Moneda, Marx, and Mars: Chocolate’s violent role in historical and modern capital markets
Chocolate: sweet and saccharine. We typically associate this delectable treat with ideas of happiness and warmth. Valentine’s Day is a prime example, where chocolate is bought to represent the depth of one’s love for another. However, this lovely food—despite its unassuming appearance in the modern-day consumer market—has also historically been the catalyst for capitalist violence, a behavior that has continued to this very day. Chocolate cultivation has contributed greatly to the perpetuation of elitist abuse of labor in capitalist markets for close to 500 years. This blog aims to quickly analyze such a phenomenon in a Marxist lens, eventually coming to a brief discussion as to the potential solutions to such violence today.
First, chocolate’s use as currency in the Izalcos region of colonial Guatemala is a prime example of its historical role in the Marxist physical and mental abuse of the working class. This Mesoamerican region played host to one of the first—and most violent—uses of the Spanish labor encomienda system to control cacao production and distribution. The Spanish capitalist elites developed a complex network of militaristic control over native towns and mandated the usurpation of communal Nahua land for private purposes. Many natives were put to work without pay. Many were killed. Such a violent system of capital accumulation and labor abuse was a stark grab for monetary profits in the creation of such money itself: cacao, as it could be exchanged with natives for goods and services, was extremely valuable. Marx himself might argue that this above described class struggle would not have occurred without the presence of cacao as money in the first place. Money itself is the first appearance of capital in Marxist thought. Therefore, cacao—as currency—was both the theoretical and physical basis behind classist violence in colonial Guatemala.
Second, chocolate—or, more specifically, sugar—contributed to the spread of chattel slavery throughout the Americas in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Sugar was the main crop produced on Caribbean plantations during this time period. Islands were covered in cane fields, the monotony of monoculture only broken by the occasional refinery mill. Although virtually all of the monetary spoils from these large-scale agricultural efforts went to European owners, the gruesome work was done by African slaves. These workers were exploited beyond compare, often pushed to death in the matter of months, especially in Cuba and Brazil. Brazilian owners didn’t care for longevity: it was often the financially sensible decision to buy another slave than care for one that is sick or injured. Cuban slave owners often had to quell instances of violence or insubordination, as their African slaves learned to express their humanity in the only way possible—classist struggle. Understandably, a large quantity of this sugar was used in the production of European chocolate, a stark catalyst in the Marxist idea of elitist abuse of human labor for profit. Arguably, this sugar production was also the foundation for the Industrial Revolution itself.
Today, chocolate’s role in the Marxist struggle of the working class against the exploitative efforts of the elite in capital markets continues. In Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, cacao farmers make less than a dollar a day. Their labor is constantly squeezed by large multinational confectionaries like Cadbury, Nestle, and Mars. In addition, estimates from the United States Department of Labor claim that more than two million children engage in hazardous work on cocoa farms in the above-mentioned African countries. According to reports from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, “dangerous conditions on these farms that may impact children’s health, access to education, and future livelihoods include spraying pesticides, lifting heavy loads, burning fields, and using sharp tools.” This is, rather obviously, a Marx-esque exploitation of labor for the purposes of profit and elite capital accumulation.
As more than 60% of the world’s cocoa is produced in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, it is imperative that these awful practices are stopped. We cannot morally stand by and allow such atrocities to occur. One promising avenue to remedy the chocolate industry’s ongoing problem with labor exploitation is the adoption of fair-trade ideals. According to Caitlin McGonnigal in her paper “Karl Marx and the Fair-Trade Chocolate Industry in the Ivory Coast”, working towards fair trade ideals can be described as an attempt towards a Marxist economic ideal. The eradication of child labor, the preservation of the environment, and the fair payment of workers would surely move the chocolate industry towards a Marxist idea of goodness and make the trade vastly more humane.
Understandably, cacao has played a large role in the elitist exploitation of labor. As currency, it promoted violence in colonial Mesoamerica. As a vessel for sugar, it spearheaded the spread of chattel slavery throughout the Caribbean in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Today, it is the mechanism by which millions of families are exploited for multinational corporate gain. However, with the adoption of free trade ideals, the industry may soon finally be able to put its long-standing violent practices to rest. Chocolate is dark. Chocolate is bitter. However, despite such qualities, it is still sweet. Let’s hope those in charge of cocoa’s future embrace such sweetness, eradicating the unpleasant tastes of the current industry in the pursuit of something better.
The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.
Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.
Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.
Types of Chocolate in the Tasting
(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.
(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.
(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.
(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.
Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.
(1) Direct Trade:
Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
Easy-to-read font that pops out
(2) Fair Trade:
Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso
Observations of Packaging:
“Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)
Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
Observations of Packaging:
“Typical coffee colors”
Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)
Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate
Observations of Packaging:
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.
The history of chocolate stretches back thousands of years in time to the first time that humans entered came to North America and discovered the cacao plant. The history of the chocolate industry is much shorter, but even more complex. From its inception, the chocolate industry has been mired in dubious practices, ethical violations, and questionable labor practices that are harmful to the farmers who harvest cacao and the environment writ large. Many of the worst practices have continued into modern times, and even intensified as the industry struggles to meet never-ending global demand.
The fair trade movement seeks to change things by giving consumers more information about how their chocolate was produced to spur companies to improve their practices. The question many are asking now is simple: will it be enough to undo centuries of malpractice? Is the future of chocolate simply the past — or something worse? Or can people continue to love and eat their favorite treat, now without guilt? In this blog post, I will explore these questions and examine the impact fair trade chocolate has had so far.
A History Dipped in Controversy
For many centuries chocolate product was inextricable with chattel slavery in North and Central America, as Spanish colonizers imported slaves to run their cacao plantations and exported the harvests back to Europe. Then, as technological innovations at the turn of the 19th century increased chocolate demand to all time highs amongst Western consumers, the production base of chocolate shifted to Western Africa and the entire industry boomed as the economy began to globalize. Today most people assume that this violent and bloody history of chocolate is behind the industry that creates so much love out of brands like Hersheys or Nestle. However, modern chocolate production continues to have many negative effects on the farmers in Western Africa who are often overworked and underpaid. Worse, child labor and forced labor remain common practices, constraining many from opportunity for social mobility in those societies.
While commercial chocolate production stretches back to the time of Cortes, the chocolate industry as most people know it today really began to form in the late 1800’s. Glenn Brenner’s book, The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars, chronicles the rise of now household names in the chocolate industry like Mars Bars or Hershey’s Kisses. The founders of these companies capitalized on new technology and innovations in candy to produce hallmark products still eaten today (Glenn 2000). However, as these chocolate startups scaled into multinational brands, they strained the suppliers of cacao beans needed to make the delicious treats.
Since the establishment of Hershey and Mars, the chocolate industry has developed a global supply chain to sustain itself. A vast network of middlemen and trading organizations separate the Hershey Bar sitting in your local CVS from the raw materials that make it up. These layers of providers allow Hershey’s and other chocolate giants to purchase vast quantities of chocolate such that they can satisfy the insatiable demand of the public. The average American eats 10 pounds of chocolate each year, much of it from relative cheap candies picked up at the grocery store.
Global supply chains keep prices cheap, but they have another important benefit for chocolate companies: obfuscation. Because there are so many businesses between Hershey’s and the farmers who harvest cacao beans, Hershey’s has plausible deniability about their involvement in practices like child labor. Because of this, it can be tough for consumers to know where their chocolate has come from — and who suffered to get it to their door. It was this situation that spurred the creation of the Fair Trade Movement in the 1990s.
The Fair Trade Movement
The Fair Trade Movement started with a simple, yet incredibly ambitious goal: reverse the current fortunes of the independent farmers who harvest cacao in Western Africa and South America. Currently these farmers are probably in the lowest position in the entire totem pole of the cacao supply chain. Corrupt government bureaucracies and trading cartels sit above them and seek to siphon off as much of the profit as possible. In addition, competition can lead to a race-to-the-bottom situation, where less scrupulous farming operations who use slave and child labor in conjunction drive prices down and make it harder for ethical farmers. The fair trade movement, since its inception in the 90’s, has sought to change this by increasing transparency into the industry and helping farmers organize for better conditions
The fair trade movement is fundamentally economic in its ideology. Its response to global capitalism is to work within the system as a reformer, not outside it as a revolutionary. The basic principle the movement operates under is actually the same of the large chocolate companies that it is opposed to in so many ways: The Customer is Always Right. The fair trade movement seeks to educate consumers on how exactly the global chocolate industry works, and provide choices to consciously support farm practices that are fair to workers and also sustainable for the environment. Consumers, the theory goes, will aim to support these ethical practices out of a sense of moral duty, same as why people are altrusitic at all.
The fair trade movement in chocolate is emblematic of a larger debate around capitalism being waged in academia, media, and politics. In the United States, for the first time since Eugene Debs in the 1910s, candidates who openly identify as socialist are running for the office of president, such as Bernie Sanders. Many are starting to question whether capatalism can support ethical labor practices at all. Fair trade movements rely on consumer interest in supporting ethical practices, and there is not exactly a large base of evidence that that is the case.
There are numerous injustices that persist in our supply chains. from factory farming, to greenhouse gas emissions, to human trafficking. None of these causes are conspiracy theories: there is plenty of information public about these problems, and most are tacitly endorsed by governments and institutions. Consumers theoretically could revolt against them: if everyone tomorrow decided to not eat any meat if it came from a factory farm, then factory farming would soon cease to exist.
