Tag Archives: FairTradeUSA

Chocolate Tasting: Creating Conscientious Consumers Through Increased Awareness

After spending a semester studying the history, culture and politics of chocolate at Harvard University with Professor Carla D. Martin, I decided to host a chocolate tasting to put to test what had been presented in class and in our readings. My invitation to the tasting was enthusiastically accepted by several friends who love, of course, all things chocolate. My goal was threefold: to educate them about the anatomy of a chocolate bar, to explore some of the issues facing the chocolate industry today, and to examine the packaging and significance of certifications.  By increasing their awareness of these topics, I hoped to inspire them to become more conscientious consumers.

THE TASTING

The challenge quickly became which chocolate bars to include in my taste test.  Walking down the aisles of a few local grocery and convenience stores proved daunting.  There were just so many bars to choose from.  In The New Taste of Chocolate, Maricel E. Presilla writes, “the face of chocolate has changed fantastically in the last few years in that shoppers now find themselves confronted with some bewildering choices” (p 126).  And bewildered I was. When surveying the multitude of labels, I considered ingredients, certifications, and messaging. Ultimately, I arrived at a sample of seventeen bars including three different milk chocolates, a few dark chocolates with varying amounts of cocoa, and a selection of bars with additional ingredients such as almonds, mint, caramels, and sugar substitutes.  I also included one raw cacao bar to see how it would fare.  In addition, I selected several bars that had specific certifications and messaging on their packaging to prompt discussion about the issues in the chocolate industry today.

I elected to host a blind taste test so that my friends could judge each chocolate free from pre-conceived notions, preferences, and packaging information.  I assigned each bar a letter and created a spreadsheet which the participants used to record their results.  I instructed them to use all of their senses to fully experience each chocolate bar.  First, they looked at each sample for color and sheen.  They then smelled the chocolate to enjoy the aroma.  After breaking each sample to experience the “snap”, they tasted them.  My group proved to be very enthusiastic and shared their findings with great description using terms such as “sweet,” “too sweet,” “artificial,” “chalky,” “salty,” “milky,” “creamy,” “delicious,” “nutty,” “fruity,” “bleh” and “awful.”

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The general consensus among this group was that they preferred dark chocolate to milk, and favored a bar with a cocoa content of around 70%, finding a bar with 85% cocoa too bitter. As a group of mostly affluent, educated and health conscious women, they liked bars with natural and organic ingredients rather than artificial flavors and soy lecithin.  In her article “Fresh off The Farm”, Patricia Unterman explains, “when you choose to eat organic and sustainably raised produce, a little karma rubs off on you and makes everything taste better,” which resonated with this group. I found it interesting that they all readily identified the Hershey’s milk chocolate bar and agreed it reminded them of their childhoods. Though they admitted they don’t regularly consume Hershey’s, they still enjoy it as a key ingredient in s’mores.  Most of them enjoyed chocolate bars with nuts, few liked fruit additives, and only one liked the raw bar.  Some were pleasantly surprised by the bars with the artificial sweetener Stevia. They considered them to be “less guilty” treats having no sugar and fewer calories.

BEYOND THE BAR

I concluded the tasting with an analysis of the packaging of the different bars. We looked at the manufacturer, their messaging, list of ingredients, bean origination and certifications. While some of the participants were familiar with the various certifications, most were not and only one was familiar with the issues present in the chocolate industry today. The group expressed a desire to gain a broader understanding of these issues so that they could be more discriminating in their choices and use their purchasing power to support the causes they felt most strongly about.  In Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure, Warde and Martens note “consumption practices are driven by a conscious reflexivity such that people monitor, reflect upon and adapt their personal conduct in light of its perceived consequences.”

The industry today is fraught with many interrelated challenges including the worst forms of child labor, poverty, and sustainability to name a few, and certifications allow consumers to learn which chocolate companies support ethical and sustainable practices.  Worst forms of child labor include slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and any work by its nature that is harmful to the health, safety and morals of children (Martin, April 21). In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich , Ndogo Sylla explains child labor is extensively utilized in cacao harvesting and estimates that 2 million children work in the West African countries of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.  Cacao farmers labor under difficult circumstances and are subject to physical injury and exposure to toxic pesticides while earning on average $.50 to $.80 per day per capita making it virtually impossible to support a paid labor force or sustainable farming practices (Warde and Martens, p 497).

CERTIFICATIONS

The idea of fair trade dates back to the late 1940’s and has evolved over the past 70 years with the goal to reduce poverty through everyday shopping.  A multitude of organizations strive to tackle poverty in the poorest countries by improving workers’ social, economic and environmental conditions.  Others raise awareness and work to protect endangered species and the planet.  The images and links below represent some of the different certifications we discussed:

 

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Fairtrade International(FI) is a multi-stakeholder, non-profit organization focusing on the empowerment of producers and workers in developing countries through trade. Fairtrade International provides leadership, tools and services needed to connect producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and work towards sustainable livelihoods. https://www.flocert.net/glossary/fairtrade-international-fairtrade-labelling-organizations-international-e-v/

Fair Trade Certified enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, fishermen, consumers, industry, and the earth. We achieve our mission by certifying and promoting Fair Trade products. https://www.fairtradecertified.org

