In a 2006 press release discussing the growing popularity American chocolatier Maribel Lieberman, the PR Newswire article stated that in the past “European chocolate reigned above all, with the chocolatiers of France setting the taste for the rest of the world” (PR Newswire, 2006). Although the article goes on to note that cocoa originated in South and Central America, the articles opening sentence clearly reflects the commonly held perception that fine chocolate comes from Europe, specifically France. The press release means to introduce Ms. Lieberman’s new location for her confectionary brand, MarieBelle New York, named MarieBelle Aztec Chocolate at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris (PR Newswire, 2006). In its close, the press release claims that “Lieberman will bring a sense of history and a taste of the tropics to the tables of the one of the worlds most elegant hotels” (PR Newswire, 2006). This press release defines chocolate as coming from the Americas, and fine chocolate as coming from Europe, but at no point in the press release is there any mention of Africa, where over 70% of the world’s cocoa originates (Leissle, 2013). The progressive separation from location and chocolate through industrialization of food has led to the erasure of West Africa as a source of cocoa and allows a history of exploitation to continue.
Most American consumers are unaware of where the chocolate found in their local market grows. This stems from the fact that many chocolate makers, like Hershey’s, sought to prioritize the standardization of their product over the beans point of origin (Leissle, 2013). This shift towards a standardized product changed the definition of quality mean consistency (Leissle, 2013), and also completely anonymized where store-bought chocolate was grown or manufactured (Leissle, 2013). The standardized chocolate products followed a growing trend of processed foods: the standardization of the Hershey’s Kiss, as well as canned, tinned and preserved products grew from advances in mechanization (Goody, 2013). Chocolate products and other food items became further disconnected with their places of origin as advances in mechanization enabled and encouraged the growth of mass-produced food (Goody, 2013). The desire for a consistent product, and the new found ability to mass produce standard foods and transport them around the world separated chocolate products not only from the point of origin of the bean, but also the point of manufacture.
The separation between chocolate products, their point of origin, and point of manufacture helps conceal the violent past and present surrounding chocolate production. Catherine Higgs discusses the involvement of Cadbury chocolate makers in Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Higgs reports that in 1907 Cadbury sent journalist Joseph Burtt to investigate reports of slavery in West Africa (Higgs, 2012). Upon his return, Burtt provided his report which detailed instances of slavery on cocoa plantations in West Africa, and as a result Cadbury spent several years investigating this report before ultimately stopping their purchase of cocoa from São Tomé and Príncipe (Higgs, 2012). This decision came after several years of efforts of European chocolate makers negotiating for better working conditions for African workers and seeking to regulate recruiting processes (Higgs, 2012). Despite Burtt’s report to Cadbury and an earlier report published by journalist Henry Nevinson, Cadbury and the British Foreign Office delayed action on the issue due to political and economic concerns (Higgs, 2012). This lack of action mirrors how the chocolate makers and legislators of today have failed to address the issue of brutal child labor in the production of chocolate. Nearly 20 years ago, American legislators as well world chocolate companies pledged to eliminate child labor from their supply lines by 2005. In the past 20 years, every deadline for this action has been missed and these companies still cannot claim that their chocolate was not made with the forced labor of children (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019).
The driving force of modern-day child labor on cocoa farms is poverty (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). The annual income of a cocoa farming house hold in the Ivory Coast is only $1,900 (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). This is below what is defined as poverty by the world bank (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). In part it is because of this poverty that child persists. In order to make due, families send their underage children abroad to make money for the family, or even sell them to trafficers (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019).
The above image depicts a child, Indigo, being released to his family in Benin. Indigo escaped trafficking, and authorities are releasing him to his family in public so that the other villagers can help make sure that he is resold to a trafficker. This heartbreaking image demonstrates how dire the situation is in these communities.
As evidenced in the previous paragraphs there is a violent past and present in West Africa surrounding the production of the world’s chocolate supply. According to Peter Whoriskey and Rachel Siegel’s 2019 article, “Cocoa’s Child Laborers”, the “most prominent, sustained public attention to the issue arouse 18 years ago with reports…that linked American chocolate to child slavery in West Africa” (Whoriskey & Siegel, 2019). Despite the seriousness of this issue, it does not receive much attention or action due to the fact that Africa is not associated with chocolate despite growing most of the world supply. As long as people can remain ignorant of suffering that comes with their chocolate, change will not be made.
The decoupling of West African cocoa production from chocolate is best evidenced by Africa’s invisibility in the world of fine chocolate. Earlier, this post discussed the disconnect of chocolate and where it grows that came with the standardization and mass production of chocolate bars, but in the 21st century the organic food trend helped foster the rise of single origin chocolate bars (Leissle, 2013). Single origin chocolate not only names where the cocoa is sourced, but also eschews consistency of their product to make artisanal bars which highlight the features of each batch and strain of cocoa beans (Leissle, 2013). This rapidly grown industry is considered an important facet of fine chocolate, and as a result exist in a very extensive world chocolate census of premium chocolate bars (Leissle, 2013). This database on fine chocolate products show that despite 70% of cocoa being produced in West Africa, only 3.8% of premium chocolate bars contain beans exclusively from West Africa (Leissle, 2013). This shocking statistic demonstrates how global perceptions around chocolate are strongly separated from the region where most of the world’s cocoa comes from. Leissle points out that there are logistic, economic, and aesthetic factors which play into this disparity (Leissle, 2013), but the example remains as evidence that West Africa and West African cocoa are underappreciated when many people around the world think about chocolate.
The broken promises of American legislators and large-scale chocolate makers demonstrate the presence of a connection between the strife found in West Africa due to chocolate and lack of public awareness around where everyday chocolate comes from. Industrialization and mass production of food products along with the association of high-end chocolate with Europe and America has allowed consumers to remain ignorant of West Africa’s role in cocoa production, and therefore remain ignorant of the problems in the region. In order to solve issues like child labor on cocoa farms, West Africa needs to be brought into the spotlight as a source of the world most treasured resource: chocolate.
“An American Chocolatier in Paris.” PR Newswire (New York), 2006.
Goody, Jack, Carole Counihan, Penny Van Esterik, and Alice Julier. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, 263-82. 3rd ed. Routledge, 2013.
Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012.
Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa. The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 13, no. 3 (2013): 22-31.
The history of cocoa in West Africa goes back to late 1800’S where it was grown in the Western parts of the Ivory Coast, close to Liberia, but it did not capture the attention of colonists until two decades later.(1) One of the many colonial legacies is that a lot of African countries inherited economies that relied heavily on the exportation of one commodity. Ivory Coast, for example, has become the leading producer of cocoa and it accounts for more than 15% of its GDP. While this is not necessarily a negative thing in itself, such a narrow economic base places the country at risk of volatile world prices and spillover effects from foreign markets that linked to cocoa. In article featured in Africa Business, early March 2019, the author notes that “between September 2016 and February 2017, the cocoa Barometer for 2018 reported that the global market price declined steeply, with a tonne of cocoa…declining from $3000 to $1900.”(2) This was a result of many factors including the lack of domestic infrastructure to store cocoa beans in season of high yield and less demand. This results in pressure to sell all the beans from one season before they go bad and the farmers have to throw them away.(2) Expectedly, farmers and labor workers who work in this industry were hit the hardest and the Ivory Coast lost about $1billion.
Following this crisis, the government of Ivory Coast has been working with the African Development bank to “rehabilitate the industry with new programs and schemes to attract more young people into the industry.” (3) They are also focusing on creating more domestic chocolate processing factories to capitalize on their raw materials and capture more value from the production of cocoa.(3) However, this cocoa industry, like the agriculture industry in general, is still a risky business and can easily crumble down in times of floods, pest epidemics and other natural disasters. In this essay, I discuss the colonial origins that have shaped the current cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast, their influence on the ongoing conflicts over cocoa related resources, and finally the need for Ivory Coast to diversify their economy to avoid the brutal effects of trade imbalances that may arise and exacerbate the conflicts.
Colonial roots of cocoa production in West Africa.
The colonial rule in most African countries not only shaped the economic evolution of many African states but also the political and the social. In order to understand this, it is important to understand the framework of institutions and how colonial rule helped shape the subsequent nature and shape that African institutions took in the postcolonial era. In their paper on institutions, “Understanding Institutions”, Acemoglu and Robinson argue that institutions- in other words how society is organized and functions- affect the economic performance of a country and account for the varying success in the performance of African countries post-colonialism. They find a strong correlation between extractive institutions and poor economic performance over a certain period of time. While there are some endogenous weaknesses in this analysis, it provides us the framework we need to understand the colonial effects of French rule in the Ivory Coast and how the cocoa industry became a battleground for elite ethnic groups.(4)
For the Ivory Coast, French colonial rule influenced how labor and land policies evolved over time- through both what it did and what it did not do. Firstly, because the country was sparsely populated, European settlers maintained strict laws on labor distribution through a quota system that prohibited African farmers from hiring labor until white farmers had their adequate supply of labor.(5) After the second world war, labor became increasingly scarce and many local farmers rallied against forced labor laws which led to “the cocoa boom of the 1950’s.”(5) However, this also meant that demand for land increased dramatically as both locals and migrants scrambled to take part in the booming industry of cocoa production. Secondly, the colonial legacy of taking land without formal political and legal processes has fueled the culture of entitlement for most ethnic groups. In her paper on, “Neocolonialism or Balanced Partnership? Reframing Agricultural Relation Between the EU and Africa”, Ioana Lungu discusses the influence of colonial history in perpetuating the culture of land grabbing within a modern context. She argues that “land grabbing can be understood as a crisis of neoliberalism intersecting with neoliberal development narratives…” (6)
To reframe this within the Ivorian context, by claiming land without any institutional accountability, colonists set a foundation for future conflicts over land redistribution. As Dwayne Woods, an associate professor of political science, notes “generous concessions of land from forest reserves were authorised”. (5) To summarize, while the French had a legal framework for the distribution of labor from which Ivorians could build their own, there was none for land. A clear example of poor institutions is the absence of solid property rights that leave the elite in charge of redistribution. Thus, setting in motion the trend that would ultimately lead to extreme violence between tribes when these resources were no longer enough.The increasing costs of forest rent have become a major factor in the ethnic conflicts that are tearing apart the once socially and politically state of Ivory Coast. Forest rent is defined as the difference between “the cost of producing a kilogram of coca after clearing forest land and the cost of producing a kilogram of cocoa upon replanting.”(5)
This increase is as a result of multiple factors including the rise of land and labor costs over time as demand for arable land became higher. This also stems from the increasing marginal costs associated with re-planting cacao trees which was not there at the pioneer front- “sporadic development of unexploited tropical forest lands to plant cocoa trees”.(5) These marginal costs result from the increasing need for fertilizers, labor and better seeds to maintain the same level of production once the soil starts losing its original richness. With all these moving pieces, farmers become anxious to acquire more tropical forestland and the “cost of reclaiming land with violence is less than trying to mobilise the increased labour and capital costs to maintain the forest rent.” (5) However, one can argue that this aggressive demand for land is tied to the narrow economic base that the Ivory Coast, like many other African countries, inherited from their colonial histories. These populations have limited options for economic activities and continue to fight each other over the “most profitable” economic activity available to them- cocoa production.
Economic development through Trade
This is going to become an even bigger problem as environmental groups push for less deforestation- that happens when farmers clear the forest in order to plant cocoa trees(7)- and land share becomes smaller for the demands rising population. Pests and diseases, old age cocoa farms and lack of soil nutrients have also contributed to the continuous decline of productivity and farms might not be able to meet the global demand for cocoa.(8) This would have larger implications if major buyers had to shift to other countries to acquire their supply demands. Yet, cocoa production still remains a major contributor to economic growth and urbanization in Ivory Coast. The question thus arises on whether Ivory Coast should invest in diversifying its economy away from the cocoa industry or if it should focus on creating interventions that increase productivity in the cocoa sector. There are various implications of either choice. As the lead producer of cocoa in the world, the Ivory Coast has gain tremendous economic profits from trading on the world market. These developments have gone beyond trading and had spillover effects in the rest of the economy resulting in urbanization and other economic development improvements.
According to researcher Remi Jedwab, in his paper on, “Why is African Urbanization Different? Evidence from Resource Exports in Ghana and Ivory Coast”, argues that cocoa booms have led to city booms and consequently economic growth. He disputes the idea that structural transformations such as the green economy and the industrial revolution that accounted for the development of cities through their effect on labor mobility in the West apply in the African context. He then proceeds to argue that, for countries like the Ivory Coast, urbanization trajectory has been closely interconnected with that of cocoa production.(7) He notes that cocoa production, like urban growth, started in the East of the country and moved towards the West, but cities in the East did not collapse as more cities were formed in the West. He found that about 80% urban growth in the Ivory Coast happened in areas suitable for cocoa production and traces the trajectory as it moved East to West. That being said, it is important to maintain that correlation is not necessary causation. This urbanization could be a result of infrastructural investment and labor migration to areas of cocoa production due to its central place in the general economy. If most jobs are generated within the Agriculture sector, and more precisely cocoa production, then more people will follow wherever the industry seems to be heading.
Yet, we have seen that Ivory Coast is moving towards industrialization. The government is investing increasing both yield per ha and factories that manufacture various cocoa products. This means capturing as much value from the supply chain as possible through creating a range of factories from grinding entities to chocolate-making companies.(9) It is working towards expanding the secondary market that processes products from cocoa to reduce tensions surrounding land acquisition. This is also an attempt to create a market for their surplus and address the issue of declining cocoa prices that has resulted from a supply surplus and “substantial reserve held by consuming countries”.(9) The latter is another consideration for the Ivory Coast when evaluating its position in the world market as a country with the highest comparative advantage in cocoa production. As noted by the OECD, in a report on cocoa production by the Ivory Coast, developed countries took advantage of falling prices to store reserves and thus changing the trading landscape. Ivory Coast, and other African producers of cocoa, remain price takers because of low investment in reserves and the lack of regulation policies that protect local farmers. The result of a limited market creates tensions in which the elites struggle to accumulate all profits from cocoa along ethnic and tribal lines. This leaves farmers insecure about the safety and sustainability of their businesses and in turn affects their production capacity as well as their livelihood.