And yet, it seems vanishingly unlikely that consumers would revolt like this. In fact the trend has to been towards both increased meat consumption and increased factory farming to meet this demand. Consumers, in many ways, have driven these labor practices that have driven price down so far, and the same consumers have benefited tremendously from this with low prices for food. It seems dubious that consumer interest will be the tool to effect change in the same way you can’t dig yourself out of a hole with the shovel that was used to dig the hole.
Another important factor in evaluating the dilemma of the fair trade movement is the problematic racial connotations of the modern chocolate industry. Chocolate advertisements and branding play on colonialist stereotypes of Africans as either “dangerous” or “exotic” (Leissle 2013). These racist stereotypes translate into misguided and incorrect assumptions made by western consumers about the condition of the cacao farmers. The stereotypes can lead to a dehumanization of the African workers and a repudiation of their struggle. Considering the reliance the Fair Trade Movement has on the sentiment of western, mostly white, consumers, these racist dynamics are concerning for the case that the Fair Trade movement has a decent shot at catalyzing real change.
The fair trade movement has grown from its origins to becoming a real part of the industry. Fair trade labels tell consumers in countries like the United States whether different chocolate bars and products were grown in sustainable and humane conditions. Consumers are increasingly aware of unethical practices, and now have options for purchasing products that are good for the world — if they are willing to pay a premium. In the next section, I will explore the impact the Fair Trade movement has had on the chocolate industry, and what the future looks like for chocolate growers and eaters
Fair Trade’s Impact
The impact of the Fair Trade movement on global chocolate consumption is complicated and uncertain. On one hand, there has been impressive growth in the share of chocolate consumption that comes from Fair Trade origins — from a little over 200 millions euros at the turn of the century, to five times that only 6 years later.
However the total chocolate industry is humungous, and the majority of chocolate continues to come from non-fair trade origins. A study of Belgian chocolate consumers found evidence that only a relatively small minority of the population is willing to pay the premium for fair trade chocolate. Belgium is an especially interesting country to study as it is 1) relatively wealthy, with a high GDP per capita 2) a huge consumer of chocolate, both imported into the country and made natively in the country. Surveys of Belgians show that the highest premium on average they are willing to pay for Fair Trade chocolate is 10%, when in reality the premium is 27%. It turns out that only 10% of Belgians are willing to pay 27% more for chocolate in exchange for ethically grown chocolate. 10% market share is enough for Fair Trade chocolate to have a presence in the economy, but not enough to accomplish the movements ambitious goals of abolition of child labor and improved worker prosperity in the supply chain.
Evidence from the related fair trade coffee movement backs this conclusion up. In Fair trade slippages and Vietnam gaps: the ideological fantasies of fair trade coffee, Gavin Fridell makes a compelling argument that the fair trade movement is as much about social signaling as it is about ethical consumerisms. Specifically, the fair trade movement often focuses more on promoting ideas and fantasies than it does improving the lives of workers. Combine these limitations of western movements in truly empowering African communities with the already marginalized place it has with consumer’s interests and it becomes obvious that the Fair Trade movement is fundamentally limited (Fridell 2014).
The global chocolate industry is humungous and loved by consumers across the world. People love eating chocolate, and love getting it at low prices. However, those low prices don’t come without cost: farmers in South America and Western Africa often have to resort to poor working conditions and exploiting workers. Forced and child labor are commonplace and loosely regulated. Executives and shareholders of western chocolate companies get rich off of chocolate demand, but it does not trickle down to all the workers who make it possible for our candy stores to be lined wall to wall with solid bricks of delicious chocolate.
The Fair Trade movement is a step in the right direction, bravely running counter to the prevailing trend of soulless capitalism and globalism that has pervaded society over the past 8 decades. However, empirical evidence shows that it is insufficient as a solution to problem of ethics in supply chains. The mechanism the movement relies on, moving consumer sentiment through education, is not powerful enough to truly pivot the market. Other solutions must be explored by activists who want to truly improve the social justice of chocolate. Whether that is new technology or new economic structures, more radical actions are needed to effect real change.
Brenner Joël Glenn. The Emperors of Chocolate: inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars. Broadway Books, 2000.
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.
Chocolate is a product whose production is too often ambiguous and somewhat unethical. It is never one’s intention to consume a product made through an unethical venue unless one is an especially evil and demented person whose goal is to exploit another for their own satisfaction. Sometimes, a delicious bite of chocolate comes with an unknown consequence. Ever since the public has become more aware of the exploitative process of child labor, slavery, and unfair pay that sometimes accompanies making chocolate, some companies have risen to the forefront of responsible chocolate by ensuring their process does not take advantage of anyone and by using the bean to bar tactic. Alter Eco is one of these companies who makes responsible bean to bar chocolate. They directly source 100 percent of their products from small scale farmers. They responsibly pay their farmers through the fair trade act and even provide their farmers with assistance that goes beyond fair trade pricing. They ensure their chocolate is quality by producing it in a controlled environment so it can be delivered to one’s door guilt free.
To understand why Alter Eco is such a responsible and rare company in the chocolate business, one must understand the meaning of bean to bar and why it is so important in today’s chocolate making climate. Bean to bar is a simple concept but seems to not be as prevalent as it should be in the chocolate industry. Bean to bar refers to a model of trade in which the company making the chocolate controls every aspect in the production of the chocolate itself.(1) This means that the company does not use middlemen when buying cacao, and controls where and how the chocolate is made up until the product is finished.(2) A common misconception with bean to bar is that it is conflated with the chocolate being artisan high quality chocolate. Many bean to bar chocolates are in fact high quality artisan chocolate still, including Alter Eco’s fine chocolates. A common misconception with bean to bar is that it is conflated with the chocolate being artisan high quality chocolate.(3)Many bean to bar chocolates are in fact high quality artisan chocolate still, including Alter Eco’s fine chocolates.
Problems plaguing the chocolate industry are extremely worrisome for the international community. Chocolate is too often not a victimless product, and child labor that breaks international law such as close to 1.8 million children who are subject to the worst forms of child labor on the Ivory Coast alone is used to produce the cacao that is consumed in chocolate bars.(4)The amount of child laborers being used is much higher than acceptable, although this problem is much more complicated than one might think. A lot of families depend on their children to help them with bringing in the cacao beans in farming season, but this also is not considered the worst form of child labor. (5)Slavery was the foundation of cacao production from its inception from the encomienda system up to the triangular trade system, and has not fully left the cacao production industry.(6) From the Cadbury case after slavery was abolished in West Africa where the Cadbury company continually bought cacao from known slave using farms to the forms of child slavery and slavery in the Ivory coast of Africa, slavery has plagued cacao production. (7)Too often farmers are forced to sell to middlemen for below the fair trade price which is a set price that has been adopted by some chocolate companies they have agreed to pay cacao farmers. (8) According to Green America’s chocolate scorecard, Mars, Nestle, and Hershey do not purchase sustainable cacao from farmers- sustainable meaning cacao is sold at a price at which the farmers can live off of- at a rate of 100%. In fact, Mars only purchases 50% certified cacao, Hershey checks in at around 70%, and Nestle at 42%.(9)This means that three of the top chocolate producers are not paying their cacao producers prices that they can even live off of.(10) This is an atrocity that Alter Eco is trying to address in their bean to bar process.
Alter Eco directly deals with their cacao farmers unlike many bigger corporations such as the Mars company who only used 50% certified cacao in 2017, and was given a C grade in the Chocolate scorecard which grades companies on where they get their cacao from, how much of it is certified and sustainable for farmers, and the programs that company has in place to help improve the cacao farmers situations.(17)Alter Eco received an A grade on this.(18) Alter Eco values their relationships with their small farm farmers, and they make it possible for small-scale, farmer owned cooperatives to be able to invest their profits directly into improving the quality of life and the quality of products in their communities.(19)All of Alter Eco’s products are 100% fair trade certified, which means that all of their farmers are paid fairly for their cacao and other products being bought from them.(20) This price ensures sustainable production and living conditions for the farmers and their families, and comes with a premium to help support the growth of cooperatives in the community.(21)This is much different than other larger chocolate corporations. These larger corporations have more capital and influence, yet do not wield it as well as Alter Eco does. For example, many larger companies buy cheap cacao through middlemen rather than directly going to the source like Alter Eco.(22) This is unsustainable cacao and Green America does a good job of measuring just how much sustainable cacao larger corporations purchase- not a lot. This is irresponsible on the part of these larger companies because of the potential of good they could do for the farmers- who on average are three times their yearly income in debt- if they just tried to be more conscious of social issues surrounding cacao production and chocolate production as Alter Eco is.
Not only does Alter Eco buy directly from small farmers at fair trade prices, but they provide assistance to their farmers past just a simple economic deal. Alter Eco supports programs that train members on the farms with programs ranging from agricultural workshops all the way to entrepreneurial workshops and education workshops for the children of the farmers. This is a long way from buying cacao from farms that employ children for little to no pay or even use child slavery.(23)They also provide medical exams for the farmers and their families, help to provide reforestation in the regions in which they buy chocolate, and even provide the farmers and their families with new stoves to combat the poorly ventilated stoves that a lot of cacao farmers typically have in their homes.(24)They also provide financial loans to their farmers if required which helps the farmers -who are often struggling financially- to be able to provide for their families in seasons that do not produce as much cacao as they might have hoped for.(25)Alter Eco clearly is socially responsible and has the people, not the payout on their mind as they go about buying their cacao beans straight from the source. This is why they received the high mark of an A from one of the most reputable social justice watchdogs in the food industry in Green America.
