As we’ve discussed at length, the history of chocolate closely mirrors that of capitalism. As industry evolved, so too did chocolate, going from an indigenous Central American cultural symbol all the way to big business in the 1800s. Capitalism spurred technological innovations that laid the framework for chocolate’s transformation. Four developments were key for facilitating the rise of industrial cuisine: preservation, mechanization, retailing and wholesaling, and transport (Goody 2013). As each of these industries and technologies developed, so too could chocolate. By 2016, chocolate had a global market value of $100 Billion, with five companies controlling two-thirds of it. Chocolate today truly is a globalized industry.
While the industry has evolved, so too have perceptions of it. As we discussed in class and through our readings, several men have come to personify chocolate and the myths we associate with it. This is not a phenomenon unique to chocolate. “Whiz kids” like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates personify the “genius” and “innovation” behind the Silicon Valley boom. The reality is far more complex and bleak. Following the 2016 election, more and more Americans came to question the outsized influence Facebook has over American politics. And as he attempts to “save the world,” many wonder whether Bill Gates’s “god complex” will truly save us. These narratives serve a purpose: distraction and obfuscation. Focusing on the PR-friendly narratives projected by these figures can hide a dark underbelly of truth.
There are several men* who have influenced the chocolate industry and their surrounding myths serve a similar purpose of obfuscation. In this blog post, I will look at two men: Milton S. Hersey and Anthony Ward. Both have come to symbolize key aspects of chocolate’s industrial history and both of their mythic narratives obfuscate the dark injustices pervasive throughout chocolate production.
*The fact that it is typically men who hold these mythic roles is worthy of analysis and discussion, but is beyond the scope of this blog post.
The Chocolate Man
Milton S. Hershey did not just start the Hershey Chocolate Company, bringing a unique type of milk chocolate to American customers. The press described him as “The Chocolate Man,” an “oddly selfless capitalist” whose reputation “depended, in part, on the playful sweetness of the product he made” (D’Antonio 2006, 114). In D’Antonio’s history, he’s described as an “experimenter” who pushed his employees (“sixteen hour shifts were typical”) but was well-liked. He makes a special point to tell an anecdote of Hershey criticizing the construction of employee housing around his factory. The uniform design of the houses, he complained, too closely resembled those of slave quarters in the south. “We don’t want that here,” he reportedly said (D’Antonio 2006, 112).
While there are always capitalists who find ways to curry favor with the public, Hershey seems to be an exception given the circumstances of the early 1900s. According to D’Antonio, newspapers and muckrakers frequently sought to protray industrialists as greedy “robber barons.” Yet, Hershey avoided this scrutiny and maintained a reputation as a “good rich man” (D’Antonio 2006, 115).
Hershey’s myth is one of goodness and benevolence, one that stands in stark contrast to the reality of chocolate production.
In July 2010, Anthony Ward bought over $1 billion of cocoa beans through his hedge fund Armajaro. This purchase represented about 7 percent of the global supply, and exceeded total crop estimates in Ecuador and Nigeria (Leissle 2018). In other words, it was a huge deal. Some alleged that Ward’s purchase of such a large market share enabled him to wait for prices to rise and sell at a more favorable price.
Due to his ominous, slightly evil practices, Ward has been called “Chocolate Finger” after the James Bond villain GoldFinger. Still, a 2010 New York Times profile from around the time of the purchase, projected a mythic aura around the businessman. Light on details of how this transaction would affect the thousands of farmers and laborers who produce chocolate (and the millions of consumers as well), the piece focused on Ward himself. It reports:
While Mr. Ward lords over the world of cocoa, he is a bit of a mystery outside of that universe. Former employees, acquaintances and peers say that, in person, he does not fit his villainous nickname, and characterize him as friendly and intelligent.
New York Times, July 2010
It proceeds to detail his experience as a rally racer, having once driven from London to Cape Town. And it portrays him as a brave innovator, quoting a rival who said, “Still, the trader seemed in awe of Mr. Ward’s play, adding: “If I had the guts and money, I would do that, too.”
Myths: Obfuscating Injustice
While these myths can be fun to entertain and might even, in the case of “Chocolate Finger,” add a bit of mystery to the chocolate world, they also serve a function: distraction. By focusing on cults of personality and their narratives, we are drawn away from the darker undersides of the chocolate industry. By focusing on Milton Hershey, the “good rich man,” or Anthony Ward, the mysterious rally racer and trader, we might no longer think of how the Cocoa trade is steeped in colonial dynamics (Leissle 2016). While the chocolate industry has evolved along with the global economy, it’s string of inequity has remained constant.
Today, consumers pay “absurdly” low prices for chocolate bars, of which only 6.6% of the retail price goes to farmers (Leissle 2016, 129). While colonialism no longer exists, in practice the dynamics are still very prescient.
By focusing on the super benevolent, like Hershey, or the supervillain, like Ward, we obscure the focus on the true super evils being perpetrated against others in the chocolate industry. While Ward and Hershey get renowned, it’s farmers in the Global South that fuel the produce needed to power the vast global demand for chocolate.
Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, edited by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2013).
D’Antonio, Michael D. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006).
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa (New York: Polity Press, 2018).
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.
Chocolate is a main-stay for American consumers and comes in a variety of forms. In 2016, there were 1,200 firms producing chocolate and cocoa products that were worth around $14.5 Billion (Bureau, U. S. Census, 2019). In Harvard Square, there are several stores that sell significant quantities of chocolate, ranging from mass-produced Hershey and Mars products to gourmet offerings from Godiva, Toblerone, Taza, and many others. After visiting several retailers in Harvard Square that sell chocolate, I decided to focus on Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, which sells a variety of high-quality chocolates. Cardullo’s also has a very visible location, a targeted audience, interesting product placement, and high-quality offerings from well established brands.
