Tag Archives: farmers

Theo Chocolate: Making the World a Better Place One Bar at a Time

Chocolate, one of life’s sweetest treats, has the remarkable capability to bring people together from every corner of the world. From chefs working with the finest artisanal chocolates in France to a seven-year-old kid drinking a cup of hot chocolate in Rockefeller Center during Christmastime, chocolate uniquely transcends all ages, backgrounds, and borders. However, what is often unknown or ignored is chocolate’s simultaneous ability to divide people. While so many have the privilege and ability to enjoy chocolate’s delights, it is too often at the expense of the health and wellbeing of farmers and laborers around the world. Child labor, poverty, and food insecurity are only a few of the countless issues plaguing cacao farmers globally. Sadly, many of the major players in the chocolate industry depend on the exploitation of cacao farmers so they can mass produce their products cheaply, which is not a new practice. Amanda Berlan notes, “Because both good practices and labour abuses in cocoa have strong historical antecedents, they cannot be seen as exclusively symptomatic of the modern consumerist era, or simply caused by poverty or rapacious multinationals, as is often alleged” (1094). For the everyday modern consumer, however, the ethics of a company’s supply chain is probably not one of the first things to come to mind when selecting a bar of chocolate from underneath the checkout counter at the grocery store. Nevertheless, there are glimpses of hope in the expansive chocolate industry. Some chocolate companies have taken steps to use humane labor practices, assist cacao farmers in their social and economic endeavors, obtain various certifications, and raise awareness for impoverished farmers around the world. Each individual issue with the current climate of the international chocolate industry ties back into one overarching problem: volatility. The lack of consistency and stability in every aspect of cacao farmers’ professions and lives leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. Theo, the chocolate company based out of Seattle, Washington, is a bean-to-bar company that ethically sources cacao to produce delicious chocolate products. By outlining their business model, values, and practices, I intend to show how Theo has played a part in working to solve the numerous issues that contribute to the volatile nature of international cacao production. 

Before explaining Theo’s positive social impact in the realm of chocolate and beyond, it is important to more fully understand how severe the injustices at the roots of cacao supply chains are. Cacao is an agricultural good that must be cultivated and harvested, typically on farms. Many countries in Africa and South America have emerged as global producers of cacao; in West Africa alone, there are about 2 million small, independent family farms (Martin). The labor necessary to sustain such farms is extremely taxing, physically and emotionally. Producing cacao requires duties such as clearing trees, planting, fertilizing, harvesting, transporting, and pod breaking, among others (Martin). These tasks cannot be completed without using sharp and heavy tools, handling chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.), bending down for extended periods of time, being around insects and animals, or carrying heavy loads (Martin). To make matters worse, farm laborers often work without access to bathrooms, no filtered water, and no relief from extreme heat; thus, they often suffer various physical maladies ranging from fatigue to malaria (Martin). With such horrendous working conditions, one may think that only people most fit for the job would be employed and that they would be people paid substantially for their hard work. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Because these farms are often run by families, children and people aged 50 and over often must work for their family farm (Martin). People on cacao farms work tirelessly simply to earn enough to survive, yet, as Carol Off writes, “Days of their effort [are] consumed in a heartbeat on the other side of the world” (8). Farms and farmers are the heart of any agricultural production, yet in the domain of chocolate they are undercompensated and undervalued. To complement the remarkably intense labor practices outlined above, farmers usually work without the guarantee of wages or salaries (Martin). The price of cacao is volatile, which means the income of the cacao farmer is as well (Martin). Dealing with input costs like transportation, wages, planting materials, rent/mortgage, and others only further weakens farmers’ abilities to establish a steady flow of income and to invest in their businesses (Martin). 

The issues I have outlined only begin to scratch the surface of the problems that fill cocoa supply chains, many of which perpetuate the ability of big chocolate companies to buy cocoa cheaply on the market, which continues to oppress farmers, which leaves them working for survival. The cycle is vicious. So, the question becomes how can this cycle be broken? Whose responsibility is it to make a change? Joe Whinney, the creator of Theo chocolate, believed the responsibility was partly his (“Our Story”). In 1994, Whinney spearheaded what eventually became a widespread movement aiming to supply organic cocoa beans in the United States (“Our Story”). After traveling and working in Central America and Africa, “he recognized an injustice in the way that both were being exploited and wanted to make a difference” (“Our Story”). This desire turned into a decade long campaign to advocate for organic cocoa beans in the U.S. and for Fair Trade practices for the farmers (“Our Story”). Working with co-founder Debra Music, Whinney used his passion to inspire action. In 2006, years of brand building and experimenting in a factory culminated in the creation of Theo organic chocolate (“Our Story”).

Ever since the company’s conception 13 years ago, Theo has stuck to, taken pride in, and grown the meaning of being a bean to bar chocolate maker. To Theo, being a bean to bar company means, “We negotiate prices directly, provide training on good agricultural practices and offer meaningful quality incentive payments. With our model farmers know how much income to expect from their harvest, enabling them to make financial plans for the future and to invest in their families and communities” (“How We Source”). Theo’s website outlines the company’s mission, which, is “to create a more beautiful, compassionate, and enduring world by responsibly making delicious and inspiring products for everyone.” Theo’s consumers and employees alike value the company’s dedication to betterment, and the video below gives employees the opportunity to share what they like the most about Theo. 

I am going to discuss Theo’s sourcing, standards and values, certifications, and products in order to illustrate how they combat injustice in cocoa production. 

Although West Africa has emerged as a primary supplier of the world’s cocoa, Theo sources its beans directly from farms in Peru and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (“How We Source”). Theo makes a point to highlight the differences in the beans’ flavors and the contexts in which they are produced. Their Congolese cocoa beans are nutty and comprise the majority of the company’s yearly supply, with roughly 70% of the cocoa coming from DRC annually (“Congolese Cocoa”). Theo has partnered with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), which advocates on behalf of the citizens of eastern Congo to promote economic and social wellbeing in an effort to establish strong civil society and to create opportunities for individual and group development (“Congolese Cocoa”). Working with over 4,500 farmers in DRC has fortified Theo’s desire to help, which expands beyond the scope of a business transaction. For example, Theo supported an initiative in 2015 which aimed to educate women in cocoa farming on the importance of pre and post-natal care, which reduced maternal and newborn deaths in the respective health zones from 45 per year to zero (“Congolese Cocoa”). The remaining 30% of Theo’s cocoa comes from the Piura and Bagua regions of Peru (“Peruvian Cocoa”). Similar to their efforts in DRC, Theo invests in the lives of Peruvian farmers through its partnership with the Norandino Cooperative (“Peruvian Cocoa”). Moreover, they have worked to positively impact the environment. Through a collaborative investment in a reforestation program, Theo and Norandino have helped to create 2,500 new acres of forest (“Peruvian Cocoa”). This type of work not only benefits those in need, it benefits the entire world. The figure below shows where each Theo ingredient comes from. 

To guarantee that Theo’s product quality and ethical code continues to meet the high standards, the company has undergone several certification processes. Theo is USDA Organic, Fair for Life certified, STAR-K Kosher, and Non-GMO (GMO stands for genetically modified organism) (“Our Certifications”). While fully unpacking the nuances and procedures of each of these certifications is beyond the scope of this analysis, it is worth noting what each means. The USDA Organic seal guarantees that Theo chocolate’s ingredients are “grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms or ionizing radiation” (Quality Assurance International). Fair for Life falls under the larger umbrella of Fairtrade certifications, and “assures that human rights are safeguarded at any stage of production, workers enjoy good and fair working conditions and smallholder farmers receive a fair share” (Fair for Life). STAR-K Kosher serves as a “a guarantee that food products and ingredients meet all kosher requirements” (Star-K Kosher). Finally, the Non-GMO project aims to certify and promote products that are made without any “plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology” (Non-GMO Project). The point of providing a glimpse into the meaning of each of these four certifications is to display the comprehensive effort Theo makes to eradicate issues at every stage and in multiple dimensions of chocolate production and consumption. Below, the figure outlines each step of Theo’s certified chocolate-making process.


While every food company, specific those selling chocolate, can always make further improvements in their business practices, Theo has social justice at its core, and these certifications show their aim to meet higher goals of fairness and prosperity for all. Two particularly remarkable elements of Theo’s certification and production protocol is that they own and operate their own certified factory and that both the suppliers they work with and the company itself get audited yearly to look at wages, working conditions, and environmental impact to promote accountability (“What Makes Theo Different?”). 

All of the hard work put into creating Theo chocolate could not effectively empower cocoa farmers or reshape the industry if consumers did not like final products. In such a saturated market, it is important that Theo stands out to the average consumer who may not be well versed in food ethics, and thus may be focused solely on the flavor of the chocolate rather than the farmers who helped produce it. Therefore, it is no surprise that Theo chocolate tastes as amazing as the mission behind it is. Exotic flavors like Ghost Chili, Root Beer Barrel, Bread and Chocolate, Salted Black Licorice, and Turmeric Spice make Theo chocolate bars jump off the shelf, while Sea Salt, Coconut, and Mint are exciting yet classic flavors.