Equal Exchange Equal Exchange’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world. http://equalexchange.coop/about

UTZ Certified shows UTZ stands for sustainable farming and better opportunities for farmers, their families and our planet. The UTZ program enables farmers to learn better farming methods, improve working conditions and take better care of their children and the environment.Through the UTZ program farmers grow better crops, generate more income and create better opportunities while safeguarding the environment and securing the earth’s natural resources.  Now and in the future, consumers that products have been sourced, from farm to shop shelf, in a sustainable manner. To become certified, all UTZ suppliers have to follow our Code of Conduct, which offers expert guidance on better farming methods, working conditions and care for nature. https://utz.org

Rainforest Alliance Our green frog certification seal indicates that a farm, forest, or tourism enterprise has been audited to meet standards that require environmental, social, and economic sustainability. It is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land- use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/faqs/what-does-rainforest-alliance-certified-mean

AND THE WINNER IS

After much deliberation, considering aroma, color, sheen, snap, flavor and texture, the group unanimously agreed the Hachez Cocoa D’Arriba 77% Classic was their favorite. One taster exclaimed, “It’s so creamy and the flavor is so rich.”

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THE HACHEZ STORY

Joseph Emile Hachez, a chocolatier of Belgian origin, established The Bremer HACHEZ Chocolade GmbH & Co. KG in 1890 in Bremen, Germany. Though the company has changed hands several times over the past century, Hachez remains one of the most well-regarded producers of superior chocolates in Germany. As highlighted on their packaging, “Hachez offers authentic chocolates of superior quality and craftsmanship-from the cocoa bean to the chocolate bar.”

“Still using the original recipes, they are one of the few German chocolate manufacturers to do everything in one location – from cleaning the cocoa beans to roasting them, molding the chocolate and packaging them. This allows them to oversee each stage of manufacturing to ensure every last piece of chocolate meets their high standards” (Chocoversum.de).

 

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About 100 hours of work are put into every cocoa bean which leaves the factory in Bremen as chocolate. The CHOCOVERSUM shows the tradition and the attention to detail, which is practiced in the HACHEZ chocolate factory in Bremen by over 350 employees on a daily basis. (Chocoversum.de)

 

Though their packaging displays no certifications or social, political or environmental messaging, Hachez belongs to both BDSI, the Association of German Confectionary, and GISCO, the German Institute on Sustainable Cocoa, which aim to address some of the issues facing the cacao industry today. The BDSI works to improve the standard of living for cocoa farmers and their families by promoting sustainable farming and education, and by offering loans to farmers to fund investments to increase productivity, quality and efficiency.  They find exploitive child labor practices unacceptable and are working with local communities to eliminate it through education and schooling. BDSI intends to boost the percent of sustainable cocoa in manufacturing to 50% by 2020 and to 70% by 2025 and to increase the share of responsibly produced cocoa in chocolate and confections sold in Germany.  Similarly, GISCO’s focus is to improve the living conditions of cocoa farmers and their families and to conserve natural resources and biodiversity in cocoa producing countries.

THE ANATOMY OF A HACHEZ BAR

To understand the anatomy of any chocolate bar, it is essential to consider all of the ingredients and workers that contribute to the final product. The basis for chocolate is cacao, which is derived from the seed of the tree, Theobroma cacao, or “food-of-the-gods cacao.” These trees grow in a band around the world, hugging the equator, and thriving only where there are perfect temperatures and plentiful moisture (Off, p 10). Approximately 70% of the worlds cocoa comes from West African, in particular, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana.  Latin America accounts for 16% of cocoa production and Asia and Oceana account for another 12%.  Over 10% of the global harvest is processed in Germany where Hachez is based.

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Farmers gently separate the cacao pods from the trees and crack them open to remove the pulp which encases the precious beans.  Once cleaned of debris, the beans and surrounding pulp are covered in banana leaves to begin the important process of fermentation which develops the flavor of the beans. The fermentation process can take between two and six days.  When fermentation is complete, the beans are dried, sorted and bagged for shipment.

At Hachez, they claim to use only the finest cocoa varieties from farmers whom they consider to be socially responsible, environmentally friendly and practice sustainable farming. The unique flavor characteristics of the variety of beans they use reflect their terroir, “loosely translated as ‘a sense of place,’ which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment and people have had on the production of the product” (Martin, April 18).

Upon receiving the beans, Hachez’s chocolatiers sort them and run them through a machine to remove stones, sticks, and other foreign substances.  Next, the beans are “roasted in traditional drums using hot air currents to extract the optimal development of flavor and aroma” (Chocoverse.de). After a winnower separates the husks from the nibs, Hachez grinds the nibs specifically to a granular diameter of .0014 mm to produce a more delicate texture. Next, the chocolate is put through a conche for up to 72 hours to reduce the size of the particles in order to fully refine the aroma and to enhance the smoothness and delicate consistency. The chocolate is then tempered: “the temperature of the mass is raised, then carefully lowered so that the crystal structure of the fat may be destroyed to prevent the bar from becoming blotchy and granular, with a poor color.  Tempering remains a vital step in the manufacture of the finest quality chocolate” (Coe and Coe, p 248). The end result is a chocolate bar with great aroma, sheen, snap, flavor and texture.  As one taster exclaimed, “This bar is amazing.  The rich flavor and creamy texture make it the best one by far.”