Cardullo’s Prime Location
One of the primary facets of Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe is its location. Cardullo’s has two locations with one being centrally located in Harvard Square on Brattle Street and the other being in the up and coming Seaport area of Boston. For this paper, I will be focusing on the store on Brattle Street. This location is in the center of Harvard Square, which provides the store with visibility to students, tourists, and any commuters in the surrounding area as it is across the street from the Harvard Square MBTA stop. Furthermore, the store’s primary competitor in the area, L.A. Burdick Homemade Chocolates, is located a few blocks away on the outskirts of Harvard Square. Cardullo’s is further differentiated from L.A. Burdick, as they offer several complementary products to their chocolate offerings. While, CVS, another provider of chocolate in Harvard Square, is located across the street from Cardullo’s, the stores are not direct competitors as they target separate audiences and have contrasting chocolate offerings.
Cardullo’s coveted, central location in Harvard Square allows the store to effectively market its offerings of chocolate and other gourmet goods to a specific audience. The chocolate product offerings within in the store indicate the targeted audience for Cardullo’s as the average chocolate bar in the store sells between $5 and $8. This is significantly higher than the $1-2 price range of the mass-produced Hershey and Mars chocolate products that are sold in the CVS across the street (Cardullo’s, 2019). Furthermore, Cardullo’s also offers gourmet assortment boxes that sell from $15 to $60 depending on the number of chocolate pieces. These product offerings indicate that the store targets an affluent customer that has significant spending power and focuses on the quality of the product, such as a middle-class working individual or tourist.
targeted audience based of a Cardullo’s chocolate offerings is further
reinforced by the other products that are carried by Cardullo’s, such as high-quality,
expensive wife and imported cheeses and deli meats. These products are symbolic
of the name of the store, Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe and show the company’s
commitment to high-quality products and focus on higher-income individuals.
Product Placement within the Store
One of the
unique features of Cardullo’s is the nature of its product placement and
organization. The store is divided into two halves. The left half of the store
contains the deli and associated gourmet grocery goods, such as imported
olives, caviar, and various charcuterie products. The right half of the store
is the primary half of interest as it contains Cardullo’s various gourmet
chocolate offerings and its extensive collection of wines. The pairing of
chocolate and wine is fitting as both are viewed as luxury goods and carry rather
significant prices in this store compared with lower-quality, mass-produced chocolates
and wines. The price discrepancy of chocolate offerings between Cardullo’s and
CVS Is discussed above and below the specific
brands of chocolate sold in Cardullo’s will be discussed.
offers a wide variety of chocolate products from companies that range in size
from global chocolate producers to independent, family-owned chocolate
companies. The primary brands that occupy a significant amount of shelf-space
in the store are Godiva, Neuhaus, Taza Chocolate and Lake Champlain Chocolate.
In addition to these five brands, there are individual chocolate bars from a
variety of small gourmet chocolate companies. Below, I will go into an analysis
of each of the five main brands to provide information on their origination,
sourcing, production, and any ethical concerns surrounding the companies.
Godiva is a world-renowned, Belgian producer of gourmet chocolate that was founded in 1926. Godiva’s primary products are gift boxes that contain an assortment of small, bite-sized chocolates. These are the products that are displayed in Cardullo’s with the store offering Godiva truffles for $25, 16-piece assortment boxes for $35, and 32-piece assortment boxes for $60 (Cardullo’s, 2019). Cardullo’s also carries Godiva’s Gift Sets that range from 8-piece, $18, to 36-piece, $50, assortment boxes. These products are at the highest end of prices at the store, reflecting the luxury reputation and high-quality offerings of Godiva. These product offerings are reflective of the tastes of the store’s targeted audience that was previously discussed.
In addition to providing high-quality, expensive products, Godiva places a significant emphasis of conducting a sustainable business and focuses on doing what is right. Godiva’s website provides information on many of the sustainability initiatives that Godiva participates in. They are a member of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), which is a leading non-profit that works to increase the productivity and profits of local cocoa farmers. Additionally, Godiva partners with Save the Children, a non-profit that focuses on improving the conditions of children across nearly 120 countries. This non-profit has over two decades of experience working in Côte d’ Ivoire. Godiva also created its own Lady Godiva Program, which focuses on empowering women. This program partners with FEED Projects, to sell exclusive FEED products with the profits funding over 300,000 school meals for children in countries of West Africa. Lastly, Godiva signed the Cocoa Forest Initiative (CFI) to signal its commit to end deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa supply chain (Godiva Cares, 2019)
doubt, Godiva’s efforts are at the front of initiatives undertaken by global
chocolate producers. However, Godiva has yet to achieve 100% sustainability and
ensure that it’s supply chain is completely free of child labor. Godiva has
committed to reaching these goals by the end of 2020, so within in the next two
years. I believe that the company will be able to reach these goals with all of
its current initiatives. Even though Godiva production lines are not entirely
ethically secure, I believe the company has done a great of leading by example
and committing to a sustainable production line in the future and supporting
local communities in Cocoa growing regions.
Neuhaus Chocolate is another Belgian chocolate company that traces its roots back to 1857. Arguably, the most significant contribution of Neuhaus was the creation of the Belgian ‘praline’, a chocolate with a cream ganache center. Similar to Godiva’s offerings in Cardullo’s, Neuhaus products consist of an 8-piece, 15-piece, and 17-piece assortment boxes that sell for $18, $30, and $33, respectively (Cardullo’s, 2019). These offerings span both individual purchases, with the 8-piece assortments, and gift purchases, with the 15 and 17-piece assortments, as well as larger 25-piece assortment boxes.
Neuhaus specifically produces bite-sized chocolates from high-quality cocoa. They source their cocoa from a variety of countries, such as Peru, Ecuador, Ghana, Côte d’ Ivoire, and Madagascar (Neuhaus Belgian Chocolate). Unfortunately, the website contains very little information on the supply-chain of its chocolates and its sustainability efforts. Furthermore, there is no clear documentation of Neuhaus participating in the wide-branching initiatives, such as the WCF. This lack of transparency with regards to their supply chain leads me to be skeptical of any guarantee towards an ethically sourcing of their cocoa and to question their motivations and priorities as a company.