So far, we have studied two difficult problems. On one hand, the comparative advantage that Ivory Coast has in cocoa production has not realized its full potential due to lack or limited complimentary infrastructure and policy framework to protect farmers and the economy in general. This lack of policy framework and infrastructure is a result of a combination of factors including the legacy of colonial institutions, poor leadership, and ethnic diversity along economic lines. On the other hand, we have seen an opportunity within this problem. The possibilities to diversify within the cocoa producing sectors by creating secondary markets through which the now majority youth working in the cocoa sector can transfer. I also discussed, briefly, the need for diversification to other sectors and other exports that do not rely on acquisition of big lands and that doesn’t require high labor demands. Alternatively, the Ivory Coast can consider investing in mechanized systems of cocoa production along with new education practices that allow the current labor surplus to transition in other sectors. Additionally, the new trade agreement among African countries to open borders- remove tariffs, allow labor mobility might help address this issue in the long run as more people have the choice of immigrating to other countries where they can contribute. That being said, this cannot solved without a political commitment by the government to address these challenges without partiality and with accountability.
The chocolate industry has a huge commercial impact on contemporary North American society; this impact is not just commercial, however. Consumers, particularly women, often have a larger emotional connection [to chocolate] that goes beyond capitalist values. Regrettably, consumers, are often not always aware of the exploitive nature the chocolate industry has been historically. Nor are they aware of how incredibly inequitable it is primarily for the farmers and their families who are instrumental to the chocolate industry. Through an interview with my friend, Mara Peters (alias), I attempt to analyze these emotional connections female consumers have with chocolate while also revealing the disconnects they have with the ‘dark side’ of the chocolate supply chain. Lastly, this paper will also consider alternative ways how to make the industry more equitable, diverging from popular models that exist like, Fair Trade and Free Trade, as well as, some internal sustainable programs implemented by the chocolate companies, like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan.
Emotional Connections: Women & Chocolate Consumption
Chocolate is all around us. Accessible to us at any moment, at grocery stores anywhere in the world, from a convenient store in a small town in California to a large shopping complex in Japan. When we buy our favorite bar or bonbon, we know it will taste the same EVERY SINGLE TIME. We can take comfort in that, especially women on the western part of the world. For women chocolate has become something more than a simple treat. Instead it is a food that has taken on a significant emotional role in women’s lives. Case in point. For my friend Mara, chocolate has provided a sense of comfort helping her to manage several types of emotions, such as stress, depression, and yes, even pleasure. This strong emotional connection is psychologically real. There has been many scientific studies to show these strong associations. Turning to chocolate was a way Mara could relieve stress. During our interview, she recalled when writing her PhD dissertation in biochemistry she literally did not eat much except for chocolate. “When I was writing my PhD dissertation, I stopped eating real food and just ate chocolate cake from Trader Joe’s 😵 I definitely cope with 🍫” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. Text Message. S. Martinez). The emoticon ‘Dizzy Face’ (open mouth and X’s to resemble spirals for eyes) in the text message she used to respond to my question expresses heightened disbelief, awe, amazement (emojipedia, n.d.). She was in total disbelief that she could eat so much chocolate to get through that difficult period of her life. Getting a PhD is no easy feat. There was a lot of pressure to do well and finish strong, so why not take off the edge with chocolate. When she looks into further she recognizes how much chocolate has definitely been used as a coping mechanism throughout her life. After Mara’s second pregnancy she experienced postpartum depression and as a result again turned to chocolate to help her cope with those daily mental hardships (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez).
Mara is not the only one who has relied on chocolate as a way to deal with stressors in one’s life. Chocolate is the most common food item people report they crave to alleviate emotional distress according to Dr. David Benton a psychologist and biochemical pharmacologist (Benton, 2004, p. 205). Chocolate has been studied for sometime by scientific researchers to determine whether or not the chemicals compounds in chocolate have real influences over our moods and/or behaviors. Dr. Benton’ studies suggest that these chocolate cravings are not really derived from any pharmacological and/or biological processes to induce the craving but rather a physiological reaction from taste and the attractiveness of the mouthfeel (Benton, 2004, 214). When we bite into our favorite chocolate our taste buds are awaken sending a signal to the brain releasing endorphins from our opioid systems. This system controls our pain, reward and addictive behaviors (European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2007). When these endorphins are triggered (by eating chocolate) they are helping us to relieve our pain or stress by replacing them with feelings of happiness and/or pleasure.
Women actually experience stronger cravings for chocolate more than men (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). That number has been consistently shown to be higher than 92 percent according to a few studies (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). Women experience a higher intensity cravings for more palatable, sweeter, fattier and high caloric foods than men. When it comes to sweets, women prefer chocolate, pastries, and ice cream (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). While men, on the other hand, tend to crave more savory foods such as meat, fish, eggs (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). When it came to sweets men prefer a sweet beverage, but not chocolate (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 163). Interestingly Mara expressed a similar observation. Her husband does like chocolate but he definitely does not crave it. “I don’t think he craves it or anything. He usually likes fruit desserts more than chocolate. Blasphemy!!” 🤣 (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. [Text Message]. S. Martinez).These cravings are not just triggered by physically consuming chocolate or other delectable food but can also be induced by environmental stimuli or ‘induced craving cues’ (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 162). For example seeing an ad like Godiva pop on the television can elicit these craving (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 162). To capture this activity occurring functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) have been performed on women’s brain. When women are shown images of palatable foods there is more neural activity in areas of the brain where the taste-region is located (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 164). Mara’s experience aligns well with the study conducted by researchers at Yale. Mara recalls being obsessed with chocolate in college. Being in a bigger town and at the university she had accessed to better quality chocolate. Dark chocolate was and still is her favorite (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). Consuming refined chocolate opened up her palette for a new tasting experience more so than the Hershey Bars and Kisses as a kid (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). She craved it; the sugar, the fat, it tasted good providing a “huge dopamine rush” which satisfied that high caloric need (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person. S. Martinez). If that were enough emotional connection between women and chocolate, researchers have also shown that there is also a hormonal mechanism at play during that across a woman’s menstruation cycle. Women have reported strong increases craving for sweets in the luteal phase (after ovulation), but overall can have strong food craving right before menses well into menstruation (Hallam et al., 2016, p. 164). One appropriate meme floating around the internet is ‘Women need chocolate. It’s a scientific fact.’ (credited by English author Sophie Kinsella) and I wouldn’t argue with this compelling scientific evidence.
Women Depicted in Advertisements
As you can see through my interview with Mara with support from scientific studies about women do indeed have a strong emotional connection to chocolate which can help provides some emotional stability in their lives. Of course when we talk about women and emotions they can oftentimes be taken out of context, something that the chocolate companies have been effective doing throughout the last century. What they have been able to do is reinforce stereotypical notions about women’s emotional connection to chocolate as author, Emma Robertson discusses in her book Chocolate, Women and Empire. That the men at Rowntree and Cadbury were able to really lay the foundation of depicting how women and mothers should be behaving in their “ideal gendered roles” (Robertson, 2009, p.26). One example is a commercial that target moms and their children questioning their motherly role. In a recent Hershey’s commercial a mom offers a chocolate to her teenage daughter after a break up (Hershey’s, 2018). The girl is upset and locked up in her room (Hershey’s, 2018). Mom is on the other side of the door with a Hershey’s bite size chocolate. Mom slides it underneath the door and tells her daughter, “I promise its going to get better” (Hershey’s, 2018). This touches on several things, 1) Hershey’s is telling women that in order to be a good mom you should be offering your children chocolate when they are sad 2) Hershey’s in trying to highlight that special bond between mother and daughter 3) Hershey’s is gaining a new customer feeding on young women’s emotions. They are learning that chocolate can be that food that helps them get through a tough time. Oh, the chocolate companies are brilliant at playing into emotional consumerism that has really impacted female consumers.
The Disconnect of Consumers to Cocoa Beans through Colonization and Racism
Now switching gears from discussing women’s emotional connection to chocolate to consumer’s disconnect to the cocoa bean supply chain. When interviewing Mara about the cocoa bean supply chain she was aware of the slavery in the industry, but to what extent she was not sure. She always brought free or fair trade chocolate thinking this is what she could do to support responsible business practice in a product [chocolate] she loves to consume regularly. Mara is a scientist and thus a big believer in climate change and trying to do her part to do things more sustainably. Her go to chocolate brand has been Endangered Species. I asked if she would be willing to take the Slavery Footprint quiz and she agreed. She was shocked about her results. She had 63 slaves working for her and did not think it would be so many. She thought maybe 12 at most (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Taking the quiz really opened her eyes to our unequal systems and just how implicated we are in our capitalistic system of unethical production of goods. It became overwhelming for her because these injustices do not only exist in the chocolate industry but other industries as well, “The issues seem so big and sound unsolvable that one feels so helpless” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Mara admitted that since being a mom its been incredibly challenging to prioritize issues like these that she knows are so important for overall global sustainability. She has two kids which is a full time job. Her family is a priority and managing all the other things occurring in her life becomes extremely difficult to set really high expectations about consumption habits. Her parents, unfortunately, lost their home in the Paradise California wildfires so trying to solve the inequities of cocoa bean farmers or eradicate slave labor on the other side of the world seems unrealistic. Mara wants to make good consumer choices but she admitted since having children her consumption choices have been short of ideal. We can imagine that is the case for many here in the U.S. For a couple of years now Mara actually stopped buying fair trade chocolate and was buying the ‘cheaper’ stuff. It’s just easier she says. Regarding other products, she doesn’t have time to sit and look at every label she buys to see if it was made sustainably and ethically, “It so hard to know for consumers because who knows if the companies are really telling the truth” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). But she can’t imagine how others who might not be so privileged or educated could think about what they buy, especially if they too are struggling to get by. Consumption in the U.S. is all about being fast, cheap and convenient Mara brought up salient point, “ People just do not care” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. In Person Interview. S. Martinez). Mara hits the nail on the head because making people care by tugging at their heart might not be as effective as their bottom line.
Coincidentally, comedian, Ronny Chieng, from the Daily Show poked fun of this exact issue about Americans not caring nor actually knowing where their food actually comes from. One of the examples he used was chocolate. A very effective comedian is able to shine a light on some very real issues and he did just that. What happened was An ‘entitled’ American consumer from New Jersey was was suing Belgium chocolate maker Godiva for mislabeling where they make chocolate (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2019). The label says ‘Godiva Belgium 1926’. This consumer apparently bought the chocolate from one of the many chocolatier Godiva shops in the New Jersey Area and not in Belgium! Mr. Chang asked sarcastically “Why is this person even suing?” (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, 2019) Then proceeded to say that that this person probably doesn’t even know where Belgium is on a map! I like to highlight that since this consumers does not know where Belgium is, it is highly likely they do not know where cocoa beans are sourced. Mr. Chang goes on to say “… Americans love chocolate so much that they don’t care where chocolate is made. It could be made in Bernie Sanders shoes and they will still eat it.” Yes, it was a funny segment. But in all seriousness how do we get people to care? Or equally why don’t they care?
I think they don’t care because people do not appreciate or understand the historical colonial and racist roots that have created systems that were designed to financially benefit Europeans and the U.S. They don’t appreciate or understand because the European chocolate makers were very effective in disconnecting those who produced it, especially through advertisements. According to author Emma Robertson the advertisements had defined boundaries of black/white and colonized/colonizer’ (Robertson, 2009, p. 36). Advertisements depicted Africans in demeaning, unintelligent, uncivilized, and inferior ways to suit the image of European consumers to mask the reality of the chocolate industry’s connection to where their wealth was sourced (Robertson, 2009, p.39). It was indeed ‘strategic’ and intentional. (Robertson, 2009, p. 36.). Since consumers are so disconnected about the cocoa supply chain we have to bring more awareness to the problem and actually highlight these disparities between cocoa farmers and the chocolate companies. The chocolate industry is immensely wealthy and powerful. The families and the executives that run them are filthy rich. In the one hundred years of operation the Mar’s family has a net worth of $78 Billion (Alux, 2019). The Cadbury Family made $19 billion after being bought by Kraft Staples, 2010). Ferrero Group CEO Giovanni Ferrero (grandson of founder Peitro Ferrero) has a personal wealth of $23 Billion and he is only 54 years old (Segal, 2019). Mondelez International (owned by Kraft), paid its Chief Executive Officer, Dirk Van de Put, $42,442,924 in 2017 (his first year in the position) making him the top four overpaid CEOs worldwide (Weaver, 2019). He makes 990 times more than the average Mondelez worker (Weaver, 2019). As we learned in the film by Social Papel that Brazilian cocoa farmer, Antonio Augusto Dos Santos and his family, make R$100 per month for arduous labor that helps to make the west’s most prized delight (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019). It’s incredibly inequitable and unethical. It’s a system that is corrupt, hidden, and exploitive that keeps cocoa farmers trapped in perpetual, generational poverty (Leissle, 2018, p.110). It’s insane that seventy of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa and yet they only consume 4 percent (Leissle, 2018, p.43). Farmers Dos Santos said that chocolate has very little value to them; it’s a product they can’t even afford to buy (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019). It’s a moral obligation to start putting people over profits. When speaking with Mara about these inequities again it’s overwhelming, “What we buy comes at a high cost of some else’s rights. On an individual level all we can do is our best to become aware and make better consumer choices.” (Peters, M. 2019, April, 1. Phone Interview. S. Martinez).