Whatever range of flavors a consumer is looking for, they can find it in a Theo product. Theo does not exclusively sell chocolate bars, as they boast an impressive selection of ganache candies, caramels, and marshmallows on their website (Theo Chocolate). I have personally tried the Salted Toffee Dark Chocolate bar, and yet I did not know about Theo’s mission when I tried it. Producing delicious high-quality chocolate helps Theo to reach the average consumer, and to at least begin a dialogue with them about the importance of building up and sustaining fair farm practices around the world. It is, after all, in the nature of the Fairtrade movement to bring people’s attention to those who are often pushed to the side. As Kristy Leissle notes, “We must credit Fairtrade with a different kind of achievement, which has been to promote awareness that people living in the Global North enjoy luxuries like chocolate thanks to the labor of materially poor farmers” (145). 

Theo chocolate is unique in a lot of ways. It is a company that wants farming to be a viable and profitable career for people, not just a temporary, volatile job geared towards survival; it is a company that wants to make the planet fruitful and aims to preserve its resources; and it is a company with a mission manifested in delicious chocolate products. From its beginning, Theo has addressed injustice head first, and the world has become a better place because of it. Also, Theo wants to make its customers feel understand the part they play in bettering the world, and they clearly outline on their website how and why each chocolate bar purchase matters. All in all, I believe Theo is doing a great job of using its business model to continuously spread the importance of equality and justice in chocolate. They have successfully built a brand centered on ethics, which is a framework I hope many companies use in the future. In The Fair Trade Scandal, Ndongo Samba Sylla writes, “The fair and the sustainable are now ubiquitous,” and with companies like Theo influencing the chocolate industry, this is not too far from the truth (56). 

Works Cited:

“About For Life and Fair for Life.”Fair for Life – About, http://www.fairforlife.org/pmws/indexDOM.php?client_id=fairforlife&page_id=about&lang_iso639=en.

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, Feb. 2013, pp. 1088–1100., doi:10.1080/00220388.2013.780041.

“Congolese Cocoa.” Theo Chocolate, 22 Feb. 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/congolese-cocoa/.

“Getting Certified Archives | STAR-K Kosher Certification.” STAR-K Kosher, http://www.star-k.org/articles/getting-certified/.

“Home.” Theo Chocolate, http://www.theochocolate.com/.

“How We Source.” Theo Chocolate, 29 June 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/how-we-source/.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Martin, Carla. “Modern Day Slavery.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 2019, Cambridge.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2006.

“Our Certifications.” Theo Chocolate, 27 Mar. 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/our-certifications/.

“Our Story.” Theo Chocolate, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/our-story/.

“Peruvian Cocoa.” Theo Chocolate, 22 Mar. 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/peruvian-cocoa/.

“Quality Assurance International (QAI).” Quality Assurance International (QAI) Organic Certification, http://www.qai-inc.com/.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.

“What Is a GMO?” Non-GMO Project, http://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/what-is-gmo/.

“What Makes Theo Different?” Theo Chocolate, 29 May 2017, http://www.theochocolate.com/blog/what-makes-theo-different/.

BEAN to BARCODE: collecting, preserving, and producing premium chocolate from the wild

 

 

Chocolate is a billion dollar a year industry, and with an ever growing global demand, consumers are not only hunting for “something sweet”, but rather for premium chocolate that is produced and processed ethically and sustainably. There is a growing desire to locate, collect, and produce premium chocolate, but how do companies and consumers know that the chocolate they are purchasing is in fact “premium” chocolate? Many chocolate companies are addressing these social and environmental concerns by not only focusing on a quality product, but also the welfare of the people working in production and identifying wild populations to assist in protecting the land on which they grow. One company takes these social and environmental concerns very seriously, and works to connect scientists, chocolatiers, and consumers in a network that supports the production premium chocolate. Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve encompasses four major values: Quest, Race, Pursuit, and Experience. By focusing on these core values, Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve not only sets out to connect people with a quality, premium product, but it also addresses the future of the plant (Theobroma spp.) populations in the South America by documenting occurrences in the wild and sequencing the DNA (barcoding). Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve is an example of a company putting their “money where their (chocolate covered) mouth is” and in doing so, provides a network of support that allows for the distribution of the knowledge of chocolate “Bean to Bar” for future generations.

What is Premium Chocolate? The revenue generate from chocolate production is a billion dollar a year industry, but how is premium chocolate defined? Is it simply the packaging? Is it related to the origin of the beans? Is it the way in which it is processed? The answer is “all of the above”. “Like wine, chocolate is an agricultural product whose character and flavor are dependent on genetics, climate, soil and processing practices to yield a finished product. The higher the quality and care taken along the route from bean to bar, the better the finished product will taste.” (Fine Chocolate, 2017).  There are therefore five factors that determine “fine” or “premium” chocolate: origin and processing, production practices, ingredient quality, technical expertise, artistry and presentation. In accepting these criteria, it is the job of companies selling their products to make sure they are selling premium chocolate, but rather the whole supply chain from the field to the lab to make sure they are producing, processing, and selling a product worthy of the label “premium”. In doing so, the entire industry is not only looking to produce a quality product, but rather to create a quality process that looks out for the interest of the people and the planet.

Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve – established in 2016; the story of cacáo-into-chocolate, however, begins much earlier… rooted sometime around ~10millionBC. (“The Story”, 2017)

Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, established in 2016 and launched in 2017, is co-founded by Mark Christian, the Director of HCP (Heirloom Cacao Preservation), and the creator of C-Spot™ (The Independent Consumer Guide to Premium Chocolate). C-Spot™ is dedicated to chocolate and describes two major points in its philosophy 1) “Other than the Christmas tree, no tree on Earth brings as much hope & joy to a troubled world and 2) cacao can play a role in creating a model for ethical capitalism that builds networks between the producing South & the consuming North based on mutual respect.” (“Philosophy”, 2017). Where C-Spot™ provides the public with multitudes of educational materials by describing the history of Theobroma cacao and the science of preservation (The Chocolate Atlas), a database of available chocolate products with statistics and reviews (The Chocolate Census), provides information regarding how to appreciate chocolate through taste (The Laws of Chocodynamics). Through the philosophy expressed by C-Spot™ and the efforts in preservation by HCP and the USDA, Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve builds on this expressed philosophy to bring the taste of their efforts, and vision of conservation, to the people themselves.

Video#1: HCP Google Hangout sponsored by HCP Co-Founder Pam Williams (Ecole Chocolat) and featuring her and fellow co-founders Dan Pearson (Maranon Chocolate) and Lyndel Meinhardt (USDA-ARS), as well as Jim Eber the HCP Director of Communication.

Landmarks Wild Chocolate Reserve: four major values

 “In establishing Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve™, this network recovers & protects humanity’s inheritance: the original prime root varietals – the crowns jewels / rock stars – of chocolate. It creates value to improve the livelihoods of forest families. A financial bulwark against cutting down the Amazon via logging, mining & drilling for cattle grazing, soybean farming, resort hotels & the like which contributes to climate flux & defacing the Earth’s surface. It impels still other forest communities to literally come out of the woodwork in pointing out these rarest treasures of cacáo trees to fortify the network so when a groundswell of wild reserves are landmarked the odds of deforestation are reduced if not eliminated.” (“The Story”, 2017)

Mark Christian developed the Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve label that uses DNA analyses (genetics) to not only identify wild beans, but also to assist in the preservation of the lands from which these wild varieties reside, and have resided for thousands of years. “The goal is to build a network in the region that can help fuel the specialty chocolate boom with the rarest flavors on Earth – and offer incentive to protect them.” (Gewin, 2017). Volker Lehmann (a cacao trader and owner of Tranquilidad chocolate) said “he even hopes that by engaging enough Amazon communities to sustainably harvest wild cacao, Christian’s label can help them secure World Heritage Site status, protections given to cultural or natural places that have outstanding value.” (Gewin, 2017).  This would be a huge step forward for conservation and preservation of the land for which Theobroma cacao is native, and for the many other important flora and fauna species that reside in the Amazonian rain forest.