Once Alter Eco pays a Fair Trade price for their cacao that they buy directly from farmers that they have relationships with, they leave the beans to ferment for a week in a wooden crate.(26) This allows for the cacao’s pulp to liquify and for complex chemical changes in the bean itself to take place to enhance the flavor of the cacao. Once this process is finished, the beans are laid out under the sun until their moisture content reaches approximately seven percent. This can take up to three weeks to complete. Once the beans are dried, they are shipped to Alter Eco’s chocolate manufacturer in Switzerland.(27) When the beans arrive to Switzerland, they are roasted for hours to which brings out the flavor of the bean, and then the roasted beans are broken down and their skins are taken off. (28) These broken down pieces of cacao are known as nibs.(29)The nibs then are put under a heavy stone and ground down.(30) This process brings out cocoa butter from the beans and leaves the remaining cocoa mass. (31)The cocoa butter and cocoa mass are then put into the conching process. This process consists of the cocoa products being slowly mixed into other ingredients while slowly being heated throughout the conching process.(32) This process takes multiple hours, and the longer the cacao and other ingredients are conched, the better and smoother the chocolate will be.(33)Once the conching process is done, the chocolate is molded and packaged to be sent out for chocolatiers to enjoy.
Bean to bar chocolate is often one of the most socially responsible ways to make chocolate, especially when Alter Eco does it. There are plenty of issues in the chocolate industry that can not be fixed all at once, but Alter Eco is doing everything they can to ensure that they are making a difference in an industry packed with powerful corporations who should be more socially responsible than they are. The chocolate industry is plagued with child labor and modern day slavery that dehumanizes people. Farmers are not paid as well Alter Eco buys straight from the farmers of their cacao at a sustainable price for the farmers 100% through fair trade, so the farmers can have an income that will support their family year round, even in down years. Not only do they pay sustainable prices, but they go the extra mile to ensure that the farmer’s families are healthy, ensure their equipment is safe, loan extra money if they need, and have outreach programs to advance the lives of the farmers’ families and improve the quality of their products. They go above and beyond for their farmers because Alter Eco believes in contributing more into the world than they get out of it. From purchasing the beans from farmers who they have a relationship with up until the cacao is sent to Switzerland to be made into fine chocolate, Alter Eco is the premier responsible chocolate making bean to bar company. They provide a blueprint for what larger companies ought to be doing and contribute to the community of chocolate by making the most responsible bean to bar chocolate in the world.
Chocolate as a consumable commodity dates back all the way to 1500 B.C. when the Olmec civilization discovered the beans that would go on to become one of the most sought-after foods in the world. The history of the cacao industry is as rich as its products taste. However, it also possesses a dark past ― one that is rooted in grave issues, such as child labor, unfair trade, and extremely harmful side effects. As chocolate’s popularity has continued to grow in the 21st century, assisted by commercial advertisements and more widespread manufacturing, new companies are entering the market and attempting to combat the industry’s problems. While these companies tend to be smaller and produce more expensive chocolate, they provide hope for the future of the chocolate industry.
The Unsettling History of the Cacao Industry
Slavery is a historical scourge that has unfortunately played a significant role in the chocolate industry. Institutionalized slavery was widespread all throughout the global continents, from the Spanish encomienda system, where conquerors demanded tribute and forced labor from the indigenous inhabitants, to the system of chattel slavery, in which people were treated as the personal property of an owner and were bought and sold as commodities during the transatlantic slave trade (Martin, 2019). The slaves were forced to work under intense heat, sometimes for 18 hours a day, in conditions that were so extreme that the life expectancy for slaves brought to the Caribbean and Brazil was only seven to eight years upon arrival. A key example of post-abolition slave labor occurred in West Africa in São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese colony that produces chocolate for the Cadbury Chocolate company. In 1905, Reporter Henry Nevinson uncovered and publicly exposed the exploitation of slaves, however, it wasn’t until a decade later that major British companies formally boycotted the cocoa (Martin, 2019). Slavery in West Africa was utterly inhumane ― people were being traded for guns and other commodities and many died on the ships before making it to their future destination (Satre, 2005)
Child labor has also been at the forefront of the immoral issues that plague the chocolate industry. Currently, 2.3 million children are working in the cocoa fields of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire (“Slave Free Chocolate,” n.d.). Although the majority of these children are working for their family plantations, they are doing so without much choice and many without receiving an education ― in both Ghana and the Ivory Coast, 40 percent of children aged 5 to 17 cannot read or write a single sentence (Ryan, 2011). A 2007 report revealed that 15,000 children worked in conditions of forced labor picking beans in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. These individuals were trafficked from extremely poor countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso, and worked on some of the 1.5 million small cocoa farms in West Africa (Aaronson, 2007). In one case study, Carol Off calls attention to the trafficking that occurs from Mali to the Ivory Coast. These children are living in brutal, harsh conditions ― working countless hours in extremely humid heat, toiling on the farms with not even the slightest understanding of the concept of chocolate (Off, 2008). As Off notes, “Everyone looks tired and hungry” because these children are underfed and overworked (Off, 2008). She writes that, “The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the youngest people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some likely effects of physical abuse” (Off, 2008). Despite the tireless efforts of advocates like Diplomat Abdoulaye Macko, who works against the government to try to bring hundreds of children in the Ivory Coast to safety (Off, 2008), child labor is still common worldwide and must be eliminated.
The United States has attempted to address this issue by enacting legislation that would reduce the occurrence of child labor. Under the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, the U.S. Customs Service is supposed to refuse entry to any goods manufactured using forced labor (Aaronson, 2007). However, this government agency very rarely investigates or interdicts such products (Aaronson, 2007). While this legislative act may appear to be beneficial on paper, if it is not enforced, then it might as well not exist.
In 2001, cocoa producers, traders, suppliers, governments, unions, and civil-society groups agreed to a solution spearheaded by Congressmen Eliot Engel, who introduced a legislative amendment to fund the development of a “No child slavery” label for chocolate products sold in the United States. Tom Harkin, a Senator from Iowa, later signed on to support the amendment (Harkin Engel Protocol, n.d.). The Harkin-Engel Protocol was created to ensure that the growing and processing of cocoa beans was done in a manner that complies with the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which pledges to abolish child labor and adult forced labor on cocoa farms in West Africa (Harkin Engel Protocol, n.d.). The protocol was signed by the eight largest chocolate companies, two U.S. Senators, one U.S. congressman, the Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, and a few NGO and industry alliance representatives (Harkin Engel Protocol, n.d.).
Yet, five years after the protocol was passed, children were still picking cacao in unsafe and unjust conditions. In 2006, BBC reporter Humphrey Hawksley conducted an in-depth investigation of the conditions of cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast and found little evidence that industry efforts were changing longstanding farm conditions (Aaronson, 2007). He concluded, “No one is in charge of the efforts put in place under the Cocoa Protocol. There’s no place the buck stops. In the cocoa belt, it’s only a short drive to find children working with machetes amid some of the worst poverty anywhere in the world” (Aaronson, 2007). This demonstrates the ineffective nature of a sector-specific strategy in addressing the broader cultural, social, and economic factors in West Africa that are responsible for child labor.
The industry’s promise to reduce child labor in the Ivory Coast and Ghana by 70%, in response to the 2001 protocol, had not been met by the 2015 target date, so the deadline was simply extended to 2020 (“Behind a bittersweet industry,” 2016). Continuously pushing back the deadline to experience a feeling of accomplishment when met is not a viable solution when millions of West African children are still doing the dangerous and physically taxing work of harvesting cocoa. The solution lies in acting now.
Slavery and child labor are not the only issues that haunt the chocolate industry. Fair trade is a labeling initiative aimed at improving the lives of the poor in developing countries by offering better terms to producers and helping them to organize (Dragusanu, Giovannucci, & Nunn, 2014). This movement creates price levels that provide a livable wage for producers that and establishes a price floor which ensures a minimum price for which a Fair Trade-certified product can be sold to a Fair Trade buyer (Dragusanu, Giovannucci, & Nunn, 2014). With Fair Trade regulations, certain harmful chemicals are prohibited for Fair Trade production, helping to eliminate the use of less-desirable agrochemicals and replacing them with natural biological methods (Dragusanu, Giovannucci, & Nunn, 2014). This approach creates greater economic stability, as illustrated through a sample of 228 coffee farmers from Nicaragua. Researcher Christopher Bacon examined this population and found that the Fair Trade farmers report being less concerned about losing their farms in the coming year than conventional farmers (Bacon, 2005).
It is evident that implementing Fair Trade will work towards rebuilding the chocolate industry’s ethical foundation, however this method has not been widely integrated into societies where chocolate is grown, leaving many farmers with barely enough money to get by and leaving the environment in ruins. As of 2010, there were 62 cocoa-growing cooperatives in the U.S. Fair Trade system. That year, the number of Fair Trade- certified cocoa products in the U.S. increased by 67 percent from 2009 (De Neve, Peter, Pratt, & Wood, 2008). However, this is still a very small percentage of the total market for cocoa product, meaning that the vast majority of companies are still not employing fair trade practices. A similar trend is evident in the coffee industry ― Fair Trade-certified coffee exports were only 1.8 percent of global exports in 2009 (Dragusanu, Giovannucci, & Nunn, 2014). In order to improve these sales, it is essential that companies not only enact change, but that the general population be educated on what Fair Trade policies entail so that they can be conscious of buying these products in stores. Only 34% of Americans even understand what the concept of Fair Trade requires (De Neve, Peter, Pratt, & Wood, 2008). Without a greater public awareness, Fair Trade policies will not be adopted by corporate chocolate companies that care more about their profits than the ethics of their product production. A global movement advocating for the payment of higher prices to exporters and improved social and environmental standards, cannot succeed if people are completely unaware of this initiative.
