rapper via Snickers has many racial implications that spans the chocolate confectionery market.
A close viewing of the commercial reveals many aspects that are racially charged. The setting of a lower-income household typically seen in the Los-Angeles suburban/urban areas is surrounded by typical scenery in many LA-based films. Individuals are casually dressed participating in different leisurely activities. When entering the household the viewer is met by the image of a group of people, mostly black, viewing a rap battle. The first person viewers see engaging in the battle is a black man dawning dread locks, and the crowd is reacting positively to his insults of the other participant. As the battle transitions to the other participant the viewer sees Elton John, an openly gay white-English performer, dressed in his typical flashy clothing. Predictably, as Elton John begins to sing one of his hit singles “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” the crowd reacts unfavorably. As expected Elton John is offered a Snickers to satisfy his apparent hunger and be the type of person that would fit into that sort of setting. With one bite of the Snickers Elton Johns turns into a straight black-American man, with the grittiness to fit into that environment.
There are many aspects to
unpack in the commercial, but the three that are the most apparent are sexual
orientation, race, and economic status. As unpacked before, the assertion that
a gay person engaging in a seemingly manly or gritty activity is outside of
their character is, again, an antiquated belief in society. Though not an
explicitly stated portion of the commercial, it is an underlying message that a
person could readily identify. Another, implied aspect in the commercial is
that of economic status. Though chocolate initially was marketed as an exotic
luxury only to be enjoyed by those in the elite classes, as it was widely
manufactured and available to those in middle and lower classes, its identity
has changed. As in the commercial, Elton John, a highly recognizable performer
of high society is found out of place in a low income community. With one bite
of the Snickers Sir Elton John transforms into everday rapper Boogie, someone
that appears to fit perfectly into the lower community. From the differences in
speech to the differences in clothing, Snickers implies the type of person that
belongs in that community, and the class of people that would/should enjoy
their affordable product.
Lastly, the image of a white man turning into a black man is one of the more racist images portrayed in chocolate marketing. The parallel between blackness and chocolate was a common theme in many early advertisements.
Tying the image of a stereotypical black children using the characters of Honeybunch and Little Coco to chocolate was a common practice in the early to mid-20th Century. From the appearance of dark skin and big lips, to the manner of speech, the black caricature developed was a popular and highly recognizable image. However, the otherness portrayed in the Snickers ad is not one trying to portray an exotic foreignness, rather a familiarity. The image of a black person in the ghetto is supposed to be familiar to the international public. The portrayal of living in a lower-income community is supposed to be portrayed as a cool or hip experience, something that one bite of chocolate can help you experience without facing the real-world implications of it.
The racial, socioeconomic, and heterosexual themes played out in Snickers’ advertisements are a distant reality from the Quality and Responsibility that Mars claims to uphold. In fairness, Snickers does have commercials and ad campaigns that due reach that ideal, but that does not excuse the areas in which it could use much improvement.
 Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
As company that looks to act responsibly and has the freedom to make sustainable decisions, Snickers is not looked on favorably as a sustainable product. According to rankabrand data collected in 2016, Snickers received a D grade in sustainability. Rankabrand uses 28 questions/qualifiers for a sustainable product, Snickers only satisfied 8 of the qualifiers. The qualifiers are grouped into categories of Climate Change/Carbon Emissions, Labor Conditions/Fairtrade, and Environmental Policy.
Such a low grade proves that Mars’ proclaimed commitment to leading the industry in sustainability is not met by action. Sustainability is not just how much a brand claims to commit to change, but where its commitment is placed. Failing to use a significant amount of renewable energy, failing to ensure to buy their raw materials from plantations that are certified to not use child labor, and failing to commit to reducing its carbon footprint to a significant amount are large enough factors to conclude Snickers failure as a sustainable industry leading brand.
Mars has a long road ahead of it before it can claim being an industry leader in the chocolate manufacturing industry. The award winning ad campaign is littered with images and themes that are reminiscent of a racist and bigoted past. While making allowance for jokes and humor, the suggestion of otherness when in relation to sexual orientation, gender, or race is unacceptable. Tapping into prejudices to increase revenues is not being a company of quality or responsibility. As a company that aims to be sustainable it largely falls short of even being average. Snickers’ status of being an industry leader in popularity of product is indisputable, its stronghold of the chocolate bar market is squarely secured with very little challenge from any other brand. But to what cost does Snickers retain its throne, who is Snickers when it’s hungry? Apparently, it is a company that speaks boldly about innovation but whose actions reflect one of a selfish manufacturer that is only worried about its profit margins. It is a company that doesn’t insure its products are free of slavery, it doesn’t make sure that its impact on the planet is minimal, and feeds into antiquated and dangerous stereotypes.