World Heritage sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria: (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/)

  1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  3. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  4. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
  5. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  6. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
  7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Value#1: “Quest: Recovers & protects humanity’s inheritance: the original prime root varietals – the crowns jewels / rock stars – of chocolate.” (“The Story”, 2017)

This first value, QUEST, describes the importance of finding populations of Theobroma from the “original prime root varietals” of the species. This description floods the consumer with images of the ancestral beginnings of not only the plant, but also of the people who were the first consumers of cacao, the natives of the Amazon. Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve focuses its efforts on searching for new plants and protecting new “Landmarks” in the hotspot of Cacao’s biodiversity (see image below).

originImage#1: (permission to use image granted by Mark Christian: image above courtesy of Samantha Madell) Species richness of genus Theobroma

Focusing on the center of genetic biodiversity of Theobroma cacao allows researchers to locate, sample, and preserve important wild lineages. Working not only to collect, process, and sell wild collected cacao beans, but also by contributing to the science and study to isolate DNA, maintain propagules (seeds and clones), allow for taste testing, and to share these wild strains with farmers around the world is required in order to produce cultivars that are resistant to witches broom, and that still produce the flavors that we have all grown to love. “Geneticists Raymond Schnell, Dapeng Zhang, & Motamayor of the USDA Agricultural Research Service are in the deep stages of identifying by busily fingerprinting the DNA of 3,000+ cacáo clones that should solve both the relationships & origins puzzle. By combing the genome of the tree for genetic markers linked with specific traits — such as fruit quality, environmental adaptation, & disease / pest resistance – they’ve developed filters to make corrections for common sequencing errors. Thousands of such genetic markers called SNPS (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) stand additionally as signposts pointing out the degree to how much or how little cacáo types are interrelated.” (“The Strains”, 2017). This research, by the USDA, not only assists with conservation work in the field, but also allows for research to understand the genetics of an extremely valued plant, and find ways to grow and produce viable cultivars that are disease resistant without sacrificing flavor.

“The ability to understand the genetic makeup of a single cacao bean is important to cacao research and to the fine chocolate industry in general.  We now have the ability to open a bag of cacao beans and identify the genetic makeup of those beans.  That information can be used to profile the cacao types that are represented in that bag of cacao; to authenticate them to a particular type, or identify adulterations and this ability could improve the sourcing and quality of cacao”. (Japhet, 2016)

DNA Barcoding allows researchers and farmers to identify and track the specific plants that are producing healthy plants, but also identifying specific plants (individuals) that produce premier flavors. HCP and the USDA have rigorous protocols for samples, testing, sequencing DNA, and taste testing new plants (or existing plants on farms). To read the protocols please follow this link http://hcpcacao.org/wp-content/uploads/HCP-Protocols-Submission-Through-Site-Visit.pdf.

AmazonImage#2: (with permission from Mark Christian; Photo by Mark Christian February 1, 2011) Rio-Amazon

“In its natural habitat, cocoa grows in the understory of evergreen tropical rainforest. It often grows in clumps along river banks, where the roots may be flooded for long periods of the year. Cocoa grows at low elevations, usually below 300 meters above sea level, in areas with 1,000 to 3,000 mm rainfall per year.” (“Theobroma cacao”, 2017)

“Rare & Wild Landmark Varietals

These landmarks shelter pure genotypes & rare flavor-cacáo. Their guardians – re: Bromans (tenders of Theobroma cacáo trees) — row, trek, hack & sweat their way thru jungle to pick wild cacáo.

Each tends to our most ancestral cacáo trees on mother Earth. Millennia in the Making.

Time-honored; time-tested; timeless.

Carefully selected & tenderly handpicked, then left undisturbed.

The kind of treasure you bring out by the rucksack, cargo pants pockets & a trunk. GL getting it all the way home.” (“Landmarks”, 2017)

genus-theobromaImage#3: (with permission from Mark Christian; photo by Mark Christian March 10, 2013) Species richness of genus Theobroma. Left: observed species richness in 10 minute grid cells and a circular neighborhood of 1 decimal degree; Right: modeled species richness in 2.5 minute grid cells.

Value#2: “Race: It creates value to improve the livelihoods of forest families” (“The Story”, 2017)

This again brings an image of indigenous people from times long past. The consumer may imagine as though they are consuming a piece history, and at the same time know they are literally helping to supporting indigenous communities of the present day. “Improving livelihoods for indigenous families in the Amazon means the global community can benefit from the abundance of the rainforest without destroying it.” (“The Story”, 2017)).  These factors allow the consumer to feel as though they are assisting with a bigger issue other than satisfying their need for chocolate. The Landmark™ label promises major social and environmental returns for those working to collect and process cacao from the wild.

Best organic

Bests Organic

Wild cacáo from the rainforest…
because nobody perfects like Mother Nature

Image#4: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Best Organic”, 2017

Fair Trade

Beyond FairTrade

Well-Paid
Direct-Line
Reciprocal Integration

Image#5: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Beyond Fair Trade”, 2017

Bargain Fare

Bargain Fare

‘Mindful Money’ investment
in affordable luxury

Image#6: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Bargain Fare”, 2017

 

Value#3: “Pursuit: A financial bulwark against cutting down the Amazon via logging, mining & drilling for cattle grazing, soybean farming, resort hotels & the like which contributes to climate flux & defacing the Earth’s surface.” (“The Story”, 2017)

The consumer is saving the forest! This value tugs at the hearts of those who wish to save the ever shrinking Amazon rainforest. There are many reasons why people are driven to protect such a valued asset, but the people who need the most convincing are the people who occupy the lands in and near the forest in the Amazon. As stated above, the Amazon is shrinking due to human activity, but with little regard to the huge loss that follows. The indigenous communities of the Amazon have a vested interest in land preservation, and many groups are turning to collecting and selling wild cacao, and even farming cacao plants, as a way to conserve the rainforest. “In Ecuador, one tribe has swapped hunting for growing cocoa. Another in Brazil has started managing its fish stocks. And one in Peru set up an indigenous local government to protect its environment from oil, mining and logging companies.” (Lopez, 2015). The indigenous communities are in need of protecting their traditional way of life, but also must deal with the reality of climate change, deforestation, and the competition between natives and corporations looking to profit from the declining resources of the forest.  “To combat the problem, an indigenous women’s group, the Association of Waorani Women of the Ecuadoran Amazon (AMWAE), created a program that gives cocoa trees to local women if their husbands stop hunting.” (Lopez, 2015). With more indigenous groups turning to the collection of wild cacao, and the farming of “premium” lineages, it is important that a mark ™ exists that promotes and supports these important efforts in the wild. This support not only assists in the protection of the land, but also supports the people who are part of this amazing environmental network.

Value#4: “Experience: It impels still other forest communities to literally come out of the woodwork in pointing out these rarest treasures of cacáo trees to fortify the network so when a groundswell of wild reserves are landmarked the odds of deforestation are reduced if not eliminated.” (“The Story”, 2017)

 Landmarks Wild Chocolate Reserve promotes Luisa Abram Chocolate Bar which is described as follows:

“Taste Adventure… Taste Straight from the Jungle

All across the world, people are re-discovering chocolate.

Most chocolate today is just flavored-sugar wrapped up in a candy bar. A ghost of the real thing.

The choice of chefs, chocolatarians & savvy sharp consumers like you, Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve™ re-introduces the original authentic chocolate.

For those who demand the finest & the wildest, Landmark™ sets the standard from pod-to-palette.

Comparable wines, single-malts, smokes, caviars & like specialties run $100+… yet this chocolate is every bit as elaborate & worth it as all those for but a fraction.” (“Chocolate Bars”, 2017)

rio-purus-70Image#7: (with permission from Mark Christian) Rio Purús Wild Cacáo 70%

Landmark™ Chocolate Wild Reserve provides detailed information for each bar of chocolate they highlight for sale on their website.

The Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve provides education for consumers and producers. There is a sense of pride expressed by those who use the label, and a sense of accomplishment in sticking to the values set forth. Luisa Abram takes her job seriously, and is working to make purchasing cacao beans from the collectors easier, and she also states that she does not work with people only looking for a profit.

Luisa Abrams:

“These people need a market to come to them,” he said. “They have no way of going to the market.”

Still, connecting the market to the jungle is rife with complications. In 2014, Luisa Abram and her father, Andre Banks, sourced her first cacao beans from a community in the Purus valley. But, the young Brazilian recounted, they had to abandon a promising deal with a community near the border with French Guiana because the middlemen were motivated only by profit.

Abram today sells a chocolate that is “81 percent wild cocoa” and bears the Landmark designation. She both wants to find new sources to explore her country’s flavor possibilities as well as to empower communities to help preserve the land they live on. “The Amazon is getting chopped up,” she said. “We are racing through time to preserve it.” (Gewin, 2017)

Video#2: (with permission from Mark Christian) Luisa Abram Purus Conclusion

The importance of companies such as Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve cannot be stated lightly. It is with the creation of a growing network, providing education and support that the movement for the preservation of the plants, flavor, and business will continue into the future. This network is able to work closely with the people who collect the cacao pods (fruit); focus on the sustainability and preservation of the land; understand and grow the science behind the discovery and preservation of wild populations; and maintain the historic evolution and preservation of the taste of chocolate for future generations in a way that the message is translated in various forms that all are able to understand. From the BEAN to BARcode, companies like Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve are making a difference in the world of chocolate, and it tastes great!