While the primary problem of Fair Trade is that it is not practiced widely enough, there are issues with the concept of Fair Trade itself. U.S. products which have as little as 11 percent of Fair Trade-produced chocolate can be labeled as Fair Trade chocolate (Brown, 2013). This allows larger companies that meet the minimum requirement to receive the Fair Trade label with a limited investment and without necessarily supporting the moral objectives associated with producing chocolate in this manner. Maintaining such a low minimum requirement shifts the focus towards branding and detracts from the value that comes with raising salaries for farmers and establishing more beneficial environmental regulations. One of the major upsides to the chocolate industry is that this highly-sought-after commodity is affordable to all. However, Fair Trade chocolate is more expensive to sell, thus creating a higher financial decision for consumers. Although Fair Trade does not solve all of the problems within the chocolate industry, it is a step in the right direction.
The Solution: Taza Chocolate
Taza Chocolate was founded by Alex Whitmore after he took his first bite of stone ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico (“About Taza,” n.d.). Whitmore was so inspired by the rustic intensity of the flavor that he decided to create a chocolate factory in his hometown of Somerville, Massachusetts (“About Taza,” n.d.). In 2005, he officially launched the Taza Chocolate company with his wife, Kathleen Fulton. The two were the first chocolate makers to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification Program (“About Taza,” n.d.), meaning that the company maintains direct relationships with their cacao farmers and pays a premium above the Fair Trade price, ensuring that these workers are treated with the utmost respect, thanked for their efforts, and receive a living wage. Through the direct trade approach, Taza Chocolate is committed to establishing real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices (“Taza Direct Trade,” n.d.). They pledge to visit their partners in Pisa, Haiti; Oko Caribe, Dominican Republic; Finca Elvesia, Dominican Republic; Alto Beni Cacao Co., Bolivia every year (verified through E-tickets), pay a price premium of at least 500 USD per metric ton above the market price for their partners’ cacao beans, source the highest quality beans (defined by having at least a 75 percent fermentation rate and dried to 7 percent moisture or less), and work exclusively with USDA Certified Organic cacao farms (“Taza Direct Trade,” n.d.).
Taza not only pledges to carry out these actions, but it also publishes an annual transparency report to provide proof. This pioneering company works to address all of the unethical issues plaguing the chocolate industry ― there is no child labor, the process of harvesting chocolate does not harm the environment, farmers are guaranteed livable salaries, and growing partners are visited at least once a year to establish a strong relationship. As a result of publishing the first transparency report back in 2012, other companies, such as Dandelion Chocolate and Askinosie chocolate, decided to follow suit and implemented this same production method. Madecasse Chocolate decided to take it a step further and adopted a direct trade program in 2016 in addition to publishing annual transparency reports (“Taza Direct Trade,” n.d.). Hopefully, in the years to come, more companies will feel pressured to release these reports and guarantee that they are using exclusively ethical practices throughout the entire chocolate manufacturing chain. Taza’s most recent report from 2018 can be found here. The company also released a visual summary of the current year’s progress, so visitors to their website can immediately begin to understand how Taza is transforming the chocolate industry. This chart is last year’s summary:
As the report indicates, Taza Chocolate makes a tremendous effort to guarantee a strong relationship with their growing partners. This company works to connect all aspects of the supply chain and eliminates all disconnect between producers and manufacturers. Gilbert Gonzales, who visited the farm in Pisa, expresses that “Our objective in getting the cocoa is to create a different dynamic in the chain. The relationship with the farmers is a direct one. We go to the farmers, we talk to them.” Taza released a video of their sourcing in Haiti in which the employees are seen spending significant time with their growing partners and allowing them to try the finished product. The Taza visitors will spend 15 hours a day in the field meeting with their partners in an attempt to make “the northern part of Haiti smile more by seeing their success and being able to send their children to school.”
Taza Chocolate strives to ensure that the company never partakes in slavery or child labor and maintain its core value of developing a strong relationship with its farmers and operating on the most ethical grounds.
Big 5 Who? Taza Reigns Victorious
If someone were asked to name a chocolate brand, they would probably only be able to recall those that control the majority of the industry’s revenues ― Mars, Nestlé, Hersheys, Mondelez, or Ferrero. Although these companies might be successful with their marketing and financial strategies, they lack high ethical standards. Companies, including Nestlé, Hershey, Cargill, ADM, and Barry Callebout, have admitted to buying cacao beans from fields that utilize child labor, and they vowed to remedy the solution. Unfortunately, very little has changed in the 14 years since these companies agreed to no longer exploit children for their labor (“Slave Free Chocolate,” n.d.).
Some of the Big 5 chocolate companies have done research to determine if their products are ethically sourced and produced. Nestlé found that more than 3,000 children are working on the cocoa farms that produce its chocolate (Wilk, 2018). Mars has also acknowledged the practice of child labor in the harvesting of its chocolate and stated that by 2020, none of its chocolate will be produced using child labor (Wilk, 2018). This claim feels like an empty promise and, given the history of these companies extending deadlines because they couldn’t be met, I would not be surprised if Mars pushes back the deadline to a later year. However, one redeeming quality of this company is its effort to implement Fair Trade practices. In January of 2010, Kit Kat converted its bar to use Fair-Trade certified cocoa (Pride, 2012). Hopefully, Mars can begin to replicate this practice across its product lines and work towards earning all of its offerings the Fair Trade label.
The Hershey Chocolate Company is the leading chocolate manufacturer in North America, controlling 42 percent of the U.S. chocolate market and generating more than $6 billion in revenues. Despite the undeniable success of this company, Hershey’s falls into the trap of needlessly exploiting children for its benefits. In 2011, nearly two million children, including an estimated 819,921 in the Ivory Coast and 997,357 in Ghana, worked illegally on cocoa farms (Manza, 2014). Only five to ten percent of these children actually worked for any pay and the rest were forced to assist with their families’ farms (Manza, 2014). Similar to Mars, Hershey’s pledged in 2012 to use only 100 percent Fair Trade-certified cocoa by 2020 (Nieburg, 2012), but its current and previous practices provide little indication that this will transform into a reality. Hershey’s was one of the companies that refused to participate in the São Tomé and Príncipe boycott and continues to take advantage of child labor. However, reducing child labor and implementing serious reforms in West Africa is more complicated than it appears on the surface. Farmers describe the efforts of these larger companies to improve the ethics of the chocolate industry as more akin to intimidation than to education. The farmers don’t understand that the exploitation of their labor is wrong and “People are worried that America will not buy our cocoa anymore,” says Julien Kra Yau, the director of a farmers’ cooperative in Thoui (Parenti, 2008). Getting the larger companies on board and enabling them to turn to smaller companies, such as Taza Chocolate, for guidance is crucial in bringing about a full reformation of the chocolate industry within the next few decades.
Getting up Close and Personal with Taza:
While researching the strengths of Taza in contrast to the flaws of the chocolate industry as a whole is effective in formulating a complete ethnographic analysis of this company, I decided to take it a step further and experience Taza first hand. My roommate’s parents had shipped a selection of Taza chocolate as a consolation for not being able to fit this class into her schedule, and I tried it myself. As someone who typically prefers milk chocolate that is high in sugar, I actually enjoyed the richness of the Mexican dark chocolate. Its smooth texture enhanced my experience and the chocolate left a pleasant aftertaste in my mouth. After spotting Taza Chocolate at a bagel shop in Ithaca a few weeks ago, I also started to recognize that Taza Chocolate is extremely accessible and gathered a brief collection of photos of Taza in various locations.
I reached out to the company via email and had a brief exchange with Jesse Last, the Director of Cacao Sourcing & Strategic Initiatives for the company. I initially asked him what he thought were the biggest problems in the cocoa industry, and how Taza works to address them. This was his response:
“The cocoa industry is notoriously opaque, and this lack of transparency translates into a lack of accountability on issues ranging from deforestation to child labor to poverty. Rather than ignore these issues or hide behind a certification that may or may not make a difference, Taza welcomes transparency and shares our Direct Trade approach to sourcing cacao in a way that’s seriously good and fair for all. Some of our specific sourcing strategies include paying higher prices for higher quality cacao beans, building honest and open relationships by visiting our Direct Trade partners and having them visit us, and agreeing on clear environmental and social standards for growing and trading cacao beans. It’s not that at Taza we have all the answers, but we have an outsized impact because we openly share our questions and our learnings with the rest of the industry.”
I also wanted to know more about how Taza can work to inspire other companies, such as the Big 5, to follow suit in being more transparent and utilizing direct trade practices. This is what Mr. Last had to say:
“High level though, we work to inspire others by publishing our Annual Transparency Report, sharing our Direct Trade Standard Operating Procedure (basically, our sourcing playbook) with other companies including chocolate makers that wish to become Direct Trade certified, and collaborating with other chocolate companies that share our values and vision for a more sustainable cacao industry.”