CONCLUSION

Near the end of the tasting, we explored the health benefits of chocolate when consumed responsibly.  Chocolate with the greatest health benefits has a minimum 70% cacao, is organic, has limited amounts of cocoa butter and added fats, and is enjoyed in small amounts of about 2 oz. per day (Martin, April 11). Scientists have identified in cacao antioxidant properties which reduce disease causing free radicals. Antioxidants like this help ward off cancer, repair damaged cells, and impact the effects of aging.  Dark chocolate in particular is high in polyphenols and flavonoids providing a large dose of antioxidants per serving.  Flavanols, the main type of flavonoid found in dark chocolate, also are known to positively affect heart health because they help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.

The tasters left feeling much smarter about the bean to bar process, more aware of the issues facing the chocolate industry today, enlightened about the health benefits of dark chocolate, and most important, empowered as shoppers.  I would argue I succeeded in turning them into conscientious consumers.

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sphie D. and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006 (3rd Edition).

Mintz, Sydney W., Sweetness and Power. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Off, Carol, Bitter Chocolate, Anatomy of an Industry. New York: The New Press, 2014.

Martin, Carla D.  “Modern Day Slavery”, Harvard University, AAS E119, March 21, 2018.

Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and Politics of Food”, Harvard University, AAS E119, April 11, 2018.

Martin, Carla D. “Psychology, Terroir and Taste”, Harvard University, AAS E119,  April 18, 2018.

Presilla, Maricel E., The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.

Unterman, Patricia, “Fresh off the Farm”, SF Examiner, Aug 20, 2000.

Warde, A. and I. Martens, Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 2014.

Chocoversum by Hachez. https://www.chocoversum.de/en/

Association of the German Confectionary Industry. https://www.bdsi.de

German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa. https://www.kakaoforum.de/en/

 

 

 

 

 

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Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: Addressing Ethical Criteria in the Cacao-Chocolate Supply Chain via the Ethnographic Review of Taza Chocolate

Introduction

Despite the variety of available chocolate products, the process by which a chocolate bar comes to fruition maintains certainty consistency. A ubiquitous procedure, the evolution of a cacao pod to a chocolate bar ought to have reached contemporary standards of ethicality and efficiency. Yet, the bean-to-bar progression is plagued with inherent injustices that have been embedded in the chocolate industry from the start. Fundamental to the development of capitalism, cacao, a commodity crop like tobacco, sugar, coffee, rum, and cotton, initially relied heavily on the slave trade to fuel increasing demand. (Martin, 2017) Yet, despite the abolition of slavery in the mid 19th century, modern day slavery still prevails in the cacao industry. In response to the persistent pervasiveness of injustices in the bean-to-bar process, particularly surrounding the harvesting and cultivation of cacao, bean-to-bar brands have proliferated as a potential solution with a commitment to both the ethicality and culinary aspects of chocolate production; Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts typifies one of these companies striving to produce palatable chocolate through ethical practices and a high degree of production transparency.

Cacao-Chocolate Supply Chain

The cacao-chocolate supply chain begins with the cultivation of cacao pods. After cacao cultivation, the pods are harvested and the seeds and pulp are separated from the pod. The cacao seeds are then fermented and dried before being sorted, bagged, and transported to chocolate manufacturers, chocolate makers, and chocolatiers. The cacao beans then undergo roasting, husking, grinding, and pressing before the product undergoes a type of “polishing,” called “conching,” in which final flavors develop. (Martin, 2017) Differences in the execution of each step influence the ultimate taste, texture, feel, and consistency of the chocolate bar.

Today, cacao cultivation and harvesting has predominately shifted away from the Americas to West Africa. Almost all of the world’s cacao used in the making of chocolate, approximately 75%, grows in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. (Martin, 2017). Despite the shift of the geographic foci of cacao trade, partially fueled to escape slavery associated with commodities crops in the Americas, a narrative of slavery and exploitation continue to plague the cacao trade. (Martin, 2017) Modern day farming of cocoa has exploited child and migrant labor, with price fixing by governments a likely causal link between abuses and the need for farmers to reduce their own cost.  (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014) Additionally, as small producers, the farmers lack collective bargaining ability and are thus dependent on price fixing governments or commodity boards that “leave them at the mercy of independent traders or other large buyers of their cocoa.” (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014)

Approximately two million small, independent family farms in modern day West Africa produce the vast majority of cacao. Each farm, between five to ten acres in size, collectively produce more than three million metric tons of cacao per year. (Martin, 2017) While some of the farms also grow crops like oil palm, maize, and plantains, to supplement their income, the average daily income of a typical Ghanaian cacao farmer hovers between $0.50-$0.80. (Martin, 2017).