References:

C-Spot, “Amazonia”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/)

C-Spot, “Philosophy”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/about/philosophy/) Accessed May 2017

C-Spot, “The Strains”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/) Accessed May 2017

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) “Fine Chocolate” http://www.finechocolateindustry.org/differentiate.php Accessed May 2017

Gewin, V., “A ‘wild’ label aims to help find and preserve rare cacao sources in the Amazon”. Washington Post February 2017. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/02/14/a-wild-label-aims-to-help-find-and-preserve-rare-cacao-sources-in-the-amazon/?utm_term=.0eec26056dfb) Accessed May 2017

 Japhet, S., “New Discoveries: The Importance of Cacao DNA”. Heirloom Cacao Preservation, March 18, 2016. Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “Chocolate Bars”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/#) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Landmarks”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/landmarks/) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Strains”, 2017 (https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/) Accessed May 2017

 Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve “The Story”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/the-story/) Accessed May 2017

 Lopez, P., “Amazon peoples change ancestral ways to save forest”, PHYS.org December 22, 2015 (https://phys.org/news/2015-12-amazon-peoples-ancestral-ways-forest.html) Accessed May 2017

 Plants of the World Online, “Theobroma cacao”, Kew Science, 2017. (http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:320783-2) Accessed May 2017

 Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2009.

 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. “The Criteria for Selection”, 2017 (http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/) Accessed May 2017

Wikipedia, Theobroma cacao, 2017 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma_cacao

 Multimedia Sources:

 Image#1: Species richness of genus Theobroma https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/

 Image#2: Rio-Amazon by Mark Christian, February 1, 2011 https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-sources/amazonia/

 Image 3: Mark Christian March 10, 2013, “Genus-theobroma”, 2017  https://www.c-spot.com/atlas/chocolate-strains/

 Image 4: Landmark Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Best Organic”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image 5: Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Beyond Fair Trade”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image 6: Landmark™ Wild Chocolate Reserve, with permission from Mark Christian, “Bargain Fare”, 2017 (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/)

Image#7: (with permission from Mark Christian) Rio Purús Wild Cacáo 70% (https://wildchocolate.org/shop/chocolate/#)

 Video#1: “Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative”, 2017 http://hcpcacao.org/2015/12/20/the-hcp-video/

Video#2: (with permission from Mark Christian) “Luisa Abram Purus” (https://wildchocolate.org/the-story/)

An Interview with a Chocolate Lover: Issues within the Chocolate Industry Revealed

Curious about people’s relationship with chocolate, I interviewed a young female adult about how her relationship with chocolate has changed from childhood into adulthood. The interviewee has never learned about chocolate, but she alludes to various historical, economical, and social issues within the chocolate industry throughout the interview. Specifically, she raises ethical issues about cacao farming practices, and explicates how business transactions harm chocolate producers. The interviewee is a college-educated individual, and demonstrates significant knowledge about these issues presumably because of her enrollment in a course about the sociology of food. Based on her responses in the interview, it is clear that this course changed her relationship with food and influences her current food decisions. Through the interview, the interviewee illuminates glaring issues within the chocolate industry related to the production of cacao, exploitation of cacao farmers, and chocolate advertising. First, she raises issues that about the production of cacao by demonstrating awareness about the economic difficulties cacao farmers face, and by discussing logistical issues about certifications that attempt to combat those economic issues. Second, in describing her chocolate preferences and perceptions, she alludes to issues regarding chocolate marketing strategies, and demonstrates the immense influence that chocolate advertisements hold over consumer purchasing decisions.

Before evaluating the historical, economic, and social issues within the chocolate industry revealed by the interviewee, it is necessary to explain the similarities between cacao and coffee bean production. The interviewee learned about coffee production in a course at a prestigious university, so this section purposes to provide legitimacy to the issues she raises about cacao production by emphasizing that the coffee and cacao industries experience the same problems, thereby qualifying her arguments about coffee production as applicable to cacao production as well. First, the working and economic conditions of coffee and cacao farmers are almost identical. Most coffee farmers produce beans on small, family-owned farms, and live in poverty.[1] Coffee farmers typically rely on bean sales as their primary source of income, but it is extremely volatile because it responds to any fluctuation in bean market prices and sales.[2] Second, coffee farmers can obtain Fair Trade and Organic Certification. Fair Trade promises the same benefits to coffee farmers as it does to cacao farmers, including minimum price premiums, social development, better labor rights, and long-term trading partnership.[3] Third, a large gap exists between coffee producers’ farming practices and coffee consumers’ purchasing decisions. There are stark differences between farmers that produce specialty coffee, and farmers that produce conventional, non-certified coffee. Demand for specialty coffee is on the rise because consumers, particularly those that identify with the ethical eating, Slow Food Movement, are willing to pay more for certified, eco-friendly coffee.[4] Higher quality coffee beans are sold at a higher price in the market, but most coffee consumers are unaware of the implications of their coffee-purchasing decisions.[5] Lastly, similar to the chocolate industry, a few select big coffee companies – less than 10 – control more than half of the coffee market.[6] These similarities are important to recognize, as the interviewee recalls this knowledge in the interview, and subsequently reveals that the economic and social issues afflicting coffee farmers and production are the same issues that exist in relation to cacao farming and production.

coffee beancacao bean

Image 1: Coffee Bean                                                                             Image 2: Cacao Bean

The interviewee brings attention to the importance of the raw coffee bean product to the existence of the entire coffee industry. Through this observation, she emphasizes the complete disconnect between coffee production and coffee consumption, revealing that the same issue exists within the chocolate industry. The interviewee comments, “without the farmers, you wouldn’t have the product. They’re the ones creating the base product to make coffee. They’re often the most forgotten. That’s like with any food product.”[7] This remark deserves close evaluation, as it perfectly describes the fragmented functioning and separateness of the different sectors of the coffee industry, also applicable to the chocolate industry. With that remark, the interviewee astutely explains that these complex industries rely wholly on the raw product, the bean, and without which, coffee and chocolate might not exist. This comment is interesting because it offers a simplistic vision that connects the necessity of the raw product to the consumer industry miles and miles away. This perception also illuminates how coffee and chocolate consumers are highly unaware of the implications of their purchasing decisions on the economic livelihood of the producers. Pictured in images 1 and 2 are a coffee and cacao bean, respectively (Image 1 and 2). These visuals purpose as a reminder to consumers that the coffee they drink from Starbucks, or Lindt chocolate they eat from their local supermarket, are products that begin with coffee and cacao beans, harvested and cultivated by farmers. Production and consumption are inherently connected, however, farmers are often naïve about the final product and consumers are often uneducated about the raw product process, both of which exacerbate the separateness between different players within the coffee and chocolate systems.

USDA organic labelImage 3: USDA Organic Certification Label

The interviewee discusses logistical issues with the Fair Trade and Organic Certification protocols, revealing that these labels harm rather than benefit cacao farmers and production. Fair Trade, Organic, and Direct Trade certifications share a common goal to compensate cacao farmers that produce their beans in adherence to specific environmental and social standards at a higher price than the conventional market offers.[8] The United States Department of Agriculture divides organic products into three categories, “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients,” where each category is defined based on strict agricultural practice regulations.[9] Agricultural products that adhere to these standards are labeled with the “USDA Organic” logo, pictured in Image 3 (Image 3). In viewing this image, it is apparent that the USDA Organic label is not informative, as the certification seal does not specify whether the product is made with 100%, 95%, or at least 70% organic ingredients. The lack of information on this label raises questions about the authenticity of these certifications, and how organic certification guidelines are monitored. In probing about her knowledge regarding Organic Certification, the interviewee says “there are requirements…You can still use pesticides, but [the farmers] use “organic” or “natural” pesticides that are “better” for the environment…I know there are loopholes in the organic certification process.”[10] Here, the interviewee identifies the major criticisms of the USDA Organic Certification process in relation to cacao farming and production practices, alluding to claims of product quality issues and loose surveillance of organically certified cacao farmers’ adherence to USDA guidelines.[11] As revealed through her remarks, the vagueness of this label generates confusion among consumers. Furthermore, these observations illuminate the need for tighter institutional regulation of USDA Organic protocols, both for the benefit of consumers – ensuring that cacao farmers are following certification standards, guaranteeing that consumers are purchasing actual organic cacao – and for the benefit of the producers – that they are properly compensated for producing cacao beans using environmentally-friendly farming practices.