Cacao production into chocolate was quite an exclusive market in its infancy, but as the world became smaller and opportunities became more available for the right price the world of chocolate became more competitive. Chocolate no longer was the product of the British elites; both commoner and royalty could enjoy the foreign and exotic delight. In order to make it in the industry one not only had to make their mark in the chocolate market, but also reduce costs in order to at minimum come out even, and at maximum come out with a profit. Companies had to invest in confectionary techniques, land, import and export services, as well as labor. The Cadbury Brothers and their descendants are no exception. Despite clears laws passed to eliminate the usage of any form of slave labor in any industry the Cadbury Family knowingly purchased raw materials from companies that utilized forced labor. Due to the Cadbury Company remaining complicit to the nature of their retrieval of cacao it provided the legacy for continued forced labor to this day.
On the Cadbury website when exploring the timeline of the
Cadbury Family history there are multiple years deemed noteworthy by the
company of years that marked major milestones in their development. One of the
years of significance was 1861 when the company was handed down from John
Cadbury to his sons Richard and George. A particular excerpt from the passage
about the transfer of power of the company not only highlights the complete
disregard for how the product was collected, but the companies skewed view of
how it became the chocolate giant it is today.
“Although they’d both worked for the company for a number of years, taking control must still have been a daunting prospect for Richard and George. Other cocoa manufacturers were going bust; and they must have been worried that Cadbury Bros would soon be joining them. Luckily they had a financial lifeline: each invested £4,000 in the business, money that had been left to them by their mother. It was equivalent of about £600,000 today, but it didn’t solve all their problems. The first few years were tough. To keep the business alive, the brothers worked long hours and lived frugally…[Richard] commented that if they business ever made a profit of a thousand pounds a year he would retire a happy man.”
The comments of living “frugally” and the aspiration for profit must’ve range true for Richard’s sons and nephews because Barrow, William, Edward, and George Jr. continued the legacy of doing whatever it took to see a profit. Henry Nevinson, a journalist, insured to inform the public on how the Cadbury Bros reached that profit and the lives they were willing to exploit. Nevinson claimed that Cadbury chocolate was investing in slavery in order to keep their profit margins high and cost low. Nevinson’s report was met with shock from many of Cadbury’s consumers. William Cadbury in pursuit to distance the company from the slavery rumors and to highlight the fair treatment of the laborers on the cacao plantations hired his good friend Joseph Burtt to perform a private investigation into the claims. The goal was the to refute Nevinson’s claims, but all that Burtt saw was the dark reality Nevinson was briging to the light.
Joseph Burtt traveled to São Tomé and Príncipe to investigate the treatment of the laborers on the plantation, and while there had met Nevinson and was able to engage with Nevinson about his research and gain further knowledge of the practices. Though Burtt was hired as a “nonpartisan” observer, he is not a practiced journalist or expert in slavery, so it was necessary to utilize all resources to provide a clear picture of the conditions. Through his time in São Tomé and Prícipe Burtt could find no evidence to contradict Nevinson’s findings. On May 2, 1907 Joseph Burtt met with the board of directors of Rowntree, competitors with Cadbury Brothers, and made clear that “beyond all doubt…the negro labourers in the Cocoa plantation of S. Thomé and Príncípe are in the condition of practical slavery, and the methods by which this negro labour is obtained from the mainland of Africa is cruel and villainous” (Satre 74).
Burtt on the heels of his investigation had a report ready for release, but was stopped by the Cadbury Brothers and British Foreign office and was encouraged to delay the release of the report in order to allow the Portuguese government to review the report and to initiate the proper departments to halt the vicious practices. Both the British government and the Cadbury family actively censured Burtt. As earlier highlighted, the Cadbury Family was focused on keeping low costs and having consistent consumers, a report of actively engaging with and receiving materials from slave labor would have massive negative implications for the company. “The report that finally emerged in mid-July 1907 was several pages shorter than the December 1906 original. More than a few of Burtt’s lengthy descriptive passages had been excised…the most striking difference between the two reports was the careful language in the 1907 version. As Burtt acknowledged, great care was taken to avoid ‘referring to the services as slaves or to the servical system as slavery, because, approaching the matter as I did with an open mind, I have wished to avoid question-begging epithets’” (Higgs 136). The active censure of words, misinformation, and pursuit to deceive the public not only illustrates the massive problem of government agencies and private companies looking to subvert law, but also Cadbury Brothers Limited actively engaging in slave labor.
Due to the legacy of companies like Cadbury Brothers the practice of forced labor is a continued practice today. In countries like the Ivory Coast and Ghana there is child labor and workers making nowhere close a living wage. Companies like Cadbury Brothers had the opportunity to be above the profit margin but they refused and continue to not engage that part of their history, or work to stop the current work force.