However, consumer efforts cannot ‘fix’ this problem alone. As the Brazilian delegation’s pointed out in order to address these wrongs it has to be a concerted effort that must include many all stakeholders in the supply chain, the big chocolate industry, consumers, government institutions, non-profit organizations, farmers and their families everyone to sort out the mess and make the supply chain transparent so that child labor or enslaved labor can be eradicated (Giovanaz, Casara, and Dallabrida, 2019) (Picolotto et al, 2018). We have a moral obligation and we must hold those on the top accountable. It is morally reprehensible that the chocolate industry families, like Mars and Ferrero should have that much wealth, especially when it at the cost of someone’s else human rights. Some Companies have their own sustainable efforts, like Nestle’s Cocoa Plan but when reporting their outcomes they usually focus on the positive, yet still manage to be vague or inefficient about their operations (Nestle Cocoa Plan: Not Quite Enough, 2018). Though fair and free trade certifications were the first on the move to help address these problems in the supply chains“they are not a panacea” (Martin, 2019). These certifications have become incredibly confusing for consumers as they become overwhelmed with labels, “We have no idea if companies are ‘sustainability’ washing or just a marketing gimmick” (Fisher, 2019) Additionally, certifications put the onus on famers who opt not to participate (Fisher, 2019). How can consumer even appreciate or be connected to our food systems when the system seems so confusing and backwards?
If we are to going to change the system I agree with Dr. Martin that there must be alternative ideas brought. In the case of Brazil, I am not sure if pushing the companies to make commitment to work together to address the issues might not be enough. It might have the same results as the Engel-Harkin protocol. There needs to be political will and radical policy. I think trying to work within the same system is not going to get us anywhere. Because the same people at the top still will remain wealthy, just slightly different rules. Leissle said something that struck me which was the inequities are not going to equalize any time soon. Generations of colonizations, slavery and racist policies for example have again created these inequities. In the U.S. it will take African-America 234 years to catch up to white wealth today and for Latinos 84 years (Asante-Muhammad, D., Collins, C. Hoxie, J. and Nieves, 2017). I can’t imagine what that looks like for people who are farmers at the bottom of supply chains. They will never catch up at this rate. The alternative ideas I propose which might be radical to some, is reparations of the cocoa industry to cocoa farmers. People at the top would complain and hypothetically say “It’s not fair”. Or “There is not enough money!” Which we all know is hogwash. Reparations in the U.S. gets a lot of pushback and some presidential nominees have brought up the topic but still wrestling with it (Kurtzleben, 2019). Many believe is would not be fair because you are putting blame and taking someone’s wealth that had nothing to do with our dark past. Because how are we supposed to know whose ancestors were enslaved? Yet, research has been done that white slave owners in the U.S. actually received reparations for their loss of slaves after the civil war (Hunter, 2019). Wow, that is incredible! The Injustice! Slave owners received $300 for each slave they lost and it was supported by President Abraham Lincoln (Hunter, 2019).. He commissioned a board to oversee 1000 petitions from slave owners for 3,000 slaves (Hunter, 2019). The largest sum received was $18,000. So, I am not sure why people, especially white people have an issue with it. Because of actions like these people of color at the bottom and still catching up economically.
The other alternative is that we need to educate women all around the world and empower them by giving them rights to land and resource in the agricultural industry, e.g. cocoa. According to Project DrawDown we can make an incredible difference as 100 to 150 million people would no longer go hungry and could help close the parity gap with men (Project Drawdown, n.d.). Lastly, another alternative is we need to invest in entrepreneurs from the places that grown cocoa. We need to provide them the infrastructure, tools, resource, machinery to start their own cocoa business. There is no reason why people who produce cocoa bean shouldn’t make it.
I am not sure if any of my so called radical idea will live up. But, I’ll end with on another powerful connection which is chocolate brings people together. Kakawa, as we know played a significant role in Mayan culture and society. There is even a special word for this chokola’j = ‘drink chocolate together’ [Martin, 2019]. Mara and I had not seen one another for nine years and were appreciative how chocolate re-connected us! The next time we get together we have chocolate from 57 Chocolate, a Revolutionary artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar by a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters. With this purchase we are already helping to make a progress one chocolate bar at a time.
Fisher, K. (2019, April, 10). Fair Trade. [Lecture]
Hallam, J., Boswell, R.G., DeVito, E.E., and Kober, H. (2016, June 27). Gender-related Differences in Food Craving and Obesity. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 89(2): 161-173. Retrieved from 1794 Park Ave, San Jose, CA 95126
Chocolate has been a fascination in the West since its discovery in Mesoamerica centuries ago. Early in the history of the Western consumption of chocolate, it became feminized. Chocolate was associated with luxury and leisure in the eighteenth century, but as it became more accessible to the working class in the nineteenth century, women were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption in the family (Robertson, 2009). Due to the persistent feminization of chocolate, women have been the focus of marketing campaigns to sell chocolate. Cocoa adverts have fetishized images of western housewives, mothers, and women in heterosexual relationships to sell their products (Martin, 2019a). These women are often depicted as becoming irrational, narcissistic, or excessively aroused due to chocolate. However, these advertisements reveal the underlying prejudice and stereotyping that exists in the cocoa supply chain. Chocolate largely originates from the cocoa farmed in West Africa, which produces 75% of the world’s cocoa. Although this arrangement began in the 1800s, West Africans only consume 4% of the world’s chocolate (Martin, 2019b). This is due to the fact that most African-grown cocoa is exported abroad for production and the primary markets for these chocolate producers are thus outside of Africa. The romanticized image of chocolate in Western advertisements neglects the labor that goes into farming cocoa and the challenges that cocoa farmers in West Africa face. Furthermore, the dilemmas within the cocoa supply chain are exacerbated for women cocoa farmers, who are often denied privileges their male counterparts are afforded and are especially susceptible to certain dangers. Rather than focusing on Western women, who are not involved in the production of chocolate, a newer campaign has emerged to empower West African women cocoa farmers and bring light to just how integral they are in the production of chocolate.
It has been documented that women have been involved in the cocoa industry since its inception in West Africa, specifically Ghana (Robertson, 2009). Cocoa farming would not have gotten to where it is today without the labor of women, as it was central in almost every aspect of cocoa production and sale (Robertson, 2009). However, these contributions have not been met with the appropriate amount of recognition and credit. This blog will highlight women farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which are two of the world’s largest cocoa-growing countries and both are found in West Africa. In Ghana, women cocoa farmers earn 25%-30% less than their male counterparts and in Côte d’Ivoire women cocoa farmers earn up to 70% less than their male counterparts (Pacyniak, 2014). Also, in both countries women are met with more obstacles, such as lower farm productivity, smaller farms, and less access to financing and farm inputs. Gender gaps beyond cocoa income and productivity plague women cocoa farmers in Ghana, as women have a 25% lower level of training, a 20% lower receipt of loans, and 30%-40% lower access to critical farm inputs (e.g. fertilizer). According to women cocoa farmers, they lack the funds necessary to hire labor, making it difficult to produce cocoa (Odoi-Larbi, 2008). Gender inequality in Ivorian cocoa farming manifests in almost none of the 4% of women in cocoa co-operatives having leadership positions. Furthermore, in Côte d’Ivoire 86% of men had legal rights to their plots, while in 67% of cases, the land accessed by women was not owned by them. Although Fairtrade is an institutional arrangement designed to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions, not all West African cocoa farmers benefit equally from Fairtrade (“Does Fairtrade mean a fair deal for female cocoa farmers?”, 2016). For instance, even though Fairtrade is a positive force in Ghana, women cocoa farmers are not benefitting from Fairtrade to the same extent as their male counterparts. It was found that many of the poorest and most marginalized cocoa farmers in Ghana are excluded from participating in such co-operatives, and most of these farmers are women.
The previously mentioned trials and tribulations of women cocoa farmers are addressed in the video below. As was mentioned earlier, the global cocoa supply comes from small farms in West Africa, but these farmers are often paid poorly for what they grow. Typically, women take on the heavy lifting when it comes to their share of the work, but they see minimal profits. The women in this video are from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and although they do most of the work, only a quarter of the cocoa farms are owned by women. The women explain this disparity, as they discuss the patriarchy that prohibits them from inheriting land. More recently, however, Fairtrade has made strides to ensure that support exists that helps women raise their income and their voices. This includes eliminating women’s dependency upon their husbands and giving women their own land on which they can produce their own cocoa. With their own farms, these women are more independent and can flourish with the right resources available to them. The video ends by urging consumers around the world to choose Fairtrade chocolate in order to support these women cocoa farmers. Other efforts have been started to raise awareness about these farmers, as the injustice of women working for nothing to produce the chocolate that we love must end.
Several efforts have commenced to promote corporate social responsibility, which would aid in the fight for equality for women in the cocoa supply chain. One such effort is Cocoa Life, which began in 2008 and is empowering women in Ghana’s cocoa growing communities (Amekudzi, 2013). Cocoa Life was created by Mondelēz International, a company looking to advance the rights of women cocoa farmers by increasing the emphasis on gender equality in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and advocating for industry-wide action (Pacyniak, 2014). To address the aforementioned challenges women cocoa farmers face, Mondelēz International presented new action plans to build upon its Cocoa Life program. This plan was a $400 million, 10-year effort set in motion in 2012. In Ghana, this project is farmer centered and based on Cocoa Life’s Cadbury Cocoa Partnership in Ghana. Specifically, Cocoa Life encourages entrepreneurship among women cocoa farmers through farmer education on cocoa agronomy and farmer training at the village level. The video below, produced by Cocoa Life, involves interviews of women cocoa farmers in Ghana who recount the times when they were excluded from the ins and outs of cocoa farming. They have been encouraged to mobilize and learn how to manage their own farms. Their situations have been improved and they have set the stage for future women cocoa farmers to prosper in their communities.
Another example of an attempt at corporate social responsibility to help women in West African communities is The Cargill Cocoa Promise. Cargill recognized that women are forced to balance household work with cocoa farming, in conjunction with having unequal access to training, inputs, and education (“Empowering women cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire”, 2014). The Cargill Cocoa Promise aims to understand how gender barriers limit access to skills, information, and inputs amongst women cocoa farmers. This project kickstarted inclusive training sessions and raised awareness of gender issues. Practical steps were proposed to improve the day-to-day activities of these farmers. The people in the video below discuss how this project was conceived and executed in Côte d’Ivoire. Researchers found that culture was a driving force that exacerbated the issues plaguing women cocoa farmers, as culture determined who got to own land. They encouraged discussions within the communities in order to facilitate change and overcome the cultural biases. Also, this project increased financial literacy among women cocoa farmers, as the organizers established village savings and loan schemes, which would aid in entrepreneurship efforts.
As was preliminarily mentioned, a newer campaign has emerged to shed light on the West African women who make large contributions to the production of chocolate. Divine Chocolate Limited is a purveyor of Fairtrade chocolate and although it was originally established in the United Kingdom, it is co-owned by the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa farmers’ co-operative in Ghana. In order to emphasize to UK chocolate shoppers that Ghana is a cocoa origin site, Divine Chocolate released a set of advertisements that feature women cocoa farmers from Ghana, and these advertisements appeared in British editions of women’s magazines, such as Elle, Cosmopolitan, Red, and OK! (Leissle, 2012). As is shown in the images below, the women cocoa farmers are depicted as glamorous business owners who participate in transnational exchanges of raw materials and luxury goods, and as beneficiaries of these exchanges. These women are a part of the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative, which makes them co-owners of Divine Chocolate. The advertisements emphasize the women’s position as co-owners, as they state each woman’s name along with her position. Also, Ghana’s adinkra symbols appears on Divine Chocolate’s bar wrappers and this is shown in the photographs. Furthermore, the background of each advertisement shows ‘Africa’, which is represented by images of Ghana’s agricultural economy. This includes cocoa drying tables, plantain trees, coconut trees, mud buildings, and dusty roads. Each woman appears in the foreground holding pieces of chocolate, which is a luxury food made from the fruit they farm. These images are paired with titles such as ‘Equality Treat’, ‘Decadently Decent’, and ‘Serious Chocolate Appeal’ in order to suggest to consumers that their own enjoyment of Divine Chocolate bars should come not only from the joy of eating chocolate, but from the fact that the women who farm the cocoa also enjoy it. This implies that the Kuapa Kokoo women cocoa farmers not only grow the raw materials, but they also consume the chocolate. This is a far cry from the statistic reported earlier that said only 4% of West Africans consume the world’s chocolate.
Chocolate’s advertisements are revolutionary in that they do not rely on the
stereotypical and romanticized images of Western women to sell their chocolate.
Instead, this company is knocking down two birds with one stone: they are
empowering West African women cocoa farmers while challenging the notion that
Africa is not modern. Leissle states that “the Divine images pose a challenge
to narratives that cast Africa as continually on the losing side of harmful
dualisms and reframe Africa’s role in modernity” (2012). In Binyavanga Wainaina’s
“How to Write About Africa”, he challenges Western literature that persistently
refuses to disperse a picture of a “well-adjusted African” (unless he or she has
won a Nobel Prize), neglects the fact that the continent is dynamic in that it
is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, and savannahs, and depicts the African
woman as starving, nearly naked, and waiting for the aid of the West (2006).
However, the Divine Chocolate adverts pose the Ghanaian women cocoa farmers as “attractive,
socially mobile beneficiaries of their own development efforts” (Leissle,
2012). The videos previously discussed highlighted that West African women are
commonly held back in their farming endeavors by the patriarchal notion that
women are only instrumental in uplifting the family. However, the Divine women are
not tethered to their responsibilities as wives and mothers and are not viewed
as reproductive laborers in these advertisements. These women are framed as “active
agents of a self-gratifying transnational business arrangement” (Leissle, 2012).