The interviewee circles the debate about the effectiveness of Fair Trade certification’s impact on cacao farmers’ economic situation through her advocacy for Fair Trade coffee bean farming and production. Similar to organic certification, Fair Trade certification encourages sustainable farming practices, while also promoting social welfare and establishing long-term trading partnerships.[12] In explaining the benefits of Fair Trade for coffee farmers, the interviewee says, “the farmers work long, laborious hours and they don’t get paid very well unless they are in the Fair Trade system…more money goes to the farmer when it’s a Fair Trade transaction.”[13] Through this comment, the interviewee reveals two similarities between coffee bean and cacao production that are problematic for the farmers. First, she describes the difficult working conditions that coffee bean farmers endure, such as long and physically fatiguing hours, and subsequently suggests that the farmers are underpaid considering their strenuous working conditions. She alludes to a prominent issue that cacao farmers face in that they are not properly compensated for their grueling laborious efforts, and that their contributions to the chocolate industry are severely under-valued. Second, she asserts that Fair Trade certified coffee farmers are more economically stable than non-certified coffee farmers, referencing minimum price premiums and prompt payments promised by Fair Trade to certified farmers. This suggests that consumers perceive Fair Trade as an impactful certification that improves farmers’ economic situation. However, in reality, there is no strong evidence that the Fair Trade system is effective in combatting farmers’ economic crises, particularly that of cacao farmers.[14] This misconception is problematic, as consumers’ might purchase Fair Trade products hoping to improve farmers’ income situation, unbeknownst to the faults of Fair Trade.

The interviewee explicates that some of her food decisions are based on the ethicality of food production practices, but names high prices of Fair Trade and Organic products as a barrier that prevents her from always purchasing certified products. In regards to the cacao industry, attempts to improve the ethicality of cacao farmers’ working conditions by consumer advocacy groups more often than not fail.[15] Chocolate consumers are often uneducated about the complexities of the chocolate industry, making it difficult for consumers to grasp how their purchasing decisions impact the economic and/or social situation of cacao farmers. Therefore, consumers cannot be responsible for initiating change of the exploitative economic and social conditions endured by cacao farmers. Surprisingly, the interviewee demonstrates a deep consciousness about the relationship between production and consumption, explaining that she became a vegetarian because “I don’t like the treatment of farm animals on conventional farms…Also, I don’t like the growth hormones and antibiotics.”[16] This reasoning suggests that she chooses the type of food she consumes based on the ethicality of food production practices. She further explains that she prefers to consume organic food, as “It’s more environmentally friendly.”[17] Again, she adopts an ethical argument to support her preference to consume organic over conventional farm products. However, she subsequently mentions that she does not always purchase certified Organic or Fair Trade products because they are “more expensive.”[18] This confession reveals a common misconception among consumers that certified products are always more expensive, which is false, as Organic and Fair Trade farming practices can actually cost the same or less than conventional farming practices.[19] Through her remarks, it is clear that the interviewee is a conscious consumer, as she chose to become a vegetarian because of inhumane treatment of animals on conventional farms, indicating her care for ethical farming and production practices. However, her perception that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade products are more expensive than non-certified products alludes to major critiques of certification organizations, commonly accused of corrupt practices and falsely promising cacao farmers fair payment. Through the interviewee’s comments, she illuminates a significant issue that Organic, Fair Trade, and Direct Trade are actually more harmful than beneficial to cacao farmers’ economic and social conditions.

woman eating chocolate     Image 4: Gender in Chocolate Advertisement

Through the interviewee’s description of her chocolate perceptions and preferences, she reveals an issue rarely addressed, that of the immense control chocolate advertisements exercise over consumer choice. Chocolate advertisements commonly portray chocolate as an aphrodisiac, and as a luxurious product, through women’s sexuality.[20] Image 4 exemplifies this theme, as it pictures a woman, seemingly wearing no clothes, holding a piece of chocolate to her lips, with a seductive facial expression (Image 4). The image portrays chocolate as a desirable food through the sexual presentation and nature of the woman. The brightly colored lipstick brings focus to her lips, and accompanied by the sensual facial expression, the ad attempts to associate chocolate with love and romance. Furthermore, the woman is highly manicured, adorned with extravagant accessories, which contributes to the depiction of chocolate as a decadent and highly valuable product. Several times throughout the interview, the interviewee references chocolate as a “luxurious item.”[21] This association of chocolate with luxury precisely demonstrates the strong influence of chocolate advertisements, such as image 4, on consumers’ perceptions of chocolate. When prompted to reflect about chocolate advertisements, the interviewee pauses and appears puzzled, admitting a moment later that she only notices chocolate ads around Valentine’s Day.[22] Again, this emphasizes the effectiveness of chocolate marketing strategies to portray the product as an aphrodisiac, as consumers evidently associate chocolate with romance and love. The combination of a presumably seduced woman and a chocolate product, exampled in Image 4, contribute to this representation of chocolate as desirable. Most importantly, the interviewee illuminates that consumers are highly unaware of two issues related to chocolate marketing. First, the strong influence chocolate ads possess in forming their perceptions of chocolate, and second, the exploitation of female sexuality to deliver this specific representation of chocolate products. Based on the interviewee’s susceptibility to the impact of chocolate advertisements on her perceptions, and her unawareness of gender exploitation that litters these ads, it suggests that the chocolate industry should be taking action to enforce regulations that will reduce the influence of chocolate marketing on consumer perceptions and regulate chocolate marketing content.

Trader Joe's dark chocolate bar     Image 5: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Product

The interviewee’s description of her chocolate preferences further demonstrates consumer susceptibility to the influences of chocolate advertisements. The interviewee reveals she favors dark chocolate, offering “I buy it at Trader Joe’s…I like the pure flavor of their products.”[23] First, Trader Joe’s is a grocery store that advertises the sale of organic, natural, fresh food at low prices. Second, recall that the interviewee prefers organic food, but high prices prevent her from purchasing organic products. Keeping these two pieces of information in mind, the interviewee’s comment suggests that she purchases chocolate at Trader Joe’s because it is both organic and affordable. In addition to these conscious reasons, the packaging of the chocolate may also contribute to the interviewee’s decision to purchase dark chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, though she is unconscious of this influence. Image 5 exemplifies a dark chocolate bar product sold at Trader Joe’s, one that the interviewee might encounter (Image 5). This package exercises marketing strategies to influence consumer choice by emphasizing a high cacao content of “61%,” indicative of pure chocolate. Additionally, printing “Imported from Belgium” carries connotations associated with Europe, such as fantasy and romance. Lastly, the package pictures a crown, presumably representative of chocolate’s historical association with royalty in Europe. This suggests to the consumer that the chocolate is luxurious and highly valuably, and implies that the chocolate will taste rich and pure. All of these elements on the package impact the consumer’s decision to purchase that product by manipulating her perceptions, thereby prompting the consumer to imagine the chocolate will taste special over other chocolate products. Similar to an issue already discussed, the interviewee reveals that consumers are naïve to chocolate marketing strategies, and make unconscious purchasing decisions based on the effectiveness of chocolate ads and their ability to influence consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate.

The interviewee reveals major historical, economic, and social issues that persist within the chocolate industry through her comments about coffee production, and in describing her chocolate perceptions and taste preferences. Historical issues, such as the under-recognized efforts of cacao farmers and their contributions that permit the existence of the chocolate industry – i.e. they provide the raw product to make chocolate – are evidently issues that exist within the coffee industry as well. Economic issues, such as volatile income and impoverished livelihoods, partially the fault of certification organizations like Organic and Fair Trade, are also issues within both the cacao and coffee industries. Lastly, social issues related to the use of sexualized images of women to control consumers’ perceptions and taste preferences of chocolate are seemingly unnoticed by consumers. This is problematic in that consumers are unaware that these ads contribute to the proliferation of stereotypical gender roles, and in that consumers are also unaware that they possess little agency in their chocolate purchasing decisions.
[1] Christopher Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?,” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.
[2] Joni Valkila, “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap,” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.
[3] Valkila, “Fair Trade organic coffee.”
[4] Julie Guthman, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow,” in Food and Culture, ed. by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 2013), 496-509.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Bacon, “Confronting the Coffee Crisis.”
[7] Anonymous, interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.
[8] Carla Martin, “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017).
[9] “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations,” USDA, accessed April 30, 2017, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.
[10] Anonymous.
[11] Martin, “Alternative trade.”
[12] Ibid.
[13] Anonymous.
[14] Ndongo Samba Sylla, “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe,” in The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye (London: Pluto Press, 2014).
[15] Carla Martin, “Modern day slavery” (lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017).
[16] Anonymous.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Martin, “Alternative Trade.”
[20] Emma Robertson, “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption,” in Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009), 18-63.
[21] Anonymous
[22] Anonymous.
[23] Anonymous.

References

Anonymous. Interview by Ashlee Korsberg, April 24, 2017.

Bacon, Christopher. “Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Can Fair Trade, Organic, and Specialty Coffees Reduce Small-scale Farmer Vulnerability in Northern Nicaragua?.” World Development 33 (2005): 497-511.

Guthman, Julie. “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow.” In Food and Culture, edited by Carole Counihan, and Penny Van Esterik, 496-509, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Martin, Carla. “Alternative trade and virtuous/localization/globalization.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Modern day slavery.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 22, 2017.

