A Historical Analysis of Gender Imbalances in Ghanaian Cocoa Production
West Africa is the greatest regional producer of cocoa in the world (Leissle 2018, p. 4). In Ghana alone, there are 720,000 farmers growing cocoa, 25 percent of which are women (Barrientos 2014, p. 796). Despite exhibiting both quality and productivity levels equal to if not greater than men, women’s income and farm ownership are severely disproportionate to men. Women sell a mean of 8 bags of cocoa per year, equalling ~$980 in annual income. Men, meanwhile, sell a mean of 23 bags of cocoa per year for an annual income of ~$2,817.50 (Leissle 2018, p. 23). Through an analysis of Ghana’s cocoa farming history, there are several sociopolitical factors that have led to the development of gender inequality in the sector. The combination of exogenous changes in the agricultural market and women’s social roles in farming and the household have shifted cocoa production power to men and constrained how women participate in the cocoa market. Traditional land inheritance laws have constrained women’s access to farming plots. Finally, the gendering of work in the cocoa sector has perpetuated the gender gap and prevented women from becoming independent cocoa farm owners. While the historical development of cocoa farming has led to these gender imbalances, the success of female cocoa farmers despite these adversities has spurred new initiatives to eliminate gender inequality in the cocoa sector.
Cocoa arrived in the Portuguese colonies of Sao Tome and Principe in the early 1800’s and expanded throughout mainland Africa by the end of the century. Before, most cocoa had been produced in South America and the Caribbean. During the nineteenth century, the abolishment of slavery throughout the region and disease such as witch’s broom severely limited the amount of cocoa South America and the Caribbean could provide. This supply restriction coincided with an acute increase in demand for cocoa. More successful marketing strategies and new innovations such as the Dutching process and the Swiss conche made smoother, creamier milk chocolate products that attracted more consumers. Since South America and the Caribbean could no longer support rising production demands, chocolate manufacturers turned their eyes to Africa, where cocoa trees had been found to flourish (Leissle 2018, p. 1–47).
West Africa saw a phenomenal rise in cocoa production first in Sao Tome and Principe. The cruel labor practices being encouraged on the islands were exposed in the early 1900’s, and British chocolate manufacturing giant Cadbury was forced to boycott cocoa from these islands as protests against these labor abuses rose. Major cocoa production moved to colonized regions of mainland West Africa as production subsequently declined in Sao Tome and Principe, particularly in Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon (Leissle 2018, p. 40–42). Nigeria’s rise as a prominent cocoa producer was not solely the result of imperial pressure but also of farmer’s own enthusiasm to begin growing cocoa. Around the turn of the twentieth century, coffee and rubber prices were low while cocoa prices were steadily rising with Europe’s voracious demand for chocolate. Gold Coast farmers jumped on the opportunity, and cocoa became the most important export of any category by 1910 (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 3).
Agricultural goods in Ghana have historically been gendered such that either men or women are solely responsible for their respective crops and their proceeds. How these crops were gendered resulted from household roles. Women were responsible for childcare, food processing, cleaning, and other household chores. This gave men much more time for cultivating crops other than subsistence goods, and men indeed devoted this extra time women spent on household labor devoted to commodity production and trading. Women became increasingly involved in trading subsistence goods in local markets while men pursued more lucrative occupations in cocoa farming or waged work (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 13–14). This genderization of crops and general markets became culturally cemented over time, and cocoa farming became a male–dominated sector while subsistence farming and local market trading became a feminized domain. As cocoa farming became more valuable and generated a more substantive part of a household’s income, women and children became increasingly involved as informal laborers on the household cocoa farm, with the husband/father acting as the central, mediating figure through whom the value of wives’ and children’s labor was realized (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 106).
The increasingly valuable role of women and children in cultivating the household cocoa farm upset traditional land inheritance practices. Prior to colonization, Ghanaian land inheritance was typically matrilineal in which a husband’s family land would be bequeathed to his sister’s sons and rarely to his own wife and children. A husband’s self–acquired land, however, could be bequeathed to his children and wife if “he had been well–served by the child” (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 107). Self–acquired land became much more popular with the cocoa boom, as women cultivated family land for subsistence farming and men cultivated new additional land for the cocoa farms. By 1920–1930, the value of a deceased man’s self–acquired property rivalled and even surpassed family land, causing tension between potential matrilineal inheritors and the husband’s wife and children. This tension remained throughout the twentieth century, although a few laws were instituted to make bequeathing nonfamily land to a man’s wife and children easier. In the mid–1980’s, revisions to land inheritance laws were implemented to facilitate family land inheritance to female spouses, but few Ghanaians have actually appealed to this law (Allman and Tashjian 2000, p. 107–109). Due to this system of land inheritance, and because women rarely acquired land for themselves due to their responsibility to other household duties and expectations, land ownership laws and land acquisition processes in Ghana have inhibited women from pursuing farm ownership. More than 90 percent of cocoa comes from smallholder farmers who cultivate a few hectares of land or less, and women have faced more limited access to the already restricted allocation of land than men (Leissle 2018, p. 3).
The cultural gendering of important work in the cocoa sector has also limited women’s growth in the cocoa sector. Cocoa farming involves many steps, and as new agricultural innovations have been introduced into the sector, women’s work has been devalued. As more technological advancements such as the use of fertilizers and pesticides have been produced, women were delegated to planting and harvesting. The male–dominated mechanical application of pesticides and herbicides became more highly valued because these activities more noticeably increase yields in the short run (Barrientos 2014, p. 797). The most gender–restricted activity is the point of sale. Since men have come to control the market for cash crops as women have come to predominate the markets for subsistence goods, social norms usually demand that only men are involved at the point of cash exchange. As female cocoa farmers must enlist men to sell their cocoa, they may not realize their full earnings potential, especially when wives combine their cocoa output with their husbands, as these women cannot tell who earned how much (Leissle 2018, p. 121–122). Women’s cultural exclusion from the most lucrative activities and important positions of agency have continued to perpetuate gender inequality in cocoa farming.
Several historical socioeconomic forces led to the development of gender inequality in the cocoa sector, including exogenous changes to the agricultural market, land access, and the perpetuation of cultural and social conditions disadvantageous to female cocoa farmers. Today, however, many initiatives are taking place to close this gap. Chocolate manufacturing and processing giants Cadbury and Cargill, working with NGO Care, have supported female farmers’ cooperative groups since 2006 (Barrientos 2014, p. 6). Land in Ghana’s western region is being transferred significantly more often from husbands to wives and daughters instead of sons and matrilineal inheritors. Two LBCs in Ghana, Kuapa Kokoo and Akuafo Adamfo, encourage women’s participation at the point of sale (Leissle 2018, p. 122). While women’s advancement in the cocoa sector has been limited by socioeconomic factors, women’s increasing involvement and success in cocoa farming despite these challenges has instead begun to contest this inequality and inspire change in the sector.
Allman, Jean Marie., and Victoria B. Tashjian. I Will Not Eat Stone : A Women’s History of Colonial Asante. Social History of Africa. Portsmouth, NH : Oxford [England] : Cape Town: Heinemann ; J. Currey ; D. Philip, 2000.
Quisumbing, Agnes R, Ellen M Payongayong, and Keijiro Otsuka. “Are Wealth Transfers Biased Against Girls? Gender Differences in Land Inheritance and Schooling Investment in Ghana’s Western Region,” n.d., 43.
Vigneri, Marcella, and Rebecca Holmes. 2009. “When being more productive still doesn’t pay: gender inequality and socio-economic constraints in Ghana’s cocoa sector.” Paper presented at the FAO-IFAD-ILO Workshop on Gaps, trends and current research in gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment : differentiated pathways out of poverty, Rome, (31 March – 2 April 2009). Rome: FAO-IFAD-ILO. http://www.fao-ilo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/fao_ilo/pdf/Papers/20_March/Vigneri-Holmes-final.pdf.
Chocolate has frequently been referred to as the, “Food of the God’s”. For chocolate lovers, the thought of this creamy rich confection invokes an emotion (or passion if you will) that makes it an essential part of the daily diet. Some, consuming it multiple times a day. We give chocolate as gifts for special occasions and profess our affection through ornate heart shaped boxes full of the decadent treat. According to an analysis conducted by MarketsandMarkets, the global cocoa and chocolate market is projected to be worth nearly $133.8 Billion combined in 2019 (MarketsandMarkets, 2014) . But what is the true price of chocolate commerce? For some, it comes at a great cost, specifically the child laborer’s who work on cacao plantations in West Africa. While many chocolate manufacturer’s and worldwide humanitarian organizations have made great strides in spotlighting the issues of child labor, slavery, and trafficking – there is a long way to go. The dark side of chocolate has far reaching repercussions that stretch far beyond the guilty calories in your Valentine’s day Whitman’s Sampler.
What has history taught us?
For centuries, children have been used as slaves in the cacao trade. As a matter of fact, forced child labor has been recorded as far back as the 1800’s in cacao harvesting and cocoa production (Sackett, 84) . The True History of Chocolate elucidates that the ethics of the chocolate trade have been flawed for too long. In their authoritative book, Coe and Coe enlighten us that the countries most involved in this shameful practice are the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) and Ghana – which (coincidentally?) are the top two cacao producing countries in the world. Here, millions of children have been trafficked over time to work “under terrible conditions… suffering from [the negative effects of] powerful pesticides…cutting themselves with the machetes that they must wield to open the pods.” (Coe and Coe, 264) Tragically, these children also lack quality medical care and schooling to better their health and to increase the potential for a better life.
Despite the cacao trade bourgeoning into a multi-billion-dollar industry, we cannot help but have a bitter taste in our mouth for the still sub-standard labor ethics employed in West Africa.
The problem cannot be ignored!
The cacao plantation is no place for a child. Organizations such as the Food Empowerment Project and Green America are putting their time, energy and alliances behind the efforts to not only reduce the use of child labor – but to educate chocolate consumers on the horrific standards of the cacao industry. By labeling the use of children in the cacao commodity growing industry, “The Worst Form of Child Labor” the Food Empowerment Project claims that “in recent years, a handful of organizations and journalists have exposed the widespread use of child labor, and in some cases slavery, on cocoa farms in Western Arica. Since then, the industry has become increasingly secretive, making it difficult for reporters to not only access farms where human rights violations still occur, but to then disseminate this information to the public.” By calling our attention to the companies that take advantage of the largest supply of cocoa and making a direct connection to the child slavery problem, the FEP specifically names Hershey, Mars and Nestle as those that who should have the guiltiest conscience in the chocolate trade. Green America goes one step further by publishing a “Chocolate Scorecard” to illustrate to consumers the performance of chocolate manufacturers, taking into consideration rather or not they “have innovative programs and projects in place to address some of the underlying issues of child labor in cocoa.”
The BIG question….
By now, you may have a bitter taste in your mouth and should be asking yourself “What can I do to help.” For many chocolate consumers, it is enough to bite into our favorite Endangered Species or Alter Ego brand chocolate bars and have a clear conscience – feeling that we are doing SOMETHING by choosing what we deem to be an ethically sourced confectionery. For others, we are angry and want to do something immediately that will change the trajectory in a more positive direction. So, what do you do? Perhaps you will pay more for a chocolate bar that’s packaging convinces you that the proceeds are going to help reduce child labor, slavery, or trafficking? Or perhaps you will emphatically denounce any chocolate grown in this region of the world and refuse to patronize any brand not making the grade on the “Chocolate Scorecard”? As Kristy Leissle points out in her thoughtful book Cocoa, the “oft-suggested idea of charging more for chocolate to ease farmer poverty reverses typical cause and effect, whereby higher cocoa prices drive higher chocolate prices.” (Leissle, 136) . Simply put– when the price of cocoa goes up, these farming regions are even more attractive due to the low labor rates; doing nothing more than increasing profit for chocolate makers. And for those of you that are done stomping your feet in remonstration, according to Leissle, “buying only cocoa from outside West Africa would do more harm than good” (Leissle, 136) as you would be punishing hard working West Africans that are dependent on the cacao trade for their livelihood.