Overall, the combinations of the Divine women’s playful, yet strong, poses, the
invitation to enjoy chocolate, and the text present West African women cocoa
farmers as savvy luxury consumers and implies their individual participation in
the privileged aspects of modernity narratives (Leissle, 2012).
One way to address and combat the gender inequality that exists in the cocoa supply chain is to draw attention to West African women as primary contributors. The fetishization of Western women in chocolate advertisements only exacerbates the issue at hand because it masks the labor that was invested into producing the chocolate. In looking at the origins of the chocolate, one will find that West Africa as the world’s primary cocoa growing region is faced with many critical challenges, such as volatile income, unfair farm economics, and lack of laborers (Martin, 2019b). Women cocoa farmers are especially harmed by these challenges as the patriarchy in West Africa makes it difficult for them to overcome these obstacles. However, some solutions have gone into effect to empower these women. Additionally, Divine Chocolate’s campaign presents “a fresh visual reframing of the exchanges of goods and capital between Africa and Europe” (Leissle, 2012). Other purveyors of chocolate should follow in Divine Chocolate’s footsteps when it comes to advertisements and give credit to the people who make eating chocolate possible.
(2012). Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate
advertisements. Journal of African
Cultural Studies, 24(2), 121-139.
Martin, C. (2019). Lecture April 3: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements. Harvard University.
Martin, C. (2019). Lecture March 27: Modern day slavery. Harvard University.
(2008). Female Cocoa Farmers Cry for Help. Africa
(2014). Mondelez affirming women’s rights in cocoa-growing areas. Candy Industry, 179(6), 12-13.
(2009). Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social
and Cultural History (Studies in imperialism (Manchester, England)).
Manchester; New York: New York: Manchester University Press; Distributed in the
United States exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.
“the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.” ― Sarah Vowell
Humorist Sarah Vowell captures much of the history of chocolate (and coffee) in this little quip. However, the history of chocolate is long and its social, economic, and political implications are vast. Putting the positive impacts of invention aside, the negative impacts of imperialism and consumerism more than linger. They have resulted in gross economic inequities and lasting environmental and social damage, particularly in the production end of the cocoa supply chain. It’s going to take the force of consumerism and capitalism to right these inequalities and bring about sustainability.
Approximately 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa by small farms spread out across the area. In the 1980s cocoa farmers received approximately 16% of the chocolate profits, today this percentage has been greatly reduced to 3%. Cocoa farmers are not organized and have little bargaining power against more organized buyers.
The 2018 Cocoa Barometer highlights the many challenges for cacao farmers, including volatile pricing. From September 2016 – February 2017, farmers experienced a 30%-40% decline in income (Ghana farmers were protected by this price drop through government subsidies). Although prices are on the rise again, the overall trend the past 60 years is a decline in prices (see figure 2). With farmers having little, to no, protection from their governments they are hardest hit by market fluctuations, while others on the value chain will see an increase of their profit margins, even if only temporary.
Farmers in West Africa make well below a living wage of $2.51 per day, averaging $0.78 per day (FairTrade). The Cocoa Barometer asserts that the price drops are directly related to improved production due to new farming areas created from deforestation. More than 90% of West Africa’s original forests are gone.
An estimated 2.1 million children work in West African cocoa fields. Structural issues such as poverty, lack of schools, and infrastructure also contribute to the high levels of child labor. Efforts in the past few decades to end child labor, preserve the environment, and to balance these inequities have been challenging and difficult to measure. Currently, third party certification bodies have been the only levers toward implementing and measuring sustainability efforts as well as signals to consumers as to where, and how, their chocolate products are sourced.
The three main certification entities are Fairtrade, Utz and the Rainforest Alliance. Fairtrade Standards are designed to support the sustainable development of small producer organizations and agricultural workers in the poorest countries in the world. Similarly, Utz certification was created to show consumers that products were sustainably sourced. Rainforest Alliance certification meant farmers met rigorous environmental and social standards. In January 2018, Utz merged with the Rainforest Alliance. The New Rainforest Alliance plans to publish a singular program at the end of 2019.
Certification and bean-to-bar efforts in the specialty chocolate market have many success stories, but compared to the global consumption of chocolate, these efforts have only made a dent. The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) reports, with caveats intended to illustrated the challenges of obtaining this data, that there are 481 specialty chocolate makers and manufacturers worldwide that represent approximately 6% of the annual global production of cacao.
The FCCI defines this market segment as those chocolate makers and manufacturers that choose to purchase specialty cacao at a premium price for purposes of taste quality and/or sustainability reasons. Within this small group, sustainability is but a factor in paying the price premium, but not necessarily a primary factor. In order for sustainability initiatives to have any meaningful impact to cocoa farmers the major chocolate manufacturers need to take the lead and invest in best practices throughout their supply chain that address the environmental, social, and economic challenges their farmers face.
Recent Commitments by the Majors / Certifications & Goals
Mondelēz International (a subsidiary of Kraft) Chocolate Brands: Cadbury, Alpen Gold, Côte d’Or, Toblerone, etc. Certification provided by FLOCERT through a private labeling partnership.
In 2012 Mondelēz International invested $400 million to create its Cocoa Life program. The program plans to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and one million community members by 2022. In April 2018 Mondelēz International reported that they have reached 120,500 cocoa farmers, in a variety of programs and they reached 35% certified cocoa.
Cocoa Life is tied to the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), with an emphasis on Goals 1 (no poverty), among others. Cocoa Life has partnered with local governments and NGOs to build community-centric Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), which educate farming communities on the dangers of child labor, identify children at risk, and remediate cases with its local partners. Cocoa Life CLMRS programs have started in Ghana and continue to increase. Roll out of CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire will begin in 2018. Nestlé has also implemented CLMRS program into its sustainability programs.
Nestlé Chocolate Brands: Smarties, Nestlé Crunch, Butterfinger, KitKat, etc.
Certifications: Utz and Fairtrade
In their detailed, first report (2017), co-authored with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Nestlé asserts that certification is not enough and that additional support for the farmer is needed. In fact, Nestlé asserts that certification drove the issue of child labor “underground” as farmers would hide any child laborers when inspectors came around. While Mondelēz set up CLMRS in Ghana, Nestlé set up its CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire and report a 51% reduction of child labor in a recent sample of 1,056 children over a two-year period. 
Nestlé is also investing in Community Liaison People (CLPs) to educate the community of the dangers of child labor. They are targeting women and mothers as they are more likely to invest their income and education into their family. The CLPs are local young people who are paid to train and the cost of the CLPs are split between Nestlé and the farmer. Remediation is highly individualized, but these activities are ones Nestlé continues to invest. Nestlé hopes to scale their more successful initiatives to meet the goals of its Cocoa Plan, which is set to reach 57% cocoa certification by the end of 2020.
Ferrero Chocolate Brands: Ferrero Pralines, Nutella, Kinder Chocolate Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
According to its 2016 Social Responsibility Report Ferrero has made a commitment to 100% certified cacao by 2020 and 75% by the end of 2018.
In its April 2018 Cocoa Barometer reports Ferrero is 70% certified (figure 4), and by its own reporting, on track to meet its goal of 75% cocoa certification (figure 10).
Ferrero reports partnerships with cacao cooperative ECOOKIM, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire, which takes part in the Fairtrade Africa program “It Takes a Village to Protect a Child.” Similar to CLMRS, the program establishes a Child Labor Committee to raise awareness about child labor, create child protection policy, and monitor activity at the community level. Ferrero reports that 9,413 children benefitted from this program. 
Ferrero also works with Save the Children to work toward ending child labor. It reports 1.2 million children are forced to work in hazardous conditions, however, Ferrero has set relatively modest goals of reaching 500 children, 7,500 members of 10 communities, and 100 representatives of local institutions.
In January Ferrero announced it planned to acquire Nestlé’s U.S. confectionary business for $2.8 billion in cash making Ferrero the third largest confectionary company in the U.S. It is anticipated that Ferrero will realign their sustainability goals after the acquisition of Nestlé, but their goals are currently similar.
The Hershey Company Popular Chocolate Brands: Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Cocoa, Kisses, and Baking chocolates, Kit Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds, Reese’s, York. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In its 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, The Hershey Company highlights progress in their Learn to Grow agriculture and empowerment program, serving 48,300 farmers in West Africa. The report also highlights its Energize Learning program, which provides Vivi energy bars to students improving overall nutrition. The program is a partnership with the Ghana School Feeding Program and Project Peanut Butter and 50,000 kids in Ghana receive 50,000 Vivi bars every day. Hershey also partnered with The World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) Climate Smart Cocoa Program to address climate change impacts to cocoa growing regions. The partnership will pilot a series of programs to develop “climate-smart” best practices to inform the Learn to Grow curriculum and through Hershey’s CocoaLink program knowledge sharing between farmers will be allowed via low-cost mobile technology. Hershey’s report indicates that it is on schedule to reach its 100% certified goal by 2020. In April 2018 the Cocoa Baramoter reports Hershey reached 75% (see figure 4). Also in April 2018, Hershey announced the creation of its Cocoa for Good sustainability programs
Beyond certification, Cocoa for Good seeks to address the most pressing issues facing cocoa-growing communities. The strategy is to target four key areas: increase family access to good nutrition, elimination of child labor and increase youth access to education opportunities, increase household incomes for women and men, zero deforestation and increased agroforestry. The announcement came with a $500 million commitment by 2030 and like Mondelēz International and Mars, aligns its strategy to contribute to the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Mars Chocolate Brands include: M&M, Snickers, Twix, Dove, Milky Way, etc. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In September of 2017, Mars announced its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, with a pledge to invest $1 billion over the next few years to address threats such as climate change, poverty in its value chain, and scarcity of resources. This is across all their raw products, not just cocoa. Oxfam will serve as an advisor to their Farmer Income Lab, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goal 1 (no poverty). The Farmer Income Lab will seek to create solutions through research for farmers working in Mars’ supply chain in developing countries. Other actions include improving cocoa farming methods, pests and disease prevention, and unlocking the cocoa genome. Engagement with others actors in the cocoa industry is also key, such as the World Cocoa Foundation and CocoaAction. Mars’ Chief Sustainability & Health and Wellbeing Officer, Barry Parkin, also serves as Chairman of World Cocoa Foundation.
Mars may lay claim as the first major chocolate company to commit to 100% certified chocolate by 2020, but its progress has lagged, reporting 50% of their cocoa being certified in 2016 and the same percentage being reported by the cocoa barometer in 2018 (figure 4). During this same time frame Ferrero and Hershey have demonstrated increases in certification of cocoa reporting 70% and 75% certificated cocoa, respectively (figure 4). Their website lacks a corporate social responsibility report and the information available on their site appears to be written in 2016, except for recent press releases and Income Position Statement. For example Mars’ claim to be the only major manufacturer to work with all three major certification organizations Utz, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade International is outdated. Hershey and Ferrero include these bodies in their 2016 sustainability reports.
Until the recent announcement of Sustainable in a Generation Plan, Mars’ approach, as described on their website, leans more toward improving farmer yield through technology (fertilizer, farming techniques, mapping the cacao genome) than increasing living wages and address child labor. A press release by Frank Mars in April 2018 urges collaborative scientific approach and extolls their work on breeding higher yield cocoa plants for improving farmer incomes. However, higher yields do not always improve farmer incomes. As previously mentioned, the recent Cocoa Barometer report suggests that higher production results in driving down price, thus less income for farmers. Perhaps Mars’ real progress is tied to the progress of the World Cocoa Foundation.
World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and CocoaAction
CocoaAction is a voluntary industry-wide organization that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa producing governments, and key stakeholders on regional priority issues in cocoa sustainability run by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). The WCF member companies committed to CocoaAction include Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Ferrero, The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, among others. In November of 2017 a Framework of Action was announced by the WCF with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and major chocolate and cocoa companies to end deforestation, restore forest areas, and accelerate investment in long-term sustainable production of cocoa, and the development and capacity-building of farmers’ organizations and farmer’s income. Commitments also include participation of policy creation by farmers and extensive monitoring and reporting. The Framework of Action involves governments and companies that represent 80% of the global cocoa production and usage. If implemented correctly, these commitments should go a long way in repairing the deforestation in West Africa.
The Future of Chocolate
These efforts are welcome and it is promising that the majors can successfully collaborate with governments, NGOs, and each other in the important effort to secure the future of chocolate and those that produce it. It is also encouraging to see the major manufacturers release sustainability reports, however, as barometer.org reports, many of their commitments fall well short compared to the actual scope of the problem. The commitment to reach 400,000 children by 2020 would only impact 18% of children in need (figure 15). Similarly meeting commitments to help farmers in CocoaAction would only reach 15% of farmers in need (figure 15). Regarding living income, farmers are only making $0.78 per day, 31% of the living wage of $2.51 per day (figure 15). The Cocoa Barometer report stresses that a living wage, among other factors, is a major component that these initiatives must include in their sustainability initiatives. From available data, all reports aspire to improve farmer income, either by improving productivity or identifying additional income generating activities. However, these plans do not set a living wage as a goal. As mentioned earlier in this article more production doesn’t always result in more income.
The future of chocolate depends on the fate of cocoa farmers and their fate relies on untangling a mess of social and economic issues caused by imperialism, and exacerbated by free market capitalism and consumerism. The goals set forth in these reports are generally headed in the right direction, but their success is dependent on their ability to make their initiatives successful, then scale up on that success. Accountability and transparency among the industry and at the government level is also paramount to measure the effects of these initiatives. Consumers also have a role in making responsible purchases and applying pressure on corporations and governments to minimize inequality in the supply chain and certification plays an important role. If farmers continue to be marginalized, then there will be little incentive for a younger generation of farmers to take up the trade and chocolate may become a rare treat indeed.
 Vowell, Sarah. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. October 2002. p. 42
 Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.
