The creamy, luxuriant, dark brown sweet of pure bliss – chocolate is the enticing candy with an irresistible taste of heaven and the Gods. Yet, little do we know, chocolate has had its tie to Gods since its origins in the New World. The story began in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree, termed Theobroma cocoa or “the food of the Gods”, flourished among the Mayan and Aztec civilizations way before the arrival of European colonizers (Coe and Coe, 1996). The cocoa beans were adopted in every aspect of life – beyond food, they were medicine; an offering in religious, marriage, and burial rituals; and money. The social, religious, and economic significance of cocoa was markedly noted by European ethnographers like Bernardino de Sahagun, and with the arrival of Columbus along with other colonizers, cocoa was brought to Europe. Using sugar, Europe transformed cocoa into chocolate, as the delicacy we know today, which quickly became a widely desired, palatable treat for the rich and poor alike. Not long after, chocolate was mass produced by chocolate manufacturers, and consequently, the chocolate empire took root.
Underneath the Veil
Hidden beneath the veil of sweetness, however, the history of chocolate reveals a much more bitter reality weaved with violence. To satisfy the insatiable demand in the chocolate market, chocolate manufacturers turned to an incredibly exploitative system of obtaining their raw ingredient, cocoa. Chocolate, like many other imperial commodities, was the refined product of slavery and forced labor on plantation farms, and the consequences of this system can be felt up to today in the global racial, economic, and social landscapes.
The Atlantic Slave Trade
What fed into the imperial market and its strong economic interests was none other than the trans-Atlantic slave trade that uprooted millions of African people to the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe [figure 1]. An internal system of slavery persisted in Central and West Africa before the European exploitation, and this indigenous slavery provided fuel for the rise of this global slave trade (Rodney, 1966). The local slave trade was initially recorded and taken of interest by Portuguese chroniclers, who, in the 16th century, were the first to engage in the trade trans-Atlantic (Rodney, 1966). Other Europeans soon followed, and the slave trade bloomed into what supported colossal economies of commodities like sugar, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and of course, cocoa. By the 19th century, various countries passed laws to ban the importation of slaves, including Britain, the United States, Spain, France and Portugal, but at that point, demands soared, and cocoa’s market had become wholly dependent on the slave trade for mass production. Here, we saw a surge of illegal slave trading under the pretense of contract labor.
The Chocolate Islands – Cadbury’s Cocoa Scandal:
The persistence of slave labor despite efforts to end it unfolded in the Cadbury cocoa scandal of the 1900s. Cadbury Bros, the British Quaker-owned chocolate company, dominated the market at the time and came under criticism when despite warnings of labor conditions and potential use of slaves, they continued to purchase cocoa produced by the plantations of the island of Sao Tome, a Portuguese colony (Satre, 2005). Notably, Henry W. Nevinson, a journalist who documented his encounters with slavery in Portuguese West Africa in his later published book, “A Modern Slavery” [figure 2], marked that the dynamics of the labor market were as reported – laws passed to ban slavery were worthless, commercial interests begged to be satisfied, and by signing a paper, the slave was a “free” worker and everyone was happy. His report brought into light injustices against native Africans disguised in the legal pretense of contract labor. Disregarding Nevinson and other accounts of anti-slavery campaigners, Cadbury chose to make their own investigations into labor conditions of Sao Tome. Yet, even when these confirmed conditions on par with slavery on the cocoa plantations, Cadbury continued to be a major consumer of the cocoa product from Sao Tome, simply choosing to lobby the Portuguese government to more strictly implement their labor contract laws (Satre, 2005). While Cadbury did make some effort against the use of slavery, they undoubtedly fell short of their Quaker moral and ethical principles of justice and fair trade. The key issue in the persistence of slavery is highlighted here – commercial interests for profit constrain moral action from truly taking root.
Modern Slavery, Child Laborers, Implications
This also comes to explain the reality we see today in “modern slavery”. At the turn of the 21st century, widespread media reports uncovered child slavery on cocoa plantations in Cote d’ Ivoire, one of the major exporters of cocoa to the world market (Manzo, 2005). An estimated 15,000 children workers were found to be working as slaves on the 600,000 cocoa farms in Cote d’ Ivoire and were subjected to inhumane conditions and extreme abuse (Chanthavong, 2002). The existence of a form of labor practically parallel to old slavery in modern times implicates many contributors in play, intentional and non-intentional. Whether it be the cocoa farmers, the slave traffickers, the Ivorian government, the chocolate manufacturers, or us the consumers who buy chocolate at a supermarket, all are relevant to the existence of slave labor and the sufferings it incites. Perhaps the wake of a ravenous market like cocoa and chocolate inevitably demands cheap labor that spirals into exploitative systems of forced labor driven by greed and convenience, but we all have the responsibility to challenge the inevitable. We can begin to ask the next time we stand in the sweets aisle for a Hershey bar, are we playing into the cycle of perpetuating labor abuses? What can we do in our power to mitigate these abuses?
Chanthavong, Samlanchith (2002). Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d’Ivoire. TED Case Studies, Number 664.
COE, SOPHIE DOBZHANSKY (1933-1995)|COE, MICHAEL D. (b. 1929). (1996). The True History Of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Manzo, K. (2005). Modern slavery, global capitalism & deproletarianisation in West Africa. Review of African Political Economy, 32(106), 521–534. doi: 10.1080/03056240500467013
Rodney, W. (1966). African Slavery and other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave-Trade. The Journal of African History, 7(3), 431–443. doi: 10.1017/s0021853700006514
Satre, L. J. (2006). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Athens, OH: Ohio Univ. Press.
The well-documented history of cocoa tells the story of an
industry driven by greed. However, the picture that is often painted does not
speak to how this has evolved.
Dating back as far as 1500 BCE to 400 BCE, the period spanning the Olmec civilization, discoveries and research have firmly validated the significant role that cocoa has long-played in both culture and religion (Coe and Coe, 2013). The same history speaks to a past whereby:
origins and producers were exploited by explorers, instigating and contributing to the slave trade for years;
industrialized nations seeking to dominate processing and control greater market share, sparked proxy wars with the imposition of tariffs on imports originating from colonies other than their own (present and/or former); and
saw industrialized nations assume a patriarchal stance that significantly limited powers and diminished the voice of producing origins (former colonies)—lost ground that would take them years to recapture.
The following seeks to detail cocoa’s dark past—one whose opacity perpetuated years of human rights abuses including forced and child labor. Having evolved as an industry, the following will also outline industry’s transition into an ever-increasingly transparent and responsible global industry that remains challenged by perceptions based on its past and wrestling to break free from its dark history.
Cocoa’s Sordid Past and Contribution to the Slave Trade
Spanning the Pre-Classic (2000 BCE to 300 CE) to Post Classic
(900 to 1500 CE) periods, the number and diversity of explorers ballooned,
ultimately leading to a dramatic shift in where and by whom cocoa was produced,
as well as who (specifically which nations and companies) would profit from its
trade, increasingly efficient processing, and mass manufacturing.
Due largely to voluntary and involuntary migration (i.e., the slave trade) the movement of goods and saw Theobroma cacao cultivation spread from its genetic origins of the Amazon Basin and cultural and religious roots which have been traced back to Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico through Central America) (Coe and Coe, 2013).
In what is now present-day Central and South America, during
the early 1500s, under the encomienda system, Spanish conquistadors were
granted rights to force indigenous inhabitants to perform labor in their favor
(Martin, 2019). This led to an irreparable deterioration of culture and loss of
land (Martin, 2019). On the other side of the Atlantic, chattel slavery, the practice
whereby people are treated as property, between 1500 and 1900, it is estimated
that up to 15 million Africans were enslaved, of which 40 out of every 100 died
in waiting or during transatlantic transport. In both cases, indigenous peoples
were forced to cultivate cocoa while seeing little to no profit in return. In addition,
favoritism played into economic positioning among industrialized nations as tariffs
and quotas sought to control production and supply with demand (Leissle, 2018).
As cocoa’s production footprint broadened, applications and
formulations evolved, popularity within consumer markets increased, and its importance
as a traded commodity destined for processing units around the world surged.
As competition grew fiercer, regulation became an ever more critical
element to ensure the crop’s viability. But most importantly, it was introduced
to ensure economic stability for countries and operators who relied on the trade.
This period gave rise to regulatory standards and voluntary certification programs
in cocoa—both of which grew more diverse and exacting during the late 1980s present
Perhaps the most prolific shift, and marking industry’s
acknowledgment that improvements were both possible and needed, with the
enactment of the Harkin Engel Protocol in 2001, accountability, and
requirements to proactively identify instances, address breakdowns, and prevent
arrange of defined human rights abuses took center stage. When introduced, regulatory
requirements and elements core to voluntary certification systems fundamentally
changed how supply chain operators engaged producers, managed their businesses,
interacted with the market, and reported.
During the same period, industry associations were
established, and collective efforts launched. Among them were groups such as
the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), and the
Child Labor Cocoa Coordinating Group (CLCCG), all groups representing interests
at every level from all sides.
In due course, regulations and certifications designed to
promote best practices, ensure worker (producer), crop, and environmental
protections, combat fraudulent claims, and ensure accurate reporting and
labeling (i.e., of provenance, certification claims, production practices,
quality, etc.) have improved, expanded, and been welcomed.
Adoption, adaptation, replication, and the proliferation of programs, as well as their capabilities and level of sophistication, continue to evolve rapidly. Not glued simply to factors related to compliance, conformity, or competitiveness, companies are investing significant amounts of resources to align with and exceed regulatory, consumer, and commercial standards and expectations. However, despite advances, and an elongating track record of progress and proactive effort, the industry is often chastised for not doing enough, investing enough, or sharing enough.