The current system of buying and selling cacao in West Africa typically involves the growers and farmers selling to intermediaries, who subsequently sell upstream to additional intermediaries. The longer the supply chain, the greater opportunity for corruption and the exploitation of the farmers as the latter receive increasingly smaller shares of the overall price of a chocolate bar as the supply chain grows more layered with intermediaries adding their own profit layer. The marketing structures in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, the two largest cacao producers in West Africa, typify West African cacao trade. In Ghana, farmers take cacao to buying centers operated by the Ghana Cocoa Board, Cocobod. Cocobod fixes prices, and either Cocobod representatives or private buyers purchase the cacao. In Cote d’Ivoire, private traveling buyers collect cacao from farmers and pay a guaranteed minimum export price. (“Organic Cocoa Industry,” 2014)

The marketing structures in both countries exemplify the complexities of the exploitation of cacao farmers. In Ghana, local elites dominate cacao farming. Raising cacao prices would empower the local elite, and threaten the state. (Martin, 2017).  Therefore, the state, by controlling cacao prices through the Cocobod, also controls and restricts the power of the local elite. In Cote D’Ivoire, peasants comprise the majority of cacao farmers, and consequently, present a lesser threat to the government of the Cote D’Iviore. Consequently, allowing itinerants to collect cacao from farmers, while giving peasant farmers more ability to negotiate prices and thus greater power, does not, in the government’s view, create a threat to the state.

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Cote D’Ivoire Marketing Structure (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014)
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Ghana Marketing Structure (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014)

Cacao, a commodity, theoretically should command a volatile price as determined by the global markets. Market variability within the past half-decade, however, has demonstrated the     effects of a long cacao-supply chain. Due to farming conditions, over the past five years, cacao supply has gone from a severe deficit to a surplus. In late 2014, poor harvest yields coupled with increased demand for chocolate drove the supply of cacao way down. (Ferdman, 2014) In fact, a 2014 Bloomberg report even suggested that in 2020, when the demand for cacao would exceed supply by 1 million metric tons, the world would have to turn to a genetically modified form of cacao, even at the forfeit of flavor, to attempt to meet demand. Yet, despite market economics which dictate that with increasing scarcity an item should demand a higher price, unusually, cacao farmers struggled to make a profit and began switching to other crops like palm and rubber. (Ferdman, 2014). Profits from the higher prices, instead of trickling down to the farmers, were captured higher up the supply chain. As recently as March 2017, however, cacao supply had usurped demand. Rather than let the market reset the pricing of cacao, the governments of both Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana announced an unspecified cut in prices of cacao, which further economically harms the farmers. With only meager profits, and constant subjection to harsh work conditions, the farmers cannot move beyond subsistence level and suffer from inescapable exploitative labor practices. (Hunt & Aboa, 2017)

In response to the social and economic injustices associated with the cacao-supply chain, various organizations—governmental, non-governmental, global and national—have been established with the common mission of improving ethicality and corporate responsibility of global cacao practices. For example, the International Cocoa Organization, ICCO, ratified by the United Nations, unifies cacao producing and cacao consuming countries.  The ICCO established an official mandate on a Sustainable World Cocoa Economy to addresses the exploitative environment cacao farmers face. (“International Cocoa Organization”) In 2012, Cargill, an American global corporation with a large focus on agricultural commodities, founded Cargill Cocoa Promise which specifically concentrates on bringing transparency to the global cocoa supply chain by supplying ethically sourced cacao to their buyers.  (“Cargill is committed to helping the world thrive” 2017) On a micro, private level, Cargill itself develops professional farmers’ organizations in the regions from where the corporation buys cacao in order to help farmers develop a sustainable way to improve and maintain their livelihoods.

Further, various organizations have established criteria for certifications with the goal of enticing companies to comply with specified ethical requirements in exchange for public acknowledgement for doing so.  “Fair Trade,” a designation granted by the nonprofit of the same name, stands out as a recognizable stamp on many shelf-brands. Self-defined as an organization which “enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth,” Fair Trade certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee farmers making Fair Trade certified goods receive fair wages, work in safe environments, and receive benefits to support their communities. (“Fair Trade USA,” 2017) Yet, while in theory Fair Trade seems to address many issues the cacao farmers face, critics of the certification point out there exists a lack of evidence of significant impact, a failure to monitor Fair Trade standards, and an increased allowance of non-Trade ingredients in Fair Trade products. (Nolan, Sekulovic, & Rao 2014) So, while in theory certifications like Fair Trade offer the potential to improve the cacao-supply chain by ensuring those companies who subscribe to the certification meet certain criteria, the rigor and regulation of the criteria appears debatable.

Contemporary Solutions: Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

In contrast to the traditional process of chocolate manufacturers buying beans in bulk from suppliers who amalgamate beans from anonymous farms, “bean-to-bar” companies offer another potential solution for the injustices in the bean-to-bar process.  By maintaining absolute control of the bean-to-bar process by cutting out the middle-men and dealing directly with the cacao farmers, these small companies not only strive for superior quality, but commit to ethical standards. (Shute 2013) The hope is that the the bean-to-bar “pipeline will make for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation.” (Shute, 2013) The expensive price tag associated with a small-batch bean-to-bar product contributes to a more decent wage for West African cacao farmers, while simultaneously promising an excellent product.