“Chocolate wasted” was not a hashtag when it first presented itself. As a matter of fact, it was blurted out by a six-year-old actress named Alexys Nycole Sanchez (playing Becky Feder) in Adam Sandler’s Grown-Ups. Per the movie’s storyline, “I wanna get chocolate wasted!” was an appropriate phrase for childlike overindulgence that caught every movie-goer’s attention in 2010 (IMDb). The legendary line even helped Alexys win the “Best Line” category at MTV Movie Awards the following year (IMDb). Soon after, headlines like Los Angeles (LA) Times, celebrities and random college students, like myself, were using the term rather frequently. Still today, there are establishments and products named after the infamous idiom such as a Houston-based ice cream truck and a lipstick shade made by Doses of Color, respectively (Chocolate; Dose of Colors). Amazingly, the power of the Internet allows us to revisit its cinematic origination and locate namesake innovations. But truthfully speaking, the denotation of chocolate wasted is not leading in headlines like its figurative interpretation nor being quantifiable in scholarly publications. Prior to diving into a serious topic, I have several questions that will hopefully heighten your interest to want to learn more.
What is food waste (including chocolate waste)? What are the associated impacts?
What are direct implications from chocolate waste throughout the supply chain?
What qualities does a sustainably certified product uphold? Is waste not included in the sustainability assessment? Does waste not contribute to the overexertion of resources and labor?
How do I avoid chocolate waste in my home? Does chocolate have an expiration date? Is chocolate (or cocoa) mulch safe for pets?
Läderach Chocolate Factory, a Switzerland-based manufacturer, displays a collection of “cocoa waste” in their in-house museum for tourists’ enjoyment. From right to left there: cocoa with waste materials, extracted waste (like stones, dust, metal or wood), and cleaned cocoa.
Food Waste: A Global Problem
On a global scale, 1.3 billion tons of food production meant for human consumption gets lost or wasted annually (FAO). Regarding economic losses, food waste is equivalent to $310 billion in developing countries and $680 billion in industrialized countries with the U.S. leading in food waste and overall wastage than any other country in the world (FAO). Specifically, in the U.S., about 40 percent of food goes uneaten annually which equates to 133 billion pounds with an USD value $161 billion (USDA, n.d.). Conversely, 42 million Americans including 13 million children are facing food insecurity and hunger daily (FAO). Hypothetically speaking, the diversion of 93,000 tons of wasted food could create 322 million meals for people in need and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 714,000 tons (ReFED). This alarming amount of wasted food is not only associated with socioeconomic implications but it also depletes natural resources significantly.
According to Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. food production utilizes the following: 50% of land, 30% of all energy resources, and 80% of all freshwater (Gunders). Resources consisting of land, water, labor, energy and agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides) to produce wasted food are squandered as well, unwillingly inviting resource scarcity and negative environmental externalities. Activating ozone pollution, the misuse of agricultural inputs including irrigated water, pesticides and common fertilizers like nitrogen & phosphorus can cause further damage to ecosystems. Irrigation practices promotes water pollution affecting quality, groundwater accessibility, and potable water accessibility (Moss). Moreover, pesticides are common culprits to human health effects, resistance in pests, crop losses, bird mortality and groundwater degradation (Moss). Other inputs, such as nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, wreak havoc to human health, air quality and aquatic ecosystems (Moss).
The utilization of resources is not the only emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, pertaining to food waste, but also the decomposition of it makes substantial damage to the environment. Postharvest, food waste is the single largest component of municipal solid waste making landfills the third largest source of methane in the country (Gunders). Anthropogenic methane accounts for 10 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to a rise in global average temperatures, better known as global warming (EPA, n.d.b). Particularly, landfill methane generates 16 percent of total methane releases compared to carbon dioxide which emits 81% annually (EPA). Although carbon dioxide is the main contributor of global warming, methane carries significant weigh as a pollutant due to its ability to absorb more energy per unit mass than any other greenhouse gas (EPA).
Pinpointing on ecological footprint, the most recent “Earth Overshoot Day” occurred on August 2, 2017 in which the extraction of natural resources exceeded the Earth’s capacity to regenerate in the given year (Earth Overshoot Day). By partnering with Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, Global Footprint Network also reported that a 50% reduction in food waste could push the date of “Overshoot Day” by 11 Days (Earth Overshoot Day).
Chocolate Waste Feeds the Food Waste Problem
The classification of food waste is distinguished by each level of the supply chain including agricultural production, post-harvest handling & storage, processing, distribution and consumption. From a global supply chain perspective, food waste is very difficult to define across countries. The conflicting views of edible versus inedible food waste is one example of cultural variation which impedes the approval of a standardized definition that will cater to all diverse parties and accurately measure waste at the macro level. For instance, the U.S. chocolate market classifies the pulp of a cocoa pod along with the shell of the cocoa bean as inedible products. Thus, cocoa pulp is left at the farmgate level, and at the processing level, cocoa shells are removed and most commonly converted into biofuel or mulch. Unlike the US, the Brazilian chocolate market produces chocolate with cocoa solids but also makes shell and pulp into sellable products such as loose leaf tea or juice, respectively. Moreover, these value-added practices are present-day testaments of indigenous traditions. The myriad indigenous uses of cacao and chocolate products are analogous to the circular economy that we are yearning for today.
During the Mesoamerican period, chocolate was classified as an esteemed delicacy, a form of payment, ceremonial gift, everyday cooking agent, natural remedy for human health & the environment and so forth. However, during European colonization, the rise of industrialization came with added ingredients, mainly refined sugar, that devalued the quality aspect as well as created a negative image of chocolate over time (Martin, “Sugar”). The health risks of added sugars began to overshadow the medicinal properties of cacao. Even the perception of cacao changed from a specialty crop into a cash crop. From a socioenvironmental view, terroir of cash crops rose in volatility at the extent of mass enslavement and corruption (Martin, “Health”). At the same time, these characteristic flaws did not stop consumption. Even today, popular chocolate products are sugary, highly processed and in conjunction with unethical sourcing backgrounds. For instance, laborers endure labor-intensive work on a daily basis in top cocoa producing countries, such as West Africa. The average laborer is paid below the global poverty line, uses dangerous tools such as a machete to manually cut down cacao pods, applies fungicides & pesticides typically without the proper protective equipment (PPE) and oftentimes exposed to insects and other dangerous animals. In turn, these hazards can result in serious health complications both physically and mentally.
By ICCFO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
West African laborers removing beans from the cacao pod. It is a labor-intensive process.
Nonetheless, the chocolate market has expanded its portfolio over the years, containing commercial chocolate and craft chocolate, in which consumers can be selective among the two categories. Commercial chocolate is what we usually see in supermarkets in which the supply chain depends on multiple stakeholders (across countries) to meet global demand. Whereas, craft chocolate consists of a relatively small team who produces chocolate in small batches from cocoa bean to bar (Martin, “Haute”). Compared to commercial chocolate, these manufacturers seek to provide quality rather than quantity which typically comes with a higher retail price (Martin, “Haute”).
Once it hits retail, consumers, like myself, are in awe of the multiple offerings, appealing packaging and even sustainability labels that lures us in to help “save the world” and eliminate any guilt from buying chocolate. It’s like a race to find the one with the most honorable mentions comprising of Organic Certified (USDA, Non-GMO and an overlap of third-party ethical standards (Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.) However, after investigating various sustainability standards, retail chocolate waste is not attributable to certifiable requirements nor is it recognized as a concern overall. Based on logical reasoning and what I stated earlier, the primary ingredients of chocolate consisting of refined sugar, cocoa derivatives (cocoa powder and butter), palm oil and/or milk powder that were extracted from its origination to be processed, transported and packaged as a single product. In addition, these ingredients are combined and further processed into chocolate which is then packaged and transported to retail as a finished good. Just imagine the man hours, natural resources and other inputs used within this supply chain. Broaden that imagination to consider the following: consumers discarding “safe-to-eat” chocolate confections due to fat or sugar bloom, retailers not knowing what to do with an overstock of unsold seasonal products, improper storage temperatures ruining a truckload full of chocolate candies, outdated farming techniques producing more waste than yield and slightly related, the packaging of sustainably certified chocolate causing more harm to the environment than conventional chocolate. The latter, wasteful packaging, is another topic that needs assessment and corrective actions. Unfortunately, these scenarios are real-life examples that are being overlooked and emitting an indefinite amount of greenhouse gases.
In actuality, retailers have the potential to be the main change agents for food waste reduction including chocolate waste. However, edible food is commonly thrown away in these spaces due to excess inventory, imperfections, or damaged packaging. A recent study conducted by the Center for Biological Diversity’s Population & Sustainability and Ugly Fruit & Veg Campaign, reported a grade C or below to most of the top ten grocers in the country including Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Publix and Costco (Center for Biological Diversity). The relatively low grades were based on their poor efforts to address and combat food waste in eight focus areas: corporate transparency, company commitments, and supply chain initiatives, produce initiatives, shopping support, donation programs, animal feed programs and recycling programs (Center for Biological Diversity). Both sustainability driven organizations have pronounced a goal for all U.S. grocery stores to eliminate food waste by 2025 (Center for Biological Diversity). Grocers were also pushed to change their current marketing models into sustainable ones by promoting safer handling and lesser stock levels, leveraging new technologies to strengthen inventory management and creating policies on retail spoilage reduction (Center for Biological Diversity).
By Kgbo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
A grocer aisle full of chocolate candies wrapped with seasonal packaging.
The Rise of Chocolate Production and Waste
Informatively, consumers worldwide indulge in approximately 7.3 million tons of chocolate every year (Sethi). Developing countries, such as India, Brazil and China, are adopting chocolate products that were once inaccessible or unaffordable for their respective populations (Sethi). Since 2008, disposable incomes for each these emerging markets are increasing exponentially due to economic boost from industrialization (Sethi). The rising market of chocolate products equates to a growing demand for global cocoa and sugar production. Industry experts forecasts a 30% growth in demand, from 3.5million tons of cocoa annually to more than 4.5 million in 2020 (Sethi). In consideration, the amount of chocolate squandered throughout the supply chain is currently undetermined or not shared publicly. Based on noticeable discrepancies in definitions and measurements, chocolate waste and even food waste for that matter will continue to intensify and be discussed loosely unless it’s highly prioritized and welcomes a new branch of international cooperation and mutual accountability. A stride that’s executable if all stakeholders collectively build upon a new systematic approach to carbon neutrality, waste diversion and socioenvironmental benefits.
In the meantime, I’ve provided a list of suggestions below that can help you, as a consumer, avoid chocolate waste or divert it to greener waste streams.
Purchase in moderation.
Don’t be alarmed by “Sell By Date”. Depending on care and the type of chocolate (milk, dark or white), chocolate is still safe to consume for longer periods of time.
Chocolate bloom, (whether sugar or fat bloom) which gives off a whitish or light coating on the chocolate’s surface, is still safe for consumption.
To retain freshness and structure, cool and dark environments are ideal storage locations for chocolate.
Have an excessive amount of unopened chocolate? Donate to participating charities like Ronald McDonald House Charities and Operation Gratitude.
ONLY FOR CONSUMERS WITHOUT PETS: Add leftover chocolate or raw cocoa shells, particularly organic certified, in compost for home gardening. *Fyi to pet owners, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats due to its theobromine content. If you have pets, you can distribute waste to a composting facility.
Advocate for chocolate waste (and food waste) assessments from involved stakeholders (including local and national governments, non-governmental organizations [Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, etc.] retailers, distributors and manufacturers)
By Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA – Cocoa Mulch, CC BY 2.0.
Cocoa mulch is made out of cocoa shells (most times organic) which are beneficial to soil health. Organic cocoa mulch contains nitrogen, phosphate and potash and has a pH of 5.8 (Patterson). There is also a noticable warning sign to keep dogs away due to theobromine content, which is scientifically proven to be very harmful to pets.
Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 14 Feb 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and the Politics of Food + Psychology, Terroir, and Taste”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 11 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Haute patisserie, artisan chocolate, and food justice: the future?”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 18 April 2018, Harvard Extension School, Cambridge, MA. Class Lecture.
The sale of chocolate is big business. According to the National Confectioners Association, chocolate sales totaled $21.1 billion in the United States in 2014. (Franchise Help). Despite the significant size of the market, growers responsible for cultivating cocoa do not always share the benefits. The Fair Trade movement attempts to address this imbalance and improve the economic plight of cocoa growers. This ethical movement has resonated with consumers, and there is well-documented consumer demand to purchase Fair Trade items. Despite the ethical and economic rationale for selling Fair Trade chocolate, cocoa sold with the Fair Trade label accounts for a very low 0.5% share of the global cocoa market, according to International Cocoa Organization. Based on the ethical and economic benefits companies will attain from distributing Fair Trade products, a strong case can be made for retailers to offer a larger selection of Fair Trade chocolates.
Despite the significant global demand for cocoa products, producers struggle with economic deprivation & human rights abuses. As a result of oversupply and fluctuating commodity prices, many cocoa growers live below the global poverty line, and earn less than $2 a day (ILPI 14). In addition to the struggle to afford basic life necessities, many cocoa growers are unable to hire sufficient labor and are forced to rely instead on having family members farm, including children who might be pulled from school. Even worse, other children are trafficked as low-salary laborers or even slaves, and forced to work on some cocoa plantations. There are an estimated 880,00 child laborers in Ghana, and 1,150,00 children working in Côte d’Ivoire (ILPI 31). Many of these children work in hazardous conditions, including operating heavy machinery, applying pesticides to foods, and using dangerous tools to harvest cacao pods.
In order to improve economic and human rights conditions, Fair Trade organizations have developed systems that organize cocoa growers to sell their goods as part of collectives which increases their bargaining power and reduces layers of middlemen. Cocoa growers receive a guaranteed minimum price for their goods which allows them to earn a living wage. This helps ensure that cocoa growers have a safety net when cacao falls below a sustainable level as a commodity. This is valuable to the cocoa growers because cocoa prices can be volatile and can move in a wide range, thereby creating uncertainty in the price that the cocoa growers will receive for their crop.