What you CAN do….
The good news is that there are many ways to support the cacao kids that are losing their childhood to the chocolate industry. A few things you CAN do are:
• Become a more conscientious consumer by educating yourself on the issue and the actions being taken to combat them. There are numerous organizations fighting every day and your donation or activism are appreciated.
• Shop at retailers that support brands that are working to reduce child labor in the cacao trade. If you are unsure if your favorite store or market is making choices that you are aligned with in selecting their chocolate inventory – do not be afraid to ask. Many retailers have category managers that are well versed on what their store carries and why. If their selection is unsatisfactory, chocolate may not be the only category that they do not measure up in the area of ethics.
• Think global but act local. Talk to your State Representative about their agenda for reducing child labor as it relates to trade facilitation and trade enforcement. A sweet not bitter ending…. The “Food of the God’s” does not need to come at the cost of innocent lives in West Africa. Though chocolate has been studied academically and discussed politically, there are still significant gaps that each and every one of us can contribute to closing. So, the next time that you pick up your favorite chocolate confection, may the guilt be only on your lips and on your hips.
A sweet not bitter ending….
The “Food of the God’s” does not need to come at the cost of innocent lives in West Africa. Though chocolate has been studied academically and discussed politically, there are still significant gaps that each and every one of us can contribute to closing. So, the next time that you pick up your favorite chocolate confection, may the guilt be only on your lips and on your hips.
The history of chocolate illustrates the dilemma of good intentions and the moral ambiguity of efforts by one culture — in this case that of the wealthy white Christianity-dominated West — to re-form and re-create another culture in their own image. This ambiguity shows itself in the early history of American Christian missionaries bringing their faith — faith in God, and in the sort of education and vocational training they saw as inseparable from the preaching of the gospel — to Ghana in the late 19th and early 20 century, and it shows itself throughout the history of complex cultural interactions around the cultivation of chocolate. It shows itself, too, in the current conditions of the economy of chocolate, and, maybe most poignantly, in the ideological and humanistic battles around the billion-dollar trust created by the vast chocolate wealth of the Hershey family and the extraordinary school it funds. Like chocolate, religious and moral proselytizing often comes in with a sugar coating that can’t be refused, but underneath that sweetness lies something bitter.
Missionaries promise better lives for the people they preach to, while often completely devaluing and invalidating their existing cultures and lives. In the article “MISSIONARY SPOTLIGHT – Ghana’s Christian legacy” on Evangelical Times, it is claimed that Christianity has “contributed in no small way to the development of Ghanaian society and the well-being of its people.” This article claims that while part of this improvement was due to development of education and medical services, Presbyterian Basel missionaries also helped the people of Ghana by introducing cacao to the region and providing training on how to grow it. The author notes that spreading Christianity in Ghana was not always an easy task. Missionaries were sometimes not welcomed, and “faced the hostility of the priests of traditional African religion, particularly when the latter’s shrines were forsaken by Christian converts” (Dapaah). This article reflects no self-awareness of why the religious reformation of Ghana may not have delighted all, or of the possibility that the traditional religion held value to the people. It is also fascinating that, taking credit for the introduction of cacao in Ghana, Evangelical Times assumes this as a positive influence. In other contexts, the cacao industry in Ghana has been under much moral scrutiny by the Western world.
Consumers of chocolate want to feel good about what they are buying. Chocolate is, after all, the quintessential feel-good product, often connected in buyers’ minds with cozy notions of love and warm indulgence. It is upsetting to consider that we may be causing harm in buying it, and consumers are quick to squelch their guilt by opting for choices that advertise ethical production.
Problems of ethics in chocolate production are often portrayed in the West by stressing the dismal conditions of cacao farmers’ lives, highlighting their poverty, lack of education, or abuses propagated on or by them. We depict them as people who need our help to have any quality of life or morals. Orla Ryan’s Chocolate Nations chapter Child Labor shows that people in the West greatly exaggerate and misinterpret child labor on cacao farms in Africa. It is portrayed as a moral crisis that children are forced to work, and an often-suggested solution is the boycott of any chocolate produced with child labor. However, the children and families themselves view the situation differently. While some children are trafficked or forced to work against their will, it is most common for children to work along with the rest of their family on the family cacao farm. This can be dangerous, but it is not caused by sadism on the part of the perpetrating family members— there is simply such a problem with poverty that everybody has to work to survive. For this reason, boycotting chocolate from these farms would do little good and possibly have disastrous effects by further increasing poverty. Addressing child labor from a place of classist, racist moral superiority is not what the world needs (Ryan).
In the article “Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism,” Bani Amor explains that fair-trade companies often are founded by white people seeking to portray themselves as heroic “fixers” of world issues, while suggesting erroneously that the problems of capitalism can be solved through capitalism means. She believes that this “saviorism through consumerism” actually relies on rather than dismantle oppressive structures.
“Saviorism employs a time-honored colonial narrative: The sad state of the savage Other necessitates civilizing via white/Western intervention, which maintains dominion over resources that sometimes trickle down to the needy via acts of charity. In his landmark 2012 essay, ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex,’ Teju Cole reminds us that saviorism ‘is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.’ …[I]t validates supremacy more than anything, because assuming the role of the savior is also a show of power” (Amor).
Saviorism validates supremacy— the supremacy of the white Western elite, their religion and morals, and what they have to offer. Allowing saviorism to continue is a roadblock to growing as a culture to celebrate diversity and embrace equality.
The Milton Hershey School
Saviorism is often about race, but it is also about class. The Milton Hershey School is an example of class saviorism within the chocolate culture and industry in America. Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine had big dreams when they set up the utopian chocolate town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. They wanted to make a place where people were productive but also happy and well provided for. This was reflected in how Milton Hershey organized his company and town and also in the creation of what was then known as the “industrial school,” a school for orphaned boys established in the town of Hershey in 1909. The school was meant to provide opportunities for the many boys left orphaned in that time period, but also to morally shape these boys so that they would not become “shiftless and criminal men who would spawn another generation of undesirables” as was a great concern of society at the time (D’Antonio 197). In addition to Milton and Catherine’s philanthropic predilections, they found joy in inviting orphans into their lives because they themselves were unable to have children. However, there was a problem with this utopian conception. The program was designed with the purpose of shaping boys to become a certain type of upstanding, honest citizens who had to meet strict standards of behavior, performance, and character. Though the school did not require every pupil to be religious, it did teach Christian morals and expel anyone “incorrigible” or “undesirable”— boys were required to be “healthy” in every way to attend and many boys were sent away when they did not uphold these standards (D’Antonio 199).
The school is now known as the Milton Hershey School. Still funded by a trust made by Hershey, offers more than free tuition— it offers free medical and dental care and will even buy clothes for its students and house them year round if needed. It is no longer a school only for orphaned boys, and the website appeals to parents by offering extraordinary care for children at no cost. Though this may offer a wonderful opportunity for some, it imposes upon parents the idea that if they are poor, their children would be better off removed from their care and transplanted into idyllic Christian wealth with strangers. It is a problematic design to, instead of addressing poverty and education inequality in disadvantaged areas, select a few promising children to remove from their lives and reshape through privilege. Though it is illegal to discriminate against students based on health, the school website still states that children must “be free of serious behavioral problems that are likely to disrupt life in the classroom or student home life” (Admissions Considerations). Children at the Milton Hershey School are also required to attend church regularly, and the website states that “The school encourages students to learn to love God and others, to give service to their community, and to live a morally upright life. Devotions are woven into their daily routine” (Student Activities).
These moral and religious standards have led to problems in recent years at the Milton Hershey School. There have been complaints of discrimination and abuse. In a 2017 article on advocate.com, an incident is detailed in which a teenage student claims to have been forced to watch an hour-long gay conversion therapy video by his house-parents at the Milton Hershey School. The student said that he was also forced to pray with his house-parents to have God help him away from gayness, and was told stories of other gay people who had terrible things happen to them. In 2013, this student was expelled from the school following a suicidal gesture. This is an example of the great harm that can come about from imposing moral and religious values, and it also illustrates the school’s problematic readiness to expell students who displayed signs of mental illness. The school admitted that this incident occurred but denied any official involvement in the showing of the video, though conversion therapy is in line with the original vision of the founder.
“A spokeswoman for the school, Lisa Scullin, who responded to Dobson’s suit against the school by saying conversion therapy is a ‘practice the administration would never allow or condone,’ doubled down on denying official involvement in response to the revelation that conversion therapy had indeed been promoted at Hershey.
‘Unequivocally, the school does not promote or endorse any program that could be remotely characterized as gay conversion therapy,’ Scullin said. ‘Any suggestion otherwise is a gross mischaracterization of our values and the environment on our campus.'”
This was not an isolated incident. Last year, a second former student of the Milton Hershey School claimed that he was forced to watch the same video, and states that he was humiliated in front of others and made to feel “like the scum of the earth” by the incident. Human Rights Campaign states that gay conversion therapy techniques “have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy. Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide.” Because these methods are so injurious, a number of states and municipalities have put laws in place to protect minors from them. It is deeply troubling that an orginization meant to protect children would in fact use their position to attempt to abusively mold them to fit a moral ideal, and these incidents reveal a need for radically increased scrutiny of any such “savior” programs for youth.
Imposition of Culture is Dehumanizing
The world’s privileged white elite often act as though by helping others they gain the right to impose their own “superior” moral values, but fail to recognize that imposition of culture is dehumanizing. This saviorism takes away people’s autonomy and inherent right to self-determination. Although nobody wants to be trapped in poverty or treated unfairly, that does not mean that the Western white Christian capitalist life is the model of supremacy. It is important to improve fairness in the chocolate industry and in education, but in this endeavor it is vital to integrate respect for those we are helping and listen to their values and needs rather than imposing our own—to work with rather than for them.
Ryan Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey Milton S. Hersheys Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Paw Prints, 2008.
“the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.” ― Sarah Vowell
Humorist Sarah Vowell captures much of the history of chocolate (and coffee) in this little quip. However, the history of chocolate is long and its social, economic, and political implications are vast. Putting the positive impacts of invention aside, the negative impacts of imperialism and consumerism more than linger. They have resulted in gross economic inequities and lasting environmental and social damage, particularly in the production end of the cocoa supply chain. It’s going to take the force of consumerism and capitalism to right these inequalities and bring about sustainability.
Approximately 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced in West Africa by small farms spread out across the area. In the 1980s cocoa farmers received approximately 16% of the chocolate profits, today this percentage has been greatly reduced to 3%. Cocoa farmers are not organized and have little bargaining power against more organized buyers.
The 2018 Cocoa Barometer highlights the many challenges for cacao farmers, including volatile pricing. From September 2016 – February 2017, farmers experienced a 30%-40% decline in income (Ghana farmers were protected by this price drop through government subsidies). Although prices are on the rise again, the overall trend the past 60 years is a decline in prices (see figure 2). With farmers having little, to no, protection from their governments they are hardest hit by market fluctuations, while others on the value chain will see an increase of their profit margins, even if only temporary.
Farmers in West Africa make well below a living wage of $2.51 per day, averaging $0.78 per day (FairTrade). The Cocoa Barometer asserts that the price drops are directly related to improved production due to new farming areas created from deforestation. More than 90% of West Africa’s original forests are gone.
An estimated 2.1 million children work in West African cocoa fields. Structural issues such as poverty, lack of schools, and infrastructure also contribute to the high levels of child labor. Efforts in the past few decades to end child labor, preserve the environment, and to balance these inequities have been challenging and difficult to measure. Currently, third party certification bodies have been the only levers toward implementing and measuring sustainability efforts as well as signals to consumers as to where, and how, their chocolate products are sourced.