One can only hope that one of the “chocolate giants” will take a stand against the slave labor, and set a precedent that a profit is not more important than respect for a human’s life and rights.
Below are current examples of the continued practice of forced labor.
Although Slavery has long been abolished, the chocolate industry has been utilizing coerced labor and slavery, knowingly or unknowingly, to this day. The most essential ingredient of chocolate, cocoa, must be mass produced for major corporations that produce a majority of the world’s chocolate. This entails extensive manpower, which was once provided by slaves before the abolishment of slavery. The chocolate industry chose to turn a blind eye to a form of modern slavery in the case of the Cadbury company in Sao Tome, a Portugal controlled area off the Coast of Africa in the early 1900s. Cadbury, one of the biggest chocolate companies in the world today, directly bought cocoa from plantations who used slave labor, and did not immediately condemn it, thereby indirectly supporting post abolition slave labor.
Cacao Beans Used to Make Chocolate
In the 1900s, the Cadbury company employed over tons of workers in controlled factory settings. They were a formidable player in the chocolate game. In 1901, William Cadbury visited some cocoa plants in Trinidad. There he learned of instances of slave labor on cocoa plantations Cadbury bought cocoa from on the island of Sao Tome, a Portuguese controlled colony Cadbury and other chocolate companies bought cocoa from off the coast of Western Africa. By this time, Portugal had banned slavery in the 1870’s, and had put in place a system of contract labor, where natives of the area could sign contracts for up to five years of labor at a dirt cheap wage.(Satre 2) A british journalist, Henry Nevinson, visited West Africa Portugal in 1905 to study the conditions that laborers had to work in in Sao Tome and surrounding areas. (Martin) He wrote in detail about the post abolition slavery he was witnessing during his trip and even went as far as to call the new contract labor put in place by the Portuguese government just another form of slavery.(Satre 2) He wrote a book about it titled “A Modern Slavery” which included pictures and details about the forms of slavery he witnessed. (Flewelling)
Interested in the claims of slavery in the West African Portuguese colonies, William Cadbury himself sent a young man by the name of Joseph Burtt to investigate what was going on. Burtt was a devout Quaker, and held deep Quaker values. Burtt returned back to Cadbury after his two year trip with similar results to that of Nevinson. (Satre 13) He found that slave labor had in fact been in use on the islands. He submitted a report to Cadbury, but they took a long time to reach the public eye for a number of reasons. The foreign office of Great Britain was keen on not offending the Portuguese government, so they requested certain aspects of the report be deleted.(Flewelling) The report was also to be adopted by other players in the chocolate game because they were all buying from these islands as well.(Flewelling) This lead to long negotiations as to what the final report would contain and was ultimately another delay to the process. The Cadbury brothers depended too much on cocoa from these regions to be able to boycott them until they found another source of cocoa that did not use slave labor, and they did just that in 1909.(Flewelling) After Cadbury took a trip himself to Sao Tome and the surrounding islands, he realized that the reports were in fact true, and that the Portuguese government really could not enforce abolition in these areas.(Higgs 148) They chose the Gold Coast as it had better quality cocoa than the Portuguese slave labor areas. All of this combined to allow the Cadbury company along with other chocolate producers in Great Britain to announce their boycott of the Portuguese held cocoa producing islands that were employing slave labor.
This is one of the first, but sadly not the last, well documented and notable incidents where companies use the morally reprehensible tactic of post abolition slave labor to make profits margins rise and costs lower. William Cadbury knew of the transgressions in the Portugal controlled West African province cocoa plantations, yet he waited until it was convenient for his company to come out and condemn the labor situation in the affected areas. He found another way to get high quality cocoa beans for just as cheap, and then he stopped buying from the well documented slave laborers. Politics and fear of offending the Portuguese government also got in the way of doing what is morally correct and having the type of integrity that a giant corporation should have because of the type of power and influence they wield. Cadbury objectively participated in illegal and disgusting schemes with the incentive of higher profits and convenience. This type of action to farm cocoa still goes on today, but it often has deeper layers and complexities that must be dove into to truly understand. Child labor and quasi slave labor in the eyes of the global community is considered wrong in America and among many other countries, but for some, it is ingrained in their culture. Is this still slavery or is it just a part of a culture that has yet to prescribe to the modern ideals of labor ethics? You be the judge.
Higgs, Catherine. 2012. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. pp. 130-160
Martin, Carla D. Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor .
Satre, Lowell. 2005. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. pp. 1-30
“William Cadbury, Chocolate, and Slavery in Portuguese West Africa.” Isles Abroad, 11 Feb. 2017, britishandirishhistory.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/william-cadbury-chocolate-and-slavery-in-portuguese-west-africa/.Flewelling, Lindsey.