Taza Chocolate :
Godiva and Neuhaus, Taza Chocolate is an American-based company that focuses on
producing chocolate bars. Taza is a relatively new company that was launched by
Alex Whitmore in 2005. The company’s original chocolate factory is in
Somerville, MA, which is only one town over from Cardullo’s Brattle Street Location.
The company is a great example of a “Bean to Bar” chocolate company that works
directly with cocoa farmers to ethically source their cocoa.
Taza is known for creating the chocolate industry’s first third-party Direct Trade sourcing program, known as Taza Direct Trade. Taza meets with all of its growers directly to guarantee fair labor practices. Additionally, the company pays their growers prices that are significantly higher than the already premium prices of Fair-Trade Chocolate. Above all of this, the company releases their Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report, which details where they source their chocolate from and the prices they pay for their chocolate. Their Direct Trade claims are also independently verified by Quality Certification Services (Taza Direct Trade).
Chocolate sets the gold standard when it comes to ensuring an ethically sound
supply chain and commitment to the improvement and sustainability of their
cocoa growers. However, the smaller size of Taza Chocolate provides the company
with a distinct advantage over global companies, such as Godiva, in its efforts
to guarantee ethical practices among its growers.
Lake Champlain Chocolate:
Similar to Taza Chocolate, Lake Champlain Chocolate is another independent chocolate company located in Vermont. Lake Champlain was founded in 1983 and focuses on producing non -GMO and ethically sourced chocolate. They’re known for their truffles and signature Five-Star Bars. Lake Champlain Chocolate products have the most visible placement within Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe as the display of their products is right as you walk in. Their products range from peanut butter and sea salt caramel chocolates to assort truffles to assortment boxes.
Lake Champlain has taken several steps to ensure and display its commitments to ethical and sustainable sourcing. Lake Champlain is a “B Corporation”, which evaluates the entire business of a company, taking into consideration the company’s impact on their environment, workers, customers, and community with the goal of leaving a positive impact on all of these facets (About B Corps, 2019). Furthermore, the company has 100% fair-trade sourcing for its chocolate with certifications from two third-party organizations, Fair for Life and Fair-Trade USA. These certifications ensure that their suppliers maintain fair labor practices (Fair Trade Chocolate, 2019).
Champlain’s sourcing efforts fall short of the gold standard of Taza Chocolate’s
Direct Trade approach, the company places a great emphasis on the Fair-Trade
nature of all its chocolate. Consumers should have trust that this company’s
chocolate is ethically sourced and relies on fair labor practices.
Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe’s prime location on Brattle Street in the midst of Harvard Square allows the company to effectively market its selection of high-quality, gourmet chocolates to their affluent consumer base. The store benefits from pairing their gourmet chocolate products with high-quality wines and charcuterie products. Furthermore, the selection of chocolates contained within Cardullo’s store, reveals a lot about the focus of the store. A brand analysis of the primary products offered at the Brattle Street store shows that the primary brands are either Direct Trade Certified (Taza Chocolate), Fair-Trade certified (Lake Champlain), or have made significant commitments to sustainable sourcing (Godiva). Neuhaus Chocolate is one exception as the company provides very little transparency with regards to their supply chain and sustainability initiatives. Overall, it can be concluded that Cardullo’s places an emphasis on gourmet chocolate that prioritize ethical sourcing practices and show a commitment to their community.
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.
For my final project, I decided to
host a chocolate tasting with fellow students Frankie Hill and Sarah Kahn, who
will be writing their thoughts on the tasting independently. The six types of
chocolate we chose to use for the tasting were Cote D’Or’s Belgian Milk Chocolate,
produced by Mondelez International, Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey, a special take on
traditional white chocolate, Antidote’s 84% cacao dark chocolate with nibs as
well as their 100% “raw” chocolate with nibs, and finally, Taza Chocolate’s
Stone Ground 84% dark chocolate from Haiti, as well as their 80% dark chocolate
from the Dominican Republic. We thought that these chocolates represented a
variety of different tastes, textures, countries of origin and philosophical
approaches to chocolate-making, and as such, we felt it would be appropriate to
use them as units of scholarly analysis, and to use our subjects’ reactions to
the various types of chocolates as real-world context through which to frame
our analysis. These different types of chocolates are connected to various
issues in the contemporary chocolate industry, from the growth of the “fair
trade” movement, to the evolution of our modern understanding of what
constitutes “chocolate” to the surge in the “craft chocolate” industry, to the
exploitation of labor in Africa and much of the rest of the developing world.
In this post, I will be detailing the chocolate tasting subjects’ subjective
evaluations of the various chocolates my colleagues and I selected, and then
diving into my own analysis of how these chocolates connect from a historical,
economic and sociological perspective to the various issues that I have raised.
Chocolate #1: Cote D’Or’s Belgian Milk Chocolate, by Mondelez International
Cote D’Or’s Belgian
Milk Chocolate is a fairly standard milk chocolate blend produced by Mondelez,
the largest chocolate company in the world. It has been a staple of the Belgian
commercial market since its introduction in 1883 (Mondelez International, “Brand
Family”). Every aspect of the chocolate’s packaging and presentation looks
corporate and modern, from the relatively modest off-white exterior of the package
to the basic foil wrapping to the neatly lined, Kit-Kat like rows into which
the chocolate is divided, virtually identical to each other.