The three main certification entities are Fairtrade, Utz and the Rainforest Alliance. Fairtrade Standards are designed to support the sustainable development of small producer organizations and agricultural workers in the poorest countries in the world. Similarly, Utz certification was created to show consumers that products were sustainably sourced. Rainforest Alliance certification meant farmers met rigorous environmental and social standards. In January 2018, Utz merged with the Rainforest Alliance. The New Rainforest Alliance plans to publish a singular program at the end of 2019.
Certification and bean-to-bar efforts in the specialty chocolate market have many success stories, but compared to the global consumption of chocolate, these efforts have only made a dent. The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) reports, with caveats intended to illustrated the challenges of obtaining this data, that there are 481 specialty chocolate makers and manufacturers worldwide that represent approximately 6% of the annual global production of cacao.
The FCCI defines this market segment as those chocolate makers and manufacturers that choose to purchase specialty cacao at a premium price for purposes of taste quality and/or sustainability reasons. Within this small group, sustainability is but a factor in paying the price premium, but not necessarily a primary factor. In order for sustainability initiatives to have any meaningful impact to cocoa farmers the major chocolate manufacturers need to take the lead and invest in best practices throughout their supply chain that address the environmental, social, and economic challenges their farmers face.
Recent Commitments by the Majors / Certifications & Goals
Mondelēz International (a subsidiary of Kraft) Chocolate Brands: Cadbury, Alpen Gold, Côte d’Or, Toblerone, etc. Certification provided by FLOCERT through a private labeling partnership.
In 2012 Mondelēz International invested $400 million to create its Cocoa Life program. The program plans to empower 200,000 cocoa farmers and one million community members by 2022. In April 2018 Mondelēz International reported that they have reached 120,500 cocoa farmers, in a variety of programs and they reached 35% certified cocoa.
Cocoa Life is tied to the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), with an emphasis on Goals 1 (no poverty), among others. Cocoa Life has partnered with local governments and NGOs to build community-centric Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation Systems (CLMRS), which educate farming communities on the dangers of child labor, identify children at risk, and remediate cases with its local partners. Cocoa Life CLMRS programs have started in Ghana and continue to increase. Roll out of CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire will begin in 2018. Nestlé has also implemented CLMRS program into its sustainability programs.
Nestlé Chocolate Brands: Smarties, Nestlé Crunch, Butterfinger, KitKat, etc.
Certifications: Utz and Fairtrade
In their detailed, first report (2017), co-authored with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Nestlé asserts that certification is not enough and that additional support for the farmer is needed. In fact, Nestlé asserts that certification drove the issue of child labor “underground” as farmers would hide any child laborers when inspectors came around. While Mondelēz set up CLMRS in Ghana, Nestlé set up its CLMRS in Côte d’Ivoire and report a 51% reduction of child labor in a recent sample of 1,056 children over a two-year period. 
Nestlé is also investing in Community Liaison People (CLPs) to educate the community of the dangers of child labor. They are targeting women and mothers as they are more likely to invest their income and education into their family. The CLPs are local young people who are paid to train and the cost of the CLPs are split between Nestlé and the farmer. Remediation is highly individualized, but these activities are ones Nestlé continues to invest. Nestlé hopes to scale their more successful initiatives to meet the goals of its Cocoa Plan, which is set to reach 57% cocoa certification by the end of 2020.
Ferrero Chocolate Brands: Ferrero Pralines, Nutella, Kinder Chocolate Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
According to its 2016 Social Responsibility Report Ferrero has made a commitment to 100% certified cacao by 2020 and 75% by the end of 2018.
In its April 2018 Cocoa Barometer reports Ferrero is 70% certified (figure 4), and by its own reporting, on track to meet its goal of 75% cocoa certification (figure 10).
Ferrero reports partnerships with cacao cooperative ECOOKIM, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire, which takes part in the Fairtrade Africa program “It Takes a Village to Protect a Child.” Similar to CLMRS, the program establishes a Child Labor Committee to raise awareness about child labor, create child protection policy, and monitor activity at the community level. Ferrero reports that 9,413 children benefitted from this program. 
Ferrero also works with Save the Children to work toward ending child labor. It reports 1.2 million children are forced to work in hazardous conditions, however, Ferrero has set relatively modest goals of reaching 500 children, 7,500 members of 10 communities, and 100 representatives of local institutions.
In January Ferrero announced it planned to acquire Nestlé’s U.S. confectionary business for $2.8 billion in cash making Ferrero the third largest confectionary company in the U.S. It is anticipated that Ferrero will realign their sustainability goals after the acquisition of Nestlé, but their goals are currently similar.
The Hershey Company Popular Chocolate Brands: Hershey’s Chocolate Bar, Cocoa, Kisses, and Baking chocolates, Kit Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds, Reese’s, York. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In its 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, The Hershey Company highlights progress in their Learn to Grow agriculture and empowerment program, serving 48,300 farmers in West Africa. The report also highlights its Energize Learning program, which provides Vivi energy bars to students improving overall nutrition. The program is a partnership with the Ghana School Feeding Program and Project Peanut Butter and 50,000 kids in Ghana receive 50,000 Vivi bars every day. Hershey also partnered with The World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) Climate Smart Cocoa Program to address climate change impacts to cocoa growing regions. The partnership will pilot a series of programs to develop “climate-smart” best practices to inform the Learn to Grow curriculum and through Hershey’s CocoaLink program knowledge sharing between farmers will be allowed via low-cost mobile technology. Hershey’s report indicates that it is on schedule to reach its 100% certified goal by 2020. In April 2018 the Cocoa Baramoter reports Hershey reached 75% (see figure 4). Also in April 2018, Hershey announced the creation of its Cocoa for Good sustainability programs
Beyond certification, Cocoa for Good seeks to address the most pressing issues facing cocoa-growing communities. The strategy is to target four key areas: increase family access to good nutrition, elimination of child labor and increase youth access to education opportunities, increase household incomes for women and men, zero deforestation and increased agroforestry. The announcement came with a $500 million commitment by 2030 and like Mondelēz International and Mars, aligns its strategy to contribute to the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Mars Chocolate Brands include: M&M, Snickers, Twix, Dove, Milky Way, etc. Certification is conducted by Utz, Fairtrade, and Rainforest Alliance.
In September of 2017, Mars announced its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, with a pledge to invest $1 billion over the next few years to address threats such as climate change, poverty in its value chain, and scarcity of resources. This is across all their raw products, not just cocoa. Oxfam will serve as an advisor to their Farmer Income Lab, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainability Development Goal 1 (no poverty). The Farmer Income Lab will seek to create solutions through research for farmers working in Mars’ supply chain in developing countries. Other actions include improving cocoa farming methods, pests and disease prevention, and unlocking the cocoa genome. Engagement with others actors in the cocoa industry is also key, such as the World Cocoa Foundation and CocoaAction. Mars’ Chief Sustainability & Health and Wellbeing Officer, Barry Parkin, also serves as Chairman of World Cocoa Foundation.
Mars may lay claim as the first major chocolate company to commit to 100% certified chocolate by 2020, but its progress has lagged, reporting 50% of their cocoa being certified in 2016 and the same percentage being reported by the cocoa barometer in 2018 (figure 4). During this same time frame Ferrero and Hershey have demonstrated increases in certification of cocoa reporting 70% and 75% certificated cocoa, respectively (figure 4). Their website lacks a corporate social responsibility report and the information available on their site appears to be written in 2016, except for recent press releases and Income Position Statement. For example Mars’ claim to be the only major manufacturer to work with all three major certification organizations Utz, Rainforest Alliance, and Fairtrade International is outdated. Hershey and Ferrero include these bodies in their 2016 sustainability reports.
Until the recent announcement of Sustainable in a Generation Plan, Mars’ approach, as described on their website, leans more toward improving farmer yield through technology (fertilizer, farming techniques, mapping the cacao genome) than increasing living wages and address child labor. A press release by Frank Mars in April 2018 urges collaborative scientific approach and extolls their work on breeding higher yield cocoa plants for improving farmer incomes. However, higher yields do not always improve farmer incomes. As previously mentioned, the recent Cocoa Barometer report suggests that higher production results in driving down price, thus less income for farmers. Perhaps Mars’ real progress is tied to the progress of the World Cocoa Foundation.
World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and CocoaAction
CocoaAction is a voluntary industry-wide organization that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies, cocoa producing governments, and key stakeholders on regional priority issues in cocoa sustainability run by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). The WCF member companies committed to CocoaAction include Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Ferrero, The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, among others. In November of 2017 a Framework of Action was announced by the WCF with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and major chocolate and cocoa companies to end deforestation, restore forest areas, and accelerate investment in long-term sustainable production of cocoa, and the development and capacity-building of farmers’ organizations and farmer’s income. Commitments also include participation of policy creation by farmers and extensive monitoring and reporting. The Framework of Action involves governments and companies that represent 80% of the global cocoa production and usage. If implemented correctly, these commitments should go a long way in repairing the deforestation in West Africa.
The Future of Chocolate
These efforts are welcome and it is promising that the majors can successfully collaborate with governments, NGOs, and each other in the important effort to secure the future of chocolate and those that produce it. It is also encouraging to see the major manufacturers release sustainability reports, however, as barometer.org reports, many of their commitments fall well short compared to the actual scope of the problem. The commitment to reach 400,000 children by 2020 would only impact 18% of children in need (figure 15). Similarly meeting commitments to help farmers in CocoaAction would only reach 15% of farmers in need (figure 15). Regarding living income, farmers are only making $0.78 per day, 31% of the living wage of $2.51 per day (figure 15). The Cocoa Barometer report stresses that a living wage, among other factors, is a major component that these initiatives must include in their sustainability initiatives. From available data, all reports aspire to improve farmer income, either by improving productivity or identifying additional income generating activities. However, these plans do not set a living wage as a goal. As mentioned earlier in this article more production doesn’t always result in more income.
The future of chocolate depends on the fate of cocoa farmers and their fate relies on untangling a mess of social and economic issues caused by imperialism, and exacerbated by free market capitalism and consumerism. The goals set forth in these reports are generally headed in the right direction, but their success is dependent on their ability to make their initiatives successful, then scale up on that success. Accountability and transparency among the industry and at the government level is also paramount to measure the effects of these initiatives. Consumers also have a role in making responsible purchases and applying pressure on corporations and governments to minimize inequality in the supply chain and certification plays an important role. If farmers continue to be marginalized, then there will be little incentive for a younger generation of farmers to take up the trade and chocolate may become a rare treat indeed.
 Vowell, Sarah. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Simon & Schuster. New York, New York. October 2002. p. 42
 Martin, Carla D. “Introduction.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 24 Jan. 2018. Class Lecture.
Two hours. That is the amount of time I spent scouring databases and newspaper articles attempting to find scientific (or non-scientific) evidence that would demonstrate the importance chocolate has in our world today. More specifically, I was looking for something titled Chocolate: The Most Significant Food in History. The best I could find was a TIME.com article titled “9 Weirdest Uses for Chocolate.” It was very insightful. However, when considering the amount of chocolate that is produced and consumed in the world each year, the picture of importance starts to become more clear. For businesses and consumers, chocolate and cacao is a great product, and in high demand. For producers and farmers, it is an important cash crop and essential to survival.
The relevance and importance chocolate and cacao cultivation have on the world economy cannot be understated. According to the International Cacao Organization (ICCO,) the world’s top ten chocolate producing companies did $80 billion USD in sales in 2017. (https://www.icco.org/about-cocoa/chocolate-industry.html) Even beyond the money and global markets, there is a great deal of cultural significance that could never be quantified. The World Cocoa Foundation estimates that Cacao directly affects the livelihoods of approximately 50 million people (http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/our-work/programs/). For chocolate lovers, the news that climate change could significantly impact our access to chocolate was devastating. Major players such as MARS Inc. have made significant investments for this eventuality, and are looking to be prepared for changes in the cacao marketplace. This will undoubtedly have significant impacts on the producers of cacao and encourages a deeper look at methods to adapt the farming and production practices.
