Tag Archives: slavery

A Complicated History of Chocolate and Sugar in the Caribbean (and Abroad)

My Childhood Experience: 

I love chocolate and I love sugar even more. I have loved both since I was a child and will continue to love them well into my old age. The first time I tasted a Snickers chocolate bar on a small Caribbean island where almost all chocolate is imported, I was hooked- no other candy bar could compare. The Snickers bar became my cradle to grave candy bar and even today when I have one decades later, I tend to flash back to the nostalgic time when getting that chocolate (or any chocolate really) for me was a rare and expensive sugar-rush to be savored. In Barbados, the nation’s relationship with chocolate in general and sugar more specifically tends to be complicated by its history of slave labor production and British colonization (Beckles, 2017). Even in present day, conversations around the health of locals and sugar consumption are often linked back to the repercussions of this history.

Planting the sugar cane

Growing up in the Caribbean, there was no Halloween, no teachers that would give out candy to their students as rewards for good work in the classroom, no goodie bags filled with a delightful assortment at parties for me. Chocolate was a coveted treat and one that I was taught to respect as a child as something of value for having done good or been good in order to “deserve” it. While other kids would spend their lunch money on snacks, sweets, and chocolate during break, I was under strict rules not to spend money on such frivolities. Back then I was raised with the idea that chocolate and other sugary food was not money well spent and that the over consumption of sugar was a result of a still colonized mind. Although chocolate was not at the time as much of a staple as it is now, especially compared to the developed West, sugar was everywhere and in almost everything, like America and the UK. Bajans consumed large amounts of sugar regularly and have been since the mid 1600s when Britain relied on the colony for crops and began manufacturing sugar cane for their own consumption (Martin, 2018, slides 2-9).

Moreover, my mother- a professional cook and very health conscious- believed there were more potential health risks to eating chocolate and sugary treats and thought the health benefits were minimal. My grandfather had many theories on sugar’s use for the demise of the black population by the British crown.


He would say that the sugar industry used invasive propaganda and historically colonized slave mentality to keep locals pacified in order to maintain control of the island and keep its people unhealthy- like a drug. I had no idea what he meant by that back then, I was barely 7-8 years old when we would have these talks about the aftermath of sugar plantations in Barbados. Not until I was older did I reflect on these conversations and revisit them again in a class on chocolate culture.

My grandfather’s words resurfaced again when I read Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz. He wrote, “the upward climb of both production and consumption within the British Empire must be seen as part of an even larger general movement…We know that sugar consumption in the old sugar colonies…was part always very substantial- indeed, that slaves were given sugar, molasses, and even rum during slavery period as part of their rations” (Mintz, 1985, p. 72). When my grandfather would lecture on the perils of sugar- the cause of painful and expensive cavities, my diabetic relatives (one of which had the bottom part of her leg amputated from too my sugar in her diet), or the root of making people sluggish and less intelligent- did I start to develop a profound fear and wonder about the power of confectionaries. How could something so delicious be so dangerous? It took me many years to realize it was not just chocolate that was the primary concern for him. It was the production of sugar in Barbados by the enslavement of black people under British colonization and the exploitation of the island. The impact in which continues to have adverse risks to its citizens still.

Sugar cane harvest post card

There is a long tradition in Barbados to produce sugar in addition to an impulse to consume large amounts as well, which started with Britain’s obsession with the commodity. In fact, the turning point of British sugar production was the settlement of Barbados and thus both nations were transformed. One nation with the need to consume, the other forced to produce for consumption. Mintz aptly writes:

“England fought the most, conquered the most colonies, imported the most slaves, and went furthest and fasted in creating a plantation system. The most important product of that system was sugar. Coffee, chocolate (cacao), nutmeg, and coconut were among the other products, but the amount of sugar produced, the numbers of its users, and the range of its uses exceeded the others; and it remained the principal product for centuries” (Mintz p. 38).