The general reaction to the Cote D’Or chocolate from our chocolate
tasters was unimpressive. They commented that the texture was fairly smooth,
the chocolate melted in one’s mouth at a somewhat average rate, and the taste
was largely indistinguishable from the kind of chocolate you would get in a
store-bought basket for Christmas or Easter. The taste of the chocolate seems
consistent with its presentation as the product of a large, Western corporate
conglomerate tailoring its chocolate and ingredients towards mass consumption. One
taster remarked that the bars tasted like “Kit-Kat without the middle part.” One
could say that this chocolate served as a sort of control for the experiment, a
flavor of chocolate most people in the West would already be familiar with.
Connection to Broader Themes from the Course
The most important aspect of the first chocolate, to me, was Mondelez’s
use of its “Cocoa Life” logo on the front of the packaging. Cocoa Life is Mondelez’s
proprietary branding of what it refers to as its “global sustainability program… tackling the complex challenges that cocoa
farmers face, including climate change, gender inequality, poverty and child
labor.” Mondelez’s stated goal is to have all of its chocolate sourced through
its Cocoa Life program by 2025 (Mondelez International, “Why Cocoa Life?”).
This struck an interesting attempt for a large multinational corporation, often
associated in the popular imagination with oppressive hierarchies and exploitation,
to capitalize on recent trends towards sustainably sourced chocolate. As
Kristie Leissle argues in her book Cocoa, in a chapter focusing on trade
justice, consumers in the West are increasingly aware of the abuses that can occur
in chocolate production and seek “guilt-free” sources of chocolate. There is a
movement towards not “free trade,” but “fair trade” in which chocolate farmers
and workers are fairly treated and compensated for their product (Leissle, Cocoa, pgs. 128-158). What is truly interesting
is that even traditional players in the market seem to be convinced that marketing
themselves as fair trade-compliant is now good for profits, a development which
may represent a positive trend towards greater equality in the chocolate
production industry, or more cynically, a coopting of grassroots movements for
economic justice by the usual suspects.
Chocolate #2: Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey
According to Valrhona, Blond Dulcey was the result of a fortunate accident when pastry chef Frederic Bau “absentmindedly left some white chocolate in the double-boiler for too long.” After removing the chocolate from the boiler, he “noteiced it had turned a blond color and the faint smell of toasted shortbread and caramelized milk wafted out of the pan.” Sliced up into irregularly-sized pieces, with a light beige color reminiscent of crackers, and containing 32% cocoa butter (Valrhona US), Blond Dulcey is anything but typical white chocolate, and it seemed appropriate as part of the experiment to try this unique chocolate on our tasters.
Our tasters described the chocolate as very buttery, melting easily in
one’s mouth. It was also described as slightly bitter, sweet but in a mild way,
and as tasting “like nothing” according to one of the tasters. It seems the
high concentration of cocoa butter in the chocolate, as well as the unique chemical
processes giving it its off-white color, produced the intended effect of a substance
which, while marketed as chocolate, tastes, looks and feels very different from
the twenty-first century conception of what “chocolate” is.
Connection to Broader Themes from the Course
“What is chocolate?” is a theme that
has been grappled with from the food’s inception as a grainy Mesoamerican drink
that was originally served cold and consumed by elites for a variety of
ritualistic purposes to a hot, smooth, often bitter concoction taken by
European nobility along with coffee, to the modern, mass-produced chocolate bar
consumed widely across the (mostly) Western world today (Coe and Coe). As
chocolate made its way from the New World to the Old, and then eventually from Old
World elites to the masses, its flavor profile changed, most dramatically so
with the introduction of sugar, and a variety of substances pleasing to Western
palettes changed the nature of chocolate so as to make it almost unrecognizable
from its starting point (Schwartzkopf and Sampeck). The kind of experimentation
with chocolate which led to the creation of Valrhona’s Blond Dulcey has been an
integral part of chocolate’s history, leading us to a moment in modern history
where a white chocolate bar, containing no part of the cacao plant except for the
cocoa butter harvested from the chocolate production process, can legitimately
fall within the spectrum of foods considered “chocolate.”
Chocolates #3 and #4: Antidote Chocolate’s 84% Cacao with Nibs and “Raw 100%” Cacao with Nibs
Antidote produces its chocolates with
“rich Arriba Nacional beans from the south and west of Ecuador.” The company claims
to work mostly with farm cooperatives and to use a proprietary process for its
Raw 100% bars in order to “maximize the potency of anti-oxidants, flavonoids
and holistic nutrients” (Antidote Chocolate). Its founder goes by “Red,” and
the packaging on the company’s bars gives off a very new age, hipster, pseudo-anarchist
vibe which seems common to many craft chocolate brands these days. For our chocolate
tasting session, we offered participants both the 84% and “Raw 100%” cacao
varieties. We thought these bars would provide an excellent contrast with the
earlier chocolate samples and expose our tasters to the experience of “raw”
Our tasters immediately identified the rough, crunchy texture of the
cacao nibs embedded within the chocolates, though they originally misidentified
them as nuts. They were able to distinguish between the 84% and 100% cacao
varieties, with one taster remarking that the 100% cacao tasted “like tree bark,”
and many commenting that it was “unusually bitter.” Another taster remarked
that there was a hint of fruit in the 84% cacao bar. I informed him that the
plants around which a cacao tree is grown often influence the taste of its
fruit, and that “terroir” is an important concept in the burgeoning world of
craft chocolate. All in all, our tasters, which had never tasted chocolate nibs
or anything close to “pure” cacao, were strongly impacted by the taste, though
they did not rate it highly on average.