The Fair Trade organization consults producers, traders and other stakeholders and to determine a fair price for cocoa. The cooperatives also receive an additional “Fair Trade premium” where members have discretion to spend the funds in order for the benefit the cocoa growers and their communities. The Fair Trade premium for standard quality cocoa is $150 / ton. (International Cocoa Organization) and the Minimum Price including the Fair Trade Premium is $1,750 / ton. In return for these economic benefits, cocoa growers agree to comply with the organization’s labor standards which prohibit child labor and protect against other human rights abuses. Additional standards include environmental protections.
Producers of goods that purchase from Fair Trade providers display logos on their products which inform consumers the food was produced under Fair Trade standards. Consumers who purchase these items can be confident that they are supporting the Fair Trade system.
While there is a strong ethical case to be made for the sale of Fair Trade items, the question remains as to whether consumers are interested in purchasing them. Numerous academic studies have been conducted to investigate the amount of consumer interest in Fair Trade goods.
The first question a retailer should consider is whether or not consumers are interested in buying Fair Trade products and the amount they would be willing to pay. A survey posed to American consumers the questions of whether they value Fair Trade products and how much more they would be willing to pay for Fair Trade coffee. The results of this survey indicated that Americans are interested in Fair Trade products and would to be willing to pay $0.22 /lb. more for Fair Trade coffee than for the non-Fair trade equivalent. (Carlson 5)
Researchers at the Stanford Business School set up an experiment to determine whether coffee carrying a Fair Trade label sold better, equally, or worse than identical coffee not labeled. The results showed that the Fair Trade label had a substantial positive effect both on the quantity sold as well as the price it was able to command. Researchers found that sales rose by almost 10% when a coffee carried a Fair Trade label as compared to the same coffee carrying a generic placebo label. A second study found that demand for Fair Trade coffee was inelastic; sales of the Fair Trade labeled coffee remained fairly steady when its price was raised by 8%. In contrast, coffee without the Fair Trade labels experienced a 30% decline in sales after a similar price increase (Hainmueller et al 2).
In another study, titled “Are Consumers Willing to Pay More for Fair Trade Certified Coffee?” the author looked at items that went through Fair Trade certification and compared the price consumers were willing to pay for the same item before and after the item received its Fair Trade certification. The conclusion was that “consistent with prior work… (the study) finds that Certification has a large positive effect on the price of coffee”, although this paper determined that the premium consumers were willing to pay for Fair Trade certification was smaller than previous studies. (Carlson 16)
Fair Trade labeling produces a measurable response in the brain. Researchers from the University of Bonn conducted a two part study to discern the neural effects of Fair Trade labels. In the first part of the study, subjects were shown pictures of 80 different products, 40 with the Fair Trade emblem, and 40 identical items without the emblem. They were then prompted to choose how much they were willing to pay for each item. Not only were customers willing to pay more for each Fair Trade object, but fMRI scans revealed that while ‘buying’ these objects, the activity of the reward section of the subjects brains increased when the subjects were buying Fair Trade labelled items. For the second part of the study, a conventional chocolate bar was broken up into pieces for every participant and then equally distributed on two small plates. While the chocolate on the two plates were identical, scientists told subjects that one plate contained conventional chocolate, while the other was Fair Trade certified chocolate. When eating what they believed to be Fair Trade chocolate, fMRI scans showed “increased experienced taste pleasantness and intensity for the [Fair trade] label” (Enax et al 11)
At least some of the demand for Fair Trade chocolate can be attributed to positive, albeit unsubstantiated, perceptions that Fair Trade chocolate is healthier than non-Fair Trade chocolate. The ‘Halo Effect’, is a well known psychological phenomenon in which a singular good trait of a person or object leads people to apply additional good traits to the person or item. Companies can often be seen taking advantage of the halo effect by promoting organic, non-GMO, and locally grown products. Likewise, Fair Trade goods also tend to be perceived as having superior characteristics when compared to non-Fair Trade goods. In one study, subjects were given a description of a brand of chocolate. The control group was given no information about the chocolate, while the other group was it was told it was a Fair Trade product produced by a manufacturer that pays cocoa growers “50 percent more than the standard market price for cocoa, to ensure that the growers receive a fair wage for their efforts.” When the participants were later asked whether they believed the chocolate they had been presented with contained more, equal, or fewer calories compared to other brands, those who had been told that the chocolate was Fair Trade perceived it as lower-calorie than other brands. (Jacobs 1).
The moral arguments for Fair Trade products resonate with consumers. Numerous studies conclude because of the ethical considerations, consumers are interested in buying Fair Trade products. Selling Fair Trade chocolate makes sound economic sense and there is a demand for Fair Trade products. Are Fair Trade products readily available for purchase by American consumers? In order assess the availability of Fair Trade chocolate products I conducted a survey of five retailers: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, CVS and Rite Aid drugstores and Key Food supermarkets to determine the extent of their Fair Trade chocolate selection. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were chosen because they are two out of the three retailers listed on the Fair Trade America’s website. CVS and Rite Aid were chosen as representative of chain drug stores. Key Food was chosen as representative of a neighborhood supermarket. The survey was conducted the week of May 6, 2018. In order to correct for variations in offerings and out of stocks at different locations, two locations for each retailer were surveyed.
Whole Foods Whole Foods is a supermarket chain with 470 stores, primarily in North America (Securities and Exchange Commission). Whole Foods has a strong history and association with social responsibility. As part of the Core Values listed on the website, Whole Foods highlights “We practice win-win partnerships with our suppliers”, a notion highly aligned with Fair Trade philosophy. Each of the Whole Foods surveyed had an extensive selection of Fair Trade chocolates which comprised nearly all of the chocolate items for sale. The stores surveyed had approximately 100 different Fair Trade chocolate products for sale, from 16 companies.
95 East Houston St. store
4 Union Square store
365 house brand
Green & Black
Madecasse (Direct Trade)
Taza (Direct Trade)
Whole Foods – private label
Trader Joe’s is a supermarket chain with 474 stores nationwide (Trader Joe’s). The company does not highlight social responsibility, but rather “innovative, hard-to-find, great-tasting foods… that cut our costs and save you money.” While the company does not position themselves as placing a high value on socially responsible products, they do maintain lists Vegan, Gluten Free, and Kosher products. Based on the “Halo Effect” described above, this might lead some customers to make the association with selling Fair Trade items as well. The Trader Joe’s stores surveyed had a very limited selection of Fair Trade Chocolates.
14th St. store
31st Street store
TJ Fair Trade Organic
CVS / Rite Aid
CVS is a pharmacy/convenience store chain with 8,060 stores and Rite Aid is a chain similar to CVS with 2,550 stores (Securities and Exchange Commision) CVS and Rite Aid cater to a much broader demographic than either Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Of the stores surveyed, the number of Fair Trade chocolate products were far below those sold at Whole Foods, and sold a similar number of Fair Trade chocolate items to Trader Joe’s.
500 Grand Street store
253 1st Ave. store
408 Grand St. store
81 First Ave. store
Key Food is a cooperative of independently owned supermarkets located in the Northeast. Of the two stores surveyed, one sold no Fair Trade items while the other sold considerably more than CVS, Rite Aid or Trader Joe’s.
43 Columbia St. – store
52 Ave. A – store
Green & Black
Despite the sound ethical and economic reasons for retailers to sell Fair Trade chocolate, cocoa sold with the Fair Trade label still captures a very low share of the cocoa market. Research indicates that consumers are interested in purchasing Fair Trade products and are willing to pay a premium. Whole Foods has tapped into this demand and demonstrates that it is possible for a retailer to offer an extensive selection of Fair Trade chocolate items. They however seem to be more the exception rather than the rule. If other retailers tapped into the demand and offered a more extensive selection of Fair Trade chocolate, it is likely that more Fair Trade chocolate would be purchased and more cocoa suppliers would share the benefits of Fair Trade.
Carlson, Adam P. Are Consumers Willing to Pay More for Fair Trade Certified Coffee? Are Consumers Willing to Pay More for Fair Trade Certified Coffee?
“Child Labour in the West African Cocoa Sector.” International Law and Policy Institute, 26 Nov. 2015, ilpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/20151126-Child-labour-in-the-West-African-Cocoa-Sector-ILPI.pdf.
Enax, Laura, et al. “Effects of Social Sustainability Signaling on Neural Valuation Signals and Taste-Experience of Food Products.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 9, 2015, doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00247.
Hainmueller, Jens, et al. “Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Field Experiment.” The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 97, no. 2, Feb. 2014, pp. 242–256., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1801942.
At some point in our lives, we all hear Forrest Gump’s famous quote: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Climate change is no different. Mother Nature is currently harnessed by an increasingly volatile system that continues to alter our earth each and every day, and by failing to change our destructive ways, humans are allowing this force to perpetuate. According to NASA, average global temperature has increased by 1.7 percent since the late nineteenth century, and 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 (MacLennan). Additionally, carbon dioxide levels in the air are at the highest they have been in 650,000 years (MacLennan). Because all agricultural systems are sensitive to these changes, cacao and therefore chocolate are equally subject to adversity. Between the monstrous chocolate industry and diligent cacao farmers, countless constituents are at stake in this sensitive predicament. Given the escalating atmospheric constraints on cacao-growing regions due to the intensification of climate change, cacao farmers must carefully adapt while simultaneously seeking out responsible, innovative ways to keep the beloved cacao crop from becoming obsolete in the coming decades.
Geographically, cacao can only grow within 20 degrees latitude both north and south of the equator, as illustrated by Figure 1 (Scott). As we learned from a course book, cacao trees flourish under strict conditions including high humidity, abundant rain, uniform temperatures, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from the wind (Presilla 95). In short, cacao trees thrive in tropical rainforests. The vast majority of the world’s cacao is produced by smallholders, meaning those owning less than five acres of land (de Groot). Currently, there exist about two million smallholder farmers in West Africa alone, all of whom depend on cacao for their livelihoods (Schroth et al 231). Their vulnerability to climate change derives from the fact that they are predominately located in the tropics, but I strongly believe we should remain equally concerned by the various demographic, socioeconomic, and policy trends we discussed in class that hinder their capacity to adapt to change. The world’s leading producers are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia, and research highlighted in a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that, under a “business as usual” scenario, those countries will experience a 3.8°F increase in temperature by 2050, which I suspect would connote a marked reduction in suitable cultivation area (Scott).
Figure 1. A geographical representation of the cacao belt, which spans across the equator.
Cacao will face a distinct challenge from the changing climate compared to that of many other crops. Coffee, for example, suffers direct harm from rising temperatures, but this paradigm alone won’t necessarily hinder cacao production (Jaramillo et al). Cacao cultivation areas in Malaysia, for instance, already endure a warmer climate than West Africa without any obvious negative effects (Scott). Upon briefly conversing with one of our guest lecturers after a guided tasting this semester, I learned that one of the greatest dangers to cacao arising from climate change is the increase in evapotranspiration, particularly given that higher temperatures projected for West Africa by 2050 are unlikely to be accompanied by an increase in rainfall (Scott). Evapotranspiration is the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere through both soil evaporation and plant transpiration (Handley). In other words, as higher temperatures coax more water from soil and plants, rainfall likely will not increase enough to offset the moisture loss. In order to avoid generalizing, one should note that this situation will not necessarily represent that of all cacao-growing regions; a study on a Nigerian research farm, for example, found that a combination of optimal temperature (84°F) and minimal rainfall (900 to 1000mm)—both less than the current yearly averages—would result in the best yields (Ojo et al 353). This mélange in the effects and remedies of climate change is a fantastic example of why farmers must adopt such a dynamic attitude moving forward.
As we approach 2050, rising temperatures will push the suitable cacao cultivation areas uphill. The optimal altitude for cacao cultivation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, for example, is expected to rise from 350-800 feet to 1,500-1,600 feet above sea level (Scott). Generally, areas anticipated to show improved cultivation conditions look to be rugged, hilly terrain. But herein lies the problem: Ghana’s Atewa Range, for example, is a forest preserve where cultivation isn’t permitted, so inhabitants are left with the difficult choice of illegally gutting the forest to grow cacao in the name of global demand or preserving the natural habitat in which they live and losing their only source of income. Given that our class dedicated a substantial amount of time to discussing the already turbulent livelihoods of cacao farmers, I am troubled to see that they may soon face such an unfair quandary. One study examined nearly 300 locations in the world’s primary cacao-growing regions and found that only 10.5% showed increasing suitability for cacao production by 2050, while the remaining 89.5% showed the opposite (Scott). Figure 2 shows current suitability and projections for future conditions under a changing climate (Schroth et al 233):
Figure 2. Maximum temperature of the warmest month under current and projected 2050 climate conditions in the West African cacao belt. The dotted area shows the extent of current cacao production as used for model calibration. The red lines show areas of cacao production.
The area depicted above is known as the West African cacao belt. Once entirely covered by the Nigerian lowland forests in the east and the Guinean lowland forests in the west, much of the area has now been converted to agriculture (Schroth et al 235). The world’s cacao industry depends largely on this belt for raw material due to the sheer volume of cacao produced as well as the abundance of high-quality bulk cacao that cannot be readily replaced by other cacao origins. As we learned in lecture, blended cacao typically goes to large industrial producers (unlike exclusive-derivation cacao, which exemplifies the traits of terroir through individual nuances), so this region is undeniably crucial to the future success of the large chocolate industry. Climate change aside, production in this region faces a wide variety of challenges, all of which we addressed in lecture: most trees are over-aged and therefore unproductive in the already small farms; low prices—until the recent price inflation—and variability make it difficult for farmers to afford costly inputs such as fertilizers; absence or insufficiency of technical assistance in most countries make maintenance difficult (Schroth et al 236). Perhaps while addressing climate change, whether internally or through foreign aid, actors should undertake these challenges alongside those directly associated with climate change itself.