Thus, my relationship with chocolate in my formative years was neither abundant nor overindulgent and my view of sugar was entwined with stories of the colonized bodies of my ancestors. Still I was a child and I had a sweet tooth- like many others from the island-, which made my mother wearier of permitting me to have it out of fear I would become gluttonous, overweight, and doltish. With diabetes prevalent on both sides of the family there were lectures on the perils of sugar and my ultimate demise if I consumed too often. This was ingrained into my childhood. However, kids will be kids and I found ways to get chocolate whenever I could and hide it craftily. My morning tea was mostly sugar. This complicated relationship with chocolate and sugar during my childhood in the Caribbean continued into adulthood abroad.

Barbados is not like other islands in Caribbean for many reasons. First, it is a very small island, one of the smallest. Second, it is the most outside of the Caribbean strip of islands and more isolated with a population of less than 300,000 people. What it does have in common with places such as St. Lucia, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Jamaica is that they were also ensnared in European and British colonization of their bodies and land for crop production. Now while many of these islands have transformed this into strong chocolate tourism foundation that has begun to flourish in the recent decades along with traditional crops of the past, Barbados struggles to join this cash crop sector. On other islands everything from haute and terroir chocolate to cheap chocolate are being produced. They were able to embrace the agricultural aftermath of slavery to make cacao and sugar into a moneymaking industry that appeals strongly to Western conception of sophistication and acceptability. In contrast, Barbados in the aftermath as a sugar producing island, chose to set up shop as a strong island tourism base and minimize the sugar industry production along with the dark history that came with it. In addition, the island is simply too small to produce many of its own crops, cacao being one of them. This caused many confectionery and snack factories in Barbados to be purchased and moved to Trinidad and Tobago as demand grew.

Looking back, it seems ironic that I thought cheap chocolate was more of an iconic delicacy than it really was. For instance, a $1 Snickers bar in America cost ~$4 USD in Barbados so its value felt more significant. Hence, it is understandable to me now why such chocolate was considered a special treat, especially in a family that thought it a wasteful. Growing up in Barbados, I had literally never eaten chocolate made on the island or any of the surrounding islands. Some factories used our sugar but that was about it, so it seemed like chocolate was a foreign substance from far off lands.

The only exposure to “fine” chocolate I had in the Caribbean was Cadbury Chocolate, a British multinational confectionery company that dominates the island almost single-handedly. Among locals, it is either loved or hated and can oftentimes be highly political because of its connection to the UK. Many believe that Britain as a nation continues to claw its way into the island’s industry via companies such as Cadbury, thus control by the British crown continues invisibility and from afar. Cadbury Chocolate in an island once dominated by a hugely profitable sugar industry that exploited African slaves is a contentious past still being unpacked.

Cadbury can be found everywhere on the island. Although the price is significantly higher than other candy bars, locals love it and consider it more “high end”. Although in the past 5-10 years more variety and quality chocolate is coming into the island and locals are getting a real taste of what good chocolate can be. It can be more than milk chocolate and chocolate covered candy. It has been a slow process because in Barbados dark chocolate is uncommon and unpopular. That is why one of the calls to action by local Bajans (and already promoted by other surrounding islands) is taking advantage of the blooming interest by tourists to try locally made chocolate and and for locals to reclaim untold histories.

In that respect, the island is now revisiting the history of cacao and sugar and getting more involved with the booming industry. In 2010, Agapey Chocolate was founded in Barbados conveniently located at the capital of Bridgetown. It is the only chocolate company on the island and is the only bean to bar chocolate company in Barbados.


Although the company was not very well known at first, it has grown in popularity among tourist and locals are now also taking advantage of their delicacies. The company has won multiple international awards and went through the process of Fair Trade certification (Agapey 2018). They offer in-depth tours of the factory that explain how their chocolate is made and also the history of chocolate and the role of cacao and sugar in the Caribbean. It is a good example of changing attitudes towards dark chocolate and progress in using local ingredients like rum and coconut to stimulate the economy.