Martin, Carla. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Lecture at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 29, 2017.

Robertson, Emma. “A deep physical reason’: gender, race and the nation in chocolate consumption.” In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history, 18-63, Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “On the Inequalities of the International Trade System” and “The Fair Trade Universe.” In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich, translated by David Clement Leye, London: Pluto Press, 2014.

U.S. Government Publishing Office. “USDA Organic Labeling Regulations.” Accessed April 30, 2017. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=c4e0df8f46a4f4b6f56d80be31f95ed3&rgn=div6&view=text&node=7:3.1.1.9.32.4&idno=7.

Valkila, Joni. “Fair Trade Organic Coffee Production in Nicaragua – Sustainable Development or a Poverty Trap.” Ecological Economics 68 (2009): 3018-3025.

Image sources

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coffee_Beans_Photographed_in_Macro.jpg

Image 2: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/cocoa/

Image 3: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USDA_organic_seal.svg

Image 4: https://www.flickr.com/photos/orofacial/8219609037

Image 5: https://chocolateihaveknown.wordpress.com/category/acquired/trader-joes/

 

 

Is Fair Trade the Answer?

For much of the history of chocolate production, it has been the farmers who have suffered the tolls of exploitation. Unfair prices continue to leave many cacao farmers in poverty while the intermediaries between farmers and the consumer market are reeling in large profits. The current practices have created a standard of living that many farmers believe is not worth the work. So where traditionally the family farming business would be passed down to kin, it seems only logical to ask just how long will these farmers accept this mistreatment before they drop the family business all together? Such talk has fueled worrisome predictions about the future of chocolate. The small-scale farmers who endure the greatest exploitation are actually the ones who contribute approximately 90% of the world’s cacao (Lamb, 2014). If the children of these farmers do not take over for their parents, the world’s cacao sources will dwindle, chocolate prices will skyrocket, and companies will likely be forced to reduce cacao content in their products. To add

Cocoa farmer in Ghana 345x288
Small-scale farmers produce about 90% of the world’s cacao and thus are an integral part of the chocolate production supply chain.

on to the problem, cacao trees that live in much of West Africa are producing lower yields as they age and farmers do not possess the funds to help combat the shrinking cacao numbers (Fair Trade USA, 2011). To help solve these problems, Fair Trade has made huge steps towards improving the situation for farmers and the cacao production process in general. Fair Trade has brought into light issues that were previously in the dark and set into motion plans to fix them. But just how effective is Fair Trade? Is it actually achieving what it sent out to do? Fair trade has without a doubt set its sights on a noble cause but, as one will discover in this paper, the organization’s plan still has some deficiencies that must be addressed if the any substantial change is to be solidified.

Cacao Production

The majority of cacao farmers fall at the mercy of local collectors and intermediaries who move their cacao to exporters and processors. These intermediaries are purchasing cacao from farmers for prices much lower than what is considered “fair.” These practices have suppressed farmers into states of poverty, with little chance of rising out of it. As mentioned earlier, cacao yields have also been suffering, which has in turn put a larger stress on labor needs (Fair Trade USA, 2011). Economic hardship has likely been a major contributor towards the use of child and salve labor in West Africa. Identifying these issues as problems that need to be addressed, Fair Trade has stepped in and placed into action a plan to rid farmers of the injustices that have been pushed upon them.

Fair Trade

Fair Trade has set its sights on helping “cacao cocoa farmers, traders and chocolate manufacturers participate in long-term, stable relationships that support a dependable living for farmers and their families” so as to allow them to “provide a reliable, high quality cocoa supply for the industry” (Fair Trade USA, 2011). The Fair trade system consists of: encouragement of farmers to organize as cooperatives, certification that ensures the absence of child labor, a framework to increase environmental sustainability, a ban on the use of agro-chemicals, a Fair Trade price guarantee, and community development premiums (Fair Trade USA, 2011).

Farmer owned and governed cooperatives and associations, essentially give farmers leverage to aid in the achievement of higher and more fair prices for their products. So whereas, in the past, farmers were often economically exploited as the result of possessing little power, cooperatives are essentially helping to restore balance to the chocolate production chain.

The Fair Trade guarantee of no use of child labor helps assure consumers that they are not supporting such injustices by buying the product, thus making not only the end product more desirable to consumers, but also the cacao more desirable to intermediaries, exporters, and processors. This is an incentive to farmers to resist the temptation to hire cheap labor in the form of child workers, contributing towards a higher ethical standard.

The importance placed on environmental sustainability and the ban on agro-chemicals helps to insure not only the quality of the product, but also the future prospects of prosperity and the continued production of cacao. To help with this, Fair Trade has implemented premiums designated to community development to “increase product quality, build infrastructure, train cooperative leadership, bring safe drinking water to their communities and establish local health clinics and schools” (Fair Trade USA, 2011). A large focus has been set on increasing the living conditions of farmers, essentially giving them a lifestyle worth investing in.

There have been numerous efforts aimed to improve cacao production. Many of these approaches were centered around increasing yields and creating new disease resistant cacao plants. It is Fair Trade’s opinion, however, that these plans failed to address the root cause of the problem, the economical exploitation of farmers resulting in their inability to invest in their work and create an environment that allows for a sustainable business (Fair Trade USA, 2011).

Fair Trade in Action

Within the Fair Trade system, as of 2011, there are 62 cacao-growing cooperatives worldwide, including 14 small-holder farmer cooperatives in Côte d’Ivore with 200 to 6700 members in each (Fair Trade USA, 2011). Fair Trade has seen implications in aspects of life that go beyond higher prices. Kavokia, a cooperative certified since 2004, now owns a big health center that offers free treatment and health care to its members (Fair Trade USA, 2011). Another cooperative, Coopaga, invested in trucks, computers, and other tools for its members and also helped contribute to the building of a local hospital (Fair Trade USA, 2011). Two other cooperatives, COOPAAAKO and COOPAYA, achieved organic certification of their crops after investing in organic production methods (Fair Trade USA, 2011). Fair Trade has also led to the first farmer owned Fair Trade chocolate, the Divine Fair Trade milk chocolate bar, made by The Day Chocolate Company (Oxfam, 2010). “We have taken our destiny into our own hands,” says Comfort Kwaasibea, a

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 9.39.35 PM.png
Farmers have been able to allocate much of their Fair Trade premium towards establishing a better standard of living.

member of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative (Oxfam, 2010). In 2013, Fair Trade producer organizations earned £4 million in Fairtrade premium alone, earnings that have allowed producer organizations in West Africa to allocate 36% of their premium (suggested minimum is 25%) on projects to increase productivity and cacao quality (Galandzij, 2014). These examples point to the positives of the Fair Trade system and the outcomes it can produce; however, they do not paint the whole picture. In order to understand Fair Trade in its full context one must acknowledge its shortcomings.

Limitations

Upon first glance, the Fair Trade system seems hugely successful. In 2014, global sales reached £4.4 billion, which is up 10% from the year prior (Clifton, 2015). In fact, The Swedish and German markets saw 37% and 27% increases respectively in Fair Trade sales (Clifton, 2015). However, things aren’t as rosy as they appear to be for small-scale farmers. Solidaridad’s 2012 report reveals that even the best performing smallholders earn less than US$10 per day (Clifton, 2015). So it seems that despite Fair Trade’s success on the market level, small-scale farmers are still falling victim to economic exploitation. Dutch trade campaigner and current Executive Director of Solidaridad, Nico Roozen describes the reality for small-scale farmers as “a shift from poverty to certified poverty” (Clifton, 2015). The limitations of Fair Trade don’t stop here.

The Fair Trade certification stamp was designed to distinguish products that have essentially passed the ethical tests of the supply chain. Fair Trade products are supposedly free of child labor and the farmers who grew the cacao were justly paid. To the consumer, these are attractive guarantees and they allow the individual to feel good about the products they are buying. On the surface, the idea seems pretty reasonable. Companies who use Fair Trade cacao in their products will not only support an ethical cost, but will also hold an advantage on the consumer market. But unfortunately, things are not this straightforward. The Fair Trade system was largely implemented to help the too often exploited small-scale farmers move their products to new markets in order to allow them to compete with large-scale farmers. However, the Fair Trade certificate no longer guarantees tha
t small-scale farmers are step 1 in the supply chain, expanding their programs to large-scale farmers (Lindgren, 2015). As a result, products from large-scale farmers have now begun being labeled with the same Fair Trade certificate, essentially pushing small-scale farmers right back to the unfavorable and disadvantaged status from which they started.

48120590.cached.jpg
Child labor/slavery continues to be a problem in the cacao production industry.