The close relationship proves to be mutually beneficial as the bean-to-bar companies get well-flavored chocolate and the cacao farmers receive fair wages. (Zusman, 2016) Further, the transparency associated with the small-batch bean-to-bar process motivates the companies to adhere to ethical criteria, as well as keep up to date on ethical practices, and encourages the cacao farmers to take extra care in drying and fermenting their beans. Some bean-to-bar chocolate companies have also started following the lead of coffee companies by implementing Direct Trade, a partnership arguably doing more, directly, to help minimize exploitative practices, than Fair Trade. (Zusman 2016)

Direct Trade, a type of product sourcing, partners bean-to-bar buyers directly with cacao farmers. While providing some oversight on ethical practices, Fair Trade’s supervisory capacity does little to create a more direct relationship between the farmers and the ultimate producers or to eliminate extraneous intermediaries diluting profit from the growers. Further, achieving a Fair Trade certification costs between US$8,000 and US$10,000.  In contrast, Direct Trade costs the chocolate bar producer nothing while facilitating their purchase of cacao directly from farmers. This one-step connection, perhaps the epitome of the bean-to-bar movement, allows the buyer and seller (the farmer) to together dictate fair prices, and ensure the cacao farmers receive fair wages, working conditions, and support. With control over the bean-to-bar pipeline, and Direct Trade making such a choice more accessible, these smaller chocolate bar companies seem to provide a more viable blueprint to mitigate, and hopefully end, the exploitation of the cocoa farmers.

Taza Chocolate

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Taza Logo (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017)

Alex Whitmore, an innovator of the bean-to-bar chocolate movement founded Taza Chocolate in 2005.  A ground-breaking chocolate shop committed to “simply crafted, but seriously good” chocolate, Taza exists as “a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcin.” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Taza “created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all.” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Taza maintains a direct “real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices,” and pays farmers a premium for cacao well above the Fair Trade price.  (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Within this symbiotic relationship, in exchange for ethical treatment and the removal of middlemen, the cacao farmers provide Taza with the “best organic cacao.”  (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017)

Taza maintains a high degree of transparency on their website.  In addition to publishing their Direct Trade Program Commitments (“1. Develop direct relationships with cacao farmers; 2. Pay a price premium to cacao producers; 3. Source the highest quality cacao beans; 4. Require USDA certified organic cacao; 5. Publish an annual transparency report” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) ), Taza provides hyperlinks to their transparency report, cacao sourcing videos, and their sustainable organic sugar.  Seemingly, Taza exemplifies the archetype bean-to-bar company.

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Taza Direct Trade Program (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017)

I spoke with Ayala Ben-Chaim, Taza’s Tours and Events Coordinator, to gain further understanding of Taza’s revolutionary approach and the impact Taza has on the cacao-chocolate supply chain. Ayala explained that Alex set out with the goal of creating a socially responsible chocolate brand that balanced environmental, social, and quality responsibilities.  In 2005, market trends indicated consumers wanted organic products, so Alex initially considered making chocolate that was organic and Fair Trade.  Ayala noted, however, that as Taza began to develop, Alex discovered not all organic products aligned with Fair Trade certified products, not all Fair Trade Products aligned with organic products, and occasionally both organic and Fair Trade products tasted poorly. Additionally, early on, Taza did not have the budget to pay for Fair Trade certification; further, Alex realized he could be paying that fee directly to the cacao farmers. Consequently, Alex turned to the idea of direct trade.

Taza identified the main issue with the cacao-supply chain as the length of the chain from farmer to chocolate company. The longer the supply chain, the more opportunity for funding to disperse before reaching farmers, and the more opportunity for corruption by middle-men. Confirming the information I found on the website, Ayala explained that to help combat the supply chain injustices by shortening the cacao-supply chain as much as possible, Taza adopted Direct Trade.  Ayala elaborated that, emulating Counter-Culture coffee, an organic coffee company that formalized a third-party direct trade policy, Alex forfeited Fair Trade in favor of Direct Trade, and Taza hired a cacao sourcing manager. (“Sustainability At Coffee Origin,” 2017) Based in Columbia, the sourcing manager oversees all of the cacao sourcing, visits cacao farms regularly to ensure the conditions meet Taza’s own highly ethical criteria, and that the cacao fetches fair prices.  One of Taza’s biggest direct trade sourcing successes was creating a relationship with Haiti. Taza consistently pays farmers significantly more under the Direct Trade policy than they would have received under a Fair Trade certification, which would not have necessarily cut out middlemen.

Ultimately, however, the question remains whether the extreme efforts Taza puts forth to create an ethically sound product really produce a significant impact on the cacao-supply chain. Although Taza makes a significant impact on the people with whom they directly partner, Ayala commented that many customers approach her to ask about Fair Trade and completely confuse Direct Trade for Fair Trade, and thus do not comprehend Fair Trade’s shortcomings and the increased benefits to the farmers of Direct Trade.  Although frustrating, she does concede that some level of awareness in the choice of which chocolate to purchase is better than a total lack of knowledge or concern.