And finally, I was interested to know what his experience was like visiting the growing partners, to which Jesse Last responded:
“I have been, and the experiences were different from one another in many ways but similarly important to building a personal relationship with the farmers and the cacao processors with whom we partner. Here are a few blog posts that give an idea: Haiti, Bolivia, DR, and Ghana.”
Combining extensive research and personal insights provides a complete analysis of how Taza Chocolate succeeds as a leading force in working towards remedying the issues troubling the chocolate industry. Although these issues are extremely complicated and will not be resolved overnight, Taza provides hope that future companies will adopt its practices and help create a fair, ethical, and affordable chocolate industry.
Aaronson, S. A. (2007). Globalization and child labor: the cause can also be a cure. YaleGlobal Online, Yale Centre for the Study of Globalization, available at: http://yaleglobal.yale. edu/display.
Bacon, Christopher. 2005. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffee Reduce Small-Scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?” World Development 33(3): 497–511
Behind a bittersweet industry. Fortune. 1 March 2016. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
Brown, K. R. (2013). Buying into fair trade: Culture, morality, and consumption. NYU Press.
De Neve, G., Peter, L., Pratt, J., & Wood, D. C. (Eds.). (2008). Hidden hands in the market: Ethnographies of fair trade, ethical consumption, and corporate social responsibility. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Dragusanu, R., Giovannucci, D., & Nunn, N. (2014). The economics of fair trade. Journal of economic perspectives, 28(3), 217-36.
Chocolate, one of life’s sweetest treats, has the remarkable capability to bring people together from every corner of the world. From chefs working with the finest artisanal chocolates in France to a seven-year-old kid drinking a cup of hot chocolate in Rockefeller Center during Christmastime, chocolate uniquely transcends all ages, backgrounds, and borders. However, what is often unknown or ignored is chocolate’s simultaneous ability to divide people. While so many have the privilege and ability to enjoy chocolate’s delights, it is too often at the expense of the health and wellbeing of farmers and laborers around the world. Child labor, poverty, and food insecurity are only a few of the countless issues plaguing cacao farmers globally. Sadly, many of the major players in the chocolate industry depend on the exploitation of cacao farmers so they can mass produce their products cheaply, which is not a new practice. Amanda Berlan notes, “Because both good practices and labour abuses in cocoa have strong historical antecedents, they cannot be seen as exclusively symptomatic of the modern consumerist era, or simply caused by poverty or rapacious multinationals, as is often alleged” (1094). For the everyday modern consumer, however, the ethics of a company’s supply chain is probably not one of the first things to come to mind when selecting a bar of chocolate from underneath the checkout counter at the grocery store. Nevertheless, there are glimpses of hope in the expansive chocolate industry. Some chocolate companies have taken steps to use humane labor practices, assist cacao farmers in their social and economic endeavors, obtain various certifications, and raise awareness for impoverished farmers around the world. Each individual issue with the current climate of the international chocolate industry ties back into one overarching problem: volatility. The lack of consistency and stability in every aspect of cacao farmers’ professions and lives leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. Theo, the chocolate company based out of Seattle, Washington, is a bean-to-bar company that ethically sources cacao to produce delicious chocolate products. By outlining their business model, values, and practices, I intend to show how Theo has played a part in working to solve the numerous issues that contribute to the volatile nature of international cacao production.
Before explaining Theo’s positive social impact in the realm of chocolate and beyond, it is important to more fully understand how severe the injustices at the roots of cacao supply chains are. Cacao is an agricultural good that must be cultivated and harvested, typically on farms. Many countries in Africa and South America have emerged as global producers of cacao; in West Africa alone, there are about 2 million small, independent family farms (Martin). The labor necessary to sustain such farms is extremely taxing, physically and emotionally. Producing cacao requires duties such as clearing trees, planting, fertilizing, harvesting, transporting, and pod breaking, among others (Martin). These tasks cannot be completed without using sharp and heavy tools, handling chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.), bending down for extended periods of time, being around insects and animals, or carrying heavy loads (Martin). To make matters worse, farm laborers often work without access to bathrooms, no filtered water, and no relief from extreme heat; thus, they often suffer various physical maladies ranging from fatigue to malaria (Martin). With such horrendous working conditions, one may think that only people most fit for the job would be employed and that they would be people paid substantially for their hard work. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Because these farms are often run by families, children and people aged 50 and over often must work for their family farm (Martin). People on cacao farms work tirelessly simply to earn enough to survive, yet, as Carol Off writes, “Days of their effort [are] consumed in a heartbeat on the other side of the world” (8). Farms and farmers are the heart of any agricultural production, yet in the domain of chocolate they are undercompensated and undervalued. To complement the remarkably intense labor practices outlined above, farmers usually work without the guarantee of wages or salaries (Martin). The price of cacao is volatile, which means the income of the cacao farmer is as well (Martin). Dealing with input costs like transportation, wages, planting materials, rent/mortgage, and others only further weakens farmers’ abilities to establish a steady flow of income and to invest in their businesses (Martin).
The issues I have outlined only begin to scratch the surface of the problems that fill cocoa supply chains, many of which perpetuate the ability of big chocolate companies to buy cocoa cheaply on the market, which continues to oppress farmers, which leaves them working for survival. The cycle is vicious. So, the question becomes how can this cycle be broken? Whose responsibility is it to make a change? Joe Whinney, the creator of Theo chocolate, believed the responsibility was partly his (“Our Story”). In 1994, Whinney spearheaded what eventually became a widespread movement aiming to supply organic cocoa beans in the United States (“Our Story”). After traveling and working in Central America and Africa, “he recognized an injustice in the way that both were being exploited and wanted to make a difference” (“Our Story”). This desire turned into a decade long campaign to advocate for organic cocoa beans in the U.S. and for Fair Trade practices for the farmers (“Our Story”). Working with co-founder Debra Music, Whinney used his passion to inspire action. In 2006, years of brand building and experimenting in a factory culminated in the creation of Theo organic chocolate (“Our Story”).
Ever since the company’s conception 13 years ago, Theo has stuck to, taken pride in, and grown the meaning of being a bean to bar chocolate maker. To Theo, being a bean to bar company means, “We negotiate prices directly, provide training on good agricultural practices and offer meaningful quality incentive payments. With our model farmers know how much income to expect from their harvest, enabling them to make financial plans for the future and to invest in their families and communities” (“How We Source”). Theo’s website outlines the company’s mission, which, is “to create a more beautiful, compassionate, and enduring world by responsibly making delicious and inspiring products for everyone.” Theo’s consumers and employees alike value the company’s dedication to betterment, and the video below gives employees the opportunity to share what they like the most about Theo.
I am going to discuss Theo’s sourcing, standards and values, certifications, and products in order to illustrate how they combat injustice in cocoa production.
Although West Africa has emerged as a primary supplier of the world’s cocoa, Theo sources its beans directly from farms in Peru and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (“How We Source”). Theo makes a point to highlight the differences in the beans’ flavors and the contexts in which they are produced. Their Congolese cocoa beans are nutty and comprise the majority of the company’s yearly supply, with roughly 70% of the cocoa coming from DRC annually (“Congolese Cocoa”). Theo has partnered with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), which advocates on behalf of the citizens of eastern Congo to promote economic and social wellbeing in an effort to establish strong civil society and to create opportunities for individual and group development (“Congolese Cocoa”). Working with over 4,500 farmers in DRC has fortified Theo’s desire to help, which expands beyond the scope of a business transaction. For example, Theo supported an initiative in 2015 which aimed to educate women in cocoa farming on the importance of pre and post-natal care, which reduced maternal and newborn deaths in the respective health zones from 45 per year to zero (“Congolese Cocoa”). The remaining 30% of Theo’s cocoa comes from the Piura and Bagua regions of Peru (“Peruvian Cocoa”). Similar to their efforts in DRC, Theo invests in the lives of Peruvian farmers through its partnership with the Norandino Cooperative (“Peruvian Cocoa”). Moreover, they have worked to positively impact the environment. Through a collaborative investment in a reforestation program, Theo and Norandino have helped to create 2,500 new acres of forest (“Peruvian Cocoa”). This type of work not only benefits those in need, it benefits the entire world. The figure below shows where each Theo ingredient comes from.
To guarantee that Theo’s product quality and ethical code continues to meet the high standards, the company has undergone several certification processes. Theo is USDA Organic, Fair for Life certified, STAR-K Kosher, and Non-GMO (GMO stands for genetically modified organism) (“Our Certifications”). While fully unpacking the nuances and procedures of each of these certifications is beyond the scope of this analysis, it is worth noting what each means. The USDA Organic seal guarantees that Theo chocolate’s ingredients are “grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation” (Quality Assurance International). Fair for Life falls under the larger umbrella of Fairtrade certifications, and “assures that human rights are safeguarded at any stage of production, workers enjoy good and fair working conditions and smallholder farmers receive a fair share” (Fair for Life). STAR-K Kosher serves as a “a guarantee that food products and ingredients meet all kosher requirements” (Star-K Kosher). Finally, the Non-GMO project aims to certify and promote products that are made without any “plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology” (Non-GMO Project). The point of providing a glimpse into the meaning of each of these four certifications is to display the comprehensive effort Theo makes to eradicate issues at every stage and in multiple dimensions of chocolate production and consumption. Below, the figure outlines each step of Theo’s certified chocolate-making process.