Connection to Broader Themes from the Course
The Antidote chocolate bars represent a glimpse into the workings of the
modern craft chocolate industry. As Kristy Leissle argues, the craft chocolate
community is obsessed with the concept of artisanal chocolate (Leissle, “‘Artisan’
as Brand: Adding Value In A Craft Chocolate Community”) and constantly seeks to
differentiate itself from big, corporate, traditional chocolate by marketing
its brands as more art-like and less processed. This is exemplified by the
obsession in some craft circles with the concept of “raw” chocolate, though
there is no universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes “raw.” The “Raw
100%” antidote chocolate bar also highlights another tendency of craft
chocolate makers: evoking imagery of ancient Mesoamerican cultures in order to
add the air of authenticity to their products. Antidote’s Raw 100% bar claims
on the packaging to be inspired by Tonacatecuhtli, the Aztec god of creation
and fertility. The debate continues over whether this should be considered
dangerous cultural appropriation, or should be celebrated as a marketing move
which Mesoamerican chocolate farmers will ultimately profit from (Coe and Coe,
Chocolates #5 and #6: Taza Chocolate’s 84% Dark from Haiti and 80% Dark from the Dominican Republic
Taza Chocolate specializes in stone ground chocolate, which it calls “perfectly
unrefined, minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture.”
Supposedly, its founder and CEO Alex Whitmore was inspired to create a stone
ground chocolate-factory in Somerville, MA after taking his first bite of stone
ground chocolate while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico (Taza Chocolate). For our chocolate
tasting session, we chose Taza Chocolates’s 84% Dark with chocolate from Haiti,
as well as the 80% Dark with chocolate from the Dominican Republic. We wanted
to stick with dark chocolate to give our tasters further exposure to
concentrated cacao flavors, and chose both Haiti and the Dominican Republic as
they less common sources of chocolate than the typical chocolate from Ghana and
the Ivory Coast, yet are connected to these two countries through shared
histories of colonialism and exploitation. We also thought that stone ground
chocolate might present an interesting spin on the concept of “raw” chocolate
as compared to Antidote’s take on “raw” chocolate.
Our tasters repeatedly remarked that there was a rougher texture to the
Taza bars than to previous chocolate samples, likely due to the larger particle
size of the chocolate due to the unconventional refining process, as I informed
them after the tasting process. They could also taste the difference between
84% and 80% dark chocolate, though only slightly, suggesting that slight
gradations in cacao concentration can be detected to a limited extent even by
inexperienced tasters. Curiously, our tasters seemed to prefer the 84% Dark from
Haiti over the 80% Dark from the Dominican Republic, even though they reported
the 80% Dark as being slightly sweeter, suggesting that country of origin is an
important factor in determining chocolate taste and quality.
Connections to Broader Themes from the Course
Taza claims to go above and beyond in pursuing ethically sourced chocolate,
paying farmers above the fair trade price for their wares (Taza Chocolate), it
still relies heavily on the racialized system of value extraction that has
historically categorized chocolate production since its inception. As late as the
early 20th century, slave labor was still being used to produce
chocolate in places such as Sao Tome (Satre). In modern times, over 70% of
chocolate is produced in Africa, with a large quantity of the rest being
produced by low-paid black labor in countries such as Haiti and the Dominican
Republic. Yet nonetheless, black workers which produce the majority of the
world’s chocolate consume only a tiny fraction, and most of the profits go to the
white owners of Western chocolate companies (Leissle, pgs. 4-7, 36-46).
Ultimately, our chocolate tasting experiment presented an opportunity to
both enjoy chocolate with friends as well as to continue educating ourselves
and others on some of the broad themes explored in the course this year. It is
my hope that people in the West and across the globe will continue to consume
and enjoy chocolate for many years to come, while keeping in mind the realities
of the global chocolate trade and never taking for granted the blood, sweat and
tears of the less powerful people who make it all possible, fighting every day
to ensure they receive justice.
“Antidote 100% Raw Cacao Bar with
Nibs.” Antidote, 2019,
“Antidote 84% Dark Chocolate Bar
with Nibs.” Antidote, 2019,
Antidote Chocolate. “ABOUT US –
Antidote Chocolate.” Antidote,
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe.
The True History of Chocolate. Thames
and Hudson, 2019.
Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and
the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.
Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn
E. Sampeck. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction: Ingested
Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn
E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 73–99.
Valrhona US. “Blond® Dulcey 32%.” Valrhona US | Retour à La Page D’accueil,
Wade, Kristine. “The Production of Chocolate.” Flickr, 3 Feb. 2017,
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.
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.
As you have probably discovered when looking through the chocolate display in various retail and grocery stores, five large players dominate the global chocolate market. Their prevalence allows them to dictate the rhetoric and information synthesized by chocolate consumers on a daily basis. However, the industry is fraught with serious issues that these companies are not taking drastic enough steps to solve. Instead, we must look to other companies, although less well known and smaller-scale, that are forging innovative paths to solve these very real problems, in order to learn from them but also recognize where there is room for improvement. One such company is Taza Chocolate.
Taza Chocolate is a bean to bar chocolate company based in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was founded in 2005 by CEO Alex Whitmore, who was inspired by the stone ground chocolate he had tasted on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. He apprenticed under a molinero in Oaxaca in order to learn how to make and work with traditional Mexican stone mills. The result of these unique mills and minimal processing is chocolate with bolder flavors and a grittier consistency than the smoothness that is usually expected from more mainstream companies.
Taza chocolate can be bought online through its website or at Amazon and can be found at retailers such as Whole Foods. According to the Taza Website, “We do things differently. We do things better. We are chocolate pioneers” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). They are pioneers not just because of their unique production process and flavor, but also because of their commitment to addressing the problems that plague the industry today through supply-chain transparency.
Problems: Slavery, Economics and Gender Inequality
In order to critically analyze Taza’s attempted solutions, it is important to first understand the problems, which unfortunately are not new but rather have plagued the industry for centuries. Slavery was an integral part of chocolate’s history, and can be traced back to the 1500’s when the Spanish Encomienda system forced natives in Mesoamerica to grow cocoa and perform labor without pay. The terrible working conditions and disease spread by the Spaniards ravished the native population, and Africans were brought in to replace them. From 1500-1900, between 10 and 15 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas and the Caribbean to grow cocoa and other commodity crops. However, even after slavery was abolished, it continued and continues to plague the industry today, mostly in the form of child labor. The International Labour Organization defines child labor as, “all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery… work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children” (ILO). Carol Off found evidence of such child labor in Cote D’Ivoire, with some farmers or their supervisors “working… young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten” (Off, 121). A 2009 study by Tulane corroborated Off’s discoveries when it found that more than half a million children in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire were working in conditions that violated ILO guidelines as well as national laws on minimum wage and minimum hours (Berlan).