Stuck in the Past and Unable to Break the Cycle: The Vilification of the Cocoa Industry
Sampling of Collective Industry Efforts – Programs and Reporting
Seeking to address systemic constraints perpetuating or exacerbating breakdowns, the industry has demonstrated its willingness and ability to come to affect change.
For example, after launching, implementing, and learning
from the original and subsequent iterations of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Cocoa
Livelihoods Program (CLP), after several years of complex negotiations
(balancing risk, exposure, and financial implications), WCF and its member
companies launched, and have developed good traction with Cocoa
Action, one of several WCF initiatives designed, developed, and implemented
with and through its members. While
they admit that it took more time to lay the groundwork that they had initially
anticipated, they ultimately emerged with a thoughtful and thorough platform
that continues to progress well.
Additionally, since its founding in 2002, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI)
has significantly influenced positive movement on all fronts concerning child
labor, including the development of new tools, systems, and metrics to measure
progress. This includes the consultative process that led to the development of
standards for collective and individual Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation
Recognizing that they can only harness so much, Industry has teamed with governments, international standard-setting bodies, research institutions, and others to advance efforts to combat forced and child labor, address its root causes, and improve reporting practices to bolster transparency.
Sampling of Individual Company Efforts – Programs and Reporting
Having worked inside and alongside the world’s leading cocoa
companies, I recall several meetings where heads of responsible sourcing and
on-the-ground activities expressed concern that not enough was being done to
address the root causes. Without taking on migration, land, voting, and school
registration issues, efforts would continue to face challenges. To do this, the
group discussed land ownership and migratory movements of Burkinabe to Côte d’Ivoire,
their inability to secure land, and in many cases, to register their children in
school. While it was not the first, and certainly not the last, this was a good
reminder that addressing the child labor issue was not as clear-cut as many
often like to think.
Beyond programs that tighten controls, incentivize parents
for producing school registration certificates, third-party certification audits
that verify adherence to specific standards and practices, and collective and individual
company efforts to refine and expand CLMRS, the industry continues to improve the
technical scope of their programs.
The following list provides a snapshot of reports detailing global efforts to address a wide range of unique challenges faced by cocoa farming communities—including child labor. These are offered in response to comments made during the recent film screening and panel discussion “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain.” – May 2019 Discussion
Key takeaways from the May 2019 discussion [and report] aligned with similar panels and studies that point to:
The complexity and scope of the issue;
range and number of actors and implications along the value chain at each stage;
need for leaders, officials, and representatives from all sides (public and private), and on all levels (municipal, regional, national, and international) to work together to develop and enact responses that effectively address root causes; and
calls for greater transparency.
Specific to claims around the lack of transparency and access, deficiencies noted during the discussion included the following:
Visibility into supply chain monitoring plans, geographical scope, findings, and improvements; and
the number, frequency, and quality of public disclosures of internal reports.
In practice, the following are evident:
Companies are proactively and thoughtfully engaged in addressing child and forced labor—not merely in response to regulations or calls from consumers or international bodies;
companies are leading in investments in certification programs, traceability systems, coordinating industry-wide efforts and policy formulation; and
the quality and frequency of reporting are there despite claims that it is absent of lacking.
These are vital considerations to bear in mind when looking
at the balance of what is being done, by whom, how it financed, and what is
being said about those leading the way and reporting on it as appeals for
greater transparency play into the vilification of cocoa companies instead of
praise for their role in realizing progress.
While there is much more to bring into the frame, the above
does tell speak to the other side of the story—one that is rarely shared.
Things have come a long way; however, despite grand efforts
to date, many forms of forced and child labor still exist, and the number of
instances of human rights violations are still far too prevalent. To that end, much
more can and will continue to be done. Going forward, stakeholders must move
forward together with the mindful that this is an ever-evolving and continuously
improving process in terms of design, implementation, and measurement.
So while independent company activities and collective industry-wide
efforts have evolved and improved with learnings over the years, there are
programmatic gaps and blind spots that must be proactively and constructively
Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Martin, Carla D. “Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain”.
Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. April 24, 2019. Film Screening and
Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor”.
Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. March 6, 2019. Lecture.
Picolotto, A., Giovanaz, D., Casara, J., Loth, Laura W., Lambranho,
L., Casara, M., Dallabrida, P., Sabrina, R., and Kruse, T. “Cocoa Supply Chain:
Advances ad Challenges Toward the Promotion of Decent Work”. 2019. International
Labour Organization (ILO), Public Labour Prosecutor’s Office (MPT), Papel
“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film
Screening and Discussion, Part 1” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine
Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.
“Examining Brazil’s Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain: Film
Screening and Discussion, Part 2” [Multimedia Video]. Retrieved from the Fine
Cacao and Chocolate Institute YouTube Channel. April 27, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKr2_0egfzA.
“Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) in
the Société Coopérative Ivoirienne du Négoce des Produits Agricoles (SCINPA) Cooperative”.
Olam International. 2017.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of
Chocolate. 3rd Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2013.
There has been a long history of European powers using exploitative practices in order to build wealth. These practices stemmed from the notion that individuals of a darker skin tone were inferior and less refined than those from Europe and white ancestry in general. This hierarchical system created by the Western world influenced how Europeans approached their interactions with the indigenous people in the Americas and African populations. Due to their cultural and racial differences, both of these groups of people were trapped into forced labor systems, where they had no rights and were given no compensation. The result was two-fold: Native Americans died at alarming rates from disease and harsh working conditions and Africans, while not affected as heavily by disease, were continually exploited and were exposed to the most inhumane conditions and treatment in the history of the Americas. Even though slavery has been legally abolished across the world for over 100 years, it produced a lasting residual effect on prevailing labor practices across the African continent. These exploitative practices have led to cacao farmers being paid pennies compared to the billions of dollars in profits that American and European companies are making from the cacao plant and cheap labor. In addition, child labor has continued to be a common practice that has not been abolished, due to the fact that African farmers cannot afford to pay their workers substantive wages. A few bean-to-bar chocolate companies have recognized these issues and have made strides to institute practices that reverse the trend of exploitation of African farmers. In particular, Divine Chocolate, a chocolate company headquartered in Washington D.C., has taken meaningful steps to evaluate how their practices can mirror the ethical standards of fair trade and non-exploitative business transactions.
The existence of modern slavery, pertaining to the production of cacao, is centered around the exploitative practices that took root in São Tomé and Príncipe in the early 1900s. Slaves from Angola were sent to São Tomé and Príncipe and were stationed on the Portuguese plantations that were scattered across the islands. Amanda Berlan states, “Anti-Slavery International (2004) reports that the use of slaves from Angola was common on Portuguese plantations on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe from the 1880s; according to Clarence-Smith, forced labour in cocoa production continued there until 1962” (1092). While the rest of the world assumed that slavery had been completely abolished, it was very much a part of the everyday culture in São Tomé and Príncipe, mainly because of the growing demand for chocolate all around the world, and the fact that the infrastructure of the islands lent itself to a plantation system. As Lowell Satre describes, “There were about 230 rocas (plantations) on São Tomé and 50 on Príncipe, some owned by individuals, others held by corporations” (10). While the economies of São Tomé and Príncipe were dependent on the production of cacao, Angola’s economy also benefited from these islands’ demand for free labor. However, Angolans were not all keen to the idea of slavery, and some of the native Angolans that potentially were not opposed to the institution of slavery itself were convinced that Angola needed the labor for economic development rather than São Tomé and Príncipe. Satre states, “Though some were disturbed over the institution of slavery, many in Angola complained that labor essential for the development of the province was going to instead create wealth for rich plantation owners on the islands” (8). For the rest of the world, the reality of the continuance of slavery was hidden from the public eye until large corporations that specialized in chocolate became exposed.
Source: “São Tomé and Príncipe.” Rhodes House Archive.
Many of the largest chocolate corporations like Cadbury were buying cacao beans at ridiculously low prices in Africa, and Cadbury in particular was purchasing a significant amount of cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe. According to William A. Cadbury, the company had no idea that the cacao beans it was buying came from slave labor. Satre states, “In early 1901, when William A. Cadbury visited Trinidad…he was told that slave labor was used on the island of São Tomé. Shortly thereafter, this unsubstantiated comment was given credence when the Cadbury company received an offer of a plantation for sale in São Tomé that listed as assets two hundred black laborers” (18). Cadbury’s exposure to these exploitative practices was massive; the company bought 45 percent of its cacao beans from São Tomé each year, confirming that almost half of Cadbury’s revenue was obtained via slave labor. In addition, the details of the offer for the plantation give insight into the scope and magnitude of slavery in São Tomé, given that the island had 230 plantations with thousands of slaves in total. The written work of Henry Nevinson and Joseph Burtt were two of the first forms of documentation that depicted the coerced labor in São Tomé and Príncipe to be distributed across the globe. As a result, many British corporations in the chocolate industry boycotted the cacao in São Tomé and Príncipe and searched for a new area that would supply large amounts of cacao for low prices. All eyes turned towards Ghana, which was then referred to as the Gold Coast, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Even though production of cacao grew significantly during the early 1900s, initially, most cacao farming was small scale; however, when the production of cacao in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire grew at an almost exponential rate, both countries grappled with their own issues surrounding the quality of working conditions. Various aspects of cacao production included clearing the trees, planting the cacao seeds, spraying fertilizers and pesticides, transporting the cacao pods, and slicing open the cacao pods. These duties were completed in environment that proved to be hazardous and dangerous for even adults. The cacao farmers suffered from various diseases, injuries, burns, and lacerations, coupled with the fact that many of them did not have access to clean water, food, or cleaning spaces. Not only did cacao farmers have to work in hazardous conditions, but they also received extremely low wages, which were subject to unpredictable fluctuations throughout each year. The income of each farmer was directly tied to that year’s profits. These farms were being exploited by the major chocolate corporations in Europe and the United States, receiving less than a penny on every dollar these companies made selling chocolate. Given the exploitative power dynamic between companies and farms, farmers were drastically affected financially: each farmer only received a very small percentage of each farm’s revenue. Carol Off states, “By the end of the millennium, Côte d’Ivoire was one of the most indebted nations on earth, even as it supplied almost half of the world’s cocoa to the multi-billion-dollar industry and helped to satisfy the world’s addiction to chocolate. Cocoa farmers slid deeper and deeper into poverty” (118).
Source: Lowy, Benjamin.”Young Boy Uses a Machete to Break Cacao Pods.” Fortune.
The low and inconsistent wage that adult farmers received was one of the main reasons child labor became commonplace in both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Low and inconsistent wages meant that families were forced to remove their children from school to provide the additional income they needed to live at a subsistence level. As Ryan describes, “One interviewee in a British documentary suggested that as many as 90 percent of Ivorian farms used slave labor. This implied there were hundreds of thousands of slaves in Côte d’Ivoire. A BBC report suggested that 15,000 children were in slavery on these plantations” (48). The statistics pertaining to child labor reveal how central it was to the production of cacao. Children working on cacao plantations were at a greater risk than the adult farmers: “hazardous work…is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. On the cocoa plantation, this is generally defined to include work which involves dangerous machinery, equipment or tools, the handling of heavy loads and exposure to pesticides or chemicals” (Ryan, 48). Children started working and dropping out of school at a very young age and were exposed to tasks that were dangerous for adults to perform. Child labor was essential to the production of cacao and children were very active in all of forms of work in the field. Berlan states, “Of children aged 5–17 years, 39 percent are known to be engaged in economic activities, of which 57 percent are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing and 88 percent are unpaid family labour or apprentices” (1090). In addition to the risky activities that children took part in on the cacao plantations, some of them were placed under physical duress by their superiors; this violence put a strain on the children physically, socially, and emotionally. Off’s account provides an example of how child labor was connected to the emergence of child trafficking: “The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely the effects of physical abuse” (121). Children from areas surrounding the cacao plantations and even in neighboring countries were at risk to be kidnapped and forced to produce cacao. Ryan states, “Traffickers preyed on children at bus stops in Mali, promising riches on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire. Once children got to the farm, they survived on little food, little or no pay and endured regular beatings” (44). These conditions that children had to endure are correlative to the experiences of slaves. Children were separated from their families, forced to work for long periods of time, and stripped of their own dignity while they were still in the developmental phase of their lives. Ryan states, “There were no chains and no irons, but, unable to leave their place of work, they were effectively slaves, harvesting the beans that were the key ingredient for chocolate” (44). Slavery continued to persist and it arose due to the demand of the American and European populations and the greed of the large chocolate corporations that desired to obtain the highest possible profit.
Source: “Child Slavery.” The Independent.
Given these horrific work conditions, government policies and initiatives were created to combat the inhumane treatment of the adult and child farmers. The International Labour Organization set standards of appropriate labor practices and detailed the worst forms of child labor. Even though these standards sent a message that child labor was not acceptable, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire were and have remained in violation of them. In fact, over 500,000 children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire were in violation of the guidelines set by the International Labour Organization. Policies were also put in place with the goal of eventually eradicating the worst forms of child labor and coerced labor in the world. One of the policies is the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which is a voluntary agreement that included governments, chocolate companies, cocoa farmers, and other entities. Off states, “The Harkin-Engel Protocol…would be one of the first fully voluntary arrangements for regulating industry in U.S. history and certainly the most ambitious. The cocoa companies agreed to accept a six-point program designed to eliminate child slave labour in the cocoa chain” (144). In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the goal of the protocol was to diminish the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent by 2015. However, this goal was not achieved, so the deadline was extended to 2020. Various organizations, such as the International Cocoa Initiative and the International Cocoa Organization, have been created to further the mission of the Harkin-Engel Protocol: reduce the worst forms of child labor and forced labor. The International Cocoa Initiative raises awareness around the experiences of children enduring through the harsh working conditions that accompany the production of the cacao plant. It also administers trainings on child labor and the impact it has on the communities in West Africa, working closely with all entities that interact within the world of cacao production and consumption. The International Cocoa Organization serves both cacao consuming and producing countries, allowing for meditation and the recognition of collective interests. In addition to the creation of international initiatives and organizations, major corporations in the chocolate industry have pledged to become more socially responsible regarding their business transactions with cacao farmers. Many corporations have received certifications and label their products as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Utz Certified, etc. in order to emphasize to consumers their adoption of new practices.
Source: “Eliminating Child Labor from Cocoa.” United States Department of Labor.
Divine Chocolate is a chocolate company that has exceeded the efforts of many other major chocolate corporations to improve labor conditions. Divine Chocolate partnered with a co-operative of farmers in Ghana called Kuapa Kokoo, which has significant autonomy over the trading and selling processes of the cacao it produces. Unlike most co-operatives, Kuapa Kokoo actually owns a large percentage of the shares of Divine Chocolate: “Divine Chocolate is the only Fairtrade chocolate company that is also co-owned by cocoa farmers. Kuapa Kokoo farmers benefit not only from the Fairtrade premium on the sale of their beans, but also receive the largest share (44%) of Divine’s distributable profits giving the farmers more economic stability, as well as the increased influence in the cocoa industry” (Divine Chocolate). Instead of cacao farmers receiving less than a penny on every dollar of profit from their product, the members of Kuapa Kokoo are able to increase their income at a rate that far exceeds all other cacao collectives in Ghana. As a result, the farmers are able to live with more stability and begin the process of building wealth. Because the low wage that cacao farmers in Ghana were paid was a central cause of the industry’s heavy dependence on child’s labor, the adoption of this new framework, which raised wages, gave farmers the necessary resources to do without child labor entirely. Because Divine Chocolate is Fairtrade Certified, it empowers the cacao producers by establishing a minimum price for the products they produce and a premium for the products that are sold. Each of these reforms of the Fairtrade system give cacao farmers the ability to improve their living standards, their business, and their community (Divine Chocolate). Another important aspect of Divine Chocolate’s mission is its focus on women’s empowerment: “Projects supported by the [Producer Support and Development Fund] are aimed particularly at empowerment of women, maintaining good governance, and testing different farming techniques — and include an adult literacy and numeracy program, and a model farm project” (Divine Chocolate). Divine Chocolate recognizes the significant role that women play in the production of cacao in Ghana and aims to equip them with the tools to become better professional leaders and more advanced business people. With these ambitious programs and practices, Divine Chocolate is actively trying to revolutionize the cocoa industry. Unlike many large chocolate corporations, which are mainly concerned with how much profit they attain at the end of each quarter, Divine Chocolate has proactively addressed issues surrounding exploitation of African farmers, child labor, forced labor, and the silencing of women’s voices in the cocoa industry. In addition, Divine Chocolate has made an active effort to ensure that the farmers that produce cacao for Divine Chocolate are not only rewarded but are included in the process of building wealth and economic stability. There is more work to be done, but Divine Chocolate has been one of the companies to lead the way in changing the culture of business and chocolate.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies. vol. 49, no. 8, Feb. 2013, pp. 1088-1100.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, New York, The New Press, pp. 1-336.
Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa, London, Zed Books, 2011, pp. 1-175.
Satre, Lowell J. Chocolate on Trail: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, Athens, Ohio University Press, pp. 1-199.
In the 1990’s, evidence of child trafficking in the cocoa–producing sector of Africa came to light. The issue gained global notoriety in 2000 when BBC released a documentary on the use of enslaved children on cocoa farms in some of West Africa’s top cocoa-producing countries. Outraged at this injustice, a strong movement to end child slavery rose in response. Bills such as the Harkin–Engel Protocol were passed, global powers pressured West African governments to intervene, and consumers began to demand chocolate made with ethically sourced cocoa beans or boycotted the good altogether. As researchers and reporters began to scrutinize the issue, however, it became clear that child labor was a far more complex problem than originally depicted. In 2009, a study conducted by Tulane University revealed that of the millions of children working on cocoa farms in West Africa, less than 0.5% were coerced into employment by a non–relative (Satyarthi 2016). While any form of child slavery is unacceptable, this study shows there is more to the issue of child labor than the purely malicious and immoral abuse of children.
Child labor in Cote D’Ivoire’s cocoa farming sector is an economic problem for two reasons. Most children in Cote D’Ivoire are “employed” on the farms of their own families. Cocoa farming is extremely labor–intensive, but the margins earned on cocoa beans are very slim. Cocoa farmers have come to rely on help from their children as cheap or free labor to survive on the little profit they are able to derive from production. Working on the family’s cocoa farm is seen as a much more beneficial use of children’s time than a formal education not only for the family’s economic needs but for the child’s future as well. It is a traditional practice to teach children the skills they need to one day take ownership of the family’s cocoa farm. This essay argues child labor is an economic problem on two fronts. Ivorian cocoa farmers need help from their children to meet the family’s financial needs, and the skills children gain from working on cocoa farms is seen as the best way parents can prepare their children for economic success in the future.
While cocoa farming requires intensive labor and maintenance, cocoa does not earn much revenue. Cocoa production is dominated by millions of smallholder farmers across the globe. Most cocoa is supplied by farmers in West Africa. In particular, Cote D’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, growing 40 percent of the global cocoa supply (Leissle 2018, 4). While the global market value of the chocolate industry is valued at $100 billion, the cocoa industry is only valued at $12 billion (7). Split between millions of farmers growing limited yields of cocoa, West African cocoa farmers have been found to make as little as $0.84 per day (117). While price levels might be lower in West African countries than more developed countries such as the US, the differential is not so great that living on such a small amount of money per day does not mean living in poverty. To further illustrate this point, a study found that cocoa farmers tend to be less well off than the general population in Cote D’Ivoire, and poverty is higher among cocoa farmers than in the general population across all measures tested (Katayama et al. 2017, 9). The economics of cocoa farming and financial challenges that often arise in cocoa production has made cocoa farming fertile grounds for child labor.
Income from cocoa farming is seasonal and very volatile, placing rigid liquidity restraints on cocoa farmers. Cocoa farmers typically only receive income twice a year, which is once during the main harvest and once during the light crop season. Farmers therefore earn as much as 80% of their earnings from cocoa at one point in a year. Women in the family can often earn petty cash in the off-seasons through selling subsistence goods or homemade crafts in local markets to supplement the lack of cash flow in the rest of the year. The main source of income is from the main harvest of cocoa, however, making budgeting and saving very difficult (Leissle 2018, 106). In addition, the revenue a farmer makes per year is also variable due to differences in annual yields and prices. Both yields and prices are subject to environmental factors such as rainfall, temperature, and crop disease. Cocoa farmers are also extremely vulnerable to income shocks. Farmers have low credibility due to income volatility and low cash flow for a majority of the year, and few people in rural Cote D’Ivoire use or even have access to bank accounts. Farmers must often resort to shark loans with interest rates as high as 100% to pay for hospital bills, making debt accumulation a dangerous yet common financial hardship for cocoa producers (Ryan 2011, 60). Due to tough liquidity constraints and few ways to smooth consumption, cocoa farmers often live hand–to–mouth in constant economic uncertainty.
On top of the inconsistency of earnings, cocoa farmers have little market power and live off extremely low profit margins. The cocoa market in Cote D’Ivoire is an inverted pyramid made of many local farmers, middlemen, and exporters. To sell cocoa, farmers must package cocoa beans and take the produce to the village middleman. These middlemen, who are licensed by the government, are used because it is illegal in Cote D’Ivoire for exporters to interact directly with farmers. A study on Cote D’Ivoire’s cocoa market reports while there are nearly one million cocoa farmers in the country, there are only 1,000 licensed middlemen, creating a huge distortion of market power (Kireyev 2010, 5). The study finds Ivorian producers received, on average, no more than 41 percent of the world price for cocoa in 2001–2009, which is the lowest share in West Africa and plausibly the world (8). Most cocoa farmers grow small farms of 3 hectares with yields as little as 137.5 kg per hectare (Ryan 2011, 59). Coupled with depressed prices, cocoa farming revenue is extremely low.
Cocoa farming is also an extremely labor–intensive business. Farmers must harvest cocoa by climbing cocoa trees, hacking down and breaking open pods with the brute force of a machete to obtain the valuable beans inside. Kilograms of beans must be carried from place to place while they are fermented, dried, and packaged for sale. Even outside of harvesting, cocoa farms must be meticulously maintained and protected by weeding the soil, pruning and fertilizing trees, and planting new seedlings. This labor is not only physically demanding but costly. Cocoa farmers must also pay for capital such as fertilizers, drying racks, and new seedlings. With little revenue to begin with, the costs of capital and labor are high relative to total earnings. Cocoa farmers need the cheapest workers possible, which is often their own family and children, to keep up with the labor demands of cocoa farming (Ryan 2011, 59–60). There is therefore immense economic pressure on cocoa farmers to resort to child labor to cut costs enough to survive. Liquidity constraints, low revenue, and high costs of production have not only made living on cocoa extremely difficult but also limited farmers’ options on how they can make cocoa production economically sustainable.
Many cocoa farmers also believe it is more beneficial to their children’s future economic success to have the children work on the family’s cocoa farm than to have them receive a formal education. In Cote D’Ivoire and many African countries, work is seen as a rite of passage for children, especially young men, and as a tool for socialization. Much of the work assigned is seen as appropriate for the child’s age. For example, the youngest children work by helping to maintain the home or cultivate a farm plot. This work, called “child work,” is considered an “acceptable” participation in subsistence and training for the child’s future life. In Cote D’Ivoire and many developing countries in general, parents and grandparents have often not received a formal education. They therefore place emphasis on learning through work rather than school because they know for sure that children will receive the skills and training they need to successfully work on the farm, and the child is guaranteed a job working on the farm in the future. Meanwhile, receiving a formal education does not necessarily lead to a good job or guarantee a job at all (Buono and Babo 2013). Child labor is therefore not considered an issue in most African countries but a social norm. In fact, Kielland and Tovo (2006) and Guessous (2002) argue that child labor is perceived by parents as a sure guarantee for their future.
Since life in rural Cote D’Ivoire is very difficult, the first imperative of most families is to teach children the skills they need to be autonomous and not dependent on any family members from as early an age as possible. The mortality rate in rural Cote D’Ivoire is high, and parents want their children to be able to survive in the event that there is no one to care for them. In this vein, the work of the land represents and remains the most effective protection against hunger. According to Buono and Babo (2013), “It is one of the rules that the adult teaches the child: ‘to sit’, to do nothing, is to die of hunger,” while growing food or cash crops such as cocoa and rubber that can always be sold for money is guaranteed to provide sustenance and income. It is not that cocoa farming and rural families in general see no value in formal education, however. In an ideal situation, most families want their children to both go to school and learn by working on the farm. These families acutely realize how valuable a formal education is (Buono and Babo 2013). One Ivorian farmer who was unable to attend school due to work demands at home stated, “Being an illiterate has cost me in so many ways…. I feel I am missing a lot” (Ryan 2011, 46). If a child does not attend school, oftentimes it is because the child is desperately needed to work at home. Additionally, if a choice must be made between formal schooling and learning farming skills, knowing how to work the land is seen as a much higher imperative, as this is most important survival skill a child can learn. Child labor is present on cocoa farms because learning how to work the land is seen as an imperative part of a child’s upbringing and a necessary skill for survival.
The issue of child labor in Ivorian cocoa farms is extremely complex. In the first place, one must define how child labor is an issue, as many children are employed not only to help their families but also ensure their own survival and success in the future. Berlan (2013) defines child labor as an issue when working on the farm prevents the child from receiving a formal education or the work is harmful or hazardous to the child’s health. In most cases, children are prevented from receiving an education due to economic constraints. Cocoa farmers not only need the children’s help to sustain the cocoa farm but also cannot afford to send them to school. To help combat this conflict of interest, in 2010 UNICEF and the Government of Côte d’Ivoire launched a program covering the school fees of children of struggling cocoa farmers. As seen above, this program has met with significant success (Vigneault-Dubois 2014). Similar programs have been implemented by other major players in the cocoa industry. The World Cocoa Foundation and chocolate manufacturing giant Mars, for example, implemented a program in several cocoa farming villages in Cote D’Ivoire that incentivized cocoa farming families to enroll their children in formal education by providing children free lunches at school (PR Newswire 2015). While many of these programs are still small and new, they have proven to be very effective solutions to harmful child labor.
Child labor in cocoa production is not a phenomenon unique to Cote D’Ivoire. Many cocoa–producing countries around the globe suffer from this issue. Brazil, for example, is the second–largest producer of cocoa beans in South America and has as many as 8,000 children working on cocoa farms (Picolotto et al. 2018). As discussed in the video above, child labor is a problem in Brazil for similar reasons as it is in Cote D’Ivoire. For example, one of the reasons why child labor is prevalent in Brazil is because of the low price paid to producers by middlemen and families’ economic need for children to work on the cocoa farm rather than attend school. Several solutions to this issue are proposed, including shortening the chocolate supply chain and improving producers’ coordination and organization to ameliorate the disparity in market power. Just as the issue and economic drivers of child labor are not unique to Cote D’Ivoire, successful programs implemented in Cote D’Ivoire might also work in Brazil. Similarly, the solutions proposed in this video could viably be applied in Cote D’Ivoire. The issue of child labor is complicated, but by better understanding the economic problems that drive harmful child labor, more effective solutions can be derived and implemented to eventually eradicate the worst instances of this issue.
Berlan, Amanda. 2013. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49 (8): 1088-100.
Buono, Clarisse, and Alfred Babo. 2013. “Travail des enfants dans les exploitations de cacao en Côte d’Ivoire. Pour une réconciliation entre normes locales et normes internationales autour du « bic », du balai et de la machette.” Mondes en developpement 163 (3): 69–84.
Guessous, Chakib. 2002. L’exploitation De L’innocence : Le Travail Des Enfants Au Maroc. Casablanca: EDDIF.
Katayama, Roy, Andrew Dabalen, Essama Nssah, and Guy Morel Amouzou Agbe. 2017. “Welfare and Poverty Impacts of Cocoa Price Policy Reform in Cote d’Ivoire.” 29625. World Bank Other Operational Studies. The World Bank. https://ideas.repec.org/p/wbk/wboper/29625.html.
Kielland, Anne, and Maurizia Tovo. 2006. Children at Work: Child Labor Practices in Africa.
André Picolotto, Daniel Giovanaz, Julieta Casara, Luara Wandelli Loth, Lúcio Lambranho, Marques Casara, Poliana Dallabrida, Raquel Sabrina, and Tulio Kruse. 2018. “COCOA SUPPLY CHAIN ADVANCES AND CHALLENGES TOWARD THE PROMOTION OF DECENT WORK: A situational analysis.” ILO Working Papers. https://cocoainitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Cocoa_EN.pdf.
Ryan, Orla. 2011. Chocolate Nations : Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. African Arguments. London : New York, NY: Zed ; Distributed in the USA Exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.Satyarthi, Kailash. 2016. “It’s up to Us All to End Child Labour.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD Observer; Paris, no. 308 (June): 1B,2B,3B,4B,5B. http://dx.doi.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/10.1787/1ce14148-en.
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.
Chocolate has frequently been referred to as the, “Food of the God’s”. For chocolate lovers, the thought of this creamy rich confection invokes an emotion (or passion if you will) that makes it an essential part of the daily diet. Some, consuming it multiple times a day. We give chocolate as gifts for special occasions and profess our affection through ornate heart shaped boxes full of the decadent treat. According to an analysis conducted by MarketsandMarkets, the global cocoa and chocolate market is projected to be worth nearly $133.8 Billion combined in 2019 (MarketsandMarkets, 2014) . But what is the true price of chocolate commerce? For some, it comes at a great cost, specifically the child laborer’s who work on cacao plantations in West Africa. While many chocolate manufacturer’s and worldwide humanitarian organizations have made great strides in spotlighting the issues of child labor, slavery, and trafficking – there is a long way to go. The dark side of chocolate has far reaching repercussions that stretch far beyond the guilty calories in your Valentine’s day Whitman’s Sampler.
What has history taught us?
For centuries, children have been used as slaves in the cacao trade. As a matter of fact, forced child labor has been recorded as far back as the 1800’s in cacao harvesting and cocoa production (Sackett, 84) . The True History of Chocolate elucidates that the ethics of the chocolate trade have been flawed for too long. In their authoritative book, Coe and Coe enlighten us that the countries most involved in this shameful practice are the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) and Ghana – which (coincidentally?) are the top two cacao producing countries in the world. Here, millions of children have been trafficked over time to work “under terrible conditions… suffering from [the negative effects of] powerful pesticides…cutting themselves with the machetes that they must wield to open the pods.” (Coe and Coe, 264) Tragically, these children also lack quality medical care and schooling to better their health and to increase the potential for a better life.
Despite the cacao trade bourgeoning into a multi-billion-dollar industry, we cannot help but have a bitter taste in our mouth for the still sub-standard labor ethics employed in West Africa.
The problem cannot be ignored!
The cacao plantation is no place for a child. Organizations such as the Food Empowerment Project and Green America are putting their time, energy and alliances behind the efforts to not only reduce the use of child labor – but to educate chocolate consumers on the horrific standards of the cacao industry. By labeling the use of children in the cacao commodity growing industry, “The Worst Form of Child Labor” the Food Empowerment Project claims that “in recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Arica. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public.” By calling our attention to the companies that take advantage of the largest supply of cocoa and making a direct connection to the child slavery problem, the FEP specifically names Hershey, Mars and Nestle as those that who should have the guiltiest conscience in the chocolate trade. Green America goes one step further by publishing a “Chocolate Scorecard” to illustrate to consumers the performance of chocolate manufacturers, taking into consideration rather or not they “have innovative programs and projects in place to address some of the underlying issues of child labor in cocoa.”
The BIG question….
By now, you may have a bitter taste in your mouth and should be asking yourself “What can I do to help.” For many chocolate consumers, it is enough to bite into our favorite Endangered Species or Alter Ego brand chocolate bars and have a clear conscience – feeling that we are doing SOMETHING by choosing what we deem to be an ethically sourced confectionery. For others, we are angry and want to do something immediately that will change the trajectory in a more positive direction. So, what do you do? Perhaps you will pay more for a chocolate bar that’s packaging convinces you that the proceeds are going to help reduce child labor, slavery, or trafficking? Or perhaps you will emphatically denounce any chocolate grown in this region of the world and refuse to patronize any brand not making the grade on the “Chocolate Scorecard”? As Kristy Leissle points out in her thoughtful book Cocoa, the “oft-suggested idea of charging more for chocolate to ease farmer poverty reverses typical cause and effect, whereby higher cocoa prices drive higher chocolate prices.” (Leissle, 136) . Simply put– when the price of cocoa goes up, these farming regions are even more attractive due to the low labor rates; doing nothing more than increasing profit for chocolate makers. And for those of you that are done stomping your feet in remonstration, according to Leissle, “buying only cocoa from outside West Africa would do more harm than good” (Leissle, 136) as you would be punishing hard working West Africans that are dependent on the cacao trade for their livelihood.
What you CAN do….
The good news is that there are many ways to support the cacao kids that are losing their childhood to the chocolate industry. A few things you CAN do are:
• Become a more conscientious consumer by educating yourself on the issue and the actions being taken to combat them. There are numerous organizations fighting every day and your donation or activism are appreciated.
• Shop at retailers that support brands that are working to reduce child labor in the cacao trade. If you are unsure if your favorite store or market is making choices that you are aligned with in selecting their chocolate inventory – do not be afraid to ask. Many retailers have category managers that are well versed on what their store carries and why. If their selection is unsatisfactory, chocolate may not be the only category that they do not measure up in the area of ethics.
• Think global but act local. Talk to your State Representative about their agenda for reducing child labor as it relates to trade facilitation and trade enforcement. A sweet not bitter ending…. The “Food of the God’s” does not need to come at the cost of innocent lives in West Africa. Though chocolate has been studied academically and discussed politically, there are still significant gaps that each and every one of us can contribute to closing. So, the next time that you pick up your favorite chocolate confection, may the guilt be only on your lips and on your hips.
A sweet not bitter ending….
The “Food of the God’s” does not need to come at the cost of innocent lives in West Africa. Though chocolate has been studied academically and discussed politically, there are still significant gaps that each and every one of us can contribute to closing. So, the next time that you pick up your favorite chocolate confection, may the guilt be only on your lips and on your hips.
“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.
Two hours. That is the amount of time I spent scouring databases and newspaper articles attempting to find scientific (or non-scientific) evidence that would demonstrate the importance chocolate has in our world today. More specifically, I was looking for something titled Chocolate: The Most Significant Food in History. The best I could find was a TIME.com article titled “9 Weirdest Uses for Chocolate.” It was very insightful. However, when considering the amount of chocolate that is produced and consumed in the world each year, the picture of importance starts to become more clear. For businesses and consumers, chocolate and cacao is a great product, and in high demand. For producers and farmers, it is an important cash crop and essential to survival.
The relevance and importance chocolate and cacao cultivation have on the world economy cannot be understated. According to the International Cacao Organization (ICCO,) the world’s top ten chocolate producing companies did $80 billion USD in sales in 2017. (https://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html) Even beyond the money and global markets, there is a great deal of cultural significance that could never be quantified. The World Cocoa Foundation estimates that Cacao directly affects the livelihoods of approximately 50 million people (http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/our-work/programs/). For chocolate lovers, the news that climate change could significantly impact our access to chocolate was devastating. Major players such as MARS Inc. have made significant investments for this eventuality, and are looking to be prepared for changes in the cacao marketplace. This will undoubtedly have significant impacts on the producers of cacao and encourages a deeper look at methods to adapt the farming and production practices.
Chocolate might go away?
Despite the fear-mongering on the internet, this is not totally accurate. It is important to point out that cacao will not be going extinct anytime soon. It will, however, face a potentially sharp and significant decline in production. This means that by 2050, you may have less access too chocolate than you do at this very moment. My advice is to stock up.
Cacao trees really depend on very specific criteria to be met in order for them to grow, thrive, and produce fruit (Lecture). Cacao can essentially only be grown when the right conditions are met. Those conditions apply to which areas in the world cacao can grow in, the temperature it prefers, and the surrounding plants that shield and shade it. The picky nature of Theobroma cannot be understated.
The challenge that the world’s cacao producers are facing is climate change. Those very specific conditions are projected to be harder to meet in the very near future. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) West African countries will experience an increase in evapotranspiration (Smith, 2016). Essentially, the amount of water plants will be able to retain will decrease due to higher temperatures. This will have an impact on what areas will later be suitable to grow cacao. Figure 2 highlights the estimated change in temperature in Africa’s top cacao producing regions according to research done by Peter Läderach and his team.
With 70% of the world’s chocolate finding its origin in western African countries like Cote d’Ivoire, a decrease in production from West Africa would have a worldwide impact. (http://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf) For several countries that fall within the West African cacao belt, Cacao is the number one agricultural export. Any decline could potentially result in major economic impacts for those countries (Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Schroth, & Castro, 2013; Schroth, Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Bunn, & Jassogne, 2016). It would also result in consequences for the natural habitats and cacao growing regions of these states. The research that has been done in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire has indicated that by 2050, almost 90% of the current farmland would be unsuitable to grow cacao, with only a 10% increase in suitability. This is alarming as the vast majority of cacao production in Africa, and worldwide, stems from this region.
Source: Lecture slides
Additionally, this new farmland comes at a cost. That is to say, in order to capitalize on other areas that will be suitable to grow cacao, countries facing this challenge will have to sacrifice environmental conservation (Läderach et al., 2013). This still would not make up for the amount of farmland lost to the temperature increases, while contributing to the factors that influence climate change.
While a decrease in African production would have global consequences, it is unlikely that climate change will eliminate chocolate and cacao production. As cacao grows around the globe, we can expect it will continue to be around. One of the concerns currently is that it is very likely that other regions around the world will have to pick up the slack. And that is a lot of slack! With the top cacao producing countries losing close to 90% of suitable cacao growing areas, it is unclear at this point where it is possible to make up for this loss. Without an answer in the next 20-30 years, chocolate will likely be much less of a household item than it was the last 100 years.
Let’s move to Mar’s…Inc.
According to the Candy Industry’s 2017 Global Top 100 list, Mar’s Inc. is the world’s top-grossing candy company. In 2017, their net sales topped $18 billion USD! (https://www.candyindustry.com/2017-Global-Top-100-Part-4) With earnings like that, it is not difficult to understand the level of investment and commitment the company would have to the preservation of chocolate production.
Mars Inc. has put their money where their mouth is…or rather, where the chocolate is. They have invested in a project run by the Innovative Genomics Institute, in an effort to ensure future production of cacao. So far they have pledged $1 billion USD to creating sustainability and reducing their footprint, and this includes the CRISPR project. The goal of the project is not to specifically save cacao production, but rather to combat diseases in humans and plants (IGI 2018). Lucky for us, Theobroma Cacao is a plant. Winning! Well, maybe. The CRISPR technology is aimed at altering the genes of plants in order to make them resistant to disease. So this might not really help West African farmers who will lose cacao growing areas. By investing in this technology, Mars Inc. hopes to expand the possible areas cacao can be grown in.