While every food company, specific those selling chocolate, can always make further improvements in their business practices, Theo has social justice at its core, and these certifications show their aim to meet higher goals of fairness and prosperity for all. Two particularly remarkable elements of Theo’s certification and production protocol is that they own and operate their own certified factory and that both the suppliers they work with and the company itself get audited yearly to look at wages, working conditions, and environmental impact to promote accountability (“What Makes Theo Different?”).
All of the hard work put into creating Theo chocolate could not effectively empower cocoa farmers or reshape the industry if consumers did not like final products. In such a saturated market, it is important that Theo stands out to the average consumer who may not be well versed in food ethics, and thus may be focused solely on the flavor of the chocolate rather than the farmers who helped produce it. Therefore, it is no surprise that Theo chocolate tastes as amazing as the mission behind it is. Exotic flavors like Ghost Chili, Root Beer Barrel, Bread and Chocolate, Salted Black Licorice, and Turmeric Spice make Theo chocolate bars jump off the shelf, while Sea Salt, Coconut, and Mint are exciting yet classic flavors.
Whatever range of flavors a consumer is looking for, they can find it in a Theo product. Theo does not exclusively sell chocolate bars, as they boast an impressive selection of ganache candies, caramels, and marshmallows on their website (Theo Chocolate). I have personally tried the Salted Toffee Dark Chocolate bar, and yet I did not know about Theo’s mission when I tried it. Producing delicious high-quality chocolate helps Theo to reach the average consumer, and to at least begin a dialogue with them about the importance of building up and sustaining fair farm practices around the world. It is, after all, in the nature of the Fairtrade movement to bring people’s attention to those who are often pushed to the side. As Kristy Leissle notes, “We must credit Fairtrade with a different kind of achievement, which has been to promote awareness that people living in the Global North enjoy luxuries like chocolate thanks to the labor of materially poor farmers” (145).
Theo chocolate is unique in a lot of ways. It is a company that wants farming to be a viable and profitable career for people, not just a temporary, volatile job geared towards survival; it is a company that wants to make the planet fruitful and aims to preserve its resources; and it is a company with a mission manifested in delicious chocolate products. From its beginning, Theo has addressed injustice head first, and the world has become a better place because of it. Also, Theo wants to make its customers feel understand the part they play in bettering the world, and they clearly outline on their website how and why each chocolate bar purchase matters. All in all, I believe Theo is doing a great job of using its business model to continuously spread the importance of equality and justice in chocolate. They have successfully built a brand centered on ethics, which is a framework I hope many companies use in the future. In The Fair Trade Scandal, Ndongo Samba Sylla writes, “The fair and the sustainable are now ubiquitous,” and with companies like Theo influencing the chocolate industry, this is not too far from the truth (56).
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, Feb. 2013, pp. 1088–1100., doi:10.1080/00220388.2013.780041.
For as long as chocolate’s popularity has reigned, questions about the ethicality of cacao production across the world have also been prevalent. When chocolate was first introduced to Europe, its influence was fairly restricted to only the most elite members of society, with limited influence beyond the one percent of society. In a similar vein, sugar as a commodity was only consumed by the wealthy, with limited medicinal influence. As European Historian Woodruff D. Smith explained in his paper “Complications of the Commonplace: Tea, Sugar, and Imperialism”, “sugar was the object of a sustained vogue in Northern Europe” in the 1500s and 1600s. But as sugar and chocolate, became increasingly popular across the continent, its production was forced to catch up with the suddenly commonplace consumer good. In order to make sugar and chocolate available to the consumer population, there had to be significant “growth of West Indian plantation production and the high level of integration between production and distribution” (Smith, 262). These concerns over labor conditions and plantations have continued across the ensuing centuries, as many cacao farmers in Africa are still not paid a living wage, forced to work arduously for minimal pay. This struggle highlights one of the fundamental problems with the cacao production chain, as the lion’s share of profit is enjoyed by the retailers, who are most removed from the cacao production process. Meanwhile, cacao farmers tend to see less than seven percent of the value of cocoa sales (Cocoa Barometer 2015). The website https://makechocolatefair.org/issues/cocoa-prices-and-income-farmers-0 is a resource that demonstrates the struggles of many people that are lower on the chain of production, like farmers and traders, especially relative to manufacturers and retailers. It is along this backdrop of unfairness and inequality, that arrangements like Fair Trade arise.
The central principle of Fair Trade was designed to protect the interests of producers, in order to pay them a living wage. Fair Trade guarantees farmers a baseline price, which enables them to put food on the table and make ends meet on a more consistent basis year-round. I had the opportunity to interview Jonathan Rosenthal, one of the early pioneers of the American Fair Trade movement, from the 1980s onwards. Rosenthal, along with Rink Dickinson and Michael Rozyne, helped popularize Fair Trade in the form of a business that would reconnect people to their food in an ethical and just manner (Just-Works.com). Rosenthal’s foray into the Fair Trade movement morphed into idea of Equal Exchange coffee, a worker-owned Fair Trade company, and later into Oke USA, the first American Fair Trade fruit company.
“Three of us decided we would set up our own food company, somewhat in response to all the things that we couldn’t do in the consumer food coop world, so we decided to set up a worker-owned Fair Trade food company,” Rosenthal said. “We set out to set up a food company to basically see how idealistic we could be and still survive. So now how I summarize it is instead of paying as low a price as possible to farmers, what would it mean to have the aspiration to pay farmers as high a price as possible and still survive in the market.”
Articles previously written about Rosenthal demonstrate the breadth of his knowledge, and touch upon his impressive experience in the Fair Trade world. https://grist.org/article/rosenthal/ My conversation with Rosenthal helped shed light on the relationship between Fair Trade and chocolate, as well as the importance of continuing to improve working conditions for farmers worldwide.
“The idea of Fair Trade is, how can we, in a practical way, integrate our core social, spiritual, economic, political values in how we live our lives. In the case of Fair Trade, that’s about how products are sourced, especially since very little of our population knows where their food comes from,” Rosenthal said. “My work in Fair Trade was about helping people connect or reconnect to food, and connecting to understanding who produced the food, and how it was produced. Feeling like it’s ethical and sustainable, and that people are being treated well enough. Take the case of coffee or cacao, most of those products are grown in very terrible conditions, but it’s so far away and so far removed through processing from our daily lives of eating a chocolate bar, you have no idea how people lived that helped produce this. The simple idea of Fair Trade is to provide some transparency and fairly compensate farmers.”
In the past several decades since Rosenthal’s foray into the food world, and as Fair Trade has grown in prominence across the United States, some influential companies have taken steps towards sourcing their products in a more ethical manner. An archetypal example of this is Kraft Foods, that created “the Cocoa Partnership, established by Cadbury, [which] has committed approximately $70 million to invest in cocoa farming over ten years” (Kruschwitz). The Cocoa Partnership in Ghana was designed to help sustain the next generation of cacao farmers in Ghana, and demonstrate a desire to improve working conditions for farmers nationwide. This Partnership is an example of one of the ways in which large conglomerates can take positive steps towards change. While initiatives like these constitute movement in the right direction, there is still much more work to do from a corporate perspective. One of the biggest problems is that as larger companies like Kraft and Starbucks become increasingly involved in Fair Trade movements, the meaning and radicalism of these movements can become changed or watered down.
“I think trying to create transformational change in corporate America by threatening and attacking and policing is really really difficult and it’s hard to see a long term win in that,” said Rosenthal, about Fair Trade’s initial strategy of being combative towards corporations like Kraft Foods. “Working with large corporations, large NGOs and nonprofits, and governments is important, because those are areas with a lot of resources, so if you can convince those people to do things differently, you can have a big impact. The challenge of this of course, is that a lot of those big institutions and people that have a lot of power and have a lot of responsibility, it’s really hard for them to create big change, even small things, because systems have momentum. And it’s really hard to shift the momentum. So it’s often not because they’re bad people or bad CEOs, but they’re in a system that has momentum and structure.”
Not only have the fluctuation of world market cocoa prices impacted farmers’ incomes, but taxes and local trading structures have had a similarly negative effect. For example, over the past decade, farmers in the Ivory Coast have been able to retrieve merely between 40 to 50% of the world market price for their beans (Makechocolatefair.org). The volatility of the world market prices for cocoa also result in unpredictability for the livelihood of farmers. While Rosenthal’s experience with these problems are more concentrated in the coffee and fruit industries, he sees the chocolate production chain as similarly problematic, but potentially remedied by Fair Trade organization.
“One of the things about Fair Trade certification is that they usually have a floor price, and farmers and never paid lower than that price,” Rosenthal explained. “So that provides a lot of stability for farmers, knowing that at least the product that they sell to the Fair Trade system, they will always get at least a certain price. And so they can always afford basic necessities for most of the year and can help put food on the table, and send their kids school, those kinds of things. So for me, that gets us to another one of the core things that Fair Trade does, which is to create that stability.”
The implications of low incomes for farmers extends well beyond putting food on the table. These problems can result in farmers’ employment of child labor, as well as reducing salaries and farming using less environmentally sustainable techniques (Makechocolatefair.org). While this might not sound like a significant issue, utilizing less sustainable methods of farming for cacao production can have ecological and environmental consequences. As our planet enters a more critical juncture in the battle against climate change, it is important to understand the ways in which unjust labor and production chains can result in less sustainable farming. Against this backdrop, Fair Trade movements are all the more important.
“I think overall, Fair Trade and environmental work overlap a lot,” Rosenthal said. “One of the big dilemmas is that the more success Fair Trade has, and the more integrated into the market and capitalism it becomes, which is inevitable if you’re gonna succeed, is that the opportunity to create change is less. In the earlier days of Fair Trade it was easier to create change or talk about making change in a more revolutionary way.”
Fair Trade hasn’t always been as prevalent as it is today, however. One of the struggles that the Fair Trade movement has consistently sought to resolve is consumer’s willingness to spend more money for ethically sourced products. A study conducted by Patrick De Pelsmacker, Liesbeth Driesen, and Glenn Rayp sought to determine the premium that Belgian consumers were willing to pay for Fair-Trade coffee. The three scholars, all academics at Ghent University in Belgium, sampled over 800 consumers in Belgian supermarkets to determine their purchasing practices. On average, consumers were willing to pay approximately 10 percent more for their Fair Trade coffee, than they would otherwise spend on a normal brand (De Pelsmacker et. al, 376). Unfortunately, the price premium for coffee in Belgium during the study was around 27 percent, which is 17 percent more than the average consumer was willing to spend. Therefore, amongst the sample, only around 10 percent of the 808 consumers were willing to pay a 27 percent premium for their coffee, while 90 percent were either unwilling to pay a premium or were willing to pay a premium of less than 27 percent (De Pelsmacker et. al, 379).
While this study was focused on coffee in Belgium, its results have implications beyond this one specific example, capturing one of the core questions at the heart of the Fair Trade movement. If it costs more, are consumers willing to pay for more ethical sourcing? If cacao farmers are going to be paid fairly for their work, allowing them to farm more sustainably, avoid child labor, while earning a living wage, it will require willingness on the part of the consumer. Many experts, Rosenthal included, believe that future generations are more aware of the concept of Fair Trade, making them more likely to lean into the idea of spending more money for ethical products.
“In terms of it becoming more popularized, I think people are willing to pay more for quality. The social values, the ethical criteria, are becoming part of the quality menu for younger people. There’s a lot more awareness today that part of quality is social relationships embedded in the products. When I started in this industry, none of that really was around,” contextualized Rosenthal on how newer generations of consumers are becoming increasingly aware. “Younger generations, take it for granted, they know to look for some label, whether it’s organic, or fair trade products, or it’s a direct trade or there’s cage free, like, there’s so many now, different programs, hundreds, really, for all different kinds of products. And so I think, to me, that’s very exciting. The downside is that most people have no idea what those things really stand for.”
Ultimately, much of Rosenthal’s work and experience have serious implications for the cacao industry. The plight of cacao farmers is undeniable, as the large majority, particularly in Africa, struggle to consistently provide for their families. Unfair production chains and fluctuating costs mean that many are unable to have reliable income, forcing some child labor among a myriad of other problems. In order to help ameliorate conditions, alternatives like Fair Trade can help provide a fair price to farmers, and provide them with stability and structure. Fair Trade is not without its flaws, however, as some believe that it creates a price ceiling instead of a price floor, and it can reward lower quality beans with higher prices. Despite these drawbacks, overall, Fair Trade’s effects seem reliably more positive than allowing the market to regulate itself, particularly for farmers. From a consumer perspective, the choice seems fairly straightforward as well, for those that can afford to be ethically conscious.
“I think we are what we eat to some extent,” Rosenthal said. “We all have dreams and aspirations about who we want to be and what we want the world to be. Fair Trade is, in a way, a microcosm of that same dilemma.”
De Pelsmacker, P., Driesen, L., & Rayp, G. (2005). Do Consumers Care about Ethics? Willingness to Pay for Fair‐Trade Coffee. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 39(2), 363-385.
Kruschwitz, N. (2012). Why kraft foods cares about fair trade chocolate. MIT Sloan Management Review, 54(1), 1-4.
Smith, W. (1992). Complications of the Commonplace: Tea, Sugar, and Imperialism. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 23(2), 259-278.
A major problem that has existed within the chocolate production industry has been the ethics surrounding the harvesting of cacao. For decades the means of harvesting cacao involved slavery where people were forced to work in harsh conditions, for 18 hours a day without pay (Carla Martin, Lecture 5). After the major cacao producing countries outlawed slavery, the working conditions still didn’t improve and the pay the workers received was not nearly enough to live. In fact, because many of the cacao producing farms were hidden in the jungle, many farm owners still got away with slavery because the lack of visibility meant the farm owners weren’t held accountable for their unethical standards. Even today visibility and pay are still a major problem in the cacao farming industry. In 2015, the average income for a Ghanaian household working in the cacao farming industry was between 50 and 80 cents per day (Carla Martin, Lecture 7). However, one company that is working to bring ethics and visibility to the cacao farming and chocolate production industries is Divine Chocolate.
Divine Chocolate is a British bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer that was founded in 1998. Their mission is to create delicious and ethical chocolate from the harvesting of the cacao beans, to the selling of the bars. They also, ensure that all other ingredients that go into their chocolate bars are produced in an ethical manner. Divine Chocolate was created when Twin Trading and Kuapa Kokoo came together with the goal of changing the world cacao market for the better. Twin Trading is a non-governmental organization that creates farming co-operatives around the world. They focus on improving the working conditions and paying fair wages to farmers. Their main focus is on the ethical farming of coffee, cacao, and nuts (“Who We Are”). One of their farming co-ops is called Kuapa Kokoo, which is a farming co-op in Ghana that grows and trades cacao. Kuapa Kokoo is comprised of 85,000 farmers from 1,257 different villages (“About Us”). That number continues to grow because of the exceptional way they treat and pay their farming members. All of the cacao that goes into the Divine Chocolate bars are grown by farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo farming co-op.
Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative
Kuapa Kokoo was founded in 1993 and it means “good cacao growers”. Their mission is “to empower farmers in their efforts to gain a dignified livelihood, to increase women’s participation in Kuapa’s activities, and to develop environmentally friendly cultivation of cocoa” (“The Divine Story”). In, 1995, Kuapa Kokoo was the first small farm farmers’ organization in West Africa to receive the Fairtrade certification. They ensure the farmers are working reasonable hours, with sufficient breaks, and proper pay. Kuapa Kokoo does all the administrative work that goes into trading cacao and bypasses all the shady government cacao agents. This is to ensure visibility, fairness and that the farmers are not getting swindled by government agents or other entities with ulterior motives. Specifically, Kuapa Kokoo, “weighs, bags, and transports the cocoa to market [and] ensures that all its activities are transparent, accountable and democratic (“The Divine Story”). Before the Kuapa Kokoo co-op existed, government agencies would use faulty scales that misrepresented the true weight of a farmer’s cacao harvest. This allowed them to steal from unsuspecting farmers which further harmed them.
Structure of Divine Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo
Where Divine Chocolate is especially unique is in their company structure. Today, 44% of Divine Chocolate is owned by the Kuapa Kokoo farming Co-op. In other words, this means that each farmer in the Kuapa Kokoo co-op has a small ownership stake in Divine Chocolate. This unique business structure earned Divine Chocolate the Millennium Product award “for its innovative organizational model” (“Inside Divine”). This is the first company in the world where the cacao farmers have a stake in the chocolate company they are harvesting for. This is significant because Kuapa Kokoo and its farming members now have a say in how Divine manufactures, markets, and sells their products. Because the farmers partially own Divine chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo is a Fairtrade co-op, the farmers are paid exceedingly better than they were before. Receiving a cut of Divine’s profit, having a say in Divine’s operations, and having an influence in the worldwide marketplace has greatly empowered and motivated the farmers because now their work is properly valued, their ideas are considered, and their well-being is a priority.
Divine is committed to ensuring that farmers of Kuapa Kokoo have a voice in the company. Currently two out of the five members of Divine’s Board of Directors are from Kuapa Kokoo. Divine also ensures that at least one out of the four yearly board meetings are held in Ghana (“Inside Divine”). This ensures that all the farmers can witness and participate in the company in a meaningful way.
Goodness in Ghana
The effect that Divine Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo has had on the community has been immeasurable. First, because Kuapa Kokoo is a Fairtrade co-op, they receive a Fairtrade premium. The Fairtrade premium is a grant of additional money given to the co-op so the farmers can collectively decide how to improve their community and their workplace. With this premium, the farmers have invested in community development, farm skill development, clean water, improving education, and several other things that improve the lifestyle of those in the community (“The Divine Story”). They similarly receive dividends from Divine Chocolate which allows the farmers to upgrade equipment yearly so as to ensure high levels of production.
Kuapa Kokoo is also deeply concerned with social and environmental issues. They been on the forefront of speaking out against child labor because they understand that this is still a major problem that needs to be address throughout the industry. They also have created several goals that are aimed at improving the environment and increasing productivity while still adapting to environmental changes.
Divine Chocolate has also had a large effect on the global chocolate market. They have set an extraordinary example of how to ethically run a chocolate company. Since their founding in 1998, the number of Fairtrade chocolate sales in the UK has skyrocketed by more than 8800%. Many of the major chocolate companies have also made a shift to become more Fairtrade. Divine Chocolate’s success inspired Cadbury to convert Cadbury Dairy Milk to Fairtrade. This was a major move because, not only was Cadbury Dairy Milk its leading brand, but Cadbury was also one of the major five chocolate companies in the world so having them convert even one product to Fairtrade had a major effect on a lot of people worldwide (“The Divine Story”). In the years following Cadbury’s move, Nestlé and Mars began buying cocoa from Cote D’Ivoire which was the beginning of their process to partially convert to Fairtrade. By 2013, the shift to Fairtrade chocolate worldwide was in full swing. In the UK specifically, in 2013 eleven percent of the chocolate sold was deemed Fairtrade (“The Divine Story”). Divine Chocolate takes pride in the fact that they were one of the first companies to commit themselves to Fairtrade ethics and they are even prouder that their example has inspired other companies to commit to Fairtrade production.