Chocolate might go away?
Despite the fear-mongering on the internet, this is not totally accurate. It is important to point out that cacao will not be going extinct anytime soon. It will, however, face a potentially sharp and significant decline in production. This means that by 2050, you may have less access too chocolate than you do at this very moment. My advice is to stock up.
Cacao trees really depend on very specific criteria to be met in order for them to grow, thrive, and produce fruit (Lecture). Cacao can essentially only be grown when the right conditions are met. Those conditions apply to which areas in the world cacao can grow in, the temperature it prefers, and the surrounding plants that shield and shade it. The picky nature of Theobroma cannot be understated.
The challenge that the world’s cacao producers are facing is climate change. Those very specific conditions are projected to be harder to meet in the very near future. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA,) West African countries will experience an increase in evapotranspiration (Smith, 2016). Essentially, the amount of water plants will be able to retain will decrease due to higher temperatures. This will have an impact on what areas will later be suitable to grow cacao. Figure 2 highlights the estimated change in temperature in Africa’s top cacao producing regions according to research done by Peter Läderach and his team.
With 70% of the world’s chocolate finding its origin in western African countries like Cote d’Ivoire, a decrease in production from West Africa would have a worldwide impact. (http://www.oecd.org/swac/publications/39596493.pdf) For several countries that fall within the West African cacao belt, Cacao is the number one agricultural export. Any decline could potentially result in major economic impacts for those countries (Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Schroth, & Castro, 2013; Schroth, Läderach, Martinez-Valle, Bunn, & Jassogne, 2016). It would also result in consequences for the natural habitats and cacao growing regions of these states. The research that has been done in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire has indicated that by 2050, almost 90% of the current farmland would be unsuitable to grow cacao, with only a 10% increase in suitability. This is alarming as the vast majority of cacao production in Africa, and worldwide, stems from this region.
Source: Lecture slides
Additionally, this new farmland comes at a cost. That is to say, in order to capitalize on other areas that will be suitable to grow cacao, countries facing this challenge will have to sacrifice environmental conservation (Läderach et al., 2013). This still would not make up for the amount of farmland lost to the temperature increases, while contributing to the factors that influence climate change.
While a decrease in African production would have global consequences, it is unlikely that climate change will eliminate chocolate and cacao production. As cacao grows around the globe, we can expect it will continue to be around. One of the concerns currently is that it is very likely that other regions around the world will have to pick up the slack. And that is a lot of slack! With the top cacao producing countries losing close to 90% of suitable cacao growing areas, it is unclear at this point where it is possible to make up for this loss. Without an answer in the next 20-30 years, chocolate will likely be much less of a household item than it was the last 100 years.
Let’s move to Mar’s…Inc.
According to the Candy Industry’s 2017 Global Top 100 list, Mar’s Inc. is the world’s top-grossing candy company. In 2017, their net sales topped $18 billion USD! (https://www.candyindustry.com/2017-Global-Top-100-Part-4) With earnings like that, it is not difficult to understand the level of investment and commitment the company would have to the preservation of chocolate production.
Mars Inc. has put their money where their mouth is…or rather, where the chocolate is. They have invested in a project run by the Innovative Genomics Institute, in an effort to ensure future production of cacao. So far they have pledged $1 billion USD to creating sustainability and reducing their footprint, and this includes the CRISPR project. The goal of the project is not to specifically save cacao production, but rather to combat diseases in humans and plants (IGI 2018). Lucky for us, Theobroma Cacao is a plant. Winning! Well, maybe. The CRISPR technology is aimed at altering the genes of plants in order to make them resistant to disease. So this might not really help West African farmers who will lose cacao growing areas. By investing in this technology, Mars Inc. hopes to expand the possible areas cacao can be grown in.
As it stands today, different diseases and insects make in very difficult to grow and produce cacao. It is estimated that about 40% of the crops in the Americas are lost to fungal infections like witches’ broom (Shapiro & Shapiro, 2015). By increasing the natural resistance of the fruit-bearing trees, the average yield would increase 3 fold. This means that places that have been traditionally very difficult to produce cacao in could now become production centers. This would effectively reduce the impacts on chocolate manufacturers if the climate predictions do create impediments to cacao production in West Africa.
In a recent story done on the use of CRISPR technology, scientists working with IGI explained the advancements they have made in changing the genes of many crops that are prone to disease. They explain that they have already used the technology to create a solution for the swollen shoot virus that plagues cacao trees. (Schlender, 2018)
The technology works so quickly that IGI can have plants develop the desired traits within one generation! This is very good news for chocolate lovers. Assuming everything works out. The plants that have and will undergo this process will need to be researched extensively before they can be consumed by the public. This will ensure that people eating these modified crops do not grow an extra set of toes afterward.
This past year, Mars Inc. also made a significant investment in addressing climate change, planning to cut its own carbon emissions by two-thirds. A big part of this investment will be assisting farmers in improving their yields while simultaneously reducing pressures underlying deforestation. The idea is that the more a farmer can produce from their crops, the less land they will need to do it (Madson, 2017). This investment totals $1 billion USD and has been proposed to be completed by 2050.
Other chocolate giants such as Cadbury and Mondelez have also become a part of developing solutions for creating sustainability in cacao farming. Mondelez International’s non-profit arm, Cocoa Life, is focused on improving the lives of farmers in cacao-growing regions around the world. (https://www.cocoalife.org/the-program/approach) With increased commitment from large organizations with vast resources, it is possible to combat the potential effects of climate change.
What about the little guy/gal?
While it appears that Mars Inc. has likely stumbled upon a viable solution to their future issue of supply, what about the small-holders. The potential to move cacao production elsewhere is not great news for all parties involved. It is possible that genetic modification could potentially change under what conditions cacao trees thrive. However, it is unclear if this route could help the trees overcome evapotranspiration in the projected West African environments. It is very probable that this cash crop could find a new capital in other region or regions in other parts of the world. For the millions of farmers who are vulnerable to this threat, this is a challenge they will be forced to adapt to.
There are organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance who are working toward preparing farmers, equipping them with new strategies to protect their crops. The strategy being used is called Climate-Smart Agriculture, and in principal focuses on the specific needs of the specific farm (de Groot, 2017). Cacao farmers using this tactic would conduct a needs assessment of their farm, and create a plan that directly corresponds to the challenges that are unique to them. Some of the strategies include planting shade trees, as well as developing water retaining systems to prepare for droughts. While these will improve overall yield from these farms, it is unclear at this point how these tactics will far against climate change.
The tactic of planting shade trees is, however, a recommended strategy for those who fall in the Western African cacao belt. Currently, the farming trend has been to reduce the shade on cacao farms, however, this may no longer be an option. By increasing the shade of the cacao trees, the temperatures of its leaves could drop up to 4 °C (Läderach et al., 2013). Not only could this help protect cacao cultivation in Western Africa, it also helps to increase crop diversification. If done correctly, this would make cacao farmers less vulnerable to changing temperatures and less frequent rainfall. A downside to this recommendation is the limitation on the amount of water available during the dry season. The increase in plant life means less water to satisfy the needs of the cacao trees, and potentially losing the entire crop.
Chocolate is important. It directly impacts the lives of people around the world, in ways that transcend taste. For some, it is a highly desired treat, and for others, it is a means of opportunity. The effects of climate change have given all sides of the cacao industry a wake-up call to the importance of sustainable farming and improving our carbon footprint. Large organizations have begun to change the way they operate in the world, by reducing their emissions and helping to improve farming practices. Climate change could result in significant impacts on the cacao industry the world over. Reducing the amount of product available for purchase, and decreasing the available wages that can be earned in regions that are the most affected. Scientists, chocolate companies, and cacao farmers are starting to come together in an attempt to better the practices in this very important industry. Each has a role to play to play in this improvement, as well as the preparation for effects climate change will play in cacao and other vital crops.
Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A., Schroth, G., & Castro, N. (2013). Predicting the future climatic suitability for cocoa farming of the world’s leading producer countries, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Climatic Change, 119(3–4), 841–854. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0774-8
Schroth, G., Läderach, P., Martinez-Valle, A. I., Bunn, C., & Jassogne, L. (2016). Vulnerability to climate change of cocoa in West Africa: Patterns, opportunities and limits to adaptation. Science of The Total Environment, 556, 231–241. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.024
HEXX Chocolate – Located in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip (“HEXX Exterior”).
HEXX Chocolate – At the Paris Hotel and Casino in the shadow of a replica of the Eiffel Tower (“HEXX Restaurant Eiffel Tower”).
Situated in the shadow of a half-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower, amidst the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, we find the unlikely presence of Nevada’s sole bean-to-bar chocolate concept called HEXX Chocolate (Feldberg). In a city where audacious and artificial are the norm – HEXX’s authentic approach to chocolate they call “Super. Natural.” is breaking the mold of industry paradigms and bridging the huge chasm between chocolate’s primary consumers in the global north and cacao producers in the global south (“Authentic”). In HEXX’s unique approach, they are taking on one of the most pressing social and ethical challenges facing the chocolate industry today – the plight of farmers in cacao producing nations and the general lack of awareness amongst consumers. By examining four key aspects of HEXX: The unique DNA of its leadership; the original way it is presenting its chocolate story to customers; its intentional cultivation of long-term, ethical relationship with its farmers; and its unique challenges, we will see HEXX molding chocolate’s present and future for the better.
HEXX’s Founders and Chocolate Makers – As Unique as Its Brand
As unique as HEXX’s presence is on the Las Vegas Strip, equally as original are its founders and chocolate makers. In the emerging craft chocolate space that has grown from a single company to 200 in the past two decades (Leissle 3; Giller), one might imagine a chocolate maker as a geeky chocolate scientist perfecting chocolate for other geeks (Giller) or perhaps a hipster with a cause (“MAST”). However, at HEXX, we find something quite different. The brain-trust and chocolate makers at HEXX are Matthew Silverman and Matthew Piekarski – established, culinary heavyweights in the Las Vegas dining scene who also lead HEXX’s 24×7 restaurant operation, which shares the same space and name (“Meet Our Chefs”).
In a town chock-full of celebrities, one could argue Silverman and Piekarski are celebrities in their own right. Silverman traces his culinary roots to the acclaimed Wolfgang Puck (Leach). Piekarski’s resume not only includes an Executive Chef stint working with Eva Longoria Parker but he has the distinction of being named “Las Vegas’ Hottest Chef” (“Chef Matt Piekarski”; Stapleton). Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary chops and earned reputations provide them a perfect platform to share HEXX’s chocolate story from their headquarters on the Las Vegas Strip, which they have been doing since 2015. In doing so, they are not only sharing the story of HEXX, but also the unique locales where its chocolate originates from and the oft-untold stories of farmers who cultivate and harvest cacao – the raw materials from which chocolate is made.
Engaging, Educating, and Expanding Chocolate’s Consumer Base
Interior of HEXX’s 30,000 square-foot restaurant (Mair).
Silverman and Piekarski sorting cacao beans (“Sorting Beans”).
HEXX’s transparent chocolate operations which shares the same space as its restaurant (“Kitchen”).
It is impossible to step-off of Las Vegas Boulevard, into HEXX’s 30,000 square foot restaurant and chocolate factory and not leave with a better appreciation for its chocolate and its origin stories (Womack).
That is exactly Silverman and Piekarski’s intent. From HEXX’s name and chocolate packaging to how it creatively engages customers throughout their restaurant dining experience, HEXX is educating its customers and changing their perceptions about chocolate (Piekarski). Says Silverman about the name HEXX, “The XX represents Roman numerals and speaks to the farms we source our cacao beans from, all of which are located 20 degrees above or below the equator” (Vintage View). Before unwrapping any of HEXX’s 2-oz, single-origin chocolate bars, one learns about the country and farm its cacao is sourced from and the unique flavors and terroir of the region (“Product”).