Due in part to the aforementioned adversities, cacao farming has been a major driver of deforestation in West Africa, most notably in Côte d’Ivoire. Historically, cacao has been a “pioneer crop” grown after forest clearing, meaning that rather than replanting aging plantations, farmers have typically opted to migrate to the forest frontiers to establish new cacao farms. 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 101). From my perspective, it appears that the climate gradient was a major driver of these east-west migrations and that, by replacing forest with farmland over vast areas, cacao farmers contributed to the further drying of the climate in what appears to be a positive feedback loop. This is precisely the type of damage we as a civilization must avoid in the coming decades. In order to help facilitate a greater awareness of sustainability, governments and supply chain actors should discourage forest frontier dynamics by helping farmers adapt to environmental change through more intensive and diversified farming practices.
The question of whether water availability or maximum temperatures during the dry season will be more limiting to the survival, growth, and yield of cacao trees in a future climate is of particular importance when considering the design of climate resilient production systems. One highly efficient—and, in my opinion, the only practical—method of protecting cacao trees from high temperatures is through overhead shade from appropriately selected, spaced, and managed companion trees such as banana and plantain as seen in Figure 3 (Colina). This practice can reduce cacao leaf temperatures by 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). With that said, adequate ventilation is also important as a complementary measure, as it helps to reduce the prevalence of fungal disease in cacao (Schroth et al 240). The general takeaway here is that farmers need to be properly trained such that they can correctly execute these methods.
Figure 3. Young cacao plants in a nursery under shade trees in Mindanao, Philippines.
When considering shadow crops such as those pictured above, we must recognize that an expectation of severe water limitation during the dry season may complicate things. Under such conditions, there could eventually not be enough water available for both cacao and shade trees during the dry season, thereby stressing the trees and leaving farmers in a tough position. Although I feel this is an unlikely extreme, we should prepare for all possibilities. Temperature struggles aside, another mitigation strategy could be to provide cacao growers with selectively bred seeds that have superior drought resistance. Farmers could, however, be skeptical of genetically modified seeds given the stereotypically low trust between farmers and large agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto. While I am not sure how feasible this final point is given my unfamiliarity with the growing techniques behind these commodities, it may be beneficial for cacao farmers to raise animals or cultivate honey in order to spread climate risk (de Groot). In general, climate-smart agriculture—an approach that combines various sustainable methods under a climate-change umbrella—that assesses climate change-related risks and requirements of a farm and subsequently tackles those challenges using practices crafted for that particular situation is key to success in the coming decades.
In our class, we discussed industrial chocolate production as well as consumption, both practices that are generally decoupled from on-farm production. Fortunately, industrial chocolate corporations have a large incentive to help with damage control and mitigation. MARS is a fantastic example of corporate initiative: the company plans to slash carbon pollution from its products by 67 percent come mid-century (Simon). This includes reducing emissions from land use changes and agriculture, and the company has even gone a step further by offering resources to help farmers increase yields, though they don’t disclose any specifics (Simon). The five global titans of chocolate—Ferrero, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and Mars—should work together with consumers and defy the ugly “Big Sugar” stereotype considering we all share a common enemy: climate change. In terms of consumers themselves, our research from class suggests that people should seek out responsible, sustainable companies that give fair treatment to farmers. Whole Foods and other specialty stores, for example, boast a great selection of fair trade and organic bars such as Taza, Chuao, and Endangered Species. Consumers who have already caught wind of the possible “cacao crisis” are understandably uneasy, but they’ll be happy to know that research suggests climate change will not have an effect on the taste of cacao—that is, assuming the crop isn’t wiped out entirely (Sukha et al 255). For further information, videos such as the following can help to spell things out in a more informative and empowering way:
Realistically, we simply have no way of accurately predicting what the future climate will look like. With that said, the cacao belt appears to have a strong differentiation of climate vulnerability across its latitudinal axis, with the most susceptible areas near the forest-savanna transition in eastern Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria, and the least vulnerable areas in the southern parts of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Cameroon. Farmers will face the challenging task of controlling as many factors as possible in a progressively erratic world, so I recommend they look towards specialized companies such as The Climate Corporation—a digital agriculture company that examines weather, soil, and field data to help farmers determine potential yield-limiting factors on their fields—while employing the many protective measures mentioned above. Moving forward will require a team effort that ranges across the chocolate production and consumption chains, but because most changes in climatic suitability are predicted to take place over a time period of nearly 40 years, we have a full generation of cacao trees and farmers to adapt.
So, who will win the fight: climate or chocolate? Let’s not leave it to chance.
Anga, Jean-Marc. “International Cacao Organization.” The International Cacao Organization; Cacao Producing and Cacao Consuming Countries, ICCO, May 2018.
Bunn, Christian, and Mark Lundy. “Bittersweet Chocolate: The Climate Change Impacts on Cacao Production in Ghana.” CGIAR Research Program, 2015.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., vol. 1, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
Colina, Antonio. “Cacao Developemnt in Davao Region.” Davao Integrated Development Program, 2014.
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.
Jaramillo, Juliana, and Eric Muchugu. “Some Like It Hot: The Influence and Implications of Climate Change on Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus Hampei) and Coffee Production in East Africa.” PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 9, 14 Sept. 2011.
MacLennan, David W. “Our Changing Climate.” Our Changing Climate: Supporting Farmers to be Resilient in the Face of Changing Weather Patterns, Cargill, 2018.
Morton, J. F. “The Impact of Climate Change on Smallholder and Subsistence Agriculture.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 50, 11 Dec. 2007, pp. 19680–19685.
Ojo, A.D., and I. Sadiq. “Effect of Climate Change on Cacao Yield: a Case of Cacao Research Institute (CRIN) Farm, Oluyole Local Government Ibadan Oyo State.” CABI , vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 350–358. CAB Direct.
Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. 2nd ed., vol. 1, Ten Speed Press, 2009.
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. ELSEVIER.
Scott, Michon. “Climate and Chocolate .” Climate.gov, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 10 Feb. 2016.
Simon, Rosie. “Climate Change Could Hurt Chocolate Production.” Yale Climate Connections, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 19 Oct. 2017.
Stroman, Lee. “Rethinking the Cacao Supply Chain.” AgThentic, Medium Corporation, 16 July 2017.
Sukha, D.a., and D.r. Butler. “The Impact Of Processing Location And Growing Environment On Flavor In Cacao (Theobroma Cacao L.); Implications For ‘Terroir’ and Certification.” Acta Horticulture, no. 1047, 2014, pp. 255–262. ISHS.
Child labor in the cocoa industry has long been a hot topic embroiling nations, big chocolate companies, consumers, and more. Although some children may simply be assisting their family financially, many are victims of what the International Labor Organization defines as the “Worst Forms of Child Labor,” which includes work that is “likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.” (ilo.org) In an effort to source sustainable cocoa and end the use of child labor in the cocoa industry, some big chocolate companies have devised their own plans and certification programs meant to indicate their commitment to the cause. The Nestle company in particular has branded itself as the big chocolate company that is doing the most to eliminate child labor (Nestle Tackling Child Labor report).
Despite the recent efforts, the problem of child labor has actually gotten worse. In a study that was conducted in 2013 and 2014, the number of children aged 5 through 17 years who worked in dangerous conditions on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire grew by 260,700 in just 5 years (Tulane Report). While Nestle has made a comparatively thorough analysis of the problem of child labor in their supply chain through the creation of their own independent certification plan, the Cocoa Plan, many of their methods are opaque or inadequate; therefore, the plan may vindicate Nestle to the public, but does not go far enough to actually eliminate child labor.
Recent outrage over the issue of child labor on cocoa farms can be partially traced to the 2000 film Slavery: A Global Investigation that details the dangerous working conditions on Côte d’Ivoire cocoa farms (True Vision). After the release of the film and “following pressure and outrage from civil society groups and media outlets, large chocolate and cocoa corporations –– including Nestlé –– responded by claiming that they did not know about the situation and, like the public, were concerned.” Despite this supposed outrage, “For the past 15 years, Nestle and its partners in the Cocoa Industry have been intensely resisting government regulation regarding eliminating WFCL in their global cocoa supply chain” (Wood 4). In this context of mixed signals and discrepancy between Nestle’s actions and what they publicly displayed, Nestle launched their Cocoa Plan in 2009. The plan is both an initiative and certification program that aims to improve farmer training, plant propagation, and improve work conditions, especially for children (Nestle “The Cocoa Plan” 2009)
One part of the Cocoa Plan that is honorable, and stands in contrast with how Cadbury handled slave labor in its supply chain during the early 1900’s, is that Nestle clearly and quickly acknowledges that child labor is present in its supply chain. Nearly a century before the outrage that prompted Nestle to create its Cocoa Plan came concern that slave labor was present in the Portuguese West African cocoa farms that Cadbury sourced from. In response, Cadbury hired Joseph Burtt to investigate the issue. However, “Burtt’s report…appeared more than six years after Cadbury Bros. first learned that slave labor was used in the growing of cocoa beans in Sao Tome and Principe and four years after the company decided to hire an agent to visit Portuguese West Africa” (Satre 98). Cadbury and another chocolate firm, Rowntree, were concerned about the implications of releasing such a report that indicated their use of slave labor. Therefore, it took an unusual amount of time for Cadbury to publish its findings and admit to the problem. Even with the evidence, William Cadbury remained skeptical of the scope of the issue and “while he was against the use of slave labor, he did not equate the labor of Sao Tome to that of other forms of slavery reported in Africa” (Satre 19).
Rather than withholding the truth or questioning the reality of labor conditions in West Africa, Nestle admits in the Cocoa Plan that “We know there are children working on farms in Cote d’Ivoire in areas where we source cocoa. No company sourcing cocoa here can guarantee they’ve eliminated the risk of children working in their supply chain” (Nestle Cocoa Plan Better Lives). As the Fortune video indicates, big chocolate companies often claim plausible deniability when it comes to child labor since there are many middlemen that stand between them and the actual laborers. As Brian O’Keefe acknowledges in the video, consumers are now demanding that big chocolate companies like Nestle take responsibility (O’Keefe). Therefore, Nestle sets itself apart from other chocolate companies and appeals to consumers’ desire for transparency by admitting to the issue. However, even in their statement admitting responsibility, Nestle still inserts a phrase that absolves them from any actual wrongdoing. By claiming that there is no company sourcing from Cote d’Ivoire that can ‘guarantee’ that there is no child labor in their supply chain, Nestle admits to the problem, but does not admit to guilt. Nestle’s Code of Conduct prohibits child labor and Nestle’s Executive Vice-President for Operations admits that “The use of child labour in our cocoa supply chain goes against everything we stand for” (Clarke, Nestle Cocoa Plan Better Lives). Despite their adamant position against child labor, Nestle continues to source from areas where it is endemic. While the effectiveness of boycotts is debated, still sourcing from areas with areas known for child labor indicates that Nestle adheres more to its moral mission in speech than it does in action.
Nestle’s methods in its child labor monitoring and remediation program are inefficient and the scope of the program is relatively minimal. Nestle advertises in its Cocoa Plan that “In 2017, 51% of children identified are no longer in child labour” (Nestle Cocoa Plan 2017). While this initially seems like a significant improvement, it is important to distinguished how and how many children are ‘identified.’ The method in which child laborers are identified is outlined in Step 2 of the remediation program: “A child is spotted (or self-declares) engaging in a hazardous activity” (Nestle Cocoa Plan 2017). This is an extremely inefficient method since spotting child laborers requires a large number of personnel traveling from farm to farm observing practices. Self-declaring is also an unlikely occurrence as some children may not know the dangers associated with their labor and if they did, they may be too scared to report anything as it might implicate their family. Therefore, the number of children actually identified by Nestle is likely relatively low when compared to the true number. The lack of detailed information in the Cocoa Plan around this issue was picked up by an investigative report from the Watson Institute at Brown University, which states that “The researcher is unable to decipher what proportion of Nestle’s co-ops have Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems. This is problematic because it serves as a barrier to criticizing Nestle for not taking enough action” (Wood 10). Essentially, Nestle provides vague information to indicate that it is taking some degree of action, but the extent of its action and operations remains a mystery. Furthermore, The Cocoa Plan itself hardly covers a majority of Nestle’s Cocoa. In fact, only “Around a third of Nestlé’s total global cocoa supply is currently bought from producers covered by the Nestlé Cocoa Plan” (Wood 10). Therefore, it can be estimated that the areas covered by this child labor monitoring and remediation program are a similarly small proportion. Even cocoa that is completely certified under the Cocoa Plan is not a guarantee that it has not been produced using child labor. Nestle admits that “7,002 Children [were] identified working on farms or in communities covered by the Nestlé Cocoa Plan” (Nestle Cocoa Plan 2017). This strips the certification program of clarity and even some of its legitimacy when it comes to child labor, as Nestle wishes to eliminate child labor, but still allows cocoa made with it to pass their certification.