An International Cultural Exploration of Chocolate and Sugar

When I journeyed across the North Atlantic Ocean and set up a new home in Somerville, Ma. I soon learned about the abundance of chocolate and its widespread availability for any and every occasion, or no occasion at all. My mind was blown. Now in this wondrous place, chocolate could be found in almost every store, market, gas station, etc. It is not rare or expensive. It can be very expensive with places like L.A Burdick’s or it can be cheap like a Snickers from CVS. With my mother back in Barbados, I had no restrictions on my chocolate or sugar intake and I swiftly sought to make up for lost time, eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. It was liberating; this was America. I ate so much candy my first months of arrival, I could not get enough. Sugar consumption was even more rampant and readily available in almost everything people consumed.

Retrospectively, Somerville turned out to be one of the best places in the U.S to get a real taste of a multicultural experience, including its cuisine, which made for a great exploration of the candied goods of other lands. There has been a long tradition of community building at the foundation of local revitalization and urban development in Somerville that took a great amount of pride in exposing neighbors to “food from back home”. For many longtime residents, organizing community-building initiatives at the neighborhood and local government level has been a strategic way to promote the city’s rich cultural diversity and mixed-income environment. It also created bridges to parts of the population that might otherwise face isolation from resources aimed to empower them to take agency in improving their own socio-economic condition, particularly immigrants and people of color. Food was used to bridge the divide.

One of the first events I attended to increase exposure to different cultures was an annual international food fair held at Somerville High School where all the food was made by students, staff, or donated by local businesses. My recollection of walking through the school’s gymnasium and sampling different foods from over 100+ countries and cultures represented was a lasting experience. My Brazilian friend took me over to a table where I had my first bon-bon, a chocolate covered wafer with more chocolate inside that is widely popular in Brazil and now internationally. Another friend showed me her homemade milky coconut cardamon treats of India. There was table after table with food that I had never tried before, a whole candy world outside of Snickers and Cadbury.

For my first Halloween, my friends who had been trained in this occasion advised me to ditch the Halloween bucket and grab an old pillowcase. A pillowcase I thought, how much candy could we possibly get? The answer to that was a lot, a pillowcase half way full equating to more than four of the buckets I was going to bring. Every holiday and special occasion involved candy and chocolate. In addition, because of Somerville’s immense international population, there was not just the typical American candy, but treats coming from all over the world. I became seasoned quickly on how, where, and when to get candy and what chocolate came from which country. Chocolate became a constant and a source of comfort as I adjusted to life in America. Chocolate was for sharing between friends, indulging with cousins, and for no occasion at all.

Not until college did I learn the meaning behind fair trade, direct trade, or bean to bar- thus my ignorance of chocolate started to unfold. As Maricel Presilla writes, “to know chocolate, you must know that the candy in the box or the chef’s creation on the plate begins with the bean, the complex genetic profile of different cacao strains” (Presilla, 2009, p. 4). So began my segway into learning about chocolate production and saying goodbye to Snickers for a bit. I wanted to know about chocolate beyond what popular culture had taught me and beyond what my childhood experiences had ingrained.

I became engrossed with learning about the history of chocolate. I went to Madrid, Spain where I drank chocolate for the first time. Discovered theobroma cacao comes from Greek and means “food of the gods”.  I learned that Spanish invaders took the word cacao and their first real knowledge of cacao came from the Maya people of the Yucatan Peninsula. They used the word chokola’j, or ‘to drink together’. (Presilla, 2009, p. 10-12) and chocolate is amount one of the bastardized words created because it was easier for Europeans to pronounce. There I saw that even from the naming of cacao that history of chocolate was written and known mostly from a western-centric point of view and that influence continues today. I needed a different more authentic understanding of chocolate and kept traveling. I visited Tlaxcala, a sovereign state in Mexico with a strong connection to its complex history with cacao. There I used a molinillo for the first time- a whisking device to make cacao frothy- and drank a cup of chocolate that I helped prepare using traditional Mexican tools like the metate.