HEXX also sprinkles in subtle chocolate highlights throughout its restaurant dining experience – from its use of cocoa nibs as a nut replacement in muffins and salads to its use of Venezuelan Milk Chocolate in a luxurious cheesecake (Piekarski; That’s So Vegas). At the end of each meal, diners are given a petit four, which offers a taste of one of HEXX’s six single-origin chocolates. This end-of-meal ceremony not only serves as a decadent way to culminate one’s gastronomic experience but is an invitation to its patrons to learn more about HEXX’s chocolate story and more importantly connect with its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator.
While HEXX’s chocolate message to its customers is subtle and sophisticated, its commitment to its farmers is clear and direct and can be traced to Silverman and Piekarski’s own personal culinary backgrounds: “Coming from our roots as chefs we have an appreciation for the farmers and purveyors who grow and raise our food. Developing relationships with the people who grow and import our ingredients is the most important thing that we do. Knowing who grows the ingredients, how they are grown and ensuring that the people growing them are paid a fair price is at the core of our beliefs as chefs and chocolate makers” (“Direct Trade”). It is HEXX’s relationship with its cacao farmers and how it is addressing current labor issues in the chocolate industry that we will explore next.
One of the most pressing issues facing the chocolate industry today is the dichotomy between the wealth generated by big chocolate companies in the global north and the extremely low and inconsistent wages of cacao farmers in the global south (Martin “Introduction”). In 2014, the chocolate industry registered over $100 billion dollars in worldwide sales (“Cocoa Prices”). At the same time, in the two highest producing cacao nations of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – responsible for 60 percent of world cacao production – farmers are paid on average $.50 and $.84 a day, respectively (Martin “Introduction”). This is far below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.90 per day and well below other global minimum wage standards (“FAQs: Global Poverty”; Martin “Introduction”).
In response to this disparity, over the years a number of solutions have been developed including coalitions, government initiatives, civil society organizations and ethical trade models (Martin “Introduction”). The most recognizable of these today are the certifications emblazoned on the front of chocolate bars and other food products like Fair-Trade, UTZ, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance (Martin and Sampeck 51; Martin “Alternative Trade”). While HEXX does purchase certified beans from at least two of its six cacao suppliers, in its choice not to exclusively source certified beans, HEXX is highlighting the limitations and critiques leveled against the certification model itself – that it is not always most beneficial to farmers (“About Our Chocolate”; Martin and Sampeck 52). While certifications generate big dollars – over $3 billion in revenue worldwide – very little of it makes its way back to producers (Martin “Alternative Trade”). By some estimations, for every dollar an American consumer pays for a Fair Trade product, a meager $.03 makes its way back to farmers (Sylla 125). Of its decision not to solely purchase certified organic beans in particular, HEXX states, “Not all of our cacao beans are certified organic, because certifications can be a costly expense for our farmers, but all are produced to the same standards that organic certifiers adhere to” (“Direct Trade”). Thus, while quality is of great importance to HEXX, consideration for its farmers is paramount.
HEXX’s answer to the social and economic conditions of its farmers and the less-than-effective certification model is clear: the cultivation of long-term, direct trade relationships (“Direct Trade”). Advocates of direct trade, including HEXX, argue three primary benefits: first, it enables farmers to negotiate price, resulting in generally higher premiums. Second, it incentivizes farmers to produce higher-quality beans. Lastly and most importantly, it eliminates the layers of middlemen that have historically been a part of the chocolate trade. This fosters learning and mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and chocolate makers (“Direct Trade”; Martin “Alternative Trade”).
Their relationships with cacao farmers is something Piekarski and Silverman take very personally. While potential partners are first identified by friend and “Chocolate Sourcerer,” Greg D’Alesandre of Dandelion Chocolate, Piekarski and Silverman take it from there (Piekarski). They travel to each country to meet and establish relationships with potential partners, and see the conditions farmers work under. Piekarski describes these trips as “life changing experiences” that have altered both his business and personal perspectives. Silverman adds, “When we form a partnership with a cacao farm, we are looking to build a long-term relationship with them. There’s no way to do that without going to the farm, trying and testing their cacao beans, and getting to know the owners and operators. Plus, we need to feel good about the culture of the cacao farm. Establishing a business relationship . . . is like getting to know extended family” (“Behind the Scenes”). HEXX’s verbal commitment translates into action. While the global commodity price for cacao has hovered around $1 a pound in recent years, HEXX pays its farmers between $5 and $10 a pound, according to Piekarski.
Direct trade is not without its limitations and critiques as well. Critics, particularly as it relates to craft chocolate, point to at least three limitations: first, its reach is very limited. For instance, of the 4.8 million metric tons of cacao purchased each year, HEXX purchases just 30 tons of it (Martin “Alternative Trade”; Martin and Sampeck 55; Piekarski). Second, direct trade partnerships tend to be devoid of farms in West African countries which account for 70 percent of the world’s cacao production (Martin and Sampeck 55; Wessel and Quist-Wessel). This is true of HEXX’s partnerships as well, which are in Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Tanzania, and the Dominican Republic (“Product”). Lastly, direct trade relationships can be fragile, in part, because craft chocolate companies that favor these relationships may lack industry experience, financial stability, and face steep learning-curves (Martin and Sampeck 55). To this final critique, HEXX’s response is strong. Silverman and Piekarski’s culinary pedigree and HEXX’s business model set them apart from other craft chocolate companies. While chocolate will always be the foundation and cornerstone on which HEXX is built, its sales account for just $1 million of HEXX’s $30 million in annual combined revenue (Piekarski). This fact puts HEXX in an extremely strong position and affords them creative liberties to take risks with its chocolate brand – a luxury most craft chocolate companies do not have.
When one looks at the entirety of HEXX: The culinary and celebrity gravitas of its two chocolate makers, a $30 million restaurant behind it, and its prime location on the Las Vegas Strip, it is easy to assume HEXX holds the perfect hand in the burgeoning craft chocolate market. However, HEXX is not without its challenges. The very things that make HEXX distinct, also contribute to its biggest challenges. We will close by exploring these challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead for HEXX.
HEXX’s Challenges and Its Future
With its prime location and Silverman and Piekarski at the helm, HEXX has unrivaled access to two atypical markets for a craft chocolate company: the casual consumer dining at its restaurant and the vast number of restaurateurs in Las Vegas, whom HEXX could source its chocolate to. However, in its outreach to both groups, HEXX has faced some resistance. While chocolate is featured throughout HEXX’s menu, Piekarski said they have scaled back use particularly in some of its main dishes. While chocolate connoisseurs might swoon over a chicken mole or steak finished-off with condensed cocoa butter, not all of HEXX’s customers have taken to these flavors. Further, Piekarski said they have reached out to “every casino in town” to offer their chocolate as a source ingredient that could potentially be incorporated into other restaurants’ dishes. This has also been met with resistance. Piekarski states, “We want people to incorporate our chocolate in everything they do not necessarily because we want our brand out there but we want to supply people with a superior quality product at a cheaper price. We understand, as chefs, restaurants operate on very thin margins and this is as important for [other restaurants] as it is for us.”
HEXX’s location and popular appeal has also proved perplexingly problematic to a typical craft chocolate ally: gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods. While HEXX has been well-received at events like the Fancy Food Show – the largest food show on the West Coast – it has faced a vexing, uphill battle with gourmet grocery stores precisely because of its mainstream appeal and Las Vegas Strip location (That’s So Vegas; Piekarski). Piekarski explains, “It took us a year and a half to get into Whole Foods in Las Vegas. And we only got there because we are [local].” He continues, “Everything about what we do is not what they look for in terms of craft chocolate. People ask, ‘Where do you produce? On the Las Vegas Strip?’ And that can be the end of the conversation 7 times out of 10.” In just its third year of operations, as the only craft chocolate producer in Nevada, challenges such as these should not come as a total surprise. And as HEXX steps out further to explore new territory, its opportunities for growth are abundant.
HEXX’s future plans include developing its restaurant presence locally, growing retail sales nationally, and forming new cacao partnerships internationally. After recent renovations to its dining facilities, HEXX is purposefully reintegrating chocolate into its food program in a distinct way, says Piekarski. Weekend diners will now find a cart-wheeling Chocolate Sommelier offering up chocolate for guests to sample, adding another chocolate connection point for its customers. HEXX also recently hired a former Mars and Hershey employee tasked with expanding its retail presence in the Northwest and Midwest, in addition to Central Markets in Texas and Carr Valley Cheese Stores in Wisconsin where HEXX is currently sold (Piekarski; “Where to Find”). Finally, HEXX is looking to extend its international reach to cacao farmers in two additional countries – Trinidad and Granada (Piekarski).
In HEXX, we see an immensely compelling craft chocolate concept, connecting multitudes of atypical consumers to the story of its cacao farmers – 20 degrees above and below the equator. Through its authentic message to its customers and ethical relationships with farmers, HEXX is artfully bringing two worlds together that could not be further apart. While HEXX has faced challenges on multiple fronts during its first years, it is impossible not to be incredibly optimistic about HEXX’s industry-altering potential. With two talented and resolute chefs at the helm of its $30 million restaurant and chocolate operations, HEXX has both the gastronomic and financial chops to challenge the chocolate industry’s status-quo, transforming the way consumers see chocolate, and elevating the plight of cacao farmers in the process. In a city built on big wagers, perhaps there is none bigger and more important to chocolate’s sustainable future than HEXX.
Wessel, Marius, and Quist-Wessel, P.M. Foluke. “Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments.” NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, vol. 74-75, 2015, pp. 1–7., doi:10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.
Theo Bromine. He’s bitter, but sometimes he can cheer you up if you’re having a bad day at work. Others call him an alkaloid. His real name is Theo Bromine. Those in the cacao industry know him as one word – theobromine. Traces of theobromine can be found in cacao. Cacao is the raw product, it takes ten stages before it becomes chocolate. The effect of consuming cacao is similar to caffeine, it gives you that instant boost of energy. The origin of Theobroma cacao trees can be found in the Brazilian Amazon where cacao is a big part of Brazil’s economic and cultural history.
Cacao trees are pretty finicky. They need warm climate, hot, but not too hot. Most of the production of cacao is in West Africa – 72%, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana to be exact. Because of climate change, there are elevating temperatures and a possibility that the cacao crops could be eliminated. If you’ve avoided the conversation around climate change, scrolled down when you saw the crying polar bears on social media, grimaced when you heard your neighbor bought a Prius,and slept through a class showing of An Inconvenient Truth, now is the time to pay attention to climate change. Why? Because your chocolate consumption could be seriously affected.
Factors affecting the cacao industry:
Many factors, not just climate change, affect the cacao industry: droughts, floods, infestation, demand, and evapotranspiration. Rising temperatures alone will not impact cacao production, evapotranspiration (loss of moisture because of the high temperature) does. With the higher temperatures expected by the year 2050 precipitation/rainfall isn’t a guarantee. Brazil was once ranked second as the largest cacao producer, today they rank sixth. The decline in cacao production is due to the fungus that causes witch’s broom. In order for a cacao farmer to have a successful crop, trees have to be disease resistant. Hershey’s and Mars, Inc. have already classified the cacao genome which could improve the resiliency of cacao trees.
The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization/NGO that assists farmers with sustainable lifestyles. Its mission is to work with the smallholder cacao farmers to help with these issues. Some cacao farmers have already taken the suggestions to switch to alternative crops, lucrative ones such as rubber and/or palm oil. What if all farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana switched at the same pace? The world could face the possibility of a million ton cacao shortage by 2020, this according to The Earth Security Group, a sustainability consulting firm registered in the United Kingdom.