Fair Trade seems to also be failing on its commitment towards ensuring the absence of child labor from the production process. Anti-Slavery International Director Aidan McQuade claims that when they met with Fair Trade, Fair Trade stated that their primary responsibility is producers, not children (Clifton, 2015). McQuade also claimed that child labor and child slavery is common and a part of the culture in Ghana and Côte d’Ivore (Clifton, 2015). Moreover, although Fair trade bans the use of child labor, they also claim that they cannot guarantee that a product is free of child labor (Clifton, 2015). Regardless, it doesn’t seem like Fair Trade cares about investing the efforts needed to completely eradicate child labor. But under these standards, what does the certificate even represent?

This question can be asked again in response to the variability of products who all wear the same certificate. To be clear, some labels require significantly lower Fair Trade ingredients than others, providing misleading information to the consumer (Lindgren, 2015). A company who uses a larger percentage of cheap, non Fair Trade ingredients while still maintaining the Fair Trade certificate will obviously have an advantage over a company that pays the higher price for a greater amount of Fair Trade products. This obviously isn’t just and doesn’t help those who are largely dedicated to using Fair Trade ingredients.

Solutions

As farmers continue to be left in poverty, the world may soon face the consequences of malcontent farmers, and thus a lack of new farmers to overtake the current businesses. The Fair Trade system seems to claim a desire for better lives for farmers, especially those of small-scale, however motives will not change these farmer’s lives, only action will. The practicality of the current plan is not enough to pull small-scale farmers out of poverty, which is what Fair Trade initially set out to do.

url
Fair Trade’s current certifications do little to help close the gap between large-scale farmers and small-scale farmers.

Fair Trade’s certifications seem to have lost their power to distinguish between large-scale farmers and small-scale farmers. The current labels provide no advantage to the already disadvantaged small-scale farmers, giving them little chance to pull themselves out of poverty. In order to fix this, Fair Trade needs to create a language that helps create a distinction between small-scale farmers and large-scale farmers so that consumers can know who they are supporting. A language could also be created to help differentiate between the varying degrees of Fair Trade ingredient use so as to provide a better representation of the product. Fair Trade could also increase the standards required to be considered Fair Trade certified for large-scale farmers to help small-scale farmers fair better in the market (Lindgren, 2015).

Lastly, in response to the lack of enforcement of the ban on child labor within the Fair Trade community, Fair Trade could implement a third party who would be observing the current labor practices with “a rigorous human rights lens” so as to be able to enforce the laws without a bias for the use of cheap labor through whatever means possible.

The Big Picture

Fair Trade’s efforts to confront unjust practices in the supply chain has consequently associated the brand’s mark with a commitment to high ethical standards. However, the organization may be getting more credit than it deserves. It is without a doubt a major step in the right direction to acknowledge the injustices that have plagued the success of small-scale farmers. However, there are a number of changes that must be implemented in the system if it is to have any significant effect on the lives and businesses of small-scale farmers. So is Fair Trade the answer? It may be the beginnings of an answer; however, it is one that currently remains incomplete.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Clifton, Helen. “Is It Time to Rethink Fair Trade?” Equal Times. N.p., 6 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 May 2016.

 

“Fair Trade Certified Cocoa Review.” Fair Trade Certified TM COCOA Review(2011): n. pag. Fair Trade USA, 2011. Web. 1 May 2016.

 

Galandzij, Anna. “Choose Fair Trade to Make a Positive Impact for Cocoa Farmers.” Fairtrade Foundation. N.p., 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 May 2016.

 

Haglage, Abby. “Lawsuit: Your Candy Bar Was Made By Child Slaves.” The Daily Beast. N.p., 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 1 May 2016.

 

“Kupa KoKoo.” KUAPA KOKOO (2010): n. pag. Oxfam Australia, Apr. 2010. Web. 1 May 2016.

 

Lamb, Harriet. “There Is a Solution to the Looming Chocolate Shortage – Pay Farmers a Fair Price.” The Guardian. N.p., 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 1 May 2016.

 

“Why Fair Trade?” Kopali Chocolate. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2016.

 

Love chocolate? Then love paying more for it.

 

What’s the problem?

Currently, chocolate farmers are not being paid fair wages. Oxfam’s pie chart below illustrates that farmers only receive 3% of the profit from each chocolate bar.oxfam-chocolate-bar-share_large

This means that chocolate farmers can earn less than $2 per day (Oxfam 5). In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, for example, some cacao farming households only make $0.50 – $0.80 per day and 60-90% of their income is dependent on cacao (Martin lecture 1 slide 6; Cacao Barometer 1). This results in many illiterate and malnourished chocolate farmers who live in poverty and are without health care, to the extent where it will take farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire 341% and 1608% of their current income, respectively, to reach the poverty line, as illustrated below in Figure 1.

IMG_3522

However, this huge percentage increase in income will still only allow such farmers to reach the poverty line. Providing farmers with fair living incomes and wages requires more than simply bringing them out of poverty. Farmers ought to be able to afford clean drinking water, sanitation, decent housing, adequate clothing and footwear, nutritious diets, social security, and basic social services (Cacao Barometer 44-45). Therefore, a lot of change and action is required since chocolate farmers are far away from escaping poverty, let alone earning a sufficient income to be able to live healthy lives.

 

Fairtrade

Fairtrade is one attempt that has been made to tackle this injustice. Fairtrade aims to help farmers build sustainable businesses and improve their quality of life by selling products that are fairly priced (Fair Trade USA). After the Second World War and during the 20th century missionaries and humanitarians began North America’s oldest Fair Trade Organisations (Fair Trade Resource Network 1). Ndongo Sylla claims that since then Fair Trade has significantly impacted some regions of the world; however, the injustice towards farmers is complex and Fair Trade faces difficulties of its own (16, 63). Firstly, while Fair Trade chocolate is more expensive than regular chocolate, not much of the Fair Trade price goes back to the farmers (Martin lecture 10 slide 10). Since farmers sell their cacao beans to middle men who then sell it on, the middle men absorb the price increase. Secondly, the cost for certifications, like Fair Trade certification, is expensive and is an ongoing cost as products have to be continually re-certified (Martin lecture 10 slide 10). And farmers bear the cost of certification. Therefore the cost of certification may be greater than the profit gained from having products certified. Thus, chocolate farmers may lose money by having their products certified, which defeats the purpose of certification and Fair Trade. Furthemore, because certification is costly, Fair Trade is advantageous for wealthier farmers who can afford certification but disadvantageous for poorer farmers who cannot. Therefore Fair Trade promotes even greater inequality between chocolate farmers, which moves us away from our goal of eliminating farmer inequality. Thirdly, both consumers and farmers may lose incentive to participate in Fair Trade’s system because of quality concerns. Certified high quality cacao beans are priced the same as certified low quality cacao beans. Therefore, as explained in the video below, farmers are not rewarded for producing higher quality beans and therefore may be incentivised to sell their beans directly to a more profitable specialty market than have their beans certified with Fair Trade.

Additionally, consumers and farmers may also lose incentive to continue with Fair Trade due to ethical concerns in the media. Fair Trade are often secretive about the true value and gains that Fair Trade offers in comparison to regular chocolate. For example, from 2:23 onwards in Fair Trade Foundation’s marketing video below, Fair Trade is advertised as “a system that pays extra money and that extra profit comes back to us workers”; however, they do not explicitly state quantitative values for how much “extra money” and “extra profit” is earnt (Fair Trade Foundation).

Even on Fair Trade’s website page titled “Impact Research and Evaluation Studies” under the section “The Impact of Our Work” explicit figures are not specified. They make generic statements like: “findings illustrate the real difference that certification and sales have made to farmer organisations and living conditions” where “the real difference” is not clearly explained or supported with figures (Fair Trade Foundation). And in the video below, from 0:55 onwards, even the President and CEO of Fair Trade explicitly states that regular “farmers get 8% of export price” but generically compares that to Fair Trade farmers who “get a higher price”.

Lastly, consumers may be discouraged to buy Fair Trade products because Fair Trade is just one certification body out of many, such as UTZ certified and Rainforest Alliance, which all have different standards. And even within the Fair Trade organsation policies and methods are inconsistent. Fair Trade USA has different policies, standards, and management from Fair Trade UK. Therefore, though certifications such as Fair Trade aim to provide chocolate farmers with fairer wages, there are many flaws in the system and it is mostly definitely not a perfect solution to providing farmers the income they need and deserve.