One strong aspect of the Cocoa Plan is its analysis of the barriers children in cocoa growing regions face in receiving an education. While education is certainly important to the well-being of the children, it is still not the most effective way to end child labor. Nestle began its school building program in West Africa in 2011 and has since built or refurbished over 42 schools (Nestle Cocoa Plan Better Lives). While this is certainly a laudable achievement, Nestle also recognizes that children face far more nuanced obstacles than simply not having a school building. One such obstacle for girls in particular is that “Many schools in Côte d’Ivoire do not have toilets. Girls find this particularly difficult as they have to go further into the bush to relieve themselves. There, they are at greater risk of being bitten by snakes or insects, and there have also been cases of girls being harassed” (Nestle Cocoa Plan 2017). The lack of toilets may cause girls to miss school more often and may negatively affect their performance when they are in school. Another key obstacle that Nestle identifies is the “lack of a birth certificate, which is compulsory for entry to secondary education. Since the start of the programme we have enabled 4,517 children to continue their education by providing them with a birth certificate” (Nestle Cocoa Plan 2017). Therefore, Nestle shows that they have a more in depth and comprehensive understanding of and action plan when it comes to education. They both address the lack of physical buildings, while also addressing challenges to attending school in the first place. However, one important statistic that is tucked away in the Cocoa Plan report is that 17.5% of children who attend schools in Cote d’Ivoire also participate in child labor versus 23.4% of children who do not attend schools (Nestle Cocoa Plan 2017). This is a relatively minor decrease and indicates that access to an education is not a panacea for preventing children from working. The children who go to school still have to work face a serious burden, indicating that child labor is not just a result of a lack of alternatives, but is a result of greater challenges.
The Cocoa Plan lacks a plan to implement a crucial method to ending child labor: ensuring that the parents can earn enough to support their family. A March 2018 report by Stop the Traffik notes that while Nestle provides farmers with training and help improving productivity, it “Has yet to commit to paying farmers more for their cocoa and does not currently have any long-term plans for a living income” (A Matter of Taste). Writer Beth Hoffman argues in her Forbes article, 4 Reasons Why Nestle Cocoa Plan is Not Enough, that “The only way to truly ensure children can go to school is to guarantee their parents a living wage” (Hoffman). Thus, Nestle has outlined an elaborate plan that helps farmers and childrens in a myriad of ways, except for perhaps the most effective way. While they publicize that they are committed to eliminating child labor, their actions again indicate that their words do not match their actions.
Another flaw of the Cocoa Plan is the fact that it is a certification program in the first place. Fairtrade, another certification that sets various environmental and social standards and aims to pay growers a higher premium for their crops, has high levels of trust and recognition among consumers in Europe and the USA (Globescan). Consumers may not readily understand or recognize the Cocoa Plan in the same way. This may complicate decision making for consumers who may simply begin to overlook certifications in general. Beth Hoffman argues that “With more than 200 “ecolabels” now available on products, it is impossible for consumers to know (let alone verify) that every seal or logo claiming sustainability is actually making a clear difference in the world” (Hoffman). This issue of verification is important. Although Fairtrade has its own flaws, the fact that it is a 3rd party certification gives it legitimacy and a reputation as unbiased, which builds trust among consumers that the chocolate will actually benefit growers instead of just big chocolate companies.
In an economic system where companies sometimes have just as much agency and ability as a country to enact social and economic change, it is honorable to see the Nestle Company acknowledge the problem of child labor in the cocoa that it sources and outline steps it is taking to eliminate it. Although the Cocoa Plan may sound adequate to the general public, looking at its nuances reveals how some parts may be flawed, misleading, or incomplete. Overall, the Cocoa Plan does not seem to go far enough as it does not include some of the most effective ways of ending child labor. As the Nestle Cocoa Plan plays out, the ability for profit driven companies to effect social change will be put to the test.
2013/14 Survey Research on Child Labor in West African Cocoa Growing Areas. Report. School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Tulane University. July 30, 2015. Accessed May 1, 2018. http://www.childlaborcocoa.org/images/Payson_Reports/Tulane University – Survey Research on Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector – 30 July 2015.pdf.
A Matter of Taste. Report. STOP THE TRAFFIK Australia Coalition, 2018.
While American and European consumers associate chocolate with romance, desserts, and luxury, the disparity between end product consumer and cacao producer is significant. One perspective is that northern consumers provide self-agency and opportunity through a free market economic exchange in an environment that provides few opportunities. While western Africa currently provides 75% of the world’s cacao (Coe &Coe, 2013) the African cacao grower has to rely solely on northern purchasers as they lack the economic resources to purchase, manufacture, or market their product. With labor as their only agency, the African cacao grower is in a disadvantaged position in the food production paradigm despite their high product yield. Corporate complicity in unethical labor, slave legacy that has left southern producers turning to raw materials for economic survival, and consumer apathy created by distance from the food supply chain have culminated in producing very opposing experiences for the cacao supplier and the chocolate consumer.
Success in Cacao
With the steady increase of cacao prices, the cacao-growing region of western Africa has seen steady socioeconomic growth in the industry for decades. According to “CNN Freedom Project,” an organization focused on labor practices worldwide, in 2008-2009 western Africa supplied more than 75% of the world’s chocolate, while Europeans and North Americans were consuming a roughly equal amount (2012). In their book Cocoa in Ghana: Shaping the Success of An Economy, Shashi Kolavalli, and Marcella Vigneri observe the steady increase of cacao prices have allowed for significant improvement via more investment in production yields through transport and infrastructure. (2012). Kolavalli and Vigneri further observe that so lucrative is the cacao production in Ghana that positive socioeconomic influences of the crop, and improvement in western Africa’s poverty, have been significant by stating,
“economic growth has been solid, averaging more than 5 percent since 2001 and reaching 6 percent in 2005–06. Coupled with the effects of greater access to education, health services, and land ownership (World Bank 2008), this rate of growth has contributed to the near halving of the national poverty rate since the beginning of the 1990s, from 51.7 percent in 1991/92 to 28.5 percent in 2005/06” (p. 205).
For cacao growing countries in Africa, maintaining this resource is critical to prevent sliding backward economically in an already impoverished environment.
Who is Eating All the Chocolate?
According to CNN’s freedom project, northern countries are driving the demand for chocolate. In this breakdown for 2008-09, Europeans and North Americans were responsible for eating an equal amount of western Africa’s entire production, which is 75% annually of the world supply. In simple terms, if you live in the northern hemisphere there is a good chance you are consuming on average between 9 to 24 lbs. of chocolate per year. (Satioquia-Tan, J. 2015)
World consumption of cocoa: 2008/09
Europe – 49.32%
North America – 24.22% (United States only – 20.19%)
Asia and Oceania – 14.49%
South America – 8.68%
Africa – 3.28%
The demand from northern consumers continues to increase steadily. In his paper, Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments, Marius Wessel projects necessary agricultural growth for western Africa to maintain its current supply when he states, “The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) forecasts a 10 percent increase in the world cocoa production and a 25 percent increase of the cocoa price in the next decade. … If West Africa wishes to maintain its present world market share a 10 percent increase in production is needed in the next decade” (Wessel, M., 2015). This is significant in that considerable investment will be required to meet the growing demand, which in turn will offer more employment from land developing to harvesting; boosting the economy even further. The staggering contrast of chocolate consumption between northern consumers and southern producers however, in relation to race and geography is no accident.
A History of Disconnection
After the chocolate drink of Mesoamericans made it to Europe via Spanish colonists in the 16th century, popularity of the drink in Europe began to rise. When Spanish colonists exhausted the Mesoamerican population as a resource for labor, they turned to the middle passage across the Atlantic to Africa for labor to meet the demand (Coe & Coe, 2013). On a continent that functioned tribally with no formal governments, it was quite easy to enslave people into labor for the remainder of their life, which on average due to hard labor and dismal living conditions was about 7 to 8 years after enslavement (Coe & Coe, 2013). This of course, required massive quantities of slaves, which Africa had in abundance. In his book Sweetness and Power Sidney Mintz observes that by the 18th century, the European lower proletariat was adopting the culinary habits of the aristocracy as a way of establishing equality for people in lower social stations (p.181, 1986). The biggest promoter of chocolate consumption for the masses According to Coe & Coe in their book A True History of Chocolate was the industrial revolution when they state,
“The Industrial Revolution, which changed chocolate from a costly drink to cheap food, [was] the driving force in this metamorphosis” (Coe & Coe, p. 232, 2013).
Before the industrial revolution the use of people from southern countries as a commodity for labor separated them from society and cultural habits of northern countries. Even had they wished to adopt the habits of their masters, there was no means or opportunity as a consumer base. Having never been ‘folded in” to European culture, they were completely disenfranchised as a chocolate consumer base. The exclusion of southern laborers and slaves from society as citizens, also found them ignored by the industrial revolution; leaving them to lag behind economically and industrially, unable to participate as consumers of chocolate.
State of Labor Today
After northern consumers developed a social conscience for disenfranchised populations and impoverished nations, one might be tempted to think everything has changed, but it has not. Still lagging from being on the outside of the industrial revolution, Cacao farming practices have changed little in the last hundred years. In villages of working adults there is a complete disconnect to their labor once it leaves the village. In her book Bitter Chocolate, Carol Off tells of a village where all but the chief were ignorant of where the cacao went, none knew how it was used, and only one had ever tasted chocolate. Micheal and Sophie Coe argue that it is not only adults and families working, but that millions of children are trafficked and forced into slavery from neighboring countries (Coe & Coe, 2013). Off supports this claim by observing that slavery is alive and well particularly in the Ivory Coast where child slavery is so common, it is a sub-industry of cacao with its own economy, as farmers finance networks to traffic children for forced labor who then suffer from starvation, disease and physical abuse while working on cacao farms (Off, C. 2006). While numbers of child slavery are at times sketchy and often disputed, no one denies it exists (Off, C. 2006).
Consumers Grow Distant
While slaves grow cacao, consumers grow distant. Though southern laborers have not advanced industrially, this is not the case for northern consumers. The industrialization of food completely changed northern food culture. Through mechanization, transport, and refrigeration, the distance between consumer and food source has grown. Mechanization produced food en mass cheaply, allowing access to goods that were more accommodating to lower budgets, while transport and refrigeration allowed food to travel further than it had before. (Counihan & Van Esterik, 2013) The biggest game changer in food culture was the mechanization of canning and preservation. With better preservation, food sources began to change, ingredients began change, and soon we had processed and prepackaged food embraced by women everywhere for freeing their time and labor (Counihan & Van Esterik, 81-82, 2013). After two or three generations of eating processed food transported from faraway places, with lists of ingredients that are rarely inspected, consumers today know very little about their food, or even what it contains. They are not unlike their southern counterparts in this way who do not know where cacao goes, or what its use is after it leaves the village.
Distance Creates Apathy
Capitalist consumerism breeds competition, creating incentive to keep the consumer
happy. As modern chocolate consumers in the north are far more concerned with inclusiveness, fair treatment, and food activism than previous generations, the power of the purchase is seemingly an easy solution to the poor working conditions and poverty that are still prevalent in the cacao industry despite its economic growth. Far removed from the supply chain, unaware consumers continue to purchase due to lack of transparency in food product, and manufacturers remain complicit in the absence of financial threat. Manufacturers however also have limited power. Even with strict purchasing policies, and government regulation it is still difficult to know if a supplier is using slaves without constant physical inspections (Martin, C. 2017), and blame shifts all along the supply chain making it easy for manufacturers to be complicit, and consumers to remain uninformed. Lack of transparency in food sourcing, blame shifting in the industry, and distance from food sources, culminate to create a culture of apathetic food consumers.
How It All Comes Together
The dichotomy between cacao consumer and producer today began with early Europeans and European colonists who failed to view southern peoples as sovereign and instead as a voiceless labor resource. Excluded from global interaction, Southern populations failed to participate in cultural trends, shifts, and innovations that were transforming society and industry elsewhere. Non-participation in the industrial revolution left southern continents behind in what would become a global economy with no agency for economic competition; turning to natural resources and labor for economic survival in a state somewhere between hunting and gathering and industry with little opportunity for growth. While mechanization followed by technology has created decadence in northern populations as compared to southern countries, northern consumers are today ignorant of their food supply chain because of these advancements, and unaware of the poverty and labor practices of those supplying it. Lack of transparency in food products add to this distance, and northern Chocolate manufactures as well as governments are complicit in unethical labor practices, shifting blame along the food supply chain leaving those who are aware unsure of who to even hold accountable (Martin, C. 2017). While northern consumers today have more of a social conscience than their ancestors, the opposing lifestyles of the chocolate consumer and the cacao laborer have failed to come closer together over the last several hundred years due to a legacy of “othering,” and complicit corporate interests protecting their revenue stream that has created an apathetic northern food culture.
Where We Go From Here
Consumer awareness is growing. Projects like Fair Trade, CNN Project Freedom, End Slavery Now, Slave Free Chocolate etc., have been working hard to inform the public. Many consumers now seek out fair trade products when available, and appear willing to pay more for ethical practices. In their paper, Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment , Hainmueller, Hiscox, & Seguiera state,
“Total sales of Fair Trade goods in the United States in 2011 amounted to roughly $1.4 billion (FLO 2012) … But the average annual rate of growth in U.S. sales of Fair Trade certified goods was close to 40% between 1999 and 2008” (2014).
Fair Trade is not without its problems, as certification can be costly and marginalizes the poorest producers, but it is a start, and one of few ways to access transparency of the food supply chain in a consumer market that provides no source-to-store product information. Legislators are also working to intervene in child slavery practices. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engen introduced a protocol to reduce trafficking in the cacao industry, agreed to by manufacturers and legislators from Ghana and the Ivory Coast as stated by the ILO, “that aims to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent across the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire by 2020” (ILO, 2017). Currently Fair Trade and other transparent and ethical alternatives have not achieved mainstream mass production, making it difficult for a consumer to use the power of the dollar against corporate complicity even when they choose to. Raising awareness and creating a demand for ethical products can aid in ending consumer apathy by closing the information gap, and denting corporate revenue streams that, with some work, will promote less disparity between southern suppliers and northern purchasers.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.) London, ENG.Thames & Hudson Ltd.
Counihan, C., Van Esterik, P., (Eds.). (2013). Food and culture a reader New York NY. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
DFID, (2011) Children of the Ivory Coast [digital image]. Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Flickr_-_DFID_-_UK_Department_for_International_Development_-_Children_pictured_at_a_UNHCR_food_distribution_point_in_Liberia