Global demand for chocolate is another factor because of their interest in confectionery. The chocolate market has been trending towards higher prices over the last 10 years with the market increasing by 13% between 2010-2015, farmers’ share has decreased during this time. It is estimated that by the year 2030, chocolate will be a delicacy, like caviar, and your average Joe, or Jane, won’t be able to purchase it. Heavy marketing leads to heavy demand. How do we equate the 13% to a dollar value, try $100 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm.
Unfortunately, cacao trees cannot keep up with the rapid demands of consumers, it takes three to five years at best to produce cacao beans, the end result of this long, strenuous process is chocolate. The amount we consume (11+ pounds of chocolate is consumed annually by individuals in Europe and the United States) far outweighs the amount that is produced, leading to a shortage of chocolate. In the news lately, Necco, the company that manufactures Necco Wafers, Sky Bar, Mary Jane, and Sweethearts is filing for bankruptcy. If we are heading towards chocolate becoming a delicacy I must warn you: start hoarding all of your candy because it will cost you a pretty penny in the not-so-distant future. Call me Ms. Gloomanddoom, but remember the recent avocado crisis in Mexico, we may have a chocolate crisis next.
Global warming and climate change have been topics widely discussed for years. In a recent TED Talk with Mark Bittman, he commented that global warming is real and dangerous and reminds us that we should stop eating things thoughtlessly. This includes chocolate. Greenhouse gas, methane gas, water shortages, oh my!
How’d we get here? Well, it all started with British commodities: sugar, tea, and tobacco. These were popular due to the transatlantic movement, transporting these commodities by African slaves. Chocolate began in Mesoamerica and dates back to 350 BC. It was consumed as a hot beverage served in ghourds and as time progressed in fancy porcelain cups by the most affluent during the Baroque Age. The British didn’t like the bitter taste of the chocolate so they re-created the taste by adding sugar to it.
I would have loved to interview the early entrepreneurs like Dorothy Jones who was granted a license to operate a coffee house in Boston in 1670. Women wouldn’t be caught dead in a coffee house and she got a license. Slay girl slay. Despite my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society I was not able to locate the actual license or the coffee house, but I did find one reference to it in the Record Commissioners City of Boston records from 1660 to1701. It may be that Dorothy Jones was a vendor and did not actually have a storefront. If there was a storefront, I would have to guess that it was located in the area of what’s now known as Downtown Crossing in Boston. Newspaper Row was in that area during 1670 and it makes sense that the coffee house would be close by. To be continued.
The role of chocolate:
Liquid consumption of chocolate morphed into candy consumption and as time went on the global market consumed it. Pun intended.Chocolate consumes us and plays a variety of roles in our lives. Part of my research included interviews with three females, all of whom are my closest friends spanning four decades, who gave me permission to share their stories. Names have been changed. Three questions were asked of each woman: what is their relationship with chocolate, what role it played in their life, and how chocolate’s significance has changed or stayed the same over time. Analysis of the social and historical issues were revealed during these interviews.
I begin my interview with Pepper, 40-something. We’ve been friends for 15 years, so when she said “you’ll be disappointed, I don’t have a relationship with chocolate, at all. I can take it or leave it”. I thought, um what? Was I dreaming that she ate the special occasion, Halloween,Valentine’s Day, Christmas, because-it’s-Friday chocolate our coworkers brought in and placed in that fancy bowl they bought at the dollar store. When I asked her to elaborate on her statement I mentioned the documented ties to slavery, child labor and human trafficking, and the YouTube video The Dark Side of Chocolate, she said she “had no idea chocolate was involved in so much trauma and political unrest”.
Pepper went on, “I do eat it, but I don’t crave it. I like it sometimes; hot chocolate, candy bars with other things mixed in, the very occasional Dove piece, alone, but only when it happens to be laying there… I just don’t crave it. If I have any cravings, it would be the occasional hot chocolate, but only because it comforts me and makes me feel like autumn and of course, I am addicted to mochas which are chocolate and coffee together. So in that, I suppose it does play a role. But I still drink regular coffee too”.
“I always think the cultural references to chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm are ridiculous. I’ve always thought to myself what’s the big deal, it’s just chocolate. It’s probably because I hate being stereotyped and the chocolate/women/weakness/food orgasm stereotype that society and commercials seem to paint just piss me off because I like to feel like I’m more dimensional than that. It makes women seem weak and easy to manipulate and shallow”.
“If you’re telling me that the chocolate trade perpetuates and supports slavery then I’m quitting it. My husband says I now have chocolate angst, or chocolate rage”.
I was curious as to why Pepper immediately responded with “craving” when I asked about chocolate. I love how she mentioned hot chocolate and frothy drinks and her addiction to mochas. There’s some truth to why we love frothy drinks. In ancient times, drinks were put in vessels and buried with loved ones who have since passed on. It was said that the froth went with the deceased to the afterlife.
Culture also played a role in Pepper’s response when she said she ate chocolate “alone”, as did her anger when she felt the stereotype which reminded me of the article I read by Kristy Leissle, Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Ghanaian women were photographed, not your typical glamour-shot, but were depicted as strong powerful business leaders, not in binary terms. These pictures reflect the necessary change in the narrative. Viewers are able to look beyond the exploitative market and view these women as they should be viewed, strong and powerful leaders in a transnational community. Many of the ads you see in the United States show women eating chocolate, alone, sinfully displayed like in the movie Chocolat, and almost always with some sort of sexual undertone throughout the ad. The ancient Aztecs believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac, science wasn’t quite onboard with that theory. Advertisers still link romance with chocolate.
My second interview was with Sunny, 60-something. Sunny said that she “definitely has had a relationship with chocolate throughout her childhood and adulthood and as a mom. Chocolate has been present in celebratory events, holidays & vacations. For holidays, chocolate snowmen & coins were placed in her children’s Christmas stockings, at Easter, chocolate eggs & bunnies were found on Easter egg hunts, and on Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts were given out as gifts. I have such happy Halloween memories as a kid trading candy bars” Sunny said with a beaming smile; kid’s birthday gift bags full of candy, & candy store visits while on vacation. And Hershey kisses, just because! Chocolate is present at happy events, there to cheer up, decrease stress and soothe a foul mood. At this point in my life I have less consumption/purchase of chocolate, children have grown and they are more health conscious and do not consume. I currently eat it more out of stress reduction and comfort while at work”.
“In chatting, this makes me take pause reflecting on the important role chocolate has played in my life. I think of my all-time favorite candy bar….”Sky Bar”! Sadly, I hadn’t chatted with Sunny about the recent Necco bankruptcy. She better stock up on Sky Bars or they will be a literal memory.
For Sunny, chocolate was a staple in her life until recently. It explains why she can’t pass up a Hershey’s Kiss. These sweet kisses are known as a “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty”. Once you consume them you pretty much do so for your entire life. Great marketing, for a kiss that contains only 11% cacao.
Sunny mentioned that chocolate was used a reward for good behavior with her children. More importantly she eats it when stressed and that it provides her comfort. Sunny has fond memories of chocolate, her visits to candy shops while on vacation and the role candy plays during holidays. I could see the melancholy in her eyes when she described her favorite candy bar. I think the melancholy was also related to her children growing up and that the fun role of chocolate was outweighed by her stressful days at work. Chocolate has been known to have therapeutic properties dating back to ancient times.
Raspberry Rose, 20-something was my last interview. “So I’ve never been a HUGE chocolate person. I’ve always preferred sweet candy over chocolate, but I definitely indulge when I’m craving it! Chocolate tends to play the role of a comfort food…there’s always that time of the month where all I want is some chocolate caramels and a glass of wine 🙂 it also has some memories tied to it – for example I remember when I was growing up, my mom and I loved to eat 3 Musketeers bars and none of my friends liked those so on Halloween I would take them from all my friends to give to my mom 🙂 My relationship with chocolate has stayed the same! I definitely eat less of it than I did when I was younger, but that’s the only change”!
My thoughts after chatting with Raspberry Rose was wow, she too used the words craving and comfort and had similar feelings and fond memories of chocolate while growing up.
Statistically, women do crave chocolate more than men. While it’s not the chocolate per se, it’s the ingredients like magnesium and antioxidants you may be lacking that make you crave it. The calming qualities that come from consuming chocolate is because of the increased levels of serotonin #instanthappiness. Culture plays a factor in cravings, it’s a trend here in the United States and frequently talked about that women crave chocolate, one major reason chocolate companies target women.
According to the article Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain by Ashtrid Nehlig, there was one chapter by David Benton devoted to The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving. While many people associate themselves with being a chocaholic, there is no scientific evidence to show that chocolate is addictive. It has “drug-like” qualities though and can cheer you up if you’re sad or had a bad day at the office.
All of my friends were shocked that chocolate had ties to slavery, child labor, and human trafficking and were unaware of the cacao process. I am happy to report thatthey are very interested in learning more. Irealized that Ineed to spread the word about the cacao industry and this inspired me to create a podcast which should be on iTunes very soon. It’s about my three favs, Coffee, Chocolate & Cats.
Key words correlate with the research that I found. I do hope that one day the cacao farmers are paid at a more equitable rate, that we help the environment and know more about the bean to bar process, and that we can enjoy our chocolate, complicit-free.
Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139
Emma Robertson (2009): Chocolate, women and empire. A social and cultural history. Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.
Norton, M. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review, vol. 111, no. 3, 2006, pp. 660–691., doi:10.1086/ahr.111.3.660.
“Revolutionary artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar by a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters. ’57 is a chocolate business pioneered in Accra, Ghana, and it is on a mission to revive Ghana’s 1957 ‘can do spirit.’”
Meet the Maker:
Pithy, punchy, and powerful, these two sentences greet every visitor to ’57 Chocolate’s website, a sleek, black-and-white affair that serves as the brand’s online point of contact for customers, brand collaborators, and global enthusiasts of fine chocolate.
Though these sentences are crafted to introduce visitors to the company briefly, they efficiently allude to a number of ways in which this chocolate company grapples with key issues that plague the contemporary chocolate industry. Their reference to “artisanal chocolate made from bean to bar” in tandem with the site’s carefully curated aesthetic might simply seem like an attempt to establish ’57 chocolate as a luxury brand, but it also implies certain small-scale production practices that are more ethical and sustainable than those of the conglomerates producing the bulk of the world’s finished chocolate products. Their insistence on the “dynamic duo” of sisters behind the brand serves as a fruitful entry point to a discussion about marketing in the chocolate industry, because it departs from the norm in a few meaningful ways. And finally, the positioning of the brand as “revolutionary” is far from an arbitrary marketing decision, though the uninformed consumer might assume as much. In fact, it is a strategic move to grapple with issues of income imbalance across the chocolate supply chain that perpetuates centuries-old power dynamics by disadvantaging the so-called global south—namely South America, Africa, and South Asia—and pushing profits to North American and European chocolate retailers.
This essay will use secondary literature to explicate the magnitude and implications of each of these three issues, and then it will turn to primary sources—emphasizing ’57 chocolate’s very own marketing material as well as contemporary reporting on the company—to explore how ’57 Chocolate performs meaningful work to right the wrongs that plague the contemporary chocolate industry.
How Bean-to-Bar Businesses Can Better a Broken System
As a bean-to-bar chocolate company, ’57 Chocolate is part of a growing movement to promote increased literacy about the origins of the cacao in a given chocolate bar. By tracing the trajectory of the cacao from its beginning as beans all the way to its final product, these companies attempt not only to give due credit to the countries providing the raw material that goes into a chocolate bar but also, so the theory goes, hold more members of the chocolate supply chain accountable for ethical business practices. There are a few key ways in which Big Chocolate creates issues in the supply chain, and ’57 Chocolate addresses virtually each of these problems.