 

Direct Trade

Direct Trade certification also aims to help chocolate farmers receive fair wages, and it addresses Fair Trade’s flaws and improves upon them (Martin lecture 10 slide 17). Unlike Fair Trade, Direct Trade rewards quality products and pays higher premiums for higher quality cacao beans. Direct Trade also limits the cost of certification, which helps prevent farmers from losing money from paying the cost of certification and it does not disadvantage the poorer farmers, in fact, Direct Trade allows for smaller farms. But Direct Trade’s most distinctive feature is that they promote direct communication and price negotiation between consumers and farmers. This is their most valuable practice because the direct communication increases the opportunity for farmers to receive fair wages and is a more effective method as it eliminates the middle men that absorb the price increase. Taza Chocolate based in Boston and Dandelion Chocolate based in San Francisco are two examples of companies that partake in Direct Trade. They are also the most transparent chocolate companies. Each year they release a transparency report explicitly detailing where their money goes, how many cacao beans they buy, and the origin of their cacao beans.  Figure 2 below is an example taken from Taza Chocolate’s 2015 transparency report to show how remarkably transparent the information they provide the public with is. Such transparency is extremely rare in chocolate companies.IMG_3523Figure 2.

However, even the most transparent companies cannot guarantee that the farmers receive the money that chocolate companies pay for their beans. For example, Taza explicitly states that in 2015 they paid $869,000 for 223 metric tons of beans purchased; however, there is no guarantee that there are not middle men absorbing the payment as the chocolate supply chain is complex and ensuring the money goes directly to the farmer is often out of chocolate companies’ power (Taza 2). Therefore the Fair Trade and Direct Trade certification system and increased transparency is not enough to ensure that farmers are receiving fair wages.

 

Craft Chocolate

Craft chocolate makers present a hopeful future for farmers and fair living wages. Craft chocolate makers are able to source the origin of the cacao beans they use, take raw ingredients, and complete the whole chocolate manufacturing process: roasting, winnowing, tempering etc. by themselves, and thus make chocolate from “bean-to-bar”. Since craft chocolate makers produce on small scale, are independent, and make their chocolate and their company from scratch, the origin of the beans they used are known and they can purchase those beans via direct trade relationships with the farmers. This enables the farmers to be paid much more for their cacao beans. The cacao is also grown under good labour conditions, which is a bonus as this is another one of Fair Trade’s aims and initiatives (Martin lecture 13 slide 31). Farmers are able to be paid much more for their cacao not only because of the direct relationship and direct purchase used, but also because craft chocolate is not certified. So, farmers do not bear the cost of certification. Therefore farmers that work with craft chocolate makers are hugely better off.

The high cost of a craft chocolate bar is the trade-off now that farmers are being paid higher and fairer prices for their cacao, despite their products being non-certified. Farmers are no longer the persons paying for their fairer wages through certification. Now consumers cover farmers’ labour costs by purchasing more expensive chocolate bars. Though some farmers greatly benefit from this shift, the majority of farmers continue to suffer because few consumers are willing to pay for higher priced chocolate bars. For example, craft chocolate such as Potomac Chocolate and Dick Taylor cost $8 and $9 per bar, respectively, whilst an average Hershey’s bar costs only $2. Thus, the majority of chocolate consumers would rather purchase a cheap $2 chocolate bar than an $8 or $9 craft chocolate bar. Furthermore, research has shown that regardless of a consumer’s personal financial fluctuations, they remain willing to only spend $3 or $4 per chocolate bar (Ahren). Therefore currently few farmers benefit from such ethical schemes, like craft chocolate, because there is not a large consumer audience who are willing to pay $8 and $9 for a chocolate bar.

 

Conclusion

There is a clear relationship between the fairness of a farmer’s wage and the price of a chocolate bar. An average unethical chocolate bar, such as Hershey’s chocolate, costs a mere $2 (Hershey’s). Though Fair Trade has some flaws and may not always ensure that farmers’ receive a higher wage, it is more ethical and farmer-friendly than an average chocolate bar. A Fair Trade chocolate bar such as Cadbury’s costs $4.29 for 6.5oz, which is more expensive than an average chocolate bar (Target). Then a Direct Trade chocolate bar such as Taza chcoolate, which offers farmers a better price for their cacao since they have direct communication with their farmers, costs $5 for 2.7oz, which is much greater than a Fair Trade bar (Taza). Finally, the most expensive is a craft chocolate bar such as Dick Taylor’s, which offer farmers much more for their cacao, costs $6.80 for 2oz (Dick Taylor). Therefore, because the more a chocolate bar provides farmers with fairer wages the more expensive it is, in order to help farmers receive fairer living wages, consumers must be prepared to pay more for chocolate bars.

 

Paying more

Though Ahren’s research has shown that chocolate consumers are only willing to pay $3 or $4 for a chocolate bar, there is hope that people will be willing to spend more and that chocolate farmers can have fair wages. Craft chocolate is a relatively new concept and trend. During the 1980s and 1990s there was an increase trend in single origin chocolate and the purity of tracing the origin of cacao beans (Martin lecture 13 slide 20). During the 2000s there was a birth of new craft chocolate producers, and over the past six year, during the 2010s, there have been over 150 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers (Martin lecture 13 slide 20). Therefore, there is a growing movement and increase in consumer demand for craft chocolate, since this increase in supply could not occur without it. However, fair farmer wages is not the only reason why craft chocolate makers pay farmers much higher cacao prices. Craft chocolate makers pay more because they are purchasing higher quality beans. The concern is that the current consumer demand growth for single origin chocolate may be due to consumers’ desire for higher quality chocolate and not consumer consciousness. If consumers’ willingness to pay extra for chocolate is solely due to their desire for high quality chocolate, it is unlikely that many more farmers will be able to benefit from fair chocolate products such as craft chocolate bars. The number of chocolate consumers who desire high quality chocolate will plateau as the majority of chocolate consumers simply view chocolate as an easy delicious snack and do not care for its quality. Hence big leading chocolate companies today like Hershey’s are able to sell poor quality chocolate for just $2. Therefore it is promising that there is a trend and increase in chocolate consumers who are willing to pay for more expensive chocolate bars; however, in order for more farmers to benefit from fairer wages, consumers must be willing to purchase expensive chocolate due to consumer consciousness and not simply for higher quality chocolate.

Furthermore, craft chocolate is not the perfect solution to chocolate farmers being underpaid. Craft chocolate makers often neglect West African cacao, where farmers’ wages are the lowest. Therefore it should not be advocated for all chocolate consumers to switch to craft chocolate bars. Rather, chocolate consumers should use craft chocolate as a scenario where the products are expensive but the makers pay their farmers much more for their cacao. Thus, craft chocolate is an example that should encourage chocolate consumers to be willing to pay more for chocolate so that chocolate farmers can receive fairer wages and a better quality of life.

 

 

Non-hyperlinked Figure Sources

Figure 1. “Equality for Women Starts with Chocolate.” Oxfam. Retrieved from: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/equality-for-women-starts-with-chocolate-mb-260213.pdf  May 4, 2016

Figure 2. “Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report.” Taza. Sept 2015.  Retrieved from: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Transparency_Report_2015_v10_spreads__1.pdf?7651569415208703683  May 4, 2016

 

Works Cited

Ahren, Dan. “Investing in Vice.” 2004. St. Martin’s Press, New York. Print

“Annual Cacao Sourcing Transparency Report”. Taza Chocolate. September 2015. Retrieved from: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0974/7668/files/Taza_Transparency_Report_2015_v10_spreads__1.pdf?7651569415208703683 May 4, 2016

“Brief History of Fair Trade.” Fair Trade Resource Network. Retrieved from: http://www.fairtraderesource.org/uploads/2007/09/History-of-Fair-Trade.pdf May 4, 2016

“Cocoa Barometer 2015.” 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.cocoabarometer.org/Download_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20Print%20Friendly%20Version.pdf May 4, 2016

“Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate.” Dick Taylor. Retrieved from: http://www.dicktaylorchocolate.com/shop/?category=Chocolate+Bars May 4, 2016

 

“Impact Research and Evaluation Studies.” Fair Trade Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/the-impact-of-our-work/impact-research-and-evaluation-studies May 4, 2016

Martin, Carla. “Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food Lecture Slides 2016.” 2016. Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_kGt6Sj1X5bYUY0UWg0Y1h2TTA&usp=sharing May 4, 2016

— “Lecture 1: Introduction to Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.” 2016.

— “Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization.” 2016.

Oxfam Media Briefing. “Equality for women starts with chocolate”. Oxfam. 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/equality-for-women-starts-with-chocolate-mb-260213.pdf May 4, 2016

“Products.” Hershey’s. Retrieved from: https://www.hersheys.com/fundraising/products/ May 4, 2016

“Shop.” Target. Retrieved from: http://www.target.com/#?lnk=icon_t_spc_1_0 May 4, 2016

Sylla, Samba Ndongo. “The Fair Trade Scandal.” Ohio University Press. 2014.

“Taza Chocolate.” Taza. Retrieved from: https://www.tazachocolate.com/collections/see-it-all/products/super-dark May 4, 2016

“What is Fair Trade?” 2016. Fair Trade USA. Retrieved from: http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade# May 4, 2016

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”).

header_founders_0-1
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.

organic-chocolate-ecuador-dark
“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,”).

 

Unknown
“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.

swsfpostcardchart_0.jpg

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.