Divine in the US
As I mentioned before, Divine Chocolate was a company that headquartered and sold only in the UK. However, in 2007, with the help of Oikocredit, (a company that provides loans and capital), Divine Chocolate was able to launch its United States branch of the company. In fact, Divine Chocolate launched in the United States on Valentine’s Day 2007 which is the day the most chocolate is bought and consumed in the United States (“The Divine Story”). Their original launch was very small; however, now Divine Chocolate is sold at Whole Foods, Walgreens, Walmart, and through Amazon.com.
In 2015, after the Divine Chocolate USA branch gained solid footing in the American market, Divine Chocolate merged their UK and USA branches to form one unified company. With this new structure, the Kuapa Kokoo co-op still remained 44% owners of the company (“Inside Divine”). The CEO of the newly merged company was Sophi Tranchell. She was a managing director from the UK branch of the company before they made the merge. After the merger she said, “Having launched Divine in the USA nine years after the founding company launched in the UK, it has been very exciting to see it successfully navigate all the challenges in the USA market and mirror the success of Divine in the UK. We have seen a growing appetite around the world for business being done differently” (“Inside Divine”). In this statement Sophi Tranchell alludes to the fact that Americans became more aware of the issues involved with products that weren’t Fairtraded. This heightened people’s willingness to purchase Fairtraded chocolate even though they are typically more expensive. Sophi also mentions how the added American dimension to the company makes their global reach much larger and makes Divine stronger because they can inspire and market to a completely different group of people. Furthermore, the new market allows Divine “to deliver [on their] mission to fairly and sustainably remunerate smallholder cocoa farmers in West Africa” (“Inside Divine”). This larger market means more profit which, in turn, means more money for the farmers who need it the most.
Uniqueness in the Fairtrade Chocolate Market
One way that Divine Chocolate differentiates itself from a lot of other bean-to-bar Fairtrade chocolate companies is through the products they offer. Many bean-to-bar Fairtrade chocolate companies only offer dark chocolate. This is very problematic because the majority of the global market prefers milk chocolate and, if there are no Fairtrade options, consumers are forced to turn to the big 5 chocolate companies which are generally not Fairtrade. In fact, in a 2013 survey it was found that 51 percent of people prefer milk chocolate, 35 percent prefer dark, and 8 percent prefer white chocolate (Ballard). However, Divine helps fill this gap in the Fairtrade chocolate market because they offer all three types of chocolate in a variety of different flavors which very few companies do. Divine, along with a few other diverse Fairtraded chocolate companies , are helping take power away from the Big 5 Chocolate companies that are not fairly traded.
Divines presence in the world market place is growing nicely. I believe Divine Chocolate will continue to grow and thrive in the Fairtrade Chocolate market. Last year group sales increased 6.4%, however the impending Brexit decision has affected their overall profit margins mostly because of the decline in value of the dollar and pound in relation to the Euro (Annual Report 2017-2018). Nevertheless, the number of sales increased nicely from the year before and, once the turmoil surrounding Brexit is resolved, the increase in sales will begin to show in their balance sheet.
Kuapa Kokoo is also flourishing as they now produce almost 5 percent of Ghanaian cacao, which equates to about 640,000 sacks of cacao a year (“The Divine Story”). While 5 percent may seem small, the most important thing is that it is all produced and sold ethically, while prioritizing the health of its workers and the environment. Divine also has plans within the next year to expand its range of cacao to São Tomé (Annual Report 2017-2018). This will broaden their market appeal and it will allow them to bring their groundbreaking business model to the people of São Tomé. The farmers on São Tomé have historically been treated very poorly over the years and they will greatly benefit from Divine’s co-op business model.
I think things are looking up on all fronts for Divine Chocolate. Their commitment for over 20 years to empower the farmer has transformed thousands of people’s lives. It is very important that Divine continues with their mission because, while they have made a big impact already, there is still a lot of work to be done in the global market place. All in all, Divine has done a great job addressing the major problems in the chocolate industry that we have discussed in class. They have increased visibility, paid fairly, and empowered the farmer so that participating in the bean-to-bar chocolate making industry is desirable and sustainable for everyone from the top to the bottom.
Slavery has played a role in the European production of Chocolate since the inception of the industry. Although slavery and the acceptance of slavery has changed quite a bit since the Spanish first instituted the encomienda system to provide cheap labor for the production of chocolate, it still remains a major cost cutting measure that some chocolate farmers employ to produce cacao at market rates. In recent years some consumers have become increasingly concerned about the ethics of the food and products that they consume, which has opened the door more expensive fully vertically integrated chocolate producers that can guarantee that their products are ethically produced. These companies are generally small because their business model generally requires their chocolate to be more expensive than their bigger competitors. As consumers become more ethically conscious about what they consumer bigger companies could adopt this business model and still be able to compete in the market.
The first Europeans to make chocolate where the Spanish in their Central and South American colonies. Since the process of picking and processing the cacao was very labor intensive the Spaniards relied on several different forms of slave labor. Initially they the used Native Americans through the Encomienda system (Sampeck, 44). This was because the natives already had many of the skills required to harvest and process cacao and there were plenty of them living in the area. In the encomienda system the natives technically were not slaves, in the sense that the land owners did not own them, but the landowners were the only place that the natives could get living essentials and the only way to get those were to work the landowners land (Sampeck, 45). During this time slavery was generally accepted and the Europeans were also trying to convert the natives to Christianity, so they thought that they were doing them a favor.
The encomienda system fell out of favor quite soon though, because many of the natives were killed by disease and there were not enough of them to work the farms. The production remained in Central America at the time, but the labor shifted to enslaved Africans (Sampeck, 45). Since enslaved Africans were constantly being shipped in their numbers were not being decreased by European diseases or the high mortality rate while working on plantations. They also did not run away as much because they did not know the land as well as the natives did.
As Chocolate production became more globalized the amount of slaves used in its production increased. Between the years 1500 and 1900 between 10 and 15 million slaves were transported across the Atlantic to the Americas. 60% percent of the slaves went to the Caribbean where English colonies produced quite a bit of sugar, which is an important ingredient in chocolate. After the slaves arrived they were generally expected to survive only 8 (Sampeck, 47). In the beginning this system was very profitable and was moral tolerated. The fact that this system was profitable tells you that a single slave cost less than 8 years worth of wages, although such a number it completely ridiculous it is worth remembering that these slaves were made to work extremely long hours without much rest in between.
In the early 1800 the world began to slowly phase out and abolish slavery. At this time to keep chocolate production profitable producers moved production to places that had a similar climate to Central America, but had more cheap labor. The Portuguese colony of Sao Tome and Principe became the biggest producer of cacao in the world during the early 1900 and this is where we can see a company struggling between competing in the Chocolate market and utilized slave labor to do it (Satre, 13). The labor used on this island was not the traditional slave labor that was common in American colonies, this labor instead was indentured servants with exploitative contracts. This was an important distinction because slavery was illegal in Portugal, but these workers were technically free and could return home as soon as their contracts expired. None of these workers ever chose to return home. A large plantation on the island even admitted to having a 25 percent child mortality rate (Satre, 11). The Cadbury company was a large chocolate company in England run by quakers, who supported many anti-slavery causes. This company bought 45% of its cacao from the island of Sao Tome and Principe. After the company heard about the possible use of slave labor in the production of their chocolate they send a person to investigate that claim (Satre, 13). After extensive investigation Cadbury eventually concluded that the working conditions at their chocolate supplier were unacceptable, but when they confronted the Portuguese they were told that they were free to buy their chocolate elsewhere. The problem with that is that Cadbury would have to pay more for the same product (Satre, 24). Although the company might have been able to afford this increase in costs Cadbury decided that the slavery in Sao Tome and Principe was not as bad as American slavery and certain farmers there promised to improve conditions. However as the social climate changed and the evidence of slavery in Sao Tome and Principe mounted Cadbury eventually decided to boycott them (Higgs, 153). Although slavery was not generally accepted at the time people did not feel very strongly about exploitative labor practices.
In modern times consumers feel very strongly about slavery and exploitative labor practices, so companies cannot admit to knowing about slavery and keep buying from those same suppliers. However there are about 2 million children working in hazardous conditions in West Africa in the Cocoa industry. Many small craft companies such as Tony’s Chocolonely are controlling their entire supply chain to make sure that the chocolate is ethically produced (Appiah). This increases costs for the company, but in today’s woke culture people are willing to pay significantly more for products and are cruelty free and ethically sourced. Currently this is only profitable for small companies that are trying to make a statement, but as priorities change more larger companies might be able to take control of their supply chains and provide ethically sourced chocolate.
Slave labor has played a major role in the history of the chocolate industry. Without slaves chocolate would have been a much more expensive commodity and might not have risen to the same popularity that it enjoys today. As the culture changes more companies are trying to make ethical chocolate that does not require and coercive labor practices and slavery. At this point this is mainly done by small companies, but as this trend grown larger companies are starting to consider imposing stricter standards on their supply chains.