First, by nature of being a small-scale producer, ’57 Chocolate aids farmers by buying cacao in smaller batches directly from farmers and thus pushing profits to those at the very beginning of the chocolate supply chain.’57 Chocolate explains on its website that the company aims to “add value…to the cocoa farmer—on a local scale.” To the uninitiated, the weight of these words may not be apparent, but they actually imply an important attempt to invert the flow of revenue in the chocolate supply chain to the most time- and labor-intensive jobs.
One of the most upsetting injustices of the cacao supply chain is that profit margins are highest at the end of it and lowest for those who perform the physical labor that initiates the process. While farmers in the global south earn only a 3% margin on their cacao, retail boutiques and supermarkets in the global north earn a 43% margin on their chocolate products. This is because the cacao supply chain is especially elongated in order to benefit large-scale chocolate producers like Nestlé, Hershey, and Mars. These companies buy chocolate from Africa in such bulk that they require sourcing from small cacao farms across the country in order to meet their demands. The trajectory of a cacao pod from its farm to a large batch in an African port is a long one made up of many middlemen; each time it exchanges hands, its price rises. Meanwhile, Big Chocolate companies negotiate reduced prices for cacao, because they buy it in bulk. As a result, cacao farmers in Africa are routinely forced to sell their product for as low a price as possible so that everyone downstream of them in the supply chain can still make a profit. Not to mention, as an agricultural commodity, cacao’s price is volatile. In short, cacao farmers cannot count on a stable income from their jobs.
Given this contextual information, it becomes clear how ’57 Chocolate’s focus on small-batch, locally sourced cacao aids the farmers with whom they work. Though artisanal chocolate producers cannot single-handedly right the wrongs of Big Chocolate, the rise of small-scale producers who focus on bean-to-bar production is a net positive for African cacao farmers. ’57 Chocolate’s focus on creating bean-to-bar products means that they are not interested in buying cacao that has been sourced from farms all over Africa. Instead, they form direct relationships with individual farmers to ensure that they know the origins of the beans in their chocolate bars. By cutting out the middlemen, they push profits directly to those at the beginning of the supply chain. As well, by purchasing small batches, ’57 Chocolate does not negotiate discounted, bulk rates for their cacao. Instead, they pay a premium and thus provide farmers a livable wage.
Race, Gender, and ’57 Chocolate
Yet another issue that plagues the chocolate industry is that of toxic marketing—in the form of brand positioning, chocolate bar packaging, and advertisements—that either obscures or completely fails to confront the political, social, and economic issues in the chocolate supply chain as delineated above. As Emma Robertson argues, “chocolate marketing often encourages us to indulge in a depoliticized moment, to ‘Have a Break’; [but] this moment…is and has always been deeply political.” Indeed, even after the brief discussion of supply chain imbalances above, it is clear that eating chocolate is a politically loaded activity. Knowing this, lighthearted ads concerned with self-care and indulgence seem surprisingly myopic.
Moreover, chocolate marketing often tends to make use of debilitating sexist and racist imagery that either erases the people of color from the narrative about the chocolate’s production or perpetuates negative stereotypes about femininity. Robertson puts it elegantly when she writes, “the cultural construction of chocolate in marketing has …relied on and produced hegemonic narratives of gender, class, race, and empire.” In short, chocolate marketing has routinely perpetuated racist and sexist narratives.
Indeed, there is a long history of minimizing the importance of manual labor in the supply chain, which is often performed by people of color. Robertson points out as much when she demonstrates that “despite encouragement from modernists in the 1930s to include representation so production on chocolate packaging, [she] found no evidence of either packaging or advertising which depicted chocolate workers.” In addition to this erasure of labor, advertisements also cast black bodies as peripheral to the consumption of chocolate, as they only ever afforded white people the privilege of purchasing and eating it. She writes, “both Rowntree and Cadbury adverts created a world of white consumers in which the black producers of cocoa beans and the black consumers of chocolate were at best pushed to the margins, if not excluded completely.” Finally, advertisements routinely minimized the work of female laborers in the production chain, only to fetishize motherhood and white female sexuality in their ads. Certainly, elitism in the form of racism and sexism permeate all types of chocolate marketing.
Happily, ’57 Chocolate combats this issue in a variety of ways. The first and most noticeable is by means of their brand statement. ’57 Chocolate identifies its brand most prominently by its co-founders, “a dynamic duo of Pan-African sisters.” This is powerful because it emphasizes that not only two women but also two people of color are the brilliant business minds behind ’57 Chocolate. By providing the precise location of their offices—in Accra, Ghana—the sisters encourage readers to imagine corporate offices in a Ghanaian city, creating rich imagery of industrious, clever, and successful female businesswomen working out of a city in Africa. In fact, the sisters’ strategic marketing by way of this brand statement has been effective by all accounts, as every news source to report on ’57 Chocolate identifies the brand by way of its twofemaleco–founders in the verytitleoftheirarticles. To reinforce this, the sisters devote an entire page of their website to mini biographies of themselves. In so doing, they firmly establish their authority and clout and thus cast women of color in a more positive manner than they have historically been shown in chocolate marketing.
Secondly, ’57 Chocolate’s logo makes use of the image of a cacao plant and references the year 1957, two decisions that reference Ghana, the co-founders’ home country. By utilizing the image of cacao pods in their logo, the sisters draw consumers’ focus to the very beginnings of the cacao supply chain and pay homage to the laborers who grow and harvest the cacao. This type of respect for and appreciation of cacao farmers is distinct. As well, the reference to the year 1957 is crucial because it is the year that Ghana gained independence. By referencing this year in the very name of their company, the sisters hope to “revive the 1957 ‘can do spirit’” of the country in that year and prove that Ghana is more than simply a provider of raw material but also the home of developed, finished chocolate products on par with those created in Europe and North America. In so doing, it “challenges the status quo that premium chocolate can only be made in Europe.”
Finally, ’57 Chocolate rectifies the issue of erasure that has plagued much chocolate marketing. Each bar is “engraved with visual symbols originally created by the Ashanti of Ghana,” who play a large role in growing and harvesting the cacao that is ultimately made into these chocolate bars. By exhibiting Ashanti art on perhaps the most prized real estate in the world of chocolate marketing—on the bar itself—Priscilla and Kimberly Addison afford African men and women the opportunity to engage with chocolate as more than simply manual laborers but also brand-creators and artists. This, like everything else about the brand’s marketing tactics, enacts a powerful restructuring of historically detrimental paradigms.
Reintroducing Africa as a Refined Producer
Yet a third issue in the cacao industry today is the inexplicable and unwarranted derision aimed at African cacao. This is unfortunate, especially considered that Africa is the primary provider of cacao to the global market.
Though the biological origin of cacao lies in Mexico and Central America, the Portuguese transported the so-called “forastero” variety of cacao to Africa in 1824 to avoid scrutiny of their labor practice son plantations in South America. Today, African cacao farms produce 72% of the world’s total cacao, though the country only consumes about 4% of the world’s chocolate. Profs. Sophie and Michael Coe point out that it is “supremely ironic that West Africa, from which so many hundreds of thousand shad been torn against their will to work as slaves in the white man’s cacao plantations, should now be by far the world’s leading producer of cacao.” Indeed, it is a travesty that the same country whose population was decimated in the seventeenth century in order to perform coerced labor on plantations in South America should now find itself hosting those very same systems on its own soil without enjoying any of the benefits of this labor.
Even worse, misunderstandings about the differences between cacao varieties has led to an unwarranted lack of respect for the forastero ilk of cacao beans that are cultivated in Africa. The term was initially developed alongside two others—criollo and trinitario—to describe what many believed to be the least tasty type of cacao bean. However, it has since been proven that these designations do not mean much, and that forastero beans feature flavors just as complex as the other two types of beans. Sadly, the stigma has remained, and very few bean-to-bar companies have cared to source their cacao from Africa under the impression that it will not taste good.
’57 Chocolate thus acts as a leader in the artisanal chocolate space by sourcing its cacao from Ghana and celebrating the complexity of the flavor of the beans. By producing, marketing, and selling a line of craft chocolate bars made entirely from Ghanaian beans, the Addison sisters are helping to redefine people’s perceptions of African cacao as simply a low-grade product to be bought in bulk.
In addition to this, the sisters perform the important work of establishing Africa as a tastemaker in haute patisserie just as France has done. In her exploration of the development of a culture surrounding high-end cacao in France, Susan Terrio incisively points out that it is the craft chocolate makers and retailers who hold the most power and cultural capital in the cacao supply chain. She writes, “in contemporary economies, cultural tastemakers determine fashion and shape taste for prestige commodities. They collaborate and negotiate with producers to establish the principles that govern expert knowledge and refined taste.” In other words, those who operate at the end of the chocolate supply chain do not only make the largest profit margin but also enjoy the privilege of dictating global tastes.
The Addison sisters seem to know this intuitively, as they explicitly state that the main goal of their company is to “inspire the people of Ghana, especially the youth to not be satisfied at merely selling and trading the country’s natural resources or other items in their “natural” state, but to use their minds and creative geniuses to transform these resources and items by creating and developing made in Ghana products of premium value.” In this light, the Addison sisters’ company is not simply one that brings justice to the forastero variety of cacao bean cultivated in Africa nor simply raises awareness about ethical sourcing and production in chocolate. Though it does both of these things, their company also establishes Africa as a global competitor with Europe and North America in the arena of determining tastes and shaping culture.
Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla. 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Products.”
Addison, Kimberly and Priscilla. 57ChocolateGH.com, “Our Story.”
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson.
Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering? A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience. We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.
Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.
The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.
What is Chocolate?
cacao beans (based on Wikimedia Commons, by Supermanu, CC BY-SA 2.5)
cacao pods sprouting directly from tree trunks (based on WikiMediaCommons, by Luisovalles, CC BY 3.0)
cacao seeds in pod, surrounded by a fruity, pulp placenta. (based on WikiMediaCommons, by Genet, CC-BY-3.0)
Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes. Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree. Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed. Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.
Where Does Cacao Come From?
Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class. Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.
After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa. Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao. There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).
What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?
Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown. After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).
Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price. Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business. Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).
In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).
The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor. Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery. With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.
Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will. The child labor problems still exist today. We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.
It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?
I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.
Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat. The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law. There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.
Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.
Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet. A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.
Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.
If you were to stop a few strangers on the street and ask them to name their guilty pleasure you probably wouldn’t be surprised if they all answered chocolate.The pleasure that chocolate brings to many is undeniable; French doctor Hervé Robert confirmed that chocolate contains caffeine, theobromine, serotonin and phenylalanine, all of which are known to have mood-enhancing, and possibly aphrodisiac, effects (Coe & Coe, 2013).But to focus on these health benefits alone is to overlook a darker side of chocolate.The history of chocolate includes centuries of controversy, particularly in the supply chain and particularly on the African continent. One of the most salient scandals that has continued to plague chocolate production for hundreds of years is the involvement of child labor in the cultivation of cacao in West Africa.Forced and unpaid labor has long plagued the chocolate industry and todaycontroversy in the supply chain continues as around 300,000 children in West Africa work on cacao farms (Berlan, 2013).Fortunately public awareness of this issue is continuing to grow and some present-day chocolate companies have incorporated a zero tolerance policy towards conditions of slavery and child labor involved in their sourcing of cacao.Nevertheless, recognizing the sobering reality of how many modern brands of chocolate are manufactured with forced labor adds a new dimension to the concept of chocolate as a guilty pleasure.
The use of forced labor is believed to exist in many parts of Africa today.However, the use of forced labor in cocoa production is hardly novel. The involvement of involuntary laborers working in the cacao industry is documented in many regions worldwide including Mesoamerica, South America, Africa and the Caribbean from as early as the 1650s and into the 21st century (Clarence-Smith, 2000).In the 20th century, the use of forced labor was uncovered on the island of Fernando Po (now Bioko) off of the West Coast of Africa and in Cameroon, on German plantations (Berlan, 2013).According to Anti-Slavery International (2004), the use of slaves from Angola was common on Portuguese plantations on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe from the 1880s and continued until 1962.