The story of how cacao developed from a sacred drink to the industrialized food that it is today is a complex history that dates back thousands of years. The story of how sugar production exploded in the Caribbean is also connected to the history of cacao. The bodies of black and brown people were used for European gain as was the land. Today, this history can be very complicated for the generations that followed. My relationship with chocolate and sugar has evolved overtime from a child in Barbados to a teen in America, to a traveler of the world. As my own understanding of these topics continues to expand, I will continue to enjoy these goods the best I can and keep educating myself on the topic.

Work Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. (1996).  The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, abolition, and forced labor’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 28 Feb. 2018. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin, 1985. Print.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 2009. Print.

“On Barbados, the First Black Slave Society” via AAIHS. Here is the website link: https://www.aaihs.org/on-barbados-the-first-black-slave-society/.



Images (in order):

“Planting the sugar-cane” (Credit: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library).

“Slaves Wanted” Advertisement for the Island of Barbados (Credit: Lascelles Slavery Archive)

“Sugar Plantation Barbados, Carting Sugar Canes To The Mill”  W. L. Johnson & Co. Ltd., Barbados. No. 15

Agapey Chocolate Factory Website Photos (Credit: agapey.com)


Sugar, Cacao, and Slavery in Brazil: Conversations between the works of Walker, Klein, and Luna

Introduction of the works

The relationship between commercial cacao production in Brazil and compelled or forced labor is one of extreme historical importance, yet it takes up little to no space in the history books. In his 2007 work, Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th to 19th Centuries), Timothy Walker analyzes this relationship, and believes that his research fills a gap in current academic literature. He argues that while popular published works explicate the importance of sugar, they do little to understand cacao plantations. For example, Walker explains that in Sweetness and Power, Sidney Mintz “argu[es] that sugar production was the primary reason for the institution of African slavery in the western hemisphere,” but what is not as well explained in his book is “the initial dependence on forced native American labor in the Brazilian cacao industry…and later heavy reliance of African slaves” (Walker, 78). What Walker’s work does not pay as much attention to, is the interconnectedness of the sugar and cacao industries in Brazil. In his concern over the unrepresented literature on cacao, he seems to discount (or at least does not sufficiently address) the importance of Brazil’s sugar production and its relationship to the cacao industry. Despite this, when put in conversation with other literatures such Herbert Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna’s Slavery in Brazil (2010), a much more comprehensive understanding of the economics of slavery and its relationship to the sugar and cacao industries can be drawn out.

Origins and Scope of Slavery and Crop Production in Brazil

In the American education system, slavery is taught to us from a quite slanted perspective that barely makes mention of slave trades in other parts of the world. We learn about the great extent to which slavery affected the United States and its enduring legacy in our institutions, so it can be incredibly difficult to wrap our minds around the idea that it could have occurred on an much larger scale. Figure 1 below illustrates the major regions where slaves arrived from Africa, and the size of the circle corresponds with the number of slaves brought to that area. Brazil received almost ten times as many slaves as the United States did (accounting for approximately 40% ), and was thus in higher demand by European powers to produce sugar and cacao commodities.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 8.56.23 PMFig. 1. Major regions where captives disembarked, all years.

In Brazil, “[e]nterprising colonists had begun to plant sugar as early as the 1510s,” but by the 1580s, two major areas in the Northeast (Pernambuco and Bahia) became the largest production centers for sugar (Klein and Luna, 25). What we also learn from Walker, is that these same areas (mainly Bahia in addition to the Amazonian region) played the most important role in Brazil’s cacao production economy. With these products being grown in the country’s most fertile regions and close to major slave ports, a special production symmetry arose. As they were grown in close proximity, they “developed a strong commercial co-relationship in American and European markets” and “[e]lite consumers learned to combine bitter natural cacao with a sweetening agent to make the food more palatable” (Walker, 84). Sugar plantations later made their way down to southeastern Brazil in the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo regions in the late eighteenth century, which drove the slave ports in the South to receive even more slaves in total than in the North (Klein and Luna, 69).

