The above image, originally uploaded by Nestlé, is a 1950s print advertisement for Kit Kat chocolate bars. The advertisement features a marketing slogan used by Kit Kat to this day: “Have a break… have a Kit Kat!” The “break” refers to the signature snap of the Kit Kat bar’s internal wafer as well as the worker’s much-coveted reprieve from labor. The implication of this play on words is that the small indulgence of consuming Kit Kat bars can serve as a (minimally disruptive) break from work; eating a Kit Kat bar on the clock feels like an almost rebellious act of self-care but in fact, as this blog post will show, merely maintains the existing (exploitative) system of labor and consumption.
This blog post will describe the history of chocolate advertisements’ insidious appeals to alienated workers. While chocolate has been advertised as a reprieve from the dehumanizing and alienating nature of wage work, this blog post will demonstrate that these advertisements encourage workers to consume chocolate merely so they can continue working. These advertisements redirect the worker’s feeling of alienation, exhaustion, and exploitation toward resignation and complacency rather than the capacity for rebellion. This advertising practice can be seen as a recuperation (by capital) of the seeds of discontent that could otherwise flourish into anticapitalist revolution. [By “recuperation,” I refer to the practice of normalizing radical ideas in order to render them impotent—in other words, recuperation is when “the ruling class… twist[s] every form of protest around to salvage its own ends” (Downing 59).]
Marx writes in Kapital of alienation as the dehumanizing phenomenon in which workers are reduced, essentially, to machines that produce value for capitalists. The worker is treated as nothing more than an “instrument of labor” (qtd in Hochschild 3). A very disturbing 2010 Kit Kat commercial depicts a scenario that seems to literalize the Marxist comparison of alienated workers to machines:
In this commercial, a man working at a supermarket checkout counter acts as though his body is literally a checkout scanner—literally a machine. Having recognized the dehumanizing nature of wage work, however, the commercial promises that the purchase and consumption of a Kit Kat bar will allow the man to “have a break.” There is no need for him to organize for better working conditions, the commercial implies, no need even to question the system that so dehumanizes him; being a consumer is all he needs.
A similar sentiment is expressed in the above Instagram post, published on the official Kit Kat page in 2019. The Kit Kat bar is made to resemble a watch, again invoking and recreating the association between chocolate and a reprieve from labor. But the Kit Kat’s visual resemblance to a watch also betrays a bleaker reality: that the cycle of consumption itself is a constituent part of the system of capitalist exploitation that has transformed the human experience of time into labor-time.
Kit Kat’s slogan “Have a break; have a Kit Kat” and its associated advertisements very obviously reflect the chocolate industry’s positioning of chocolate as a reprieve from work that in fact merely reproduces labor (by making the worker able to work again) and reinforces the existing economic system (by making the worker double as a consumer). But other chocolate companies use similar messaging in their advertisements. Take, for instance, the following Snickers commercial:
This commercial depicts a crew of workers performing the very physically demanding and dangerous labor of handling timber. One worker expresses a reluctance to continue and questions the purpose of this work. He is then handed a Snickers bar and transforms back into the diligent and docile worker he is expected to be. “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” the voiceover intones. Questioning the reasons for one’s hunger, one’s underpayment, one’s exploitation is depicted as the irrational whining of someone who needs more sugar. Snickers are depicted as a balm for one’s immediate discontentment—a balm that can take the place, it seems, of actual systemic change.
Chocolate companies have been insidiously recuperating anticapitalist discontent (or progressive ideals) for as long as they have existed, often depending on the comforting and indulgent associations of chocolate itself to maintain positive brand images. During the Progressive Era, “the greater American public… embraced [Milton S. Hershey] as a kindly type of industrialist and an oddly selfless capitalist,” a reputation that “dependent, in part, on the playful sweetness of the product he made” (D’Antonio 114). How could a man who “distribut[ed] happiness in a wrapper” (114), who sold what had once been a luxury product to the sugar-hungry masses, be anything like the greedy and heartless robber barons denounced by the socialist organizers of the time (113)? Cheap and sweet, mass-produced milk chocolate seems like a populist treat, and this association allows chocolate companies to continue making money off the blood and backs of workers (both producers and consumers) while appearing sympathetic to their plight.
D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Downing, John. Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Sage Publications, 2001.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell 1940-. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University of California Press, 2012.
While first indigenous to the Western hemisphere, cacao and its products are inarguably a global phenomenon. Essentially from first contact between the “Old” and “New” worlds, much like many other commodities, cacao’s history changed rapidly to reflect a globalized market. One important facet of this history is the relationship between cacao and those that cultivate it. In this blog post I seek to dive into the history and evolution of the labor surrounding cacao, specifically highlighting crucial areas of change and key characteristics that have remained static. I argue that while much has changed since the first colonial contact centuries ago, the story of cacao and labor has been one of extraction in a broad sense of the word. By “extraction,” I hope to encompass both the literal definition of taking and removing , as well as the more nebulous separation of the physical labor and production value. Ultimately, I believe that while the labor structures surrounding cacao production have transformed, from explicit slave labor to more market-based practices today, the process has always deemphasized the humanization of the laborer in favor of the bottom line.
From the beginning of colonial times, indigenous peoples and resources were quickly commodified by Europeans and sought after for their market value. There is no such better example of this than the divergent path cacao takes in the 15th and 16th century from traditional native use to colonial extraction. Kathryn Sampeck provides a case study of this by focusing on the Izalcos region of present day El Salvador (2). Before the arrival of the Spanish, Mesoamerican societies used the cacao for consumption in various rituals and cultural traditions, as well as a tool for exchange (Sampek 7). However, colonization changed cacao entirely, from its production which rapidly started to rely on imported slave labor, to its eventual production value as an exported good and solidified currency. Here, Sampek makes clear that by divorcing the labor of cacao from its social nature with “commodity money,” there is a form of violence at play in a Marxist sense (19-20). This concept becomes a useful lens to apply to our historical analysis of cacao production, as we can see repeatedly that despite the labels or details of the production changing, the humanity of the labor is never emphasized and laborers are simply used as a means to the ends of production.
A clear demonstration of this transformation of the human laborer into a tool like an axe or a grind stone that is utilized for production comes from the 19th century engraving of slaves being transported (OpenDemocracy, Everett Historical/Shutterstock). Here, the African people are literally being moved like livestock or even bags of grain. Tied together at the neck, there is no agency or individuality, yet also no sense of community or social group. While this form of labor dehumanization was not unique to cacao, it played a prominent part in early cacao cultivation and as we will see, this essence of mistreatment will continue.
Years later at the turn of the 20th century, cacao production continued but under ostensibly more “humane” conditions. For many British chocolate manufacturers like Cadbury, cacao was purchased from Portuguese colonies like Sao Tomé and Principé. These plantations purportedly had outlawed slavery and were using a system of contract labor where serviçais worked in government approved contracts in a consensual labor system (Satre 18-19). Nevertheless, reports soon developed that the laborers were in fact coerced and that conditions on these plantations were tantamount to slavery. While this apparently shocked many of the players involved in European chocolate production, change and reform were very slow to come about (Satre 93). This era of the history of cacao is another reminder that for those with the power to control the process of production, the end efficiency and profit is their paramount concern, not the rights of the workers who themselves control very little. In fact, the little that the serviçais, or even the colonial slaves, had of their own was their bodies and labor. Yet, in the system of cacao production, that too is stripped of them either by explicit force, or the force of the market that leaves them dehumanized and void.
Today, we like to think that many humanitarian advances have been made in our market economy with the advent of “fair-trade” and greater social-conscientiousness. While it is true that much has improved, there is still important work to be done to get to the heart of the problem of cacao production. A striking example of this comes from a VPRO Metropolis video report where Western African cacao farmers were interviewed and given a taste of processed chocolate for the first time (Youtube, VPROMetropolis). It is astounding to hear the cacao farmers explain that they did not know what the beans they were producing and selling would be used for, and equally remarkable to witness their disbelief that their beans created the chocolate they are tasting. This proves that the separation of social humane labor into a mere act of work still continues today. Without even knowing what they are toiling away at, as well as not truly enjoying any of the profits or benefits of the cacao production, the farmers are genuine dehumanized cogs in a globalized machine.
To further the point, the 2018 Cacao Barometer provides more information as to the plight of the West African cacao laborers, explaining that the average farmer income is just $0.78 a day (6). It is clear that they are not being properly compensated for their labor, only furthering their exploitation. The element of labor extraction also becomes inherently competitive as farmers are pitted against one another to drive prices down, with the trend of plunging prices due to global oversupply causing further strife for the laborers (Barometer 8). A unique issue of labor exploitation is also raised with the issue of child labor, with 2.1 million children working in West Africa alone (Barometer 15). The image from NowToronto demonstrates that the work put into cacao production is grueling, especially for children (NowToronto, SumOfUs.org). The harmful effects of labor extraction are only magnified here in the case of children as their labor as well as their futures are being robbed of them. Forfeiting an education for low-wage manual labor deprives child workers of future potential as well.
At the end of the day, the history of cacao production is a story that has not changed deeply beyond surface appearance. Despite changes in the packaging of the market processes, those producing cacao, and many other products, are denied their humanity and stripped of their worth. As long as cacao is extracted from underprivileged communities in the same way that the work and humanity of its laborers are extracted, the oppressive history of cacao production will continue.
It’s no secret that a lot of us love chocolate, but what has always been a source of pleasure for us remains a source of pain for millions of others. When we say that chocolate is our guilty pleasure, we think of how it tastes great but is loaded with sugar and fat. However, one source of guilt that we often fail to acknowledge when consuming chocolate is the human cost hidden behind its production. From the indigenous people of Mesoamerica to the current children working in cocoa farms in West Africa, millions of men, women, and children have been exploited in the production of cocoa over the span of several hundred years. Despite countless efforts to reform labor practices in cocoa production, we continue to see issues like the child labor epidemic in West Africa. Moreover, while efforts to reduce exploitative labor practices in the chocolate industry continue, the future looks grim. With a history of cocoa and chocolate producers valuing profits over people, producers are likely to only continue looking for ways to cheapen the cost of their labor.
When the Spanish first arrived in Mesoamerica, the origin of cacao and chocolate, it took very little time for them to grasp the importance of chocolate and begin to exploit the indigenous people of the land they had invaded (Coe and Coe 110). While chocolate was initially of interest to the Spanish due to the economic importance of cacao beans in the native economy, the Spanish slowly acquired a taste for chocolate and began to export it to Europe (Coe and Coe 125). Soon after the Conquest, the Spaniards were lured to Soconusco for their cacao. As the demand for chocolate increased due to a growing craving for chocolate in Europe, rapacious conquistadors began enslaving the indigenous people of Soconusco such that a slave would be valued at one fifth of a load of cacao. However, on May 29th, 1537 Pope Paul III Farnese would publish the Sublima Deus which threatened to excommunicate any Christian that enslaved an “Indian”. While this led to the end of the enslavement of indigenous people, this merely led to the Encomienda system in which encomenderos were getting what amounted to forced, free labor in return for which they were to see that the native people became Christians (Coe and Coe 178). However, due to an epidemic of diseases of Old World origin and mistreatment by the Spaniards, approximately 90% of the ingienous population of the Americas had died while the demand for chocolate only grew (Coe and Coe 125).
In order to meet the demands for cocoa by Europe without the loss of profits, the falling population of the indigenous people of Mesoamerica were offset by the importation of slaves from Africa. By the 17th century, two triangles of trade would arise in which raw materials, goods, and slaves would be traded between the New World, Europe, and Africa. The most important feature of these triangles was the “Middle Passage” in which human beings were sent across the Atlantic to be forced into labor on plantations run by European colonizers (Mintz 44). This plantation system in which sugar, cacao, and other products were produced were grounded in the use of harsh, forced labor in which the average life expectancy of an enslaved person living in the Caribbean and Brazil was about seven to eight years. Despite abolition and the emancipation of slaves throughout the 1800s, abolition did not put an end to extreme inequality or exploitative labor practices. For example, in the early 1900s, it was found that cocoa plantations in Fernando Po and Cameroon were still using slave labor. Moreover, the use of slaves was common on Portuguese plantations from the 1880s well into the 1950s (Martin). Thus for years many plantations were able to keep the price of cocoa down as demand went up by using forced labor and slavery.
Currently despite labor reformation efforts, child labor is still being utilized to produce the chocolate that we eat in the United States. Although major chocolate producers like Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey pledged to discontinue their use of cocoa harvested by children approximately 20 years ago, a great portion of the chocolate we buy and consume today contains cocoa produced by child labor (Whoriskey and Siegel). According to the U.S. Labor Department, more than 2 million children have been found to be engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions in West Africa, where 60 percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from (“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa”). Despite efforts to eradicate child labor from the chocolate industry, chocolate industries are unable to identify the farms from which their cocoa comes from, let alone identify their labor practices. For example, Mars can only trace 24 percent of their cocoa supply back to the farms in which they were produced (Whoriskey and Siegel). Thus, despite efforts by the chocolate industry to solve the child labor epidemic in the cocoa industry, deadlines and goals have only been pushed back.
While the fight to improve labor conditions in the chocolate industry continues, it is unlikely that we will see big changes any time soon. With the history of cocoa producers having a blatant disregard for human life and clear mindset of profits over people, it will be extremely difficult for chocolate producers to trace their cocoa supplies back to farms or punish farms for exploitative labor practices as both of these efforts would require a large financial investment and cuts to profit. Moreover, until chocolate producers are willing to pay more for ethically sourced cocoa, farmers will be forced to continue using child labor in order to cope with cocoa’s low market price (Whoriskey and Siegel). Therefore, as long as the cocoa industry refuses to cut its profits in order to enact change, exploitative labor practices will continue.
“Child Labor in the Production of Cocoa.” U.S. Department of Labor,
The exploitation of people of color in the chocolate industry is almost as old as chocolate itself. Ever since Europeans utilized native peoples in Mesoamerica and later enslaved Africans to produce cacao, there has existed an inherent link between race and chocolate, a relationship not only seen in the production of chocolate but also in chocolate advertising. Just as Black individuals were and are utilized for their physical labor, they were and are being exploited for advertising.
The consumption of
cacao dates back to the Mayan and Aztec societies of Mesoamerica. When settlers
came to the Americas, exploitation and forced labor came with them. The Spanish
introduced the encomienda system in which Spanish settlers were supposed to
protect and care for native peoples in return for voluntary labor when in
reality the settlers seized lands and forced natives into pseudo-slavery
working long hours without pay resulting in the deaths of many. Though cacao had
been introduced to and was being brought back to Europe, it was primarily used
for medicinal purposes until sugar began being added to cacao which made it
more palatable for Europeans. Emma Robertson, a professor and scholar at La
Trobe University, states that “this was ‘thanks to the emergent slave-based sugar
cane economy of the Americas’. The story of chocolate subsequently becomes increasingly
intertwined with that of European imperial politics…Chocolate thus first gained
meaning in England as a product of imperialism” (Robertson 67). As time went on—around
1900—some cacao production shifted from the West Indies to West Africa,
particularly in São Tomé. The Cadbury company became a center of attention for
its labor practices and accusations that it utilized slavery in São Tomé during
this period. William Cadbury responded to these claims by stating, “I do feel
that there is a vast difference between the cultivation of cocoa and cold or
diamond mining, and I should be sorry needlessly to injure a cultivation that
as far as I can judge provides labour of the very best kind to be found in the
tropics: at the same time we should all like to clear our hands of any
responsibility for slave traffic in any form” (Satre 19), though he refused to reveal
a bill of sale for the plantation as it “specifically identified human beings
as property” (Satre 19). This is an example of chocolate companies blatantly
and knowingly minimizing the perceived severity of their production practices
of Black individuals goes well beyond just labor practices. As Robertson
explains, “The use of black people in advertising has a long history. As Jan
Pieterse demonstrates, products made available through the use of slave labour,
such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black
people to enhance their luxury status” (Robertson 36).
The exploitation of Black people did not stop with cacao production. The image above is an advertisement for Rowntree, an early 20th century power-house chocolate and sweets corporation that still exists today and has developed the Kit Kat among other recognizable treats. It depicts a young Black girl named Honeycomb using broken and stereotypically Black verbiage to convey the benefits of her Rowntree beverage. It is one of many chocolate advertisements to utilize a caricatured Black subject to sell a product. On using Honeycomb specifically for a powdered cacao beverage, Robertson states, “Though processed by western industry, cocoa powder is closest to the ‘raw’, colonial material. The two Rowntree characters only exist through their relation to the cocoa, effectively disempowering them. There is no recognition of the actual connections between the commodity and the labour of black people in the colonies” (Robertson 42). Thus, not only does the Rowntree company exploit and make a caricature of the idea of blackness, they either intentionally or unintentionally, directly linked their advertisements and the subject therein to slavery.
In a similar vein, above is the advertisement used for Banania, a French chocolate drink, from 1915. It depicts a Senegalese infantry soldier with a red fez, a uniform item worn by Senegalese soldiers. This advertisement presents a caricature of this man by depicting him with a stereotypically large smile as well as the slogan for the product “y’a bon” (translating to “it’s good”) which is derived from the pidgin French commonly spoken by these Senegalese solders. The popularity of the product cemented the character with the slogan, making the Black man portrayed on the ad and packaging and this lower form of language inseparable.
Finally, the above
video is an advertisement for the Spanish chocolate, Conguitos. This commercial
goes even farther to portray Black individuals as “the other.” Whereas the Rowntree
and Banania advertisements both push racial and colonial traits and themes on
the subjects of their ads, this commercial depicts the subjects as extremely stereotyped
natives, completely naked, living in small straw huts, and carrying spears. The
music in the background aids in this stereotyping, a light flute and
tribal-sounding drum. In the final scene of the commercial, the animated character
rolls uncontrollably and the video fades into the character essentially being
turned into a ball of chocolate which is then consumed by a white actress. This
is concerning on a number of levels. This aspect of the advertisement effectively
conveys that the people of color in their eyes are consumable and expendable at
the hands of a white individual, a clear similarity to the treatment of Black
slaves and laborers in cacao producing regions. Overall, these advertisements
speak volumes for the influence that the chocolate labor practices and
production had on advertising and how much the colonial mindset permeated every
level of the chocolate industry.
Looking toward the
modern-day chocolate industry, in terms of production and cultivation, much has
changed and yet much has stayed the same. Today, a majority of the world’s
cacao comes from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Though the methods and aspects of
production may have changed—for instance, instead of massive plantations owned by
large corporations and companies, today a vast majority of cacao is produced by
smallholder farmers on relatively small plantations—the exploitation of African
peoples for labor and production of cacao seems to be a constant in the
chocolate industry. The same way companies utilized slavery and pseudo-slavery
in centuries past, even in the cacao industry of today’s day and age, companies
have established a form of pseudo-slavery by offering the lowest prices
possible for beans and creating a cycle of debt or living for growers.
After a series of
small wars and conflicts around the turn of the century, some of which had to do
with conflict over coveted cocoa groves, Côte d’Ivoire was in shambles. Carol
Off, a Canadian journalist and author, states, “By the end of the millennium, Côte
d’Ivoire was one of the most indebted nations on earth, even as it supplied
almost half of the world’s cocoa to the multi-billion-dollar industry and helped
to satisfy the world’s addiction to chocolate” (Off 118). This situation of
debt and vulnerability resulted in mass corruption and exploitation of labor,
essentially slavery. Cacao growers had no other choice. Due to the fact that
cacao is a tricky crop to grow and harvest, only being able to do so by hand
for the most part, the amount able to be produced per unit area tends to be
very low. This dilemma is exacerbated due to the smaller cacao farms of today. Órla
Ryan, an author for the Financial Times, a publication in London, explains, “On
most the production per hectare is either low or very low. In many cases, yields
have been stagnant for some time. Roughly one-third of farms yield as little as
137.5 kg per hectare. What this means is that the poorest farmers can make just
$500 a year, an income which makes it impossible to do little more than survive”
(Ryan 59-60). When looking at the differences between slavery and this modern
system of cacao production, there is an obvious difference in that today the
growers are getting paid an actual wage, but looking realistically, $500 is not
an income that can sustain a healthy life for one person let alone families in
which the farmer making the $500 is the primary income source. Thus, farmers
must look for options to solve their situations since most cannot afford to hire
laborers which usually comes in the form of using their own families to work on
the farm, which includes their children.
work is a slippery slope as there are many instances in which it is completely
fine and others where it is not. Ryan describes how the International Labor
Organization’s (ILO’s) standards for what constitutes the worst forms of child
labor is contextualized in the chocolate industry: “‘work which, by its nature
or the circumstances in which it is carrier out, is likely to harm the health,
safety or morals of children.’ On the cocoa plantation; this is generally
defined to include work which involves dangerous machinery, equipment or tools,
the handling of heavy loads and exposure to pesticides or chemicals” (Ryan 47-48).
Child labor offers just another area of exploitation in the cacao production
process. In many cases, child trafficking also plays a role as children are
brought to plantations and intimidated out of reaching out to authorities (Ryan).
Off describes the story and mission of Abdoulaye Macko, a man who took it upon
himself to liberate conscripted child workers from the cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire.
“The farmers, or their supervisors, were working the young people almost to
death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunkhouses that were locked during
the night, and were frequently beaten They had horrible sores on their backs
and shoulders, some as a result of carrying the heavy bags of cocoa, but some
likely the effects of physical abuse” (Ryan 121). This goes beyond helping
parents, cousins, or other family with light work around the farm. This is
systematic and calculated abuse and exploitation of a vulnerable population for
the purpose (knowingly or unknowingly) of improving the profit margins of the
large chocolate corporations.
We have now looked at how labor practices have changed (or refused to change) but how have chocolate advertisements changed to adjust to the modern market? First, let us take a look at Banania, the company with the stereotyped Senegalese soldier, above. The lifelike depiction of the character has been traded out for the head and hand of an animated version of the same character. The identifiable red fez remains a constant. One major change is the smile which is still distractingly large but now the lips are thick and bright red. This aspect simply adds to the stereotyping involved in this character. In an attempt to solve an outdated and stereotyped subject, Banania did away with most of the harmless aspects of the character and kept or amplified the caricature aspects, though the French pidgin slogan is gone which is for the best.
The next advertisement, shown above, is for Magnum ice cream. It depicts a Black woman whose shoulder is cracked resembling the cracking of the chocolate shell of a Magnum ice cream bar. Overlooking the issue of the sexualization and fetishism of the ad (which is common in chocolate advertising and too extensive of a topic to cover here), Magnum uses the woman’s race in a botched attempt at visual wit, thus adding to the extensive history of utilization and exploitation of Black people. In addition, the fact that the inside ice cream is vanilla further degrades the woman shown as, in an ice cream bar, the ice cream is the thing that matters, thus the chocolate shell and therefore this woman’s race are simply things one must get through into order to reach the vanilla (read: white) center. Finally, this ad for Dove chocolate below further demonstrates the blatant utilization of race and the exploitation of Black individuals for the benefit of the chocolate company. In this case, the man’s face is not even shown, hammering home the idea that this does not need to be anyone in particular, just a Black man. The Magnum and Dove advertisements are not intentionally reminiscent of the racially charged ads of the prior century, but advertising companies and departments need to both understand the society we live in today in which no one’s race should be utilized for commercial gain as well as a basic background of the history chocolate as to not make these kinds of mistakes.
Just as labor and cacao production has evolved and yet also held onto key defining elements up through the modern era, so has chocolate advertising. In both cases, basic improvements were made, such as there no longer being colonialism or slavery in their truest forms or no longer having racially charge language and stereotyping in advertisements. Yet, both also held onto elements of their past. The economic and commercial model that chocolate producers work within keep them in a state of pseudo-slavery and advertisements still use race to sell products and link chocolate to the race of people that cultivate cacao in its rawest form.
Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive
Sweet. The New Press, 2008.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: a Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press, 2013.
Ryan, Órla. Chocolate Nations Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2012.
Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of
Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.
With the rise of food media in the modern age, there are countless avenues through which we are exposed to the most avant-garde of gastronomy. From the massive influx of visual information on platforms like Instagram and Facebook to the constant features of shows on Netflix and The Food Network, food has captured attention far beyond its functionality utility of nourishing and sustaining the human populace. This effect has only been reinforced with the globalization of certifications for the most prestigious of restaurants and businesses in the world. The moment that Michelin adjusts its stars, San Pellegrino announces its 50-Best list, or the James Beard Foundation names its honorees, the modern media swarms to cover stories around these businesses to highlight what distinguished each establishment from the huge field of competitors. Given the increased emphasis on food within the modern media age, food occupies an extremely powerful point of influence for pushing specific agendas.
Historically, chocolate has always occupied a controversial space in terms of media representation. Since chocolate first emerged in Europe as a highly sought-after commodity and then became a delicacy appreciated by the masses, there have been a fair share of scandals experienced by chocolate producers, despite the global addiction and appreciation for the product. Given the complex process and numerous entities which chocolate production requires, chocolate producing companies are under incredible scrutiny for the ethics behind their product production, and this sentiment has largely continued into the modern media age. Furthermore, while chocolate has yet to shed its historical baggage in terms of its production process, there are numerous agendas committed to improving upon this practice that aim to shed a more positive image of the product, while bringing about tangible change in the chocolate industry. Therefore, chocolate serves as the perfect case study for an examination on the historical role of media and the development of the practice into the modern age. Despite its immense history, the narrative of chocolate is still being written.
Early Media History of Chocolate
There are limited written records that can commentate on the history of cacao associated with its endemic regions in Latin and South America. However, there are several artifacts that serve as “media” in terms of documenting the significance of the ingredient and the practice. Due to modern archeological techniques, the Rio Azul vessel has been characterized to contain certain compounds present within cacao such as theobromine, while also having the Mayan hieroglyphics for cacao (Stuart 2009, Coe 2013). This piece constitutes historical media as the hieroglyphics displayed on the vessel would be presented for ceremonial events (Stuart 2009). However, as other forms of historical media are still being discovered or were not preserved, it is difficult to assess the extent to which media associated with cacao propagated the indigenous populations, but there was media for the sake of documentation and ceremonial purposes.
While Hernan Cortes is commonly attributed with the movement of cacao and thus chocolate to Europe in the 16th century, there appears to be a lack of media documentation during this time period (Coe 2013). This lack of documentation is likely related to limited accessibility to sources in this time frame and thus cannot be thoroughly examined within this essay. Starting in the mid-17th century, an abundance of media sources became accessible in terms of disturbing the preparation of a wide array of exotic foods such as chocolate, coffee, and tea. Within France and Spain, chocolate consumption appears to have become a ubiquitous practice as it is represented in many texts that were released (Coe 2013). These texts purported the health benefits of cacao and chocolate, while also presenting numerous methods of preparation that would make it more palatable (Colmenero 1640).
As these texts represent early presentations of chocolate within Europe, there is a focus on emphasizing the exoticism of these products through imagery and descriptions of their indigenous use cases (Dufour 1671). Additionally, as the media was intended to encourage further consumption of cacao and chocolate, these articles encourage the literate population to partake in the exotic goods as there are innumerable benefits from coughs to indigestion (Colmenero 1640, Dufour 1671). However, as addressed by Coe, chocolate consumption took substantially longer to become normalized within Great Britain (Coe 2013). This can be clearly observed within the texts are it is clearly indicated the original documents for these media pieces were translated media from Spain and France (Crook 1685). Therefore, through following the translation and distribution of media within the Europe, the popularization of chocolate can be followed in a precise manner.
Drama in Chocolate Paradise
As chocolate became increasingly popular within Europe, there were numerous innovations that allowed for its rising accessibility. With innovations such as the Dutch process by Van Houten, conching by Lindt, and milk chocolate by Peter, chocolate was mass producible and thus while still a luxury, was consumed by a substantial proportional of the population (Coe 2013). Accompanying the rise in chocolate availability, numerous social movements emerged in Europe such as the abolition of slavery, which subsequently resulted in increased awareness on ethical business practices (Satre 2005). Through the increased interest in business morality, cacao farms and chocolate factories became a focal point for media scrutiny.
The most infamous case of media involvement was introduced by Henry Nevinson through an article and subsequent book on slavery-like conditions observed in São Tomé and Príncipe on cacao farms (Nevinson 1906). These cacao farms were primarily managed by the Cadbury chocolate company, which was founded on morale Quaker values, so the cries of possible slavery on their farms was incredibly problematic. As the article and book by Nevinson circulated throughout Great Britain, where Cadbury was headquartered, there were countless cries for Cadbury to stop sourcing their chocolate from São Tomé and Príncipe or risk being boycotted by the general populace (Satre 2005). To exacerbate the issue, Portugal which owned São Tomé and Príncipe had banned slavery in the islands earlier and therefore insisted that the report did not accurately reflect the conditions labeled on the island (Higgs 2012). In response to these circumstances, Cadbury deployed their own reporter, Joseph Burtt, to assess the situation, under slightly different pretenses as he was instructed to amicably engage with plantation owners (Satre 2005, Higgs 2012). As this scandal increased in intensity, Cadbury sued newspapers such as The Standard for libel but ultimately did stop importing cacao from São Tomé and Príncipe (Satre 2005). Regardless of the actual reason Cadbury decided to boycott this cacao, it demonstrates the immense power of media and chocolate on a national and international scale.
While media played a role in terms of maintaining accountability of the Cadbury cacao farms within São Tomé and Príncipe, there were additional instances of media playing a supplementary role in facilitating advertising and sales for chocolate purveyors. The rigid but benevolent life of Milton Hershey and the Hershey chocolate company demonstrates the possibility of positive media reinforcing the narrative behind a product. Hershey was a disciplined and compassionate individual who sought to provide for those less fortunate in his environment (D’Antonio 2007). As part of his personal quest, a model town was constructed in Hershey, Pennsylvania to accommodate the needs of the factory and provide a safe and hospitable environment for the local community. Furthermore, when Hershey expanded sugar facilities into Cuba, the company was praised immensely for the quality of the development and the sustainable business practices (The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer 1920). Through features in numerous periodicals, the model town in Hershey, Pennsylvania and the Hershey’s chocolate factory became nationally and internationally recognized as the gold-standard for effective operations (Young 1923, Times 1928, Times 1933). The success of this positive media campaign can be observed during the peak of the Great Depression as demonstrated by an increase in profit margins, due to the unique advertising strategy of relying on word of mouth and media coverage (Allen 1932). Essentially, this indicates that through leveraging the media, the Hershey’s Chocolate company was able to forego substantial advertising, while retaining premium status of its products. The media played a crucial role not only in maintaining business ethics but also in establishing positive agendas within the chocolate industry during its development.
Chocolate in the Modern Media
Moving into the modern age, there is almost an overabundance of media that is available, which presents a unique challenge as the user can curate their own opinions regarding products like chocolate. Therefore, the utilization of media must be strategic and diverse to appeal to specific interests of users but also be sufficiently applicable that a wide array of viewers could be drawn in. Despite the excessive number of media options, chocolate remains at the focal point of food media as numerous individuals within the field are leveraging their positions to improve the state of the cacao and chocolate production.
Chocolate Smudges on Pen and Keyboard
Following in the footsteps of Nevinson and other chocolate journalists, cacao and chocolate have remained at the forefront of food writing. Articles that feature chocolate and cacao are often highlighted on major media outlets such as The New York Times and Washington Post, which demonstrates a continued interest for a broad audience. Furthermore, the creation of boutique food magazines such as The Lucky Peach and online food platforms like Eater have made accessing musings about the guilty pleasure even easier. However, that is not to say that the issues surrounding chocolate and cacao have deviated immensely from the past.
Given the global nature of the chocolate industry, historically, it was difficult for journalists to fully engage with every party involved. Therefore, while certain situations such as the Cadbury situation in São Tomé and Príncipe were exposed, many others likely slipped beneath the radar. As the world has become more interconnected and accessible, many of the problems that plague cacao and chocolate production have come to light. Starting from the beginning of chocolate production on the cacao farms, numerous media outlets have exposed that horrific conditions that workers often experience alongside issues with child labor (Romero 2009, O’Keefe 2016). Despite numerous instances that have raised these problems in the past, the chocolate industry has yet to address these problems in a constitutive manner. However, through raising awareness of these issues on a broader scale, the hope within media is to inspire groups to act and address these problems.
Alongside the continued discussion on labor concerns within the chocolate industry, another vestige of the chocolate past is discussions on the purported health benefits associated with chocolate. The healthy discussion surrounding chocolate has continued in the modern age as various “experts” with the field attempt to leverage their authority for the sake of pushing their respective agendas. Media outlets basically constantly contradict themselves through the slew of articles published in both support and dissent for the health benefits associated with chocolate (Oaklander 2014, Drayer 2018). Therefore, while the narrative has shifted from the historical perspective that cacao and chocolate having almost magical therapeutic properties, the jury is out on the current state of the field. Due to the immense amount of media content that is available, there is the unfortunate consequence that the true nature of chocolate is diluted. While each viewer has the privilege of establishing their own opinion towards chocolate and cacao, it becomes increasingly more challenging to distill the truth.
Ready, Set, Chocolate!
While traditional forms of media such as newspapers and journals remain influential, newer forms of visual media have become increasingly prominent and preferred to primarily text-based articles. From TV shows to documentaries and from Youtube series to Netflix features, the number of video-based chocolate media has also reached incredible levels with the profound advantage of providing a glimpse into the reality behind situations beyond words. Even after disregarding the innumerable recipes and delectable showcases of chocolate, videos and visual representations play a pivotal role in highlighting the production process and issues that surround the chocolate market.
In line with written media, video content has been utilized extensively to challenge the chocolate industry and condemn problematic practices of cacao farming. Numerous documentaries have been released that demonstrate instances of child labor and abuse on cacao plantations, but also reveal the context for why the practice occurs. In Brazil, while cacao farming is relatively smaller in scale, it is apparent that the use of underage labor stagnates the progression of youth within the state (Papel Social 2019). Within numerous African countries, the child labor problem within the cacao industry is even more rampart as there are further indications of abused and forced labor (Romano 2010, O’Keefe 2016). However, this issue presents a conundrum because child labor is almost necessitated in both of these situations to provide sufficient income for the families at large. As these pieces of videography highlight the labor issues surrounding the chocolate industry, it demonstrates the prominence of this issue, while providing a more visually compelling argument for the viewer.
The Cocoa Route from Papel Social on Vimeo.
While many negative aspects of chocolate production have been revealed through video media, through visualizing the whole process of cacao farming, there are numerous movements by leading chefs and food personalities within the world that aim to inspire change through chocolate.On Parts Unknown, the enigmatic chef, Anthony Bourdain, explored the reaches of indigenous Peru and was inspired by the discovery of white cacao beans (Bourdain 2013).
By engaging with these local purveyors, Bourdain and Eric Ripert, head chef of Le Bernadin, collaborated with Eclat chocolate to create the “Good and Evil” chocolate bar, based on sustainable production of a unique ingredient (Eclat Chocolate 2013). Other prominent chefs have taken advantage of their media opportunities to promise similar movements for the chocolate industry.
Anthony Bourdain & Eric Ripert discuss Good & Evil Chocolate Bar from Eclat Chocolate on Vimeo.
Joan Roca, the head chef of El Celler de Can Roca, spoke regarding compassionate cooking and mentioned his goal to build a sustainable chocolate company within Spain (Roca 2017). As his family restaurant remains number one in the world on San Pellegrino’s 50-best List, Roca is leveraging his position at the pinnacle of food to improve the chocolate industry further (Jenkins 2018). Given the profound interest in food video media, it is reassuring that numerous prominent figures chose chocolate as their method of instigating change within the world.
Chocolate in Focus
Chocolate is one of the world’s most intriguing topics for media coverage due to the complex nature of its production and ubiquitous appreciation around the world. Through a historical and modern examination of media representations of chocolate, it is apparent that chocolate serves as a controversial platform for raising awareness to sociopolitical issues. Despite its ambivalent history and problematic present, chocolate will always be in the media spotlight. In this modern media age, there is a surplus of information for each user to establish their individual stances on chocolate, but effective media efforts have pushed the narrative towards making the chocolate industry more ethical and sustainable.
Allen, E. E. (1932). Hershey Chocolate’s Success: Turning Smaller Volume Into Increasing Profits–This Year’s First Quarter Not So Good. Barron’s (1921-1942); Boston, Mass., p. 22.
Central Hershey. (1920). The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer (1888-1924); New Orleans, 64(7), 108–111.
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate (Third edition). London: Thames & Hudson.
Colmenero de Ledesma, A. (1640). A curious treatise of the nature and quality of chocolate. VVritten in Spanish by Antonio Colmenero, doctor in physicke and chirurgery. And put into English by Don Diego de Vades-forte. Imprinted at London : By I. Okes, dwelling in Little St. Bartholomewes, 1640.
Colmenero de Ledesma, A. (1652). Chocolate: or, An Indian drinke. By the wise and moderate use whereof, health is preserved, sicknesse diverted, and cured, especially the plague of the guts; vulgarly called the new disease; fluxes, consumptions, & coughs of the lungs, with sundry other desperate diseases. By it also, conception is caused, the birth hastened and facilitated, beauty gain’d and continued. / Written originally in Spanish, by Antonio Colminero of Ledesma, Doctor in Physicke, and faithfully rendred in the English, by Capt. James Wadsworth. London, : Printed by J.G. for Iohn Dakins, dwelling neare the Vine Taverne in Holborne, where this tract, together with the chocolate it selfe, may be had at reasonable rates., 165.
D’Antonio, M. (2007). Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s extraordinary life of wealth, empire, and utopian dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
Dufour, P. S., Colmenero de Ledesma, A., & Chamberlayne, J. (1685). The manner of making coffee, tea, and chocolate as it is used in most parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America / newly done out of French and Spanish. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/6km558
The definition of chocolate in the Oxford dictionary is, “a food in the form of a paste or solid block made from roasted and ground cacao seeds, typically sweetened and eaten as confectionary,” (Oxford 2019). This definition is very broad and it includes many different varieties and flavors of chocolate. The taste of a chocolate bar may be attributed to many factors, including the type of cacao used, the processing of the cacao, and the ingredients in the chocolate bar. We will explore the production process of Cadbury and Taza chocolate. While both Taza and Cadbury products fall under the definition of chocolate, they are made from very different cacao under distinct production processes. We can examine these elements to explain their differences in taste. Additionally, by analyzing the growing and purchasing practices of these two companies, we can look at their impact on the farmers and farming communities.
The Cadbury company, founded in 1824, receives the majority of its cacao from Ghana in West Africa (“Our Story” 2019). The cacao beans come from many small cacao farms in Ghana (“Cocoa Growing Countries” 2019). Each farm ferments and dries the beans and then they bring the cacao beans to large drying stations where workers combine the beans from many farms, weigh them and pack them into sacks. Merchants then send the cacao sacks to the Ghana Cocoa Board. From here, the Ghana Cocoa Board takes the sacks to a port where the Cadbury company selects and purchases their beans and then ships the beans to processing factories (one in Singapore and another in Chirk, North Wales (“Chocolate Making” 2019; “Fact Sheet: Chocolate Manufacturing,” n.d.). At these factories, workers separate the cacao into cocoa powder and cocoa butter using a hydraulic press. Other workers then send the cocoa powder and the cocoa butter to Cadbury factories in Australia and New Zealand for chocolate production (“Chocolate Making” 2019). Here, workers add condensed cream and sugar to the cocoa to create a “cocoa crumb” that they mix with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter and a “special chocolate flavoring,” the composition of which the company does not disclose. The mixture then undergoes refining, conching, and tempering (“Chocolate Making” 2019).
Taza, a much newer, smaller chocolate company founded in 2005, has a production process that differs drastically from that of Cadbury (“About Taza” 2015). Trading directly with the farmers, Taza purchases high quality cacao beans from the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Haiti (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015). Taza then ships the beans back to its factory in Somerville, Massachusetts and roasts and winnows the beans. They then use molinos, or traditional Mexican stone mills, to grind the cacao beans in order to preserve the flavor. This is where Taza’s “stone ground” chocolate comes from. The chocolate mass then undergoes tempering, molding, and cooling (“Our Process” 2015).
To emphasize, one of the major differences between Cadbury’s and Taza’s purchasing practices is that Cadbury purchases cacao in bulk from the Ghana Cocoa Board whereas Taza purchases cacao directly from the farmers. Cadbury previously received Fairtrade certification for following regulations for free and fair labor practices in the trade of ethical goods. However, Cadbury now follows free trade practices (“Cocoa Life” 2019; Leissle 2018). Free trade is a business model whereby companies purchase the cacao at market price, which is the lowest price for purchasing cacao. The cacao is likely not high quality. The Ghana Cocoa Board has instituted measures for quality control, including giving farmers training in agriculture and spraying to control for pests and diseases. The Cocoa Board also performs quality tests and bean classifications (Leissle 2018). Yet, the cacao comes from numerous farms and it is combined in bulk. Therefore, the purchaser does not know exactly what farms in Ghana or the types of cacao pods that the cacao beans come from. Additionally, since the farmers and farm workers do not know exactly what chocolate company will be purchasing their cacao, they do not have a direct relationship with the company and therefore, they may not have incentives to produce a high quality of cacao bean, rather they are more concerned with producing a large quantity of cacao beans. The majority of cacao farmers are involved in free trade because most of the big chocolate companies use the free trade business model to achieve the lowest possible price for the cacao. In purchasing cacao at market price, these companies can afford to sell their final chocolate products at a cheap price for chocolate consumers (Leissle 2018). Thus, consumers from all classes can afford to purchase Cadbury’s chocolate products, which will continue to increase Cadbury’s revenue (Albritton 2013). As a result of this free trade system, the farmers receive lower wages. In Ghana, the Ghana Cocoa Board pays the farmers and takes out taxes, which can be a large percentage. Additionally, the farmers’ payment may have further deductions depending upon farm labor and environmental certifications (Leissle 2018).
At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, Cadbury had issues with slavery in cacao farming on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe, its main suppliers of cacao at the time. Through various investigations and after several years, the Cadbury company decided to boycott the cacao grown in Sao Tome and Principe in an attempt to rectify the situation. After the start of the boycott, Cadbury began purchasing cacao from other countries in West Africa (Higgs 2012; Satre 2005). In a large company where there are many exchanges and intermediaries involved from the cacao bean to the final chocolate product, it can be difficult to monitor labor practices in third-world cacao growing regions, especially under the free trade business model. As previously mentioned, Cadbury’s cacao comes from the Ghana Cocoa Board. Thus, the Cadbury company is not aware of exactly what cacao farms the cacao comes from and Cadbury cannot easily monitor the labor practices on these farms. Nevertheless, Cadbury has launched a new initiative to partake in the Cocoa Life program (“Cocoa Life” 2019). This program is centered on educating cacao farmers and farming communities with the goals of lifting them out of poverty and giving them life skills in order to allow farmers to benefit from and participate more in the cocoa supply chain (“Cocoa Life – About the Program” 2019). Currently, in the cacao farming world, large companies in first world countries control the supply chain while farmers in third world countries live in poverty (Leissle 2018). Many feel that it is imperative for farmers to be educated and play a larger role in the cacao supply chain such that they can earn better and fair wages to support their farms and, in turn, pay their workers fair wages (Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute 2019).
Taza, on the other hand, practices direct trade. The company created the Taza Direct Trade Program for the chocolate industry to promote transparency and quality (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015). In fact, Leissle refers to Taza as the “direct trade pioneer for chocolate,” (Leissle 2018). Direct trade involves a firsthand relationship between the purchaser (Taza) and the farmers (Leissle 2018). As such, Taza pays the farmers 15 percent to 20 percent above the market price for this high quality cacao. This ends up to be at least $500 above market price per metric ton of cacao (“2018 Transparency Report” 2018). Therefore, the final chocolate product is more expensive for consumers. This is due to the fact that the company (Taza) pays the farmers a higher price for the cacao to ensure that the cacao is high quality (Leissle 2018).
Taza’s direct relationship with cacao farmers, whom Taza refers to as its “grower partners,” plays a large role in the company’s ability to monitor the labor practices of the cacao farms (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015). In contrast to Cadbury, Taza has no intermediaries or middlemen in the cacao purchasing process. Therefore, with the direct contact, purchasers from Taza can monitor the growing conditions and labor practices on the farm to ensure that they are non-abusive and environmentally sound (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015). Furthermore, Taza publishes an annual transparency report that contains the price they paid for cacao among other statistics about the farmers and the farms.
While both the direct trade and the free trade models have little third party regulation, the direct trade model can provide more transparency since it is less complicated with fewer middlemen involved in the cacao purchasing process. Additionally, since Taza pays higher prices for the cacao, the farmers earn higher wages. This leads to the prevention and mitigation, and even eradication of, unfair or forced labor on these farms. On the other hand, through the free trade model of paying market price for the cacao, the farmers earn much lower wages. This can be conducive to exploitative or forced labor environments since the farm owners may not be able to afford to pay their workers fair wages.
In addition to the effect of cacao purchasing practices on labor conditions, cacao purchasing practices affect the taste of the final chocolate product. This is due to the fact that Cadbury purchases lower quality cacao at market price in bulk from the Ghana Cocoa Board whereas Taza purchases higher quality cacao at a higher price via direct trade practices (“Taza Direct Trade” 2015; “Cocoa Growing Countries” 2019). This difference in cacao quality leads to different chocolate production practices. Since the cacao is low quality, Cadbury, like other large chocolate companies, hides the flavor of the cacao in the final chocolate product via various processing steps such as adding their “special chocolate flavoring,” which includes sugar and condensed milk (“Chocolate Making” 2019; “Fact Sheet: Chocolate Manufacturing,” n.d.). On the contrary, Taza’s production process preserves the flavor of the high quality cacao such that it is detectable in the chocolate.
In order to gain some more knowledge about the differences in taste between Cadbury and Taza chocolate, I had some friends do a tasting of the two. They each tasted a square of the Cadbury Royal Dark Chocolate bar and the Taza Chocolate Mexicano 70% Dark Cacao Puro stone ground disk. The only ingredients in the Taza chocolate are organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar. In the Cadbury bar, the ingredients are sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, milk fat, natural and artificial flavor, soy lecithin, and milk. Looking at the ingredients of the two chocolates, some of the major differences are that there are no additives aside from organic sugar in the Taza disk whereas there are several ingredients besides cocoa in the Cadbury bar. Some major contrasts between the descriptors for the two types of chocolate were that the Cadbury chocolate was smooth, silky, and sweet, whereas the Taza chocolate was gritty, bitter, and not as sweet. These differences demonstrate the fact that Taza’s processing methods bring out the taste of the cacao for the consumer whereas Cadbury’s processing methods create a uniform flavor where the other ingredients mask the cacao.
In all, chocolate takes on many different forms depending on the type of cacao processing and production methods. Direct trade cacao purchasing creates a firsthand relationship between the company and the farmers. By excluding middlemen from the process, the direct trade purchasing is less convoluted than free trade, making it easier to monitor labor practices and ensure fair labor practices. This is not to say that all free trade chocolate involves child labor or unfair labor, but that labor practices are more difficult to monitor when there are more parties involved in the purchasing. In addition to the labor aspects of direct trade versus free trade, a byproduct of direct trade is that Taza is able to create a unique flavor from the high quality cacao beans rather than concealing the flavor of the cacao using other ingredients as in a Cadbury chocolate bar.
The chocolate industry is afflicted by a number of issues ranging from child labor, low standards of living for cocoa farmers, and environmental degradation. In recent years, consumer dialogue around choosing a brand of chocolate on merits other than price has gained momentum. Now more than ever before, consumers want to know how ethical the chocolate they are purchasing is. Many smaller chocolate companies believe in careful sourcing of beans and labor as a way of assuring their customers that their chocolate is indeed ethical. A company that seeks to eliminate questionable practices while promoting economic growth and prosperity for the farmers and workers is Madécasse. In this article, I will briefly elaborate on the prevalent issues that plague the chocolate industry, then closely examine the operations of Madécasse and discuss how this company is tackling such issues. Lastly, I will elaborate on responses from a survey study done among students asking about their opinions on the Madécasse brand.
Prevalent Problems in the Chocolate Industry
Child labor is a major problem in the chocolate industry. It is common across West Africa and other cocoa growing regions to have children working on plantations. A large portion of child labor is rooted in family and socioeconomic pressures. This personal connection makes it harder to tackle the problem. Regardless, many large corporations look past the issue and benefit from low labor costs. Despite international efforts to end such practices, it is a reality that child labor is a prevailing problem in cocoa plantations (Berlan, 1091).
Standards of living for cocoa farmers are low as a result of their minimal and volatile incomes. In 2016, the chocolate market sold an estimated $100 billion, yet only $12 billion was allocated to the value of the raw cacao (Leissle, 30). This serves to show how little of the value extracted from chocolate in the global market is given to farmers. Cocoa farmers are subject to price fluctuations as well as oligopolistic power in cocoa purchasing. This leaves farmers powerless and suffering from price instability.
Environmental degradation is prevalent in cocoa growing regions. Farmers seeking to maximize profits to earn livable wages, commonly employ practices that contribute to environmental problems. For example, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides or clearing cocoa fields to begin growing other cash crops (Marshall, R. Scott, et al., 7). These practices also affect endemic species that have to adjust to changing landscapes.
How does Madécasse approach these problems?
The founders of Madécasse are Brett Beach and Tim McCollum. They spent two years in Madagascar while they were volunteering for the Peace Corps and fell in love with the country’s culture, people and landscape. Years after returning to the U.S they decided that they wanted to give back to Madagascar by fueling economic growth for its people. They landed on the idea of creating a chocolate company entirely run in Madagascar to provide jobs and fair wages. They sought to leverage the high quality cocoa already in the region to produce high quality chocolate. They wanted to create chocolate entirely made in Madagascar that could be sold in global markets, but whose profits would be more evenly distributed along the supply chain.
The founders of Madécasse call their business model the Direct Trade model. This model seeks to maximize the value added to the final product in Madagascar. Essentially deliver four times the value as other companies would. This business model is composed of four main parts: 1. Building strong relationship with cocoa farmers; 2. Collaborating with a chocolate factory in Madagascar; 3. Sourcing ingredients and materials from Madagascar; 4. Exporting the finished product to global markets. It is through this holistic four fold system that the founders of Madécasse were able to create a model that delivers four times the social and economic benefit than the standard Fair Trade system (Marshall, R. Scott, et al., 15). The video below summarizes what the brand is about and their business model. It shows the artisanal values that the company holds and how closely they work with the people from Madagascar.
Step 1: Relationship with Cocoa Farmers
Madécasse partners with 70 cocoa farmers in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar. The founders had to invest time and money when determining which farmers to partner with, as they were looking for farmers committed to fostering long-term relationships. Madécasse provides training to farmers on fermentation and drying of cocoa beans. By introducing these farmers to new techniques, equipment and training, Madécasse helps them substantially increase the value of the beans they are selling. It is estimated that on average, Madécasse offers farmers a price that is 20% higher than the market price for cured beans. It is worth nothing that farmers are allowed to sell to other buyers, however they rarely choose to. The partnership in turn provides farmers with financial stability through higher income streams to help cover costs and provide for their families.
Step 2: Collaboration with Chocolate Factory
Madécasse partners with a chocolate factory in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar to process the high quality beans they sourced from local farmers. This factory employs 20 Malagasy men and 20 Malagasy women, in addition to a full-time manager. The process of making chocolate begins with trucks that bring the beans into the factory, where they are roasted in large batches. Ingredients are then added to create a wide range of flavors in the Madécasse product line. The chocolate is conched on site. It is then wrapped in foil and inserted into the wrapper and placed in 12 count display boxes. All the processing steps are done by hand in the factory.
Step 3: Sourcing from Madagascar
As mentioned previously, all of the beans and materials for making the chocolate and processing it are obtained from Madagascar. The only material that is imported is the French wrapper paper but otherwise all color printing is done on site. It is important to highlight that Madécasse’s production chocolate has resulted in the establishment of secondary industries in Madagascar. These secondary industries include utilities and packaging. In this way, along with the direct benefits to the farmers, Madécasse generates much greater social impact than exporting Fair trade cocoa alone.
Step 4: Exporting the finished product to global markets
The finished boxes of chocolates are transported in trucks owned by the chocolate factory. Madécasse chocolates are shipped to international markets, mostly to the United States and Europe. In terms of the U.S, the chocolates are shipped overseas and they arrive in Brooklyn where they are then distributed to stores all over the country. As of July 2012, there were more than 1,250 stores in the U.S carrying Madécasse chocolate, including 300 Whole Foods stores (Marshall, R. Scott, et al., 17)
Social and Environmental Impact
Madécasse’s measure of social and environmental impact is measured in “bars.” For example, the company estimates that it takes about 18 minutes to produce a bar. Of those minutes, farm labor accounts for 8 minutes of 43%. This shows that the labor in Madagascar is almost doubled due to Madécasse’s business model. This additional labor is met in the form of utilities or packaging and it essentially increases the number of people employed in the country. Additionally, $0.88 per bar is kept in country as opposed to $0.13 per bar kept when using the fair trade system. This means that seven times more profits are staying in Madagascar (Marshall, R. Scott, et al., 19). In terms of environmental impact, Madécasse is committed to preserving the natural environment. It is common in Madagascar for farmers to turn cocoa plantations into plantations of other more profitable cash crops. This damages the ecosystem of the area by eliminating the biodiversity that exists. To prevent this, Madécasse trains farmers on how to increase crop yields and use techniques that will allow them to get more money for the cocoa they grow. Additionally, the company started to collaborate with Conservation International organization and the Bristol Zoological Society to monitor species like lemurs that live in cocoa plantations in Madagascar. These efforts help protect endemic species in the area (Mironska and Steuwe, 89).
In an effort to increase transparency and objectivity in measuring social impact, Madécasse entered into a partnership with Wildlife Returns organization. This third party entity helps in tracking the environmental and social impact of the company’s activities. The company published the first iteration of their analysis in 2017. The report outlines specific economic benefits as well as interviews with farmers who work with Madécasse. These farmers cite how much the company has done to train them and allow them to obtain higher crop yields and subsequently how much more they pay them for their cocoa (Madécasse Impact Report, 5-9).
The market for ethical chocolate is growing rapidly. This makes it ever more pressing for Madécasse to project to customers what makes their model for producing chocolate unique. In an effort to test if the story Madécasse is selling to customers is working, I interviewed two students to gauge their response to the brand. I first showed them the bar of chocolate and had them look at the wrapping that had the certifications listed and comment. Next I had them taste it and comment on the flavor. Lastly, I had them read “Direct Trade” tab on the website that explains what makes them better than the conventional “Fair Trade” system and comment (“Madécasse Direct Trade”, 1). Part of it is reproduced below.
Fair trade is a label. It’s used by large companies, to verify that farmers who live thousands of miles away from where the chocolate is made are paid a fair price for their cocoa … We go way beyond fair trade. We know the farmers we work with on a daily basis. And they know us. We share meals in their homes and we share a vision for prosperity.
The first student commented on the lemur on the wrapper and wondered if it was endemic to Madagascar. The student commented on the direct trade certification but did not know how it differed from fair trade. In terms of flavor, they liked the taste and said it tasted much more bold than regular dark chocolate. Lastly, after reading the website the student said he would be more willing to buy the bar because he saw the value of a direct trade system as opposed to the traditional fair trade certification. The second student had similar initial thoughts about the wrapper and the flavor. However, this student’s ending conclusion was distinct. The student felt that the direct trade website was not convincing enough. He felt that the fact that it was their “direct trade” certification instead of an institutional certification took away from their credibility. These varying conclusions speak to the fact that the company should consider doing more to explain the validity of their system.
Madécasse has a unique business model that strives to produce the maximum economic and social benefit for the people in Madagascar. Through their Direct Trade model they are able to educate farmers, provide higher cocoa prices to them, and create new jobs for locals in Madagascar. However, the small survey shows that Madécasse should strive to tell their story to attract customers as to why their brand is unique. As a whole, it is encouraging to see brands like Madécasse who are making an effort to tackle the issues that prevail in the chocolate industry.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” pp. 1088-1100
Marshall, R. Scott, et al. “Case 3. Madécasse: Competing with a ‘4x Fair Trade’ Business Model.” Case Studies in Social Entrepreneurship: The Oikos Collection Vol. 4, pp. 54–86., doi:10.9774/gleaf.978-1-78353-049-6_5.
For as long as chocolate’s popularity has reigned, questions about the ethicality of cacao production across the world have also been prevalent. When chocolate was first introduced to Europe, its influence was fairly restricted to only the most elite members of society, with limited influence beyond the one percent of society. In a similar vein, sugar as a commodity was only consumed by the wealthy, with limited medicinal influence. As European Historian Woodruff D. Smith explained in his paper “Complications of the Commonplace: Tea, Sugar, and Imperialism”, “sugar was the object of a sustained vogue in Northern Europe” in the 1500s and 1600s. But as sugar and chocolate, became increasingly popular across the continent, its production was forced to catch up with the suddenly commonplace consumer good. In order to make sugar and chocolate available to the consumer population, there had to be significant “growth of West Indian plantation production and the high level of integration between production and distribution” (Smith, 262). These concerns over labor conditions and plantations have continued across the ensuing centuries, as many cacao farmers in Africa are still not paid a living wage, forced to work arduously for minimal pay. This struggle highlights one of the fundamental problems with the cacao production chain, as the lion’s share of profit is enjoyed by the retailers, who are most removed from the cacao production process. Meanwhile, cacao farmers tend to see less than seven percent of the value of cocoa sales (Cocoa Barometer 2015). The website https://makechocolatefair.org/issues/cocoa-prices-and-income-farmers-0 is a resource that demonstrates the struggles of many people that are lower on the chain of production, like farmers and traders, especially relative to manufacturers and retailers. It is along this backdrop of unfairness and inequality, that arrangements like Fair Trade arise.
The central principle of Fair Trade was designed to protect the interests of producers, in order to pay them a living wage. Fair Trade guarantees farmers a baseline price, which enables them to put food on the table and make ends meet on a more consistent basis year-round. I had the opportunity to interview Jonathan Rosenthal, one of the early pioneers of the American Fair Trade movement, from the 1980s onwards. Rosenthal, along with Rink Dickinson and Michael Rozyne, helped popularize Fair Trade in the form of a business that would reconnect people to their food in an ethical and just manner (Just-Works.com). Rosenthal’s foray into the Fair Trade movement morphed into idea of Equal Exchange coffee, a worker-owned Fair Trade company, and later into Oke USA, the first American Fair Trade fruit company.
“Three of us decided we would set up our own food company, somewhat in response to all the things that we couldn’t do in the consumer food coop world, so we decided to set up a worker-owned Fair Trade food company,” Rosenthal said. “We set out to set up a food company to basically see how idealistic we could be and still survive. So now how I summarize it is instead of paying as low a price as possible to farmers, what would it mean to have the aspiration to pay farmers as high a price as possible and still survive in the market.”
Articles previously written about Rosenthal demonstrate the breadth of his knowledge, and touch upon his impressive experience in the Fair Trade world. https://grist.org/article/rosenthal/ My conversation with Rosenthal helped shed light on the relationship between Fair Trade and chocolate, as well as the importance of continuing to improve working conditions for farmers worldwide.
“The idea of Fair Trade is, how can we, in a practical way, integrate our core social, spiritual, economic, political values in how we live our lives. In the case of Fair Trade, that’s about how products are sourced, especially since very little of our population knows where their food comes from,” Rosenthal said. “My work in Fair Trade was about helping people connect or reconnect to food, and connecting to understanding who produced the food, and how it was produced. Feeling like it’s ethical and sustainable, and that people are being treated well enough. Take the case of coffee or cacao, most of those products are grown in very terrible conditions, but it’s so far away and so far removed through processing from our daily lives of eating a chocolate bar, you have no idea how people lived that helped produce this. The simple idea of Fair Trade is to provide some transparency and fairly compensate farmers.”
In the past several decades since Rosenthal’s foray into the food world, and as Fair Trade has grown in prominence across the United States, some influential companies have taken steps towards sourcing their products in a more ethical manner. An archetypal example of this is Kraft Foods, that created “the Cocoa Partnership, established by Cadbury, [which] has committed approximately $70 million to invest in cocoa farming over ten years” (Kruschwitz). The Cocoa Partnership in Ghana was designed to help sustain the next generation of cacao farmers in Ghana, and demonstrate a desire to improve working conditions for farmers nationwide. This Partnership is an example of one of the ways in which large conglomerates can take positive steps towards change. While initiatives like these constitute movement in the right direction, there is still much more work to do from a corporate perspective. One of the biggest problems is that as larger companies like Kraft and Starbucks become increasingly involved in Fair Trade movements, the meaning and radicalism of these movements can become changed or watered down.
“I think trying to create transformational change in corporate America by threatening and attacking and policing is really really difficult and it’s hard to see a long term win in that,” said Rosenthal, about Fair Trade’s initial strategy of being combative towards corporations like Kraft Foods. “Working with large corporations, large NGOs and nonprofits, and governments is important, because those are areas with a lot of resources, so if you can convince those people to do things differently, you can have a big impact. The challenge of this of course, is that a lot of those big institutions and people that have a lot of power and have a lot of responsibility, it’s really hard for them to create big change, even small things, because systems have momentum. And it’s really hard to shift the momentum. So it’s often not because they’re bad people or bad CEOs, but they’re in a system that has momentum and structure.”
Not only have the fluctuation of world market cocoa prices impacted farmers’ incomes, but taxes and local trading structures have had a similarly negative effect. For example, over the past decade, farmers in the Ivory Coast have been able to retrieve merely between 40 to 50% of the world market price for their beans (Makechocolatefair.org). The volatility of the world market prices for cocoa also result in unpredictability for the livelihood of farmers. While Rosenthal’s experience with these problems are more concentrated in the coffee and fruit industries, he sees the chocolate production chain as similarly problematic, but potentially remedied by Fair Trade organization.
“One of the things about Fair Trade certification is that they usually have a floor price, and farmers and never paid lower than that price,” Rosenthal explained. “So that provides a lot of stability for farmers, knowing that at least the product that they sell to the Fair Trade system, they will always get at least a certain price. And so they can always afford basic necessities for most of the year and can help put food on the table, and send their kids school, those kinds of things. So for me, that gets us to another one of the core things that Fair Trade does, which is to create that stability.”
The implications of low incomes for farmers extends well beyond putting food on the table. These problems can result in farmers’ employment of child labor, as well as reducing salaries and farming using less environmentally sustainable techniques (Makechocolatefair.org). While this might not sound like a significant issue, utilizing less sustainable methods of farming for cacao production can have ecological and environmental consequences. As our planet enters a more critical juncture in the battle against climate change, it is important to understand the ways in which unjust labor and production chains can result in less sustainable farming. Against this backdrop, Fair Trade movements are all the more important.
“I think overall, Fair Trade and environmental work overlap a lot,” Rosenthal said. “One of the big dilemmas is that the more success Fair Trade has, and the more integrated into the market and capitalism it becomes, which is inevitable if you’re gonna succeed, is that the opportunity to create change is less. In the earlier days of Fair Trade it was easier to create change or talk about making change in a more revolutionary way.”
Fair Trade hasn’t always been as prevalent as it is today, however. One of the struggles that the Fair Trade movement has consistently sought to resolve is consumer’s willingness to spend more money for ethically sourced products. A study conducted by Patrick De Pelsmacker, Liesbeth Driesen, and Glenn Rayp sought to determine the premium that Belgian consumers were willing to pay for Fair-Trade coffee. The three scholars, all academics at Ghent University in Belgium, sampled over 800 consumers in Belgian supermarkets to determine their purchasing practices. On average, consumers were willing to pay approximately 10 percent more for their Fair Trade coffee, than they would otherwise spend on a normal brand (De Pelsmacker et. al, 376). Unfortunately, the price premium for coffee in Belgium during the study was around 27 percent, which is 17 percent more than the average consumer was willing to spend. Therefore, amongst the sample, only around 10 percent of the 808 consumers were willing to pay a 27 percent premium for their coffee, while 90 percent were either unwilling to pay a premium or were willing to pay a premium of less than 27 percent (De Pelsmacker et. al, 379).
While this study was focused on coffee in Belgium, its results have implications beyond this one specific example, capturing one of the core questions at the heart of the Fair Trade movement. If it costs more, are consumers willing to pay for more ethical sourcing? If cacao farmers are going to be paid fairly for their work, allowing them to farm more sustainably, avoid child labor, while earning a living wage, it will require willingness on the part of the consumer. Many experts, Rosenthal included, believe that future generations are more aware of the concept of Fair Trade, making them more likely to lean into the idea of spending more money for ethical products.
“In terms of it becoming more popularized, I think people are willing to pay more for quality. The social values, the ethical criteria, are becoming part of the quality menu for younger people. There’s a lot more awareness today that part of quality is social relationships embedded in the products. When I started in this industry, none of that really was around,” contextualized Rosenthal on how newer generations of consumers are becoming increasingly aware. “Younger generations, take it for granted, they know to look for some label, whether it’s organic, or fair trade products, or it’s a direct trade or there’s cage free, like, there’s so many now, different programs, hundreds, really, for all different kinds of products. And so I think, to me, that’s very exciting. The downside is that most people have no idea what those things really stand for.”
Ultimately, much of Rosenthal’s work and experience have serious implications for the cacao industry. The plight of cacao farmers is undeniable, as the large majority, particularly in Africa, struggle to consistently provide for their families. Unfair production chains and fluctuating costs mean that many are unable to have reliable income, forcing some child labor among a myriad of other problems. In order to help ameliorate conditions, alternatives like Fair Trade can help provide a fair price to farmers, and provide them with stability and structure. Fair Trade is not without its flaws, however, as some believe that it creates a price ceiling instead of a price floor, and it can reward lower quality beans with higher prices. Despite these drawbacks, overall, Fair Trade’s effects seem reliably more positive than allowing the market to regulate itself, particularly for farmers. From a consumer perspective, the choice seems fairly straightforward as well, for those that can afford to be ethically conscious.
“I think we are what we eat to some extent,” Rosenthal said. “We all have dreams and aspirations about who we want to be and what we want the world to be. Fair Trade is, in a way, a microcosm of that same dilemma.”
De Pelsmacker, P., Driesen, L., & Rayp, G. (2005). Do Consumers Care about Ethics? Willingness to Pay for Fair‐Trade Coffee. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 39(2), 363-385.
Kruschwitz, N. (2012). Why kraft foods cares about fair trade chocolate. MIT Sloan Management Review, 54(1), 1-4.
Smith, W. (1992). Complications of the Commonplace: Tea, Sugar, and Imperialism. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 23(2), 259-278.
Green & Black’s, a popular bean to bar company offers a chocolate bar completely outside of the realm of the common candy bar. However, the company’s outward ethical stance is at odds with the practices of its parent company Mondelēz International. Green & Black’s believes in a bean to bar ethical standard, meaning they expect co-manufacturers, partners, and sources to uphold certain standards in terms of wages and labor expectations. Green & Black’s marketing centers on their ethics; this is emphasized by their grassroots origin story. According to their website, Green & Black’s, founded in 1991 by Craig Sams and Jo Fairley, launched with a mission to create chocolate with the finest and most sustainable sourcing principles (Green & Black’s: Our Story). Craig Sams, founder of organic food company Whole Earth, was sent a sample of 70% dark chocolate made from organic cocoa beans. He left the half-eaten bar behind, only for his wife Jo Fairley to try it. They fell in love with the taste and set out to sell it to others. Today, Green & Black’s has a wide collection of bars, which are “all expertly crafted with hand-selected, ethically sourced cocoa beans” (Our Story). Green & Black’s were the UK’s first Fair Trade chocolate bar and in 2012, they launched Cocoa Life, a “third party verified cocoa sustainability program” which they certify their bars with (Green & Black’s: Responsibility). The chocolate industry is inundated with bars from major manufacturers that do not offer ethical verifications, no not present an upscale image, and do not offer transparency in their sourcing. Thus, Green & Black’s stands out among the common cheap candy bar. However, the Green & Black’s ownership by Cadbury and Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft Foods) undermines the company’s brand. While Green & Black’s seems to offer an ethical choice to consumers, it’s ownership by major manufacturers cheapens it’s brand by tying it to chocolate companies with possible unethical practices.
Green & Black’s gourmet chocolate offerings are full of variety. They offer bars under the categories of “dark,” “milk,” “organic,” “white,” “salted,” “nuts,” “caramel,” “fruit,” “mint,” “toffee,” and “ginger.” With around 17 different bars, Green & Black’s flavors extend from 70% dark to pure milk chocolate to dark with raspberry and hazelnut (Green & Black’s: View Chocolates). Promoting the quality of their products, Green & Black’s writes the green “symbolizes our commitment to always sourcing ethical cocoa” and black stands for “our high quality and the delicious intensity of our chocolate” (Our Story). With an organic line, Green & Black’s successfully creates candy that caters to the rising interest in organic foods. Organic foods are foods grown without pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals (Martin Lecture: Alternative Trade). Foods that do not carry the organic label may possibly use these products in agricultural production, or in other stages of manufacturing. These chemicals can be environmentally dangerous. Claire Williamson writes that “organic food has become an increasingly popular choice for consumer over recent years with salves of organic food increasing tenfold in a decade” (Williamson 231). Green & Black’s organic line thus targets specifically those consumers who buy in the interest of avoiding potentially contaminated food, despite the insufficient amount of studies to suggest that conventionally produced food have worse nutritional value (Williamson 234). However, Green & Black’s ensures that part of its audience includes organic food buyers through their products, which sharply contrasts the typical convenient store chocolate bar brand.
In addition to Green & Black’s variation in flavor and target demographic, the company further separates itself from traditional candy by its branding; Green & Black’s distinguishes itself through its narrative, advertising, and packaging. A Green & Black’s bar is a refreshing new take on chocolate, as the use of bright colors, intense flavors, certification stamps, and luxurious designs in its website and social media elevate the bar as a gourmet item and not simply a snack food. Green & Black’s achieves this image through its marketing. Packaging, in particular, relates to food intake (Argo and White 67). The colors and shape of a package influence a consumer’s decision to buy it, by making consumers believe it tastes better (Miller). For example “the yellow hue of a 7Up can make the soda taste more lemon-y” (Miller). Thus, Green & Black’s takes advantage of this psychological phenomenon. Their packages use bright colors with bold fonts. Some of the bars are packaged in paper rectangles, giving the bar a more upscale exterior. The look of a Green & Black’s bar is luxurious and high end, when compared to Snickers or M&M bag.
In chocolate packaging, visual cues and promotional cues have a “direct positive significant effect in the buying influence of chocolates” (Shekhar and Raveendran 55). Indeed, Green & Black’s takes advantage of the power of color – the most important too for “emotional expression of a package” (Shekhar and Raveendran 56). Shekhar and Raveendran argue that in chocolate packaging the size, shape, and color influence the consumer’s decision to buy. Green & Black’s stands out for its use of elegant black combined with bright colors that suggest refined taste but also gourmet flavoring. Shekhar and Raveendran conducted a study of chocolate buyers and found that students were influenced in purchasing chocolate based on visual cues alone.
Green & Black’s chocolate is thus a completely stand out brand. The offerings are diverse, have exciting colors, and their promotional websites and social media brand them as a fine chocolate. However, Green & Black’s packaging further works to attempt accurately represent their ethical stance as well, through certification stamps. The cocoa life and fair trade certification suggest the company engages in ethical practices and works to invest in community development projects (Fair Trade America). However, given the little knowledge consumers have about fair trade and other certifications, Green & Black’s packaging comes off as simply a lifestyle and aesthetic choice for consumers, rather than an ethical choice. For example, Green & Black’s’s Instagram page @greenandblacks has no posts referring it’s certifications or ethical processes. Instead, the Instagram is a lifestyle page of bright colors, coffee cups, fruit bowls, and plants next to chocolate bars. What the Green & Black’s’s Instagram page seems to be selling is not simply chocolate, but a way of life. The biography states, “Green & Black’s create delicious ethically sourced chocolate from the finest ingredients” (@greenandblacks). But a typical posts celebrates Easter or Father’s Day and suggests that followers buy Green & Black’s to celebrate the holiday. Indeed, the branding of Green & Black’s confuses the message of ethically-sourced and organic food by instead promoting a lifestyle full of bright colors and upscale food.
In Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate, Pam Williams and Jim Eber suggest that the finest part of fine chocolate is the packaging alone. This is because defining premium chocolate is a grey area (Willams and Eber 168). There is no expectation for cacao percentages bean quality, or location of the chocolate source. Truly, Green & Black’s premium label is a work of personal brand and not simply fact.
While Green & Black’s is distinct for its bright colors and certifications, the company holds ties to business that is not as ethical as Green & Black’s claims to be. In 2005, Cadbury bought Green & Black’s and it became part of Mondelēz International (formerly Kraft foods). Both Mondelez and Cadbury have a poor record in sustainable and ethical chocolate sources. NGO Might Earth found that Mondelez was using cocoa grown illegally in protected areas in the Ivory Coast and Ghana (Chocolate’s Dark Secret). In certain areas, the actions of the companies have led to massive deforestation – a study by Marius Wessel and Foluke Quist-Wessel found that the search for new land to accommodate the increasing cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana has led to “large-scale deforestation” as farmers establish new farms in the forest zone (Wessel and Quist Wessel). Since then, however, Mondelez has lead the private sector in forming initiatives to combat deforestation through a Cocoa Life program (Mondelez International). According to a 2015 press release on the Mondelez website, Cocoa Life is a “$400 million investment to empower 200,000 smallholder farmers and create thriving cocoa communities in Côte d’Ivoire and five other cocoa origins. Through Cocoa Life, Mondelēz International will participate in Côte d’Ivoire’s national REDD+ program to support the country’s bold ambition to reach zero-net deforestation in cocoa” (Mondelez International).
Although Mondelez is acknowledging deforestation and working to fix it, it’s impact and practices in the region are a stain on the company that now connect it with Green & Black’s. In its report, Might Earth notes that “in West Africa, chocolate is rare and unaffordable to the majority of the population. Most Ivorian cocoa farmers have never even tried chocolate” (Chocolate’s Dark Secret). Mighty Earth underscores the biggest hypocrisy in big chocolate business – that the regions in which major companies create chocolate are the same ones that suffer from its worst environmental impact while simultaneously, the farmers there are not able to enjoy the products they create. Wessel and Quist-Wessel offer to companies proposing to make change: “take also into account aspects of the rural infrastructure such as education, health, and roads and access to credit and inputs” (Wessel and Quist Wessel). Additionally, their analysis pushes for companies to find advancements that allow more cocoa to be grown on less land as climate change and increasing demand for production will have a “negative impact on the size of the present cocoa growing area” (Wessel and Quist-Wessel).
Recently, Green & Black’s has also adopted the Cocoa Life stamp for their products. However stamps such as Cocoa Life, while they represent great investments in sustainable food sources, further confuse consumers. Increasingly, more companies are establishing their own forms of certification for their products. However, this undermines Fairtrade through alternative certifications that simply confuse consumers. For example, Mars established a certification plan. Other certifications include Fair for Life, UTZ Certified, and Rainforest Alliance. However, customers who already don’t understand Fair trade, are negatively affected by this. More certifications lead to disinterest and an unwillingness to understand the differences between the certifications. In 2011, NPR Morning Edition argued that Fair Trade labels confuse coffee drinkers, particularly as what is “fair trade” evolves (Carpenter). The Guardian agrees that Fair Trade is confusing and broad, referencing a survey of 1,000 shoppers conducted by consumer group “Which?” (Smithers). According to the survey, “seven out of 10 UK customers “admitted they would pay more attention to the environmental impact of the foods they buy if labels were clearer and more meaningful” (Smithers). Green & Black’s “Cocoa Life” only adds to this problem. Fair Trade labels are poorly understood and there are far too many of them for consumers to keep up. The survey also found that “Nearly half the respondents (47%) said there were already too many things to think about already without worrying about the environmental impact of the food they buy” (Smithers). Thus, consumers cannot be left to understand the growing landscape of Fair Trade certifications. It should be on Green & Black’sand Mondelez International to make it clear on their packages what exactly “Cocoa Life” means. At face value, the label looks promising to consumers who look for certifications, however, consumers do not actually understand what separates one form of certification from another.
Ultimately, Green & Black’s stands out as a fine chocolate maker with ethically and sustainably sourced cocoa. Despite this, Green & Black’s suffers from many of the same failures of the major chocolate and candy sellers: they contribute to a business that confuses it’s buyers. Their marketing strategy is more of a lifestyle brand and their use of bright colors attracts buyers more interested in design than content. Additionally, Green & Black’s parent company does not leave them controversy-free; they must work to overcome environmental and economic damage that their products have caused in particular regions.
“Chocolate’s Dark Secret: Investigation Links Chocolate to Destruction of National Parks.” Mighty Earth, 29 Mar. 2018.
Martin, Carla. Course Lecture: Alternative Trade AAAS 199x: Chocolate. 2018
“Mondelez International to Lead Private Sector Action in Côte D’Ivoire’s Program to Combat Deforestation.” Mondelēz International, Inc., ir.mondelezinternational.com/news-releases/news-release-details/mondelez-international-lead-private-sector-action-cote-divoires.
“Our Story | GREEN & BLACK’S Our Story.” Green & Black’s, us.greenandblacks.com/our-story.
Shekhar, Suraj Kushe, and P. T. Raveendran. “Chocolate Packaging and Purchase Behaviour: A Cluster Analysis Approach.” Indian Journal of Marketing, vol. 43, no. 6, 2013, p. 5., doi:10.17010/ijom/2013/v43/i6/36388.
Smithers, Rebecca. “Food Labelling Confuses Ethical Shoppers, Says Survey.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 Sept. 2010.
Wessel, Marius, and P.m. Foluke Quist-Wessel. “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.
Williams, Pam, and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: the Future of Fine Chocolate. Wilmor Pub., 2012.
Williamson, Claire. “Organic Food: Is It More Nutritious?” Practice Nursing, vol. 19, no. 5, 2008, pp. 231–234., doi:10.12968/pnur.2008.19.5.29218.
Until very recently, chocolate had a reputation as a health food. In pre-colonial Mesoamerica and early modern Europe, chocolate was associated with the divine and with material wealth. As chocolate became an industrially-produced and widely-available commodity in the 19th century, chocolate was seen as “healthy” because it was a calorically dense and affordable luxury — fuel for an ever-expanding working class. While Americans and Europeans largely stopped associating chocolate with health by the late 20th century, chocolate’s reputation is being rehabilitated in the 21st century. We now see chocolate — particularly dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa products — as cancer-fighting antioxidants, as components of a “balanced, natural” diet, as indulgent and curative superfoods. These shifting narratives around chocolate and health reflect broader historical narratives about what it meant to be healthy and who deserved access to healthy foods. In the age of wellness culture, perhaps we can see our newest “chocolate as superfood” narrative as a return to the centuries-old notion of chocolate as an elite luxury.
Long before Spain, Portugal, and France colonized Mesoamerica, the Aztecs understood cacao as a divine and invigorating food. Cacao’s caffeine energized laborers and cacao was mixed with hearty ingredients like corn to create a filling meal replacement (Coe, Chapter 2). While cacao was available to common people in limited quantities, it was most commonly consumed by priests and the nobility (Coe, Chapter 2). It was both an expensive luxury food and a key element in religious rituals and myths. For example, in this pre-Columbian Aztec document, the cacao tree is depicted as the “tree of life,” a sort of divine bridge connecting the heavens, the Earth, and the underworld (Coe, Chapter 2). These conceptions of cacao as a divine, life-giving substance and a very healthy food were inextricably linked in Aztec culture. In this way, cacao represented access to both health and wealth.
In the age of colonialism, early modern Europeans also understood cacao and chocolate through this paradigm of health, wealth, and divinity. Because it was novel, delicious, and relatively rare (especially as cacao production dropped under the encomienda system), Europeans came to see chocolate as an otherworldly and medicinal luxury. Chocolate initially challenged European ideas about religion and medicine. For example, there was much debate over whether Catholics should be allowed to consume such a rich and exotic substance during Lent, and Pope Alexander VII had to issue an edict declaring chocolate permissible in the 17th century to put this debate to rest (Ball, 2000). However, Europeans quickly came to see chocolate as a health food. Like newly-available stimulants coffee and tea, chocolate provided quick energy. European doctors prescribed chocolate to treat a variety of ailments, ranging from malnutrition to smallpox (Lippi, 2013). In this period, thinness and disease were associated with poverty, and poverty was associated with moral inferiority (Himmelfarb, 1984). Therefore, a fattening, energizing, and expensive food like chocolate easily fit into early modern Europe’s understanding of what it meant to be healthy.
In contrast, the industrial age democratized chocolate and millions of working class Europeans and Americans could enjoy chocolate’s “health benefits” for the first time. Instead of a luxurious health food, chocolate was now fuel for blue collar workers. For example, in this turn-of-the-century advertisement, chocolate is depicted as a quick snack for burly factory workers. In declaring that their chocolate “[made] strong men stronger,” Cadbury positioned chocolate as a utilitarian health food, not just a sweet treat.
Cadbury also employed images of rosy-cheeked children and glowing women to encourage consumers of every gender and socioeconomic class to use chocolate to improve their health. In this mid-twentieth century advertisement, women are advised to consume the chocolate drink Ovaltine for “restful sleep,” “vitality,” and “morning freshness.”
Chocolate’s position as a widely-available health elixir in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries represented a radical reimagining of who chocolate was for — and in many ways, a reimagining of who health was for. As western economies increasingly relied on industrial labor, the governments of these newly-industrialized countries subsidized and encouraged the consumption of “invigorating” and “healthy” foods, including chocolate (Ludlow, 2012). This reorientation of westerners’ attitude toward chocolate and health can be best understood as a shift in the means of production and the construction of value. When wealth was produced through land (e.g. agriculture and rents), aristocrats could afford to maintain their health through chocolate consumption and their health was prioritized. However, when western economies industrialized, labor created wealth more directly, and individual consumers and governments had both the means and incentive to prioritize workers’ health.
In the past few decades, chocolate lost its reputation as a healthy food. After World War II, malnutrition and contagious diseases no longer plagued wealthy western countries as they had in the early modern or industrial periods. Instead, consumers’ health anxieties centered around diet-related lifestyle diseases like heart disease. Fewer and fewer people in these wealthy countries performed manual labor, so calorie-dense, “invigorating” foods were no longer a necessity. Sugary, fatty foods like chocolate were no longer healthy. In fact, chocolate was blamed for a range of health problems, including acne and diabetes (“Global Health Risks” 2009). Chocolate has only been redeemed as part of the “whole foods” movement of the past few years. This movement can be understood as a cultural shift toward an organic, “natural” diet. In the era of cold pressed juice and quinoa, lightly sweetened and “unprocessed” chocolate products have been reframed as life-prolonging foods. Chocolate’s antioxidants, “healthy fats,” and origins as a hand-harvested and fermented crop make it an attractive choice for health-conscious consumers (Beluz, 2017). Of course, these “healthy” chocolate products don’t come cheap. As we see below, Amazon.com sells bags of raw, organic cacao nibs for over $20 per bag.
Fig. 3: Screenshot. Amazon.com, accessed Mar 21, 2018. https://tinyurl.com/ya3jdcka
These chocolate products are largely inaccessible to poor and working class people, even in wealthy western countries. This modern association of chocolate, health, and wealth more closely resembles early modern Europe’s conception of chocolate as an exotic health tonic for the wealthy, rather than the industrial era’s understanding of chocolate as humble fuel for the working class. We must consider whether our reimagining of the association between chocolate and health is symptomatic of a broader late-capitalist turn away from the interests of the working class.