Ayala offered the statistic that in 2005, Taza was only one of three bean-to-bar chocolate companies. Today, however, Taza is one of 60 bean-to-bar companies. While the significance of Taza’s impact may be relatively small, the overall bean-to-bar movement has started to gain momentum. If each bean-to-bar company identifies issues in the cacao supply chain similarly to Taza, then, over time, an increasingly larger percentage of chocolate will come from ethically responsible sourcing. And, hopefully, that will also mean that customers will start to become more knowledgeable about what they are eating, become more discerning about the distinctions between the various “stamps” on the packaging, and more willing to pay a higher price for product that subscribes to and supports ethical farming.

Bean-to-bar chocolate companies appear to be a viable potential solution, albeit slow and on a more micro level, to addressing the issues in the cacao-chocolate supply. Because currently the consumer base does not seem to possess a critical awareness of different certifications, the bean-to-bar companies must continue to pioneer more moral standards until enough customers catch up and until demand forces the bigger chocolate venders to take a similar approach. Until then, tackling the exploitation embedded in the cacao-supply chain falls exclusively on the shoulders of the chocolatiers equally loyal to both chocolate and social responsibility.

References

“Cargill is committed to helping the world thrive.” Provider of food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world. | Cargill. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Fair Trade USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Ferdman, Roberto A. “The World’s Biggest Chocolate-maker Says We’re Running out of Chocolate.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 15 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2017. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/11/15/the-worlds-biggest-chocolate-maker-says-were-running-out-of-chocolate/?utm_term=.6f1b2516fded&gt;.

“International Cocoa Organization.” About ICCO. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-39. Web.

Nolan, Markham, Dusan Sekulovic, and Sara Rao. “The Fair Trade Shell Game.” Vocativ. Vocativ, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 May 2017.

“Organic Cocoa Industry.” Cocoa Production and Processing Technology (2014): 67-78. Anti-Slavery International. Web.

“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor.” Taza Chocolate. N.p., 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2017. <https://www.tazachocolate.com/&gt;.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, April 04, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Lecture, Chocolate Lecture, Cambridge, March 01, 2017.

Schatzker, Mark. “To Save Chocolate, Scientists Develop New Breeds of Cacao.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2017. <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-14/to-save-chocolate-scientists-develop-new-breeds-of-cacao&gt;.

Shute, Nancy. “Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done.” NPR. NPR, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 May 2017.

“Sustainability At Coffee Origin.” Counter Culture Coffee. N.p., 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 03 May 2017.

Taza Chocolate. “Sourcing for Impact in Haiti.” Vimeo. Taza Chocolate, 03 May 2017. Web. 03 May 2017. Video

Zusman, Michael C. “What It Really Takes to Make Artisan Chocolate.” Eater. N.p., 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 May 2017.

Video,

Fair Trade Pioneer and Protector: Equal Exchange Chocolates

Equal Exchange is one of the leading distributors of fairly traded and organic products, particularly coffee, cocoa products and tea. The company has been involved in fair trade from its conception in 1986 and has fought to ensure fair treatment, fair prices, safe working conditions and direct trade relationships for small-scale farmers and farming co-operatives as well as providing education to its consumers on available products. In the last ten years, Equal Exchange has found itself in opposition to one of the most well-known names of fair trade (mostly because it has the words in its name)- Fair Trade USA. Equal Exchange has retaliated against Fair Trade USA’s CEO Paul Rice’s campaign, “Fair Trade for All,” which plans to expand the certification of fair trade to large plantation owners. Equal Exchange, through its countless protest resources, emphasizes that this inclusion of big business and plantations will only foster negative competition for the farmers and farming co-ops that fair trade organizations try so hard to protect.

The Backstory

In 1986, Jonathan Rosenthal, Michael Rozyne and Rink Dickinson co-founded Equal Exchange as a challenge to the existing Fair Trade business models and as an attempt at creating a “closer connection” between the consumers and the farmers (“History of Equal Exchange”). They were previously involved in a food co-op in New England and decided to bring their knowledge of the relationship between producers and consumers into a realm that would benefit international, small-scale producers.  Once a week, for three years, the three met and discussed the best strategies to ensure more control for farmers, to create higher quality standards for producers, and foster a community and a company “that would be controlled by the people who did the actual work,” (“History of Equal Exchange”).

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The co-founders of Equal Exchange

Originally, the company sold Nicaraguan coffee, called “Café Nica,” which they imported through a loophole in the Reagan administration’s embargo on products from Nicaragua as a show of opposition towards the Sandinista government. This embargo was placed on Nicaraguan products in the late 1980s to further cut off any and all financial assistance to the Nicaraguan government as punishment for the Sandistas allegedly providing material support to the Salvadorian guerrillas (Leogrande). The embargo did not inhibit the founders from importing Nicaraguan coffee but during these years the three located and began trade relationships with other farming co-ops in South America and Africa. It was not until later years that the company would begin to sell fairly sourced tea and cacao products in addition to coffee.

The Business Model

Equal Exchange is a fully democratic worker co-operative that emphasizes equality among workers. The company depends on four main principles for its employees: “the right to vote (one vote per employee, not per share); the right to serve as leader (i.e. board director); the right to information; and the right to speak your mind,” (“Worker-Owner”). Each worker involved in the employee has an equal stake in the company so there is no hierarchy of salary or superiority among positions. The company is involved with over forty co-operatives in North America (mainly Mexico), Southern America (mainly Peru, Ecuador and Paraguay), Central America, Africa and Asia.

This video is taken from the Equal Exchange website narrating the worker-owned business model (if the video resets to the beginning of the Equal Exchange playlist, it should be video 16: Co-ops: Can We Do it Ourselves?):

The Introduction of Cocoa

In 2001, Equal Exchange surveyed their consumers and figured out that cocoa was a highly desired product. In 2002, they added hot cocoa mix to their product list, quickly followed by baking cocoa powder in 2003 and three varieties of chocolate bars in 2004. Their 2002 hot cocoa mix was the first U.S. cocoa product to display the Fair Trade Certified seal and to use Fair Trade Certified sugar (“History of Equal Exchange,”).

“…We put together a hot cocoa mix that met our standards of quality and social responsibility — a partnership between cocoa, sugar, and dairy cooperatives. Our hot cocoa mix has helped us reach out to a different group of farmers and has provided options for people who want to be certain that their cocoa is not being harvested by slave or child labor. It has allowed children in the U.S. to participate in promoting Fair Trade along with their parents,” (“History of Equal Exchange,”).

Cocoa Production and Products Today 

After the initial introduction of Equal Exchange’s three chocolate bars in 2004 they have expanded their products to twelve varieties of chocolate bars (Extreme Dark, Very Dark, Panama Extra Dark, Milk, Dark Chocolate Almond, Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt, Milk Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Orange and Dark Chocolate Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper), milk and dark “chocolate minis,” milk and dark chocolate chips, hot cocoa mix, dark hot chocolate mix, spicy hot cocoa mix and one bulk sized option of cocoa powder (“Chocolate Bars,” “Chocolate Chips,” “Chocolate Minis,” “Cocoa,”). Each of their products is certified organic and Kosher.

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“This bar is made with chocolate liquor from Fortaleza del Valle co-operative in Ecuador and cocoa butter from co-ops in the Dominican Republic. The sugar and vanilla are also fairly traded and organic. The sugar comes from co-operatives in Paraguay and the vanilla from a co-operative in Madagascar,” (“Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate (65% Cacao)”).

 

 

The chocolate bars are made with cacao sourced from “small farmers in Central and South America,” and are accompanied with a story explaining the origin of the cacao, sugar, and any other ingredients in each bar (“Chocolate Bars,”). The website states that “All of our Fair Trade and organic chocolates and cocoas are made with pure ingredients from small-scale farmers in Peru, Panama, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic,” (“Chocolate and Cocoa,”).

 

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“This bar is made with chocolate liquor from the COCABO co-operative in Panama and cocoa butter from CONACADO in the Dominican Republic. The sugar and vanilla are also fairly traded and organic. The sugar comes from co-operatives in Paraguay and the vanilla from a co-operative in Madagascar,” (“Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate (80% Cacao)”).

The “Fair Trade” Debacle 

When Equal Exchange began it had a goal to challenge the existing conditions of the larger organizations who dealt with producer-consumer relations. The co-founders of Equal Exchange could recognize the issues with large, corporate structures dealing with fair trade and wanted to refine the process to help more small farming operations in better ways.

Fair Trade Certification is socially understood to be beneficial for the small farmers and farming co-operatives and an effective way for consumers to directly benefit the producers of their goods. Fair Trade USA  promises to encourage the following ideas in its trade relationships with producers:

  • Direct trade between producers and manufacturers
  • Fair prices for goods
  • Safe working conditions
  • No exploitation of labor
  • No child labor
  • Gender equity
  • Democratic and transparent principles
  • Reasonable work hours
  • Community development to support education, healthcare, etc
  • Environmental sustainability (Martin)

However, these goals are not completely satisfied by the organization. There are many issues with the Fair Trade system, such as not enough money directly returning to farmers, a lack of standardized quality control,  and the high cost of certification. Unlike Equal Exchange, it is not a worker-owned, fully democratic organization so workers do not have the autonomy and voice that they would if they were involved in smaller organizations. The most problematic of the shortcomings of the system- in the eyes of Equal Exchange- is the fact that Big Food has slowly become more involved in the Fair Trade system which leads to a higher involvement of large plantations rather than small farmers.

In 2011, Paul Rice, CEO of Fair Trade USA stated that he wanted to expand the Fair Trade Certification system by allowing larger plantations and suppliers of cacao, sugar, cotton and coffee to take part in the system (“World Affairs Council of Northern California”). In his explanation of his “Fair Trade for All,” campaign, Rice stated that the definition of Fair Trade should be expanded and allow for the purchase of goods from collections of famers or larger plantations, as long as they meet the proper certification requirements; however, this inclusion of large plantations will foster new competition in the Fair Trade system that may ultimately hurt small farmers. Farmers who are a part of the fair trade system became involved due to excessive competition from major producers and the resultant financial inequity; thus, Rice’s plan to broaden the scope of Fair Trade will recreate this type of harmful competition between producers. Rice’s defense for this campaign centers on the idea that Fair Trade should be inclusive and should work to involve as many producers as possible.