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 10.58.32 PM.png

Fig. 2. Clearing agricultural land in Bahia, early 19th century.

Changes in Demand and Supply

The increasing or decreasing rate of production of sugar and cacao in Brazil was almost always a direct response to changing demand from Europeans. The demand for slaves also directly coincided with the plantation labor demands, so these factors went hand in hand. However, an increase in demand from Brazil specifically was not only because more Europeans wanted the commodity. One of the biggest hikes in demand for Brazilian sugar (and thus slaves as well) was due to the “collapse of Haitian slave production and the mid nineteenth century decline of British West Indian sugar production” (Klein and Luna, 78). This strengthened the plantation system in the Northeast of Brazil and allowed for even more expansion in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Ultimately, through the historical shifts in demand and supply from all regions involved in the production of these commodities, we can understand the intricate interconnectedness between the cacao, sugar, and slave markets. It is crucial to consider their overlapping histories, and not view them in a vacuum in order to arrive at a comprehensive image of how they influenced each other throughout history.


Fig. 3. Relative share of Brazil in world sugar production.



Works Cited

Klein, Herbert S., and Luna, Francisco Vidal. Slavery in Brazil. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History. Viking, 1985.

Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries).” Food and Foodways, vol. 15, no. 1-2, 2007, pp. 75–106.

Image Sources

Figure 1:

Eltis, David, and Richardson, David. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Yale University Press, 2010.

Figure 2:

Walker, Timothy. “Slave Labor and Chocolate in Brazil: The Culture of Cacao Plantations in Amazonia and Bahia (17th–19th Centuries).” Food and Foodways, vol. 15, no. 1-2, 2007, pp. 79.

Figure 3:

Fraginals, El Ingenio, I, pp. 40-2; II: 173. ***Found in Slavery in Brazil on page 80.***


Sugar, the gateway good to slavery, racism, and wealth.

When Americans think “slavery” they most likely picture the one below, a middle school taught history of blacks on southern plantations underneath the blazing sun picking cotton for hours a day with little pay or none. 

The symbolic image of a whip for lashings might also come to mind, or the political divisiveness caused by the institution necessitating a Civil War that still lingers in the air today. Maybe they remember a bit more than average and can recall tobacco as the first American “cash crop”, or can picture the simplistic, triangular slave trade as the united states imported bodies from Africa and exported goods to Europe. All these thoughts and perceptions however, stem from the misconception of slavery being uniquely held to North America with some involvement from the British, and negates the truth of slavery preceding colonization into the new world of the Americas with the United States’ component having only a minimal impact. This is important as one must first understand slavery and the slave trade in the new world at it’s conception to fully grasp the context of slavery in the United States. To do this, one must see sugar as the crop that financed the origins of the slave trade, and not the cotton or tobacco crops of North America. Once you do this, you realize that the simple triangular slave trade, is not so simple, and looks more like the one seen below.

To examine why and how sugar came to be the crop that altered afro-american relationships forever, one must look no further than the West Indies and South America. At one point or another, small island countries such as Haiti, Cuba, and Jamaica were major financial supporters of their European owners. Just as an example, in the late 1700s, Haitian sugar provided nearly half the value of french trade, and exported about half of the world’s sugar production.. In their paper, Sweet Diversity: Colonial Goods and the Rise of European Living Standards after 1492, Hersh and Voth explain the demand:

“As the price of sugar declined, consumption spread to the lower classes. It was frequently used as a substitute for a protein source, consumed in the absence of meat when and where meat was too expensive. Though the simple carbohydrates from sugar do not have all the nutritional qualities of a protein source, its consumption offered calories at a time where energy availability may have severely constrained labor input (Fogel 1994). In addition, sugar was used to add sweetness and calories to food and drink, especially to tea or coffee, or added in liquid or powdered form to a whole range of foods … Sugar was also used in medicines. Combining caffeinated drinks with sugar was a European innovation, as was the adding of milk (Goodman 1995). Sweetened tea became popular amongst all classes in England. Tