Are chocolate companies exploiting workers when they use a values-based approach to promote sales? Although some companies are clearly exploiting its workers, there is a difference between exploitation and smart marketing.
Let’s compare the practices of Hershey’s Chocolate and Divine Chocolate to illustrate this point: The elements of exploitation exist in the practices of Hershey’s because they are advertising falsehoods and treating their workers as the opposite of what they market; Divine Chocolate is the polar opposite of Hershey’s in this manner because they market values that they actually practice, making them smart marketers – not exploiters.
Is Divine Chocolate being exploitative? Exploiting in itself is deriving full use of something or someone unfairly (Alberts). Let’s first define exploiting for our own terms when it comes to thinking about chocolate companies – Exploiting is the act of a chocolate company using an element to maneuver, outrank, increase sales, or brand the company in a certain way without giving fair benefit to the people that they are using to achieve these goals.
Exploiting also has the following connotations when it comes to chocolate companies such as (but not limited to) when it comes to what they do; this will be used as our litmus test to determine whether or not true exploitation is at play:
Workers that are a part of a minority, less powerful group (women, international students, children, members of the economic lower class)
Not fairly paying workers for their work
Misrepresenting benefits to workers
Misrepresenting a situation to consumers
Using workers to promote ideas/situations that are not actually occurring within the company (i.e. the idea of gender equality when women may get paid less than men)
Branding the company in a way that promotes an idea to sell product but using opposite means to get there (i.e. the idea of fair trade but using a farm/manufacturing factory that does not promote fair trade)
*Not giving the same rights and privileges to workers that are granted to consumers (this may come in the form of cacao workers cultivating and being a part of the process of making chocolate but actually never tasting chocolate in its final form themselves; this is an industry norm that happens more often than most consumers would think)
Before we analyze the possibility of Divine Chocolate being exploitative, let’s analyze a company that passes the litmus test for exploitation – Hershey’s Chocolate.
By analyzing their pictures in advertisements and their marketing and comparing it to the real picture of the company, we can certainly see how Hershey’s Chocolate is being exploitative.
Hershey’s history of exploitation goes back essentially since the beginning of the start of the company; the company often used farms and factories that did not pay its workers a fair wage, lowered the standard of living, and took part in the enslaving of workers by providing unsafe conditions (Anti-Given that, one would think that the company would have “changed its tune” so to speak. However, Hershey’s has not done so and has continued to abuse their power as a top-tier chocolate company. It has been proven that Hershey’s is still taking part in these kinds of practices, which has been noted by researchers on international student workers that took part in a foreign exchange program in the United States with Hershey’s as their sponsor. According to the New York Times:
The students, who were earning about $8 an hour, said they were isolated within the plant, rarely finding moments to practice English or socialize with Americans. With little explanation or accounting, the sponsor [Hershey’s] took steep deductions from their paychecks for housing, transportation and insurance that left many of them too little money to afford the tourist wanderings they had eagerly anticipated (Preston).
How can Hershey’s not be an exploiter if international student workers, who are usually unfamiliar with the United States, cannot afford to even travel to the places that they wanted to see; these international workers took the job with Hershey’s in order to site-see in exchange for work, and Hershey’s is essentially taking that element away from them. Further, the promises that Hershey’s made to the students regarding a certain amount of money given to them was understood by the company to be separate from the housing, transportation, and insurance. Clearly, Hershey’s is exploiting the international workers by lowering their wages in order to get labor in the form of the cheapest way possible; these deductions would not even begin to cover a legal and livable way or manner if an American had this job. Thus, Hershey’s found a way to bypass the legal system in order to get cheaper labor – in the form of exploited international students.
Additionally, one cannot even argue that Hershey’s has learned its lesson on this front – despite the media attention, public outcry, and protests from students alike, Hershey’s is still running this program; imagine the kind of exploitation that could be occurring in more vulnerable areas if this kind of company if this type of exploitation is happening in the United States. If the plant in Pennsylvania is seeing these kinds of abuses, it is safe to assume that the exploitation along the Ivory Coast and the Americas are seeing abuses that are hidden away from the public.
Now, let’s take a look at the advertisements in Hershey’s pictures that are quite different than the actual reality of the company. For instance, in Figure 1, we see how Hershey’s is advertising itself as a chocolate that is a part of “shared goodness:”
(Figure 1. Hershey’s Community Archives)
This advertisement, at first glance, may not seem like a direct link to exploitation, but the company is promoting itself as a brand that is values-based. It draws upon the picture of a happy family and talks about how Hershey’s “good business” practices translates into better chocolate for the family, resulting in a “better life and bright future.” However, just from the proven evidence discussed regarding the student workers, the reality of Hershey’s is very different than what it is advertising. Clearly, Hershey’s is branding itself as a business that is “good,” however, it is not actually being a “good” business with values.
This type of misrepresentation marketing is all throughout many of their advertisements throughout the years. For example, Figure 2 tells another compelling story about how Hershey is actually promoting diversity when it is really not:
(Figure 2. Hershey’s Community Archives)
In this picture, children of different ethnicities and races are being shown; Hershey’s is advertising themselves as a company that promotes inclusiveness across all kinds of ethnic and racial divides. For instance, it talks about how it puts different kinds of candies for all kinds of kids. However, the example of exploitation of its international student workers tells a very different kind of a story. How can a brand that claims to be “inclusive” not be inclusive to its international workers? How could a brand that would never be able to legally get away with reductions in paychecks and amenities for American workers be so inclusive if it takes a legal loophole to do so for its international workers? Clearly, it can be seen how just this one type of exploitation is being used in full force, which passes our litmus test on essentially all fronts. It has abused a sensitive group, misrepresents benefits to workers and unfairly promises them lies, and then brands the company in a way that misrepresents the brand to the consumer, whom otherwise would think that Hershey’s has excellent values just from looking at their advertisements; Hershey’s, knowing that most targeted and loyal consumers are not going to search for their name on the Internet every time they want to buy a bag or piece of chocolate, use this to their advantage.
Now let’s compare how Divine Chocolate uses certain advertisements to help attract consumers, but is not being exploited in their efforts, which is the polar opposite of what Hershey’s is doing:
Divine Chocolate, according to Sam Binkley employed a values-based marketing strategy in order to justify their price:
Divine has moved on from selling mainly on the basis of the solidarity value of its product to material use value taste. [Divine Chocolate] still is slightly more expensive as it must, other than the likes of Nestle and Kraft, fulfill its double bottom line of economic and social viability. So while the product is competitive on a level of quality, its price still needs to be justified in terms of justice or solidarity. In order to go beyond this, Divine [needed] to add symbolic use value to its brand, engage in consciously designed commodity aesthetic in order to push into unchartered mass markets (Binkley).
Divine Chocolate, like Hershey’s, desired to push even further for profits for their already-successful companies so it could stay competitive; however, what makes it different than other companies is that it is a specialty type of chocolate in a specialty kind of market. In order to be competitive within those specific markets, Divine Chocolate desired to break and expand into the mass markets by justifying their price to those kinds of consumers. In turn, it created the Women’s Empowerment Campaign, which promotes the equality of women chocolate workers, in order to attract consumers (Divine Chocolate).
But how is Divine Chocolate, unlike Hershey’s, not being exploitative if they are using mass marketing strategies in the form of women’s empowerment campaigns to sell their product? The difference here is that Divine Chocolate is actually doing what they say and promote in terms of their campaign to sell product.
The women’s empowerment campaign is real because it is empowering women in ways that they have never been empowered before. For instance, Divine Chocolate started their journey to change conditions when they gave 44 percent equity to Kuapa Kokoo, the largest shareholder of the company’s assets; this co-operative represents 85,000 farm members across 1,257 villages, and is now the largest co-operative in the world; it is credited with the rise of female cacao ownership of at least 20 percent (Leissle, Wiego). Divine allows women farmers to take a special part in an ownership that no other chocolate company has seen before; clearly, it is empowering women in a way that not only represents them as true stakeholders, but brings positivism to an industry that can be quit laborious, abusive, and depressing for other workers who are not afforded such basic rights. Further, approximately 2 percent of the turnover from Divine is specifically used to promote programs to help farmers gain more skills such as good governance programs, literacy programs, and model farming lessons. Thus, Divine not only gives more than fair equity to its workers (the largest of its kind in history), but invests even more money from their profit to ensure that their workers are gaining life skills to use both inside and outside the farm; by bringing in educational and quality of life programs, Divine is sending an authentic message with real action to the female farmers of Ghana: Divine wants to support you and your work by uplifting you and the community.
By examining the advertising campaigns of Divine Chocolate, we can see a message of solidarity and unity that runs throughout its campaign. For instance, in Figure 3, Divine Chocolate uses a picture of an attractive, healthy-looking female worker to get their message across loud and clear:
(Figure 3. Divine Chocolate)
Many critics may charge that because the woman is attractive, dressed nicely, and looks happy, Divine Chocolate is exploiting its female workers because it promotes “sexuality” and an “untrue side of the chocolate industry”. However, this picture of the woman is an accurate picture because Divine Chocolate helps uplift women to give them the lifestyle that can afford many of these luxuries; with their fair payouts and fair trade program, Divine Chocolate can accurately use this advertisement as an authentic way to attract consumers. When looking at this advertisement, most consumers, on first glance, would think of Divine Chocolate as a chocolate brand that is an “equality treat” – because it is. They further humanize the female chocolate worker, who is actually a co-operative co-owner, by putting her name on the advertisement; the consumer will be led to think that when they buy a bag or piece of Divine Chocolate, the benefit will be going to female workers like Beatrice – and rightfully so because it actually is doing that. That, in itself, is not exploitation but a smart marketing scheme that is a “win-win” for both Divine Chocolate and female workers like Beatrice. All in all, Divine Chocolate has gone out of their way to make this picture a reality – their own values-based version of the chocolate industry.
In Figure 4, we can see how this values-based campaign continues throughout many of their packaging:
(Figure 4. Divine Chocolate)
In their designs, Divine Chocolate presents itself as a champion for women by placing designs that are aesthetically pleasing to many females and placing a message on top of the packaging reading “Empowering Women Cacao Farmers.” Like in the picture above, some critics may think that by putting this packaging out in this manner, Divine Chocolate is exploiting women workers because they are using designs that attract consumers to think that they are helping women workers. However, like stated in the previous discussion, they actually are helping women. Further critics may charge that this is being used for International Women’s Day to “cash in” on the holiday, but that charge only further hones in on the point that Divine Chocolate is not being a champion of women just on Women’s Day but essentially every day.
Just because a company uses an element of their system (which, in this case, is championing the female worker) to sell product does not mean that they are being exploitative. On the other hand, if Divine Chocolate was using the same business practices as Hershey’s and using this campaign, they would then be exploitative. But Divine Chocolate is simply promoting the ideas and concepts that they have actually put into practice.
If these points did not already answer the question of whether or not Divine Chocolate is being exploitative for you, let’s take a direct look back at our litmus test for exploitation
Litmus Test: Is Divine Chocolate partaking in any of the following?
Workers that are a part of a minority, less powerful group (women, international students, children, members of the economic lower class)
Not fairly paying workers for their work – No, workers are granted an excellent amount of equity
Misrepresenting benefits to workers – No, workers are actually being empowered by the company
Misrepresenting a situation to consumers –No, the women’s empowerment campaign is authentic
Using workers to promote ideas/situations that are not actually occurring within the company (i.e. the idea of gender equality when women may get paid less than men) –No, the women’s empowerment campaign is helping women
Branding the company in a way that promotes an idea to sell product but using opposite means to get there (i.e. the idea of fair trade but using a farm/manufacturing factory that does not promote fair trade) –No, ideas like fair trade and empowerment are involved
*Not giving the same rights and privileges to workers that are granted to consumers (this may come in the form of cacao workers cultivating and being a part of the process of making chocolate but actually never tasting chocolate in its final form themselves; this is an industry norm that happens more often than most consumers would think) –No, workers are a part of the brand name but also benefiting from the marketing taking place since they get a higher amount of equity, which equals and translates into improved working conditions and lifestyles
Clearly, unlike Hershey’s, Divine Chocolate does not pass the litmus test for exploitation; the Women’s Empowerment Campaign is a real campaign, which Divine Chocolate uses for smart marketing and true empowerment.
Alberts, Heike. “Using Cocoa and Chocolate to Teach Human Geography.” Journal of Geography, 2010.
Binkley, Sam. “Cultural Studies and Anti-Consumerism.” New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
Case Study: Women Cocoa Farmers in Ghana. Wiego. <http://www.wiego.org/wiego/case-study-women-cocoa-farmers-ghana>
Divine Chocolate. <http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/>
Hershey’s Community Archives. <http://blog.hersheyarchives.org/category/hershey-chocolate/marketing/>
Leissle, Kristie. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Studies, 2012.
Preston, Julia. “Pleas Unheeded as Student’s U.S. Jobs Soured.” New York Times, 2011.
The Cocoa Industry in West Africa. Anti-Slavery International, 2004. <http://www.antislavery.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/1_cocoa_report_2004.pdf>