Interestingly, some chocolate manufacturers who opposed the use of forced labor in certain cocoa-producing nations seem to have played a role in initiating a custom of child labor elsewhere.For example, in 1908, William Cadbury switched his supplier from Sao Tome and Principe to Ghana, known then as the Gold Coast, which provided better labor conditions for its workers.The government there had a policy against slavery and slave trading and the cocoa crop was grown by smallholders rather than plantations, making its production less contentious. However, as demand for chocolate increased farmers relied on using their family labor, including the use of children as unpaid laborers (Berlan, 2013).Today, the custom continues.The widespread use of children in cultivation of cacao is sometimes harmless and non-exploitative.At other times, however, children are exposed to hazardous activities, including handling of toxic chemical pesticides and use of dangerous equipment, as well as child-trafficking (Coe & Coe, 2013)
(A child uses a machete to open a cocoa pod in eastern Ivory Coast) (Lowy, 2016)
Today, child labor in the cacao industry exists in a variety of locations and in a variety of forms throughout the African continent.Just exactly what constitutes child labor in Africa is confounding to many on both sides of the issue.The International Labor Organization, or ILO, defined the worst forms of child labor as including slavery and hazardous work including “work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of the child”.Furthermore, the definition includes children who are not in school, who are forced to withdraw from school because of long hours spent working or who have to combine school attendance with heavy work or long hours (Berlan, 2013). On the cocoa plantation, child labor often involves the use of dangerous machinery or equipment, handling heavy loads and exposure to toxic chemicals and/or pesticides.The IFO refers to child laborers are those who are either under 15 and are economically active or who are between 15 and 17 and engage in dangerous work (Ryan, 2011).
Estimates vary regarding the prevalence of child labor in the African cacao industry.In 2000 a British documentary released by the BBC brought the topic to the public’s attention when it suggested that 90% of cacao farms in Cote D’Ivoire used slave labor, suggesting that hundreds of thousands of adults and approximately 15,000 children in Cote D’Ivoire alone were enslaved (Ryan, 2011).This statement received an onslaught of backlash from the Ivorian cacao industry, however, which claimed that the estimate was inflated and a subsequent study by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture suggested that forced child labor was present on only 2% of cacao farms in the nation.
Much of the confusion regarding the prevalence of child labor in West Africa comes from the unclear language which defines the matter.For example, many in the cacao industry responded to the BBC’s allegations by claiming that child labor should not be conflated with child work.They claimed,
“traditionally working on family farms and with family enterprises is seen as part of the process by which children are trained towards adulthood…Children’s involvement in the production of cocoa is an age old-tradition which constitutes a traditional way of imparting cocoa farming skills to them” (Berlan, 2013, p. 1090).
Accordingly, the IITA’s study found that child labor is highly prevalent in cocoa farms in West Africa; Results revealed that today 284,000 children work in hazardous conditions on cacao farms in West Africa and two-thirds of them are in Cote D’Ivoire, often working with toxic chemicals or with dangerous equipment.However, most of these children worked under the supervision of their parents or relatives, disqualifying them from the category of child laborers since they were technically carrying out “chores”.
Nevertheless the IITA also found that 12,000 children, the 2% in the study’s results, worked on farms where they had no relatives and 2,500 of them were suspected of being smuggled into Cote D’Ivoire for the purpose of toiling on the cacao farms, suggesting that these were the true child laborers by definition (Off, 2006).Regardless of the nuances surrounding the definition of child labor, evidence suggests that children do labor throughout West Africa.A study commissioned by the Ghanian government found that in 2005 and 2006 children aged 5 through 12 were indeed involved in tasks such as the spraying of insecticides, application of fertilizer, felling trees and burning brush (Berlan, 2013).This revelation is particularly concerning because it is clearly in violation of the ILO’s definition of child labor and because Ghana produces the majority of the world’s cacao (O’Keefe, 2016).
Despite the confusion regarding what constitutes child labor in West Africa, the accounts of those who have lived through it provide evidence of the atrocities of the practice.One report shared the stories of two Malian boys, aged 12 and 14, who were enticed by promises of paid apprenticeships to travel from Mali to Cote d’Ivoire.After two years the boys were found sharing a windowless mud hut hoping to escape but held in check under threats of violence and eventual payment (which never came) (Manzo, 2005).The former Malian consul general, Abdoulaye Macko, recounted similar atrocities including situations in which very young boys worked at gunpoint, were starved to near death, were locked in bunk houses at night and endured sores due to both carrying heavy bags of cocoa as well as from physical abuse.According to Macko, often times Cote D’Ivoire police were aware of the injustices but were bribed to overlook them (Off, 2006).
(Part of an investigative CNN report from 2014 about child trafficking in Mali in the cacao industry.) (CNN, 2015)
Child labor exists in the West African cacao supply chain for reasons both economic and cultural in nature.Smallholders, small farmers who farm commodities, generally do not own or control the land they work on.As a result, their profits are small and they suffer when the price of their commodity plummets on the world market.In order to stay competitive farmers must cut labor costs and they do so using two methods: Increasing their reliance on unpaid family labor in response to a fall in cocoa prices and increasing their reliance on slaves in order to lower costs in an increasingly competitive global market (Anti-Slavery International, 2004).Families who send their children away in hopes of economic gain do so with the hopes that they are sending their kids off to work, to prosper, and will see them return shortly with earnings to bring back, rather than admitting that they had sold their children into slavery (Off, 2006).
It is easy to wonder whether one way to end forced child labor in the chocolate industry would be to pay more for the beans.According to Off (2006) this would not work for several reasons.First, the attorneys for the chocolate companies would claim that this was illegal price-fixing.Likewise, the prime minister of Cote D’Ivoire claimed that if cocoa companies really wanted to end child labor they would have to pay up to ten times more for the cacao than they were already paying which would certainly eat into their profits if not bankrupt them.Alternatively, banning the import of cacao until the injustices in the supply chain are rectified might seem like a humane and motivating response but when this happens the very workers who protesters hope to protect are further harmed.For example, the Harkin Bill was introduced into Congress in 1992 and aimed to prohibit importing products made by children younger than 15.When the garment industry of Bangladesh, which exported 60% of their goods to the US, found out about the bill they immediately fired child workers and most went on to live in even worse conditions due to their lack of income (Ryan, 2011).
Cultural factors also influence the continued use of child labor in cacao in West Africa.Parents are likely to base their decision to involve their children in cacao farming based on their belief that work has a formative value, whether their local school was any good and the economic trade-off made between sending their child to school versus investing in a farm.In other cases, when parents went through a divorce if mothers remarried it was quite common for the new husband to refuse to pay for the child’s upkeep, which had an impact on whether or not the child entered the workforce to support himself (Berlan, 2013).In cases like these, child labor is not forced as in slavery but is instead shaped by sociocultural factors surrounding the child.
Just who is to blame for the existence of child labor in chocolate?While the answer is hard to pinpoint because of all of the diverse factors influencing the topic, one culpable party might include the government.When public outrage began to surface in the early 2000’s in response to reports about child trafficking in Mali, Ghanian and Ivorian officials largely shut down these rumors claiming that few children were trafficked on farms and that most of them were taking part in an apprenticeship overseen by their own parents.Their claims were backed up by a study out of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that found that not all children working in cacao were exploited; In fact when some were returned to their homes by charity workers they left right away to pursue work elsewhere (Ryan, 2011).However, as child labor has continued to exist in light of the government’s non-involvement, perhaps the government could continue to work with smallholders to find ways for them to cultivate their cacao without depriving their children of an education or selling them into slavery.
Another culpable party includes Big Chocolate itself.The industry needs to make changes to its practices in order to reduce the incidence of child labor.According to Ryan (2013) one major problem is the lack of involvement that Big Chocolate has with its smallholders.Bill Guyton, the president of the World Cocoa Foundation claimed that by having about 2 million small-scale farmers it was hard for large chocolate companies to know what was happening on their farms everyday.Also, as few bars are made from beans that are all from the same producer it is hard to claim that any one bar of chocolate doesn’t contain ingredients produced by children (Ryan, 2013).One solution, however, could be the use of certification practices in which a third-party verifies that responsible and sustainable practices are used in the production of chocolate.For example, the American cocoa processor Cargill works with Utz Certified to train their farmers in responsible practices and checks each farmer every year, with the aim to eliminate the involvement of children in the cocoa supply.In requiring standards like this for all large chocolate companies, Big Chocolate could at least attempt to solve the child labor crisis.
(UTZ certification: A promise to combat child labor in the cacao supply chain) (Utz, 2017)
In response to the media coverage that child labor in chocolate has received in recent years, many efforts have been made at different levels to end this practice.At the political level, governments of both cacao-producing and cacao-importing nations have made some steps towards this end.For example, in the US Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel both proposed a no child labor label for cacao brought into the US.While it failed to pass due to lobbying by the industry, the effort did result in the Harkin-Engels protocol, a voluntary agreement into which chocolate manufacturers could enter with the aim of reducing involuntary labor by underage children (Coe & Coe, 2013).The governments of West African nations have also gotten involved; In 2000 Cote D’Ivoire signed an agreement with Mali to punish people who used and exploited child workers and to send the trafficked children back to Mali (Chanthavong, 2002).
Responses to the child labor crisis have come also from the industrial and the societal levels.As previously mentioned, companies like Cargill have made steps towards reducing the involvement of this practice in the manufacturing of their own chocolate by using certification like Utz.Other certifications, like Fair Trade International, ensure that forced labor, child labor and child trafficking are not involved in the manufacturing of the product (Fair Trade International, 2017).While these certifications are not completely without flaws, companies that choose to align with them are attempting to ensure children’s rights and displace child labor from the cacao supply chain.
Some chocolate companies have fully committed themselves to excluding child labor from their supply chain altogether.One such company is Green & Black.Jo Fairley, who founded the company, contracted a co-operative of Kekchi Maya living in Belize to grow cacao without the use of pesticides and fertilizers by paying them almost double the price for cacao on the world market.In doing so, she enabled the workers to make enough money to send their children to school, thus decreasing the need for their involvement in labor of any kind (Coe, 2013).Similarly, Rain Republic, a chocolate company based out of Guatemala, refuses to use child labor and instead focuses on bringing literacy and education to the children of the cacao suppliers involved with the company.
(Rain Republic and Green & Black: Two chocolate companies which pledge not to use child labor in their supply chains) (Left: Montes, 2016) (Right: Green & Black’s, n.d.)
Chocolate is a commodity which has the power to truly polarize people; Consumers consider fine chocolate to be a luxury and an indulgence while the worst off of its producers endure daily human rights abuses to cultivate it. Despite the existence of the egregious malpractice which is child labor labor in the cacao industry, it would be a disservice to represent the entire industry of chocolate and cacao as scandalous. Chocolate brings happiness to many of its consumers. And for its producers it provides much needed income, particularly in the nations of West Africa. But the evidence seems to suggest that the industry as a whole could benefit from more intervention and oversight at the governmental, societal and industrial level. The use of more certifications in the industry could hold producers to a higher standard and the introduction of more ethical businesses, like Green & Black and Rain Republic, could turn the tide of chocolate from an industry that exploits children into one which funds their educations and ultimately their futures.
Anti-Slavery International. (2004). The cocoa industry in West Africa: A history of exploitation. London: Anti-Slavery International.
Berlan, A. (2013). Social sustainability in agriculture: An anthropological perspective on child labour in cocoa production in Ghana. The Journal of Developmental Studies, 49, 1088-1100.
Clarence-Smith, W.G. (2000). Cocoa and chocolate, 1765-1914. London, UK: Routledge.