Another prevalent problem is the poverty that many cocoa farmers face, particularly in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, due to the economics of cocoa farming. Unlike many northern countries where jobs are salaried, wages for day laborers on farms are “neither guaranteed nor generally regulated” (Leissle, 106). Farm owners only receive cash when they sell their crop; thus, they earn 80% of their annual income in the six months of the main growing season, making budgeting for the rest of the year extremely difficult, especially because many inputs are needed at the start of the growing season when farmers are the lowest on cash. This can result in farmers having to take loans or credit, which often have incredibly high interest rates and can be impossible to pay back. The price fluctuations of chocolate also make it difficult to budget, as anything from bad weather to political turmoil can drastically affect chocolate’s price. Lastly, the prices farmers receive are often too low to support their costs. Farmers rarely sell their product directly to the big chocolate companies, instead selling to middlemen who have more negotiating power and can mislead them. Therefore, even if the price paid for chocolate goes up, there is no guarantee that the farmers actually receive this increase. As a result of all of these factors, many farmers struggle to make a living.
Finally, gender inequality is an important problem that is often disregarded, in part because literature has minimized the role of women in chocolate production. Women are thought of as having only light and non-essential tasks, when in reality “female labor play[s] a central role in almost every aspect of cocoa production and sale… statistics undoubtedly underestimate the role of women” (Robertson, 100/104). But the industry is male-dominant, which has negative effects on women. For example, social norms dictate that even if women grow the cocoa, men are the ones that actually sell the crop and receive the cash (Leissle, 122). This means not only that women have no proof they are getting the right amount of money, but also that men of the household have control of the cash, which they often use to pay for needs they find most important before distributing the rest, if any, to women and children. Consequently, even though women contribute greatly to chocolate production, they have very little power.
Taza’s Solution: Direct Trade Model
In order to combat some of these issues, according to Taza it developed, “The first third-party certified direct trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all.” (Taza Website: Direct Trade). Because it is the first of its kind, Taza published five guidelines and commitments for its direct trade system that it holds itself accountable to.
Develop direct relationships with cacao farmers: Taza began by purchasing cocoa from La Red Guaconejo cooperative in the Dominican Republic and shipping it directly to Boston so that there were no middlemen involved. This direct method shrinks, “a commodity chain that is often far-flung, [so that] no step of the trade exchange, from farm to factory, was unknown or untraceable to Taza’s founders” (Leissle, 154). They later expanded their sources to include other producers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Ghana, all of which they have personal relationships with. Their single origin bars reflect and appreciate the uniqueness of each location.
Pay a price premium to cacao producers: Taza commits to paying at least $500 per MT above market price for its beans
Source the highest quality cacao beans: Taza emphasizes fine flavor beans rather than bulk beans, and directs resources over the long term to assist producers in maintaining high quality output
Require USDA certified organic cacao: As part of its commitment to source only the best cocoa, Taza requires its producers to be organic certified.
Publish an annual transparency report: Taza was the first chocolate company ever to publish such a report. It includes the quantity of beans bought from each individual producer, the price Taza pays for these beans, and an intimate look at the individual producers they partner with.
Pros of Taza’s Direct Trade Model
Taza’s direct trade model has improved the economics of farmers while simultaneously promoting transparency in the industry. In paying a large premium (15-20%), Taza ensures that the farmers do not have to worry about not being able to earn enough to survive fluctuations in cocoa price that are entirely outside of their control. This gives farmers much-needed predictability and visibility into future income and improves their standard of living. Furthermore, by publishing the exact prices they buy the seeds at and having all of their numbers and reports independently verified each year by the Quality Certification Services, Taza guarantees integrity and transparency. This is a stark contrast to the rest of the industry; many companies in recent years have introduced “even more ambiguity into the landscapes of its practice” by relying on internal certification and accountability schemes (Leissle, 147). For example, Cadbury recently stopped fair trade certification and instead initiated an in-house sustainability guarantee, which has decreased transparency because, “when a certification scheme is internal to a company, it is more difficult to assess whether they are rigorous and consistently applied. The only option is to take the company’s words that they are” (Leissle, 147-148). The same can be said for craft chocolate companies, who claim to pay several times the world market price for cocoa, yet there is no way for the consumer to verify. In publishing its prices, Taza has set a new standard for the industry, and others, such as Dandelion Chocolate, are following suit.
Taza’s production process also allows for stronger relationships with producers and greater visibility into the company’s supply chain, ensuring no child labor is used to produce its products. In interacting directly with each of their producers, and visiting at least once a year, Taza can guarantee the use of fair labor. Furthermore, in Ghana, where, as discussed earlier, child labor is especially prevalent, Taza has invested in education programs for children and their family. For example, the local producers Taza partners with coordinate workshops in local schools for students and parents to “educate around age-appropriate farm activities… versus dangerous ones” (2018 transparency report). Additionally, Taza has patterned with the non-profit International Cocoa Initiative and its buyer Tony’s Chocolonely, to “proactively address any instances of unsafe work through a combination of family resources and training that rewards transparency and addresses core issues of poverty and lack of education” (2018 transparency report).
Finally, Taza’s single origin bars promote consumer awareness about the countries where it sources its chocolate. Each bar, according to the website, “is minimally processed to let the bold flavors and unique terroir of our Direct Trade Certified beans shout loud and proud” (Taza website: Origin Bars).
By indicating where the chocolate is grown, these single origin bars can help consumers learn that the taste of chocolate differs from place to place, and “invite shoppers to consider the politics and economics of exporting cocoa… By offering a range of chocolate experiences that can change even day by day, single origin chocolate reminds us that there are real people, institutions, and power structures behind every bar” (Leissle, 170). A more informed consumer is likely to make more informed decisions in the future, which can help promote sustainable, ethical chocolate production by creating demand for such products.
How Taza can Improve
Although the Taza model has many strengths, there are areas where it is still lacking. For example, the prices listed in the transparency reports indicate the amount paid per metric ton to producer organizations, but they do not indicate the farm gate price, or how much the individual farmer receives. The farm gate price is distinctive from the price paid to the producers, but by not including both, the reports can mislead the consumer into thinking the listed price is entirely received by the farmers. In only one year, 2016, Taza reported the price that was actually received by farmers, which ranged from 51-76% of the price that was received by producer organizations (2016 transparency report). However, no other transparency report published these numbers, and this percentage could have changed substantially in the years since, especially because a few of the producer organizations they work with have changed. While Taza is exemplary in its transparency, there is room to be even more transparent by consistently publishing the farm gate price in its reports.
Additionally, even though gender inequality is an important problem in cocoa production, Taza does not explicitly address it in its transparency reports. Photos of women farmers have been featured in some of the past reports, and the number of women farmers is included in each report (ranging from 15% to 45% of each producer organization). These inclusions are important in disproving the misconception that women are not involved in cocoa production. However, there is no reference to the struggles women face due to the power dynamics of the industry. Taza had the opportunity to do so in its 2018 report, when it mentions that its partner in El Majagual, Dominican Republic donated his chocolate factory to an association of local women. However, they do not even name the women’s association or delve into what it does, and it seems as though the sale was a decision made independently by the producer with no help or influence from Taza. This is an area where Taza can really improve and learn from organizations such as Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghana based company that sets gender quotas for elected representation at the community and district levels of governance and organizes conscious-raising women’s groups and women’s literacy programs (Leissle, 149). An essential next step for Taza is to acknowledge the unequal distribution of power and wealth due to gender, because according to field work and research by Kristy Leissle and Stephanie Barrientos , “Apart from explicit, well-directed efforts to empower women, most assistance…[goes] directly or indirectly to men” (Leissle, 173).
In summary, Taza Chocolate is changing the way chocolate is sourced, produced and consumed. In addressing the economic problems farmers face, ensuring its producers do not use forced labor, and investing in programs that combat child labor, Taza is making a positive impact on cocoa production. However, there are many areas where Taza can still learn and grow— the transparency reports would be greatly improved if they included farm gate prices, and just as the company has invested in programs to fight against child labor, it should invest in programs that are actively looking to support women. That being said, Taza’s direct trade program is truly innovative, and its transparency reports are challenging other companies to improve their own practices. Although the direct trade model is not feasible for the larger scale companies that dominate the industry, consumers must demand the same level of commitment to ethical production that Taza demonstrates.
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, 2013, pp. 1088–1100.
Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of The World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.
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.
The history of chocolate illustrates the dilemma of good intentions and the moral ambiguity of efforts by one culture — in this case that of the wealthy white Christianity-dominated West — to re-form and re-create another culture in their own image. This ambiguity shows itself in the early history of American Christian missionaries bringing their faith — faith in God, and in the sort of education and vocational training they saw as inseparable from the preaching of the gospel — to Ghana in the late 19th and early 20 century, and it shows itself throughout the history of complex cultural interactions around the cultivation of chocolate. It shows itself, too, in the current conditions of the economy of chocolate, and, maybe most poignantly, in the ideological and humanistic battles around the billion-dollar trust created by the vast chocolate wealth of the Hershey family and the extraordinary school it funds. Like chocolate, religious and moral proselytizing often comes in with a sugar coating that can’t be refused, but underneath that sweetness lies something bitter.
Missionaries promise better lives for the people they preach to, while often completely devaluing and invalidating their existing cultures and lives. In the article “MISSIONARY SPOTLIGHT – Ghana’s Christian legacy” on Evangelical Times, it is claimed that Christianity has “contributed in no small way to the development of Ghanaian society and the well-being of its people.” This article claims that while part of this improvement was due to development of education and medical services, Presbyterian Basel missionaries also helped the people of Ghana by introducing cacao to the region and providing training on how to grow it. The author notes that spreading Christianity in Ghana was not always an easy task. Missionaries were sometimes not welcomed, and “faced the hostility of the priests of traditional African religion, particularly when the latter’s shrines were forsaken by Christian converts” (Dapaah). This article reflects no self-awareness of why the religious reformation of Ghana may not have delighted all, or of the possibility that the traditional religion held value to the people. It is also fascinating that, taking credit for the introduction of cacao in Ghana, Evangelical Times assumes this as a positive influence. In other contexts, the cacao industry in Ghana has been under much moral scrutiny by the Western world.
Consumers of chocolate want to feel good about what they are buying. Chocolate is, after all, the quintessential feel-good product, often connected in buyers’ minds with cozy notions of love and warm indulgence. It is upsetting to consider that we may be causing harm in buying it, and consumers are quick to squelch their guilt by opting for choices that advertise ethical production.
Problems of ethics in chocolate production are often portrayed in the West by stressing the dismal conditions of cacao farmers’ lives, highlighting their poverty, lack of education, or abuses propagated on or by them. We depict them as people who need our help to have any quality of life or morals. Orla Ryan’s Chocolate Nations chapter Child Labor shows that people in the West greatly exaggerate and misinterpret child labor on cacao farms in Africa. It is portrayed as a moral crisis that children are forced to work, and an often-suggested solution is the boycott of any chocolate produced with child labor. However, the children and families themselves view the situation differently. While some children are trafficked or forced to work against their will, it is most common for children to work along with the rest of their family on the family cacao farm. This can be dangerous, but it is not caused by sadism on the part of the perpetrating family members— there is simply such a problem with poverty that everybody has to work to survive. For this reason, boycotting chocolate from these farms would do little good and possibly have disastrous effects by further increasing poverty. Addressing child labor from a place of classist, racist moral superiority is not what the world needs (Ryan).
In the article “Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism,” Bani Amor explains that fair-trade companies often are founded by white people seeking to portray themselves as heroic “fixers” of world issues, while suggesting erroneously that the problems of capitalism can be solved through capitalism means. She believes that this “saviorism through consumerism” actually relies on rather than dismantle oppressive structures.
“Saviorism employs a time-honored colonial narrative: The sad state of the savage Other necessitates civilizing via white/Western intervention, which maintains dominion over resources that sometimes trickle down to the needy via acts of charity. In his landmark 2012 essay, ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex,’ Teju Cole reminds us that saviorism ‘is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.’ …[I]t validates supremacy more than anything, because assuming the role of the savior is also a show of power” (Amor).
Saviorism validates supremacy— the supremacy of the white Western elite, their religion and morals, and what they have to offer. Allowing saviorism to continue is a roadblock to growing as a culture to celebrate diversity and embrace equality.
The Milton Hershey School
Saviorism is often about race, but it is also about class. The Milton Hershey School is an example of class saviorism within the chocolate culture and industry in America. Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine had big dreams when they set up the utopian chocolate town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. They wanted to make a place where people were productive but also happy and well provided for. This was reflected in how Milton Hershey organized his company and town and also in the creation of what was then known as the “industrial school,” a school for orphaned boys established in the town of Hershey in 1909. The school was meant to provide opportunities for the many boys left orphaned in that time period, but also to morally shape these boys so that they would not become “shiftless and criminal men who would spawn another generation of undesirables” as was a great concern of society at the time (D’Antonio 197). In addition to Milton and Catherine’s philanthropic predilections, they found joy in inviting orphans into their lives because they themselves were unable to have children. However, there was a problem with this utopian conception. The program was designed with the purpose of shaping boys to become a certain type of upstanding, honest citizens who had to meet strict standards of behavior, performance, and character. Though the school did not require every pupil to be religious, it did teach Christian morals and expel anyone “incorrigible” or “undesirable”— boys were required to be “healthy” in every way to attend and many boys were sent away when they did not uphold these standards (D’Antonio 199).
The school is now known as the Milton Hershey School. Still funded by a trust made by Hershey, offers more than free tuition— it offers free medical and dental care and will even buy clothes for its students and house them year round if needed. It is no longer a school only for orphaned boys, and the website appeals to parents by offering extraordinary care for children at no cost. Though this may offer a wonderful opportunity for some, it imposes upon parents the idea that if they are poor, their children would be better off removed from their care and transplanted into idyllic Christian wealth with strangers. It is a problematic design to, instead of addressing poverty and education inequality in disadvantaged areas, select a few promising children to remove from their lives and reshape through privilege. Though it is illegal to discriminate against students based on health, the school website still states that children must “be free of serious behavioral problems that are likely to disrupt life in the classroom or student home life” (Admissions Considerations). Children at the Milton Hershey School are also required to attend church regularly, and the website states that “The school encourages students to learn to love God and others, to give service to their community, and to live a morally upright life. Devotions are woven into their daily routine” (Student Activities).
These moral and religious standards have led to problems in recent years at the Milton Hershey School. There have been complaints of discrimination and abuse. In a 2017 article on advocate.com, an incident is detailed in which a teenage student claims to have been forced to watch an hour-long gay conversion therapy video by his house-parents at the Milton Hershey School. The student said that he was also forced to pray with his house-parents to have God help him away from gayness, and was told stories of other gay people who had terrible things happen to them. In 2013, this student was expelled from the school following a suicidal gesture. This is an example of the great harm that can come about from imposing moral and religious values, and it also illustrates the school’s problematic readiness to expell students who displayed signs of mental illness. The school admitted that this incident occurred but denied any official involvement in the showing of the video, though conversion therapy is in line with the original vision of the founder.
“A spokeswoman for the school, Lisa Scullin, who responded to Dobson’s suit against the school by saying conversion therapy is a ‘practice the administration would never allow or condone,’ doubled down on denying official involvement in response to the revelation that conversion therapy had indeed been promoted at Hershey.
‘Unequivocally, the school does not promote or endorse any program that could be remotely characterized as gay conversion therapy,’ Scullin said. ‘Any suggestion otherwise is a gross mischaracterization of our values and the environment on our campus.'”
This was not an isolated incident. Last year, a second former student of the Milton Hershey School claimed that he was forced to watch the same video, and states that he was humiliated in front of others and made to feel “like the scum of the earth” by the incident. Human Rights Campaign states that gay conversion therapy techniques “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy. Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.” Because these methods are so injurious, a number of states and municipalities have put laws in place to protect minors from them. It is deeply troubling that an orginization meant to protect children would in fact use their position to attempt to abusively mold them to fit a moral ideal, and these incidents reveal a need for radically increased scrutiny of any such “savior” programs for youth.
Imposition of Culture is Dehumanizing
The world’s privileged white elite often act as though by helping others they gain the right to impose their own “superior” moral values, but fail to recognize that imposition of culture is dehumanizing. This saviorism takes away people’s autonomy and inherent right to self-determination. Although nobody wants to be trapped in poverty or treated unfairly, that does not mean that the Western white Christian capitalist life is the model of supremacy. It is important to improve fairness in the chocolate industry and in education, but in this endeavor it is vital to integrate respect for those we are helping and listen to their values and needs rather than imposing our own—to work with rather than for them.
Ryan Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey Milton S. Hersheys Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Paw Prints, 2008.