As it stands today, different diseases and insects make in very difficult to grow and produce cacao. It is estimated that about 40% of the crops in the Americas are lost to fungal infections like witches’ broom (Shapiro & Shapiro, 2015). By increasing the natural resistance of the fruit-bearing trees, the average yield would increase 3 fold. This means that places that have been traditionally very difficult to produce cacao in could now become production centers. This would effectively reduce the impacts on chocolate manufacturers if the climate predictions do create impediments to cacao production in West Africa.
In a recent story done on the use of CRISPR technology, scientists working with IGI explained the advancements they have made in changing the genes of many crops that are prone to disease. They explain that they have already used the technology to create a solution for the swollen shoot virus that plagues cacao trees. (Schlender, 2018)
The technology works so quickly that IGI can have plants develop the desired traits within one generation! This is very good news for chocolate lovers. Assuming everything works out. The plants that have and will undergo this process will need to be researched extensively before they can be consumed by the public. This will ensure that people eating these modified crops do not grow an extra set of toes afterward.
This past year, Mars Inc. also made a significant investment in addressing climate change, planning to cut its own carbon emissions by two-thirds. A big part of this investment will be assisting farmers in improving their yields while simultaneously reducing pressures underlying deforestation. The idea is that the more a farmer can produce from their crops, the less land they will need to do it (Madson, 2017). This investment totals $1 billion USD and has been proposed to be completed by 2050.
Other chocolate giants such as Cadbury and Mondelez have also become a part of developing solutions for creating sustainability in cacao farming. Mondelez International’s non-profit arm, Cocoa Life, is focused on improving the lives of farmers in cacao-growing regions around the world. (https://www.cocoalife.org/the-program/approach) With increased commitment from large organizations with vast resources, it is possible to combat the potential effects of climate change.
What about the little guy/gal?
While it appears that Mars Inc. has likely stumbled upon a viable solution to their future issue of supply, what about the small-holders. The potential to move cacao production elsewhere is not great news for all parties involved. It is possible that genetic modification could potentially change under what conditions cacao trees thrive. However, it is unclear if this route could help the trees overcome evapotranspiration in the projected West African environments. It is very probable that this cash crop could find a new capital in other region or regions in other parts of the world. For the millions of farmers who are vulnerable to this threat, this is a challenge they will be forced to adapt to.
There are organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance who are working toward preparing farmers, equipping them with new strategies to protect their crops. The strategy being used is called Climate-Smart Agriculture, and in principal focuses on the specific needs of the specific farm (de Groot, 2017). Cacao farmers using this tactic would conduct a needs assessment of their farm, and create a plan that directly corresponds to the challenges that are unique to them. Some of the strategies include planting shade trees, as well as developing water retaining systems to prepare for droughts. While these will improve overall yield from these farms, it is unclear at this point how these tactics will far against climate change.
The tactic of planting shade trees is, however, a recommended strategy for those who fall in the Western African cacao belt. Currently, the farming trend has been to reduce the shade on cacao farms, however, this may no longer be an option. By increasing the shade of the cacao trees, the temperatures of its leaves could drop up to 4 °C (Läderach et al., 2013). Not only could this help protect cacao cultivation in Western Africa, it also helps to increase crop diversification. If done correctly, this would make cacao farmers less vulnerable to changing temperatures and less frequent rainfall. A downside to this recommendation is the limitation on the amount of water available during the dry season. The increase in plant life means less water to satisfy the needs of the cacao trees, and potentially losing the entire crop.
Chocolate is important. It directly impacts the lives of people around the world, in ways that transcend taste. For some, it is a highly desired treat, and for others, it is a means of opportunity. The effects of climate change have given all sides of the cacao industry a wake-up call to the importance of sustainable farming and improving our carbon footprint. Large organizations have begun to change the way they operate in the world, by reducing their emissions and helping to improve farming practices. Climate change could result in significant impacts on the cacao industry the world over. Reducing the amount of product available for purchase, and decreasing the available wages that can be earned in regions that are the most affected. Scientists, chocolate companies, and cacao farmers are starting to come together in an attempt to better the practices in this very important industry. Each has a role to play to play in this improvement, as well as the preparation for effects climate change will play in cacao and other vital crops.
Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A., Schroth, G., & Castro, N. (2013). Predicting the future climatic suitability for cocoa farming of the world’s leading producer countries, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Climatic Change, 119(3–4), 841–854. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0774-8
Schroth, G., Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A. I., Bunn, C., & Jassogne, L. (2016). Vulnerability to climate change of cocoa in West Africa: Patterns, opportunities and limits to adaptation. Science of The Total Environment, 556, 231–241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.024
HEXX Chocolate – Located in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip (“HEXX Exterior”).
HEXX Chocolate – At the Paris Hotel and Casino in the shadow of a replica of the Eiffel Tower (“HEXX Restaurant Eiffel Tower”).
Situated in the shadow of a half-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower, amidst the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, we find the unlikely presence of Nevada’s sole bean-to-bar chocolate concept called HEXX Chocolate (Feldberg). In a city where audacious and artificial are the norm – HEXX’s authentic approach to chocolate they call “Super. Natural.” is breaking the mold of industry paradigms and bridging the huge chasm between chocolate’s primary consumers in the global north and cacao producers in the global south (“Authentic”). In HEXX’s unique approach, they are taking on one of the most pressing social and ethical challenges facing the chocolate industry today – the plight of farmers in cacao producing nations and the general lack of awareness amongst consumers. By examining four key aspects of HEXX: The unique DNA of its leadership; the original way it is presenting its chocolate story to customers; its intentional cultivation of long-term, ethical relationship with its farmers; and its unique challenges, we will see HEXX molding chocolate’s present and future for the better.
HEXX’s Founders and Chocolate Makers – As Unique as Its Brand
As unique as HEXX’s presence is on the Las Vegas Strip, equally as original are its founders and chocolate makers. In the emerging craft chocolate space that has grown from a single company to 200 in the past two decades (Leissle 3; Giller), one might imagine a chocolate maker as a geeky chocolate scientist perfecting chocolate for other geeks (Giller) or perhaps a hipster with a cause (“MAST”). However, at HEXX, we find something quite different. The brain-trust and chocolate makers at HEXX are Matthew Silverman and Matthew Piekarski – established, culinary heavyweights in the Las Vegas dining scene who also lead HEXX’s 24×7 restaurant operation, which shares the same space and name (“Meet Our Chefs”).
In a town chock-full of celebrities, one could argue Silverman and Piekarski are celebrities in their own right. Silverman traces his culinary roots to the acclaimed Wolfgang Puck (Leach). Piekarski’s resume not only includes an Executive Chef stint working with Eva Longoria Parker but he has the distinction of being named “Las Vegas’ Hottest Chef” (“Chef Matt Piekarski”; Stapleton). Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary chops and earned reputations provide them a perfect platform to share HEXX’s chocolate story from their headquarters on the Las Vegas Strip, which they have been doing since 2015. In doing so, they are not only sharing the story of HEXX, but also the unique locales where its chocolate originates from and the oft-untold stories of farmers who cultivate and harvest cacao – the raw materials from which chocolate is made.
Engaging, Educating, and Expanding Chocolate’s Consumer Base
Interior of HEXX’s 30,000 square-foot restaurant (Mair).
Silverman and Piekarski sorting cacao beans (“Sorting Beans”).
HEXX’s transparent chocolate operations which shares the same space as its restaurant (“Kitchen”).
It is impossible to step-off of Las Vegas Boulevard, into HEXX’s 30,000 square foot restaurant and chocolate factory and not leave with a better appreciation for its chocolate and its origin stories (Womack).
That is exactly Silverman and Piekarski’s intent. From HEXX’s name and chocolate packaging to how it creatively engages customers throughout their restaurant dining experience, HEXX is educating its customers and changing their perceptions about chocolate (Piekarski). Says Silverman about the name HEXX, “The XX represents Roman numerals and speaks to the farms we source our cacao beans from, all of which are located 20 degrees above or below the equator” (Vintage View). Before unwrapping any of HEXX’s 2-oz, single-origin chocolate bars, one learns about the country and farm its cacao is sourced from and the unique flavors and terroir of the region (“Product”).
HEXX also sprinkles in subtle chocolate highlights throughout its restaurant dining experience – from its use of cocoa nibs as a nut replacement in muffins and salads to its use of Venezuelan Milk Chocolate in a luxurious cheesecake (Piekarski; That’s So Vegas). At the end of each meal, diners are given a petit four, which offers a taste of one of HEXX’s six single-origin chocolates. This end-of-meal ceremony not only serves as a decadent way to culminate one’s gastronomic experience but is an invitation to its patrons to learn more about HEXX’s chocolate story and more importantly connect with its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator.
While HEXX’s chocolate message to its customers is subtle and sophisticated, its commitment to its farmers is clear and direct and can be traced to Silverman and Piekarski’s own personal culinary backgrounds: “Coming from our roots as chefs we have an appreciation for the farmers and purveyors who grow and raise our food. Developing relationships with the people who grow and import our ingredients is the most important thing that we do. Knowing who grows the ingredients, how they are grown and ensuring that the people growing them are paid a fair price is at the core of our beliefs as chefs and chocolate makers” (“Direct Trade”). It is HEXX’s relationship with its cacao farmers and how it is addressing current labor issues in the chocolate industry that we will explore next.
One of the most pressing issues facing the chocolate industry today is the dichotomy between the wealth generated by big chocolate companies in the global north and the extremely low and inconsistent wages of cacao farmers in the global south (Martin “Introduction”). In 2014, the chocolate industry registered over $100 billion dollars in worldwide sales (“Cocoa Prices”). At the same time, in the two highest producing cacao nations of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – responsible for 60 percent of world cacao production – farmers are paid on average $.50 and $.84 a day, respectively (Martin “Introduction”). This is far below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.90 per day and well below other global minimum wage standards (“FAQs: Global Poverty”; Martin “Introduction”).
In response to this disparity, over the years a number of solutions have been developed including coalitions, government initiatives, civil society organizations and ethical trade models (Martin “Introduction”). The most recognizable of these today are the certifications emblazoned on the front of chocolate bars and other food products like Fair-Trade, UTZ, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance (Martin and Sampeck 51; Martin “Alternative Trade”). While HEXX does purchase certified beans from at least two of its six cacao suppliers, in its choice not to exclusively source certified beans, HEXX is highlighting the limitations and critiques leveled against the certification model itself – that it is not always most beneficial to farmers (“About Our Chocolate”; Martin and Sampeck 52). While certifications generate big dollars – over $3 billion in revenue worldwide – very little of it makes its way back to producers (Martin “Alternative Trade”). By some estimations, for every dollar an American consumer pays for a Fair Trade product, a meager $.03 makes its way back to farmers (Sylla 125). Of its decision not to solely purchase certified organic beans in particular, HEXX states, “Not all of our cacao beans are certified organic, because certifications can be a costly expense for our farmers, but all are produced to the same standards that organic certifiers adhere to” (“Direct Trade”). Thus, while quality is of great importance to HEXX, consideration for its farmers is paramount.
HEXX’s answer to the social and economic conditions of its farmers and the less-than-effective certification model is clear: the cultivation of long-term, direct trade relationships (“Direct Trade”). Advocates of direct trade, including HEXX, argue three primary benefits: first, it enables farmers to negotiate price, resulting in generally higher premiums. Second, it incentivizes farmers to produce higher-quality beans. Lastly and most importantly, it eliminates the layers of middlemen that have historically been a part of the chocolate trade. This fosters learning and mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and chocolate makers (“Direct Trade”; Martin “Alternative Trade”).
Their relationships with cacao farmers is something Piekarski and Silverman take very personally. While potential partners are first identified by friend and “Chocolate Sourcerer,” Greg D’Alesandre of Dandelion Chocolate, Piekarski and Silverman take it from there (Piekarski). They travel to each country to meet and establish relationships with potential partners, and see the conditions farmers work under. Piekarski describes these trips as “life changing experiences” that have altered both his business and personal perspectives. Silverman adds, “When we form a partnership with a cacao farm, we are looking to build a long-term relationship with them. There’s no way to do that without going to the farm, trying and testing their cacao beans, and getting to know the owners and operators. Plus, we need to feel good about the culture of the cacao farm. Establishing a business relationship . . . is like getting to know extended family” (“Behind the Scenes”). HEXX’s verbal commitment translates into action. While the global commodity price for cacao has hovered around $1 a pound in recent years, HEXX pays its farmers between $5 and $10 a pound, according to Piekarski.
Direct trade is not without its limitations and critiques as well. Critics, particularly as it relates to craft chocolate, point to at least three limitations: first, its reach is very limited. For instance, of the 4.8 million metric tons of cacao purchased each year, HEXX purchases just 30 tons of it (Martin “Alternative Trade”; Martin and Sampeck 55; Piekarski). Second, direct trade partnerships tend to be devoid of farms in West African countries which account for 70 percent of the world’s cacao production (Martin and Sampeck 55; Wessel and Quist-Wessel). This is true of HEXX’s partnerships as well, which are in Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Tanzania, and the Dominican Republic (“Product”). Lastly, direct trade relationships can be fragile, in part, because craft chocolate companies that favor these relationships may lack industry experience, financial stability, and face steep learning-curves (Martin and Sampeck 55). To this final critique, HEXX’s response is strong. Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary pedigree and HEXX’s business model set them apart from other craft chocolate companies. While chocolate will always be the foundation and cornerstone on which HEXX is built, its sales account for just $1 million of HEXX’s $30 million in annual combined revenue (Piekarski). This fact puts HEXX in an extremely strong position and affords them creative liberties to take risks with its chocolate brand – a luxury most craft chocolate companies do not have.
When one looks at the entirety of HEXX: The culinary and celebrity gravitas of its two chocolate makers, a $30 million restaurant behind it, and its prime location on the Las Vegas Strip, it is easy to assume HEXX holds the perfect hand in the burgeoning craft chocolate market. However, HEXX is not without its challenges. The very things that make HEXX distinct, also contribute to its biggest challenges. We will close by exploring these challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead for HEXX.
HEXX’s Challenges and Its Future
With its prime location and Silverman and Piekarski at the helm, HEXX has unrivaled access to two atypical markets for a craft chocolate company: the casual consumer dining at its restaurant and the vast number of restaurateurs in Las Vegas, whom HEXX could source its chocolate to. However, in its outreach to both groups, HEXX has faced some resistance. While chocolate is featured throughout HEXX’s menu, Piekarski said they have scaled back use particularly in some of its main dishes. While chocolate connoisseurs might swoon over a chicken mole or steak finished-off with condensed cocoa butter, not all of HEXX’s customers have taken to these flavors. Further, Piekarski said they have reached out to “every casino in town” to offer their chocolate as a source ingredient that could potentially be incorporated into other restaurants’ dishes. This has also been met with resistance. Piekarski states, “We want people to incorporate our chocolate in everything they do not necessarily because we want our brand out there but we want to supply people with a superior quality product at a cheaper price. We understand, as chefs, restaurants operate on very thin margins and this is as important for [other restaurants] as it is for us.”
HEXX’s location and popular appeal has also proved perplexingly problematic to a typical craft chocolate ally: gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods. While HEXX has been well-received at events like the Fancy Food Show – the largest food show on the West Coast – it has faced a vexing, uphill battle with gourmet grocery stores precisely because of its mainstream appeal and Las Vegas Strip location (That’s So Vegas; Piekarski). Piekarski explains, “It took us a year and a half to get into Whole Foods in Las Vegas. And we only got there because we are [local].” He continues, “Everything about what we do is not what they look for in terms of craft chocolate. People ask, ‘Where do you produce? On the Las Vegas Strip?’ And that can be the end of the conversation 7 times out of 10.” In just its third year of operations, as the only craft chocolate producer in Nevada, challenges such as these should not come as a total surprise. And as HEXX steps out further to explore new territory, its opportunities for growth are abundant.
HEXX’s future plans include developing its restaurant presence locally, growing retail sales nationally, and forming new cacao partnerships internationally. After recent renovations to its dining facilities, HEXX is purposefully reintegrating chocolate into its food program in a distinct way, says Piekarski. Weekend diners will now find a cart-wheeling Chocolate Sommelier offering up chocolate for guests to sample, adding another chocolate connection point for its customers. HEXX also recently hired a former Mars and Hershey employee tasked with expanding its retail presence in the Northwest and Midwest, in addition to Central Markets in Texas and Carr Valley Cheese Stores in Wisconsin where HEXX is currently sold (Piekarski; “Where to Find”). Finally, HEXX is looking to extend its international reach to cacao farmers in two additional countries – Trinidad and Granada (Piekarski).
In HEXX, we see an immensely compelling craft chocolate concept, connecting multitudes of atypical consumers to the story of its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator. Through its authentic message to its customers and ethical relationships with farmers, HEXX is artfully bringing two worlds together that could not be further apart. While HEXX has faced challenges on multiple fronts during its first years, it is impossible not to be incredibly optimistic about HEXX’s industry-altering potential. With two talented and resolute chefs at the helm of its $30 million restaurant and chocolate operations, HEXX has both the gastronomic and financial chops to challenge the chocolate industry’s status-quo, transforming the way consumers see chocolate, and elevating the plight of cacao farmers in the process. In a city built on big wagers, perhaps there is none bigger and more important to chocolate’s sustainable future than HEXX.
Wessel, Marius, and Quist-Wessel, P.M. Foluke. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, vol. 74-75, 2015, pp. 1–7., doi:10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.
Theo Bromine. He’s bitter, but sometimes he can cheer you up if you’re having a bad day at work. Others call him an alkaloid. His real name is Theo Bromine. Those in the cacao industry know him as one word – theobromine. Traces of theobromine can be found in cacao. Cacao is the raw product, it takes ten stages before it becomes chocolate. The effect of consuming cacao is similar to caffeine, it gives you that instant boost of energy. The origin of Theobroma cacao trees can be found in the Brazilian Amazon where cacao is a big part of Brazil’s economic and cultural history.
Cacao trees are pretty finicky. They need warm climate, hot, but not too hot. Most of the production of cacao is in West Africa – 72%, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to be exact. Because of climate change, there are elevating temperatures and a possibility that the cacao crops could be eliminated. If you’ve avoided the conversation around climate change, scrolled down when you saw the crying polar bears on social media, grimaced when you heard your neighbor bought a Prius,and slept through a class showing of An Inconvenient Truth, now is the time to pay attention to climate change. Why? Because your chocolate consumption could be seriously affected.
Factors affecting the cacao industry:
Many factors, not just climate change, affect the cacao industry: droughts, floods, infestation, demand, and evapotranspiration. Rising temperatures alone will not impact cacao production, evapotranspiration (loss of moisture because of the high temperature) does. With the higher temperatures expected by the year 2050 precipitation/rainfall isn’t a guarantee. Brazil was once ranked second as the largest cacao producer, today they rank sixth. The decline in cacao production is due to the fungus that causes witch’s broom. In order for a cacao farmer to have a successful crop, trees have to be disease resistant. Hershey’s and Mars, Inc. have already classified the cacao genome which could improve the resiliency of cacao trees.
The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization/NGO that assists farmers with sustainable lifestyles. Its mission is to work with the smallholder cacao farmers to help with these issues. Some cacao farmers have already taken the suggestions to switch to alternative crops, lucrative ones such as rubber and/or palm oil. What if all farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana switched at the same pace? The world could face the possibility of a million ton cacao shortage by 2020, this according to The Earth Security Group, a sustainability consulting firm registered in the United Kingdom.
Global demand for chocolate is another factor because of their interest in confectionery. The chocolate market has been trending towards higher prices over the last 10 years with the market increasing by 13% between 2010-2015, farmers’ share has decreased during this time. It is estimated that by the year 2030, chocolate will be a delicacy, like caviar, and your average Joe, or Jane, won’t be able to purchase it. Heavy marketing leads to heavy demand. How do we equate the 13% to a dollar value, try $100 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm.
Unfortunately, cacao trees cannot keep up with the rapid demands of consumers, it takes three to five years at best to produce cacao beans, the end result of this long, strenuous process is chocolate. The amount we consume (11+ pounds of chocolate is consumed annually by individuals in Europe and the United States) far outweighs the amount that is produced, leading to a shortage of chocolate. In the news lately, Necco, the company that manufactures Necco Wafers, Sky Bar, Mary Jane, and Sweethearts is filing for bankruptcy. If we are heading towards chocolate becoming a delicacy I must warn you: start hoarding all of your candy because it will cost you a pretty penny in the not-so-distant future. Call me Ms. Gloomanddoom, but remember the recent avocado crisis in Mexico, we may have a chocolate crisis next.
Global warming and climate change have been topics widely discussed for years. In a recent TED Talk with Mark Bittman, he commented that global warming is real and dangerous and reminds us that we should stop eating things thoughtlessly. This includes chocolate. Greenhouse gas, methane gas, water shortages, oh my!
How’d we get here? Well, it all started with British commodities: sugar, tea, and tobacco. These were popular due to the transatlantic movement, transporting these commodities by African slaves. Chocolate began in Mesoamerica and dates back to 350 BC. It was consumed as a hot beverage served in ghourds and as time progressed in fancy porcelain cups by the most affluent during the Baroque Age. The British didn’t like the bitter taste of the chocolate so they re-created the taste by adding sugar to it.
I would have loved to interview the early entrepreneurs like Dorothy Jones who was granted a license to operate a coffee house in Boston in 1670. Women wouldn’t be caught dead in a coffee house and she got a license. Slay girl slay. Despite my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society I was not able to locate the actual license or the coffee house, but I did find one reference to it in the Record Commissioners City of Boston records from 1660 to1701. It may be that Dorothy Jones was a vendor and did not actually have a storefront. If there was a storefront, I would have to guess that it was located in the area of what’s now known as Downtown Crossing in Boston. Newspaper Row was in that area during 1670 and it makes sense that the coffee house would be close by. To be continued.
The role of chocolate:
Liquid consumption of chocolate morphed into candy consumption and as time went on the global market consumed it. Pun intended.Chocolate consumes us and plays a variety of roles in our lives. Part of my research included interviews with three females, all of whom are my closest friends spanning four decades, who gave me permission to share their stories. Names have been changed. Three questions were asked of each woman: what is their relationship with chocolate, what role it played in their life, and how chocolate’s significance has changed or stayed the same over time. Analysis of the social and historical issues were revealed during these interviews.
I begin my interview with Pepper, 40-something. We’ve been friends for 15 years, so when she said “you’ll be disappointed, I don’t have a relationship with chocolate, at all. I can take it or leave it”. I thought, um what? Was I dreaming that she ate the special occasion, Halloween,Valentine’s Day, Christmas, because-it’s-Friday chocolate our coworkers brought in and placed in that fancy bowl they bought at the dollar store. When I asked her to elaborate on her statement I mentioned the documented ties to slavery, child labor and human trafficking, and the YouTube video The Dark Side of Chocolate, she said she “had no idea chocolate was involved in so much trauma and political unrest”.
Pepper went on, “I do eat it, but I don’t crave it. I like it sometimes; hot chocolate, candy bars with other things mixed in, the very occasional Dove piece, alone, but only when it happens to be laying there… I just don’t crave it. If I have any cravings, it would be the occasional hot chocolate, but only because it comforts me and makes me feel like autumn and of course, I am addicted to mochas which are chocolate and coffee together. So in that, I suppose it does play a role. But I still drink regular coffee too”.
“I always think the cultural references to chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm are ridiculous. I’ve always thought to myself what’s the big deal, it’s just chocolate. It’s probably because I hate being stereotyped and the chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm stereotype that society and commercials seem to paint just piss me off because I like to feel like I’m more dimensional than that. It makes women seem weak and easy to manipulate and shallow”.
“If you’re telling me that the chocolate trade perpetuates and supports slavery then I’m quitting it. My husband says I now have chocolate angst, or chocolate rage”.
I was curious as to why Pepper immediately responded with “craving” when I asked about chocolate. I love how she mentioned hot chocolate and frothy drinks and her addiction to mochas. There’s some truth to why we love frothy drinks. In ancient times, drinks were put in vessels and buried with loved ones who have since passed on. It was said that the froth went with the deceased to the afterlife.
Culture also played a role in Pepper’s response when she said she ate chocolate “alone”, as did her anger when she felt the stereotype which reminded me of the article I read by Kristy Leissle, Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Ghanaian women were photographed, not your typical glamour-shot, but were depicted as strong powerful business leaders, not in binary terms. These pictures reflect the necessary change in the narrative. Viewers are able to look beyond the exploitative market and view these women as they should be viewed, strong and powerful leaders in a transnational community. Many of the ads you see in the United States show women eating chocolate, alone, sinfully displayed like in the movie Chocolat, and almost always with some sort of sexual undertone throughout the ad. The ancient Aztecs believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, science wasn’t quite onboard with that theory. Advertisers still link romance with chocolate.
My second interview was with Sunny, 60-something. Sunny said that she “definitely has had a relationship with chocolate throughout her childhood and adulthood and as a mom. Chocolate has been present in celebratory events, holidays & vacations. For holidays, chocolate snowmen & coins were placed in her children’s Christmas stockings, at Easter, chocolate eggs & bunnies were found on Easter egg hunts, and on Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts were given out as gifts. I have such happy Halloween memories as a kid trading candy bars” Sunny said with a beaming smile; kid’s birthday gift bags full of candy, & candy store visits while on vacation. And Hershey kisses, just because! Chocolate is present at happy events, there to cheer up, decrease stress and soothe a foul mood. At this point in my life I have less consumption/purchase of chocolate, children have grown and they are more health conscious and do not consume. I currently eat it more out of stress reduction and comfort while at work”.
“In chatting, this makes me take pause reflecting on the important role chocolate has played in my life. I think of my all-time favorite candy bar….”Sky Bar”! Sadly, I hadn’t chatted with Sunny about the recent Necco bankruptcy. She better stock up on Sky Bars or they will be a literal memory.
For Sunny, chocolate was a staple in her life until recently. It explains why she can’t pass up a Hershey’s Kiss. These sweet kisses are known as a “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty”. Once you consume them you pretty much do so for your entire life. Great marketing, for a kiss that contains only 11% cacao.
Sunny mentioned that chocolate was used a reward for good behavior with her children. More importantly she eats it when stressed and that it provides her comfort. Sunny has fond memories of chocolate, her visits to candy shops while on vacation and the role candy plays during holidays. I could see the melancholy in her eyes when she described her favorite candy bar. I think the melancholy was also related to her children growing up and that the fun role of chocolate was outweighed by her stressful days at work. Chocolate has been known to have therapeutic properties dating back to ancient times.
Raspberry Rose, 20-something was my last interview. “So I’ve never been a HUGE chocolate person. I’ve always preferred sweet candy over chocolate, but I definitely indulge when I’m craving it! Chocolate tends to play the role of a comfort food…there’s always that time of the month where all I want is some chocolate caramels and a glass of wine 🙂 it also has some memories tied to it – for example I remember when I was growing up, my mom and I loved to eat 3 Musketeers bars and none of my friends liked those so on Halloween I would take them from all my friends to give to my mom 🙂 My relationship with chocolate has stayed the same! I definitely eat less of it than I did when I was younger, but that’s the only change”!
My thoughts after chatting with Raspberry Rose was wow, she too used the words craving and comfort and had similar feelings and fond memories of chocolate while growing up.
Statistically, women do crave chocolate more than men. While it’s not the chocolate per se, it’s the ingredients like magnesium and antioxidants you may be lacking that make you crave it. The calming qualities that come from consuming chocolate is because of the increased levels of serotonin #instanthappiness. Culture plays a factor in cravings, it’s a trend here in the United States and frequently talked about that women crave chocolate, one major reason chocolate companies target women.
According to the article Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain by Ashtrid Nehlig, there was one chapter by David Benton devoted to The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. While many people associate themselves with being a chocaholic, there is no scientific evidence to show that chocolate is addictive. It has “drug-like” qualities though and can cheer you up if you’re sad or had a bad day at the office.
All of my friends were shocked that chocolate had ties to slavery, child labor, and human trafficking and were unaware of the cacao process. I am happy to report thatthey are very interested in learning more. Irealized that Ineed to spread the word about the cacao industry and this inspired me to create a podcast which should be on iTunes very soon. It’s about my three favs, Coffee, Chocolate & Cats.
Key words correlate with the research that I found. I do hope that one day the cacao farmers are paid at a more equitable rate, that we help the environment and know more about the bean to bar process, and that we can enjoy our chocolate, complicit-free.
Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139
Emma Robertson (2009): Chocolate, women and empire. A social and cultural history. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.
Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.