“I Stand With Small Farmers”

Almost immediately, Equal Exchange responded to Fair Trade USA’s plan with harsh criticism. Equal Exchange began a response campaign, named “I Stand with Small Farmers,” through which they ask consumers and manufacturers to stand in solidarity against the expansion of Fair Trade ceswsfemailsignature_0-1rtification to include plantations. The founders have hyperlinked statements and resources on their webpage that argue against the claims of Rice and Fair Trade USA, including lists of ally partners and media sources covering the debate.

The following quote is taken from their public petition against the Fair Trade for All plan:

“Therefore we vigorously oppose Fair Trade USA (previously TransFair USA)’s Fair Trade for All initiative, which seeks to allow coffee, cacao and other commodities from plantations into the Fair Trade system. This strategy means that small farmers will now be forced to compete with large plantations for market access… We oppose the lower standards Fair Trade USA proposes and the lack of farmer and producer governance on Fair Trade USA’s board. We believe that their Fair Trade For All initiative threatens small farmer co-operatives’ existence and Fair Trade itself.”

In 2012, Equal Exchange published a report on their fight with Fair Trade USA. The background summary explains that in the 1990s, Equal Exchange had collaborated with other organizations to create the certifying agent of TransFair USA which was supposed to create more consumer confidence in the products they were buying. Eventually, TransFair, which changed its name to Fair Trade USA in 2010, lowered their certification standards, began to certify major food businesses such as Chiquita and Dole and broke off from the FairTrade Labelling Organization (“Background Summary”).

Overall, Equal Exchange emphasizes its distrust of the organization and its issue with the idea of allowing large plantations to compete with already struggling small farmers.

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Their self-published document, “Campaign FAQs” includes the following objection to Rice’s plan:

“Rather from our 26 years of Fair Trade experience we think their new methods represent a loose and misleading use of the term [Fair Trade] and a much diluted approach to product certification. We think their new criteria constitute little change from the status quo and, in fact, will undermine the substantial economic and social gains that the global Fair Trade movement has achieved to date,” (“Authentic Fair Trade Campaign FAQ’s”).

In his 2011 speech, co-founder of Equal Exchange Rink Dickinson states that this new plan is a threat to the stability and the success of fair trade development. He states:

“The gravest threat is the ongoing lowering of fair trade standards to the point where real fair trade groups cannot compete in the market because fair trade in name is cheap and well connected with the market and access is actually worse than it was before this movement started in earnest in the eighties… This threat plays out with few farmers coops beyond coffee and fair trade coffee coops getting weaker and being replaced by plantations, unaffiliated small farmers, and fake co-ops” (Dickinson).

Conclusion and The Effect of the Split

Equal Exchange has defended fair trade business strategies since its conception in 1986. The company goes above complying with fair trade standards but works to defend the name of “Fair Trade,” when it is put in jeopardy. It has expanded its own business ventures while reaching out to more farmers and more farming co-ops, ultimately trying to protect small producers from big business. The two most probable outcomes of this split between Fair Trade USA and Equal Exchange is increased competition among fair trade certified producers, which will ultimately hurt the smaller scale farming co-ops and benefit the large plantations, and a lack of unity among fair trade products. The already small percentage of fair trade products on the market will be splintered over brand-name recognition and popularity of big business.

 

Works Cited:

“Authentic Fair Trade Campaign FAQ’s.” Equal Exchange. 24 February 2012. Web. 03 May 2016.

“Background Summary.” Equal Exchange. January 2012. Web. 03 May 2016.

“Chocolate & Cocoa.” Fair Trade Chocolate and Cocoa. Web. 03 May 2016

“Chocolate Bars.” Organic Milk and Dark Chocolate Bars. Web. 01 May 2016.

“Chocolate Chips.” Organic and Fair Trade. Web. 01 May 2016.

“Chocolate Minis.” Gourmet Chocolate Minis. Web. 01 May 2016

“Cocoa.” Organic & Fair Trade. Web. 01 May 2016

Dickinson, Rink. “An Analysis of Fair Trade: Reflections from a Founder.” InterReligious Task Force Conference. Cleveland, Ohio. 23 October 2011. Speech.

Gunther, Marc. ”A Schism over Fair Trade.” Marc Gunther. Web. 30 April May 2016.

“History of Equal Exchange.” Equal Exchange. Web. 30 April May 2016.

Leogrande, William M. “Making the Economy Scream: U.S. Economic Sanctions Against Sandiest Nicaragua.” Third World Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 2 (1996): 329-348. Print.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/globalization.” African American Studies 199x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. MA, Cambridge. 6 Apr. 2016. Lecture.

“Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate (65% Cacao).” Fairly Traded Coffee, Chocolate, Tea & Snacks. Web. 30 April 2016.

“Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate (80% Cacao).” Fairly Traded Coffee, Chocolate, Tea & Snacks. Web. 30 April 2016.

Rice, Paul. “Fair Trade for All.” Leaders Forum, Shaping the Global Sustainability Agenda. St. Gallen, Switzerland. February 2015. Speech.

“Worker-Owned.” Equal Exchange. Web. 01 May 2016.

“World Affairs Council of Northern California.” Speakers. Web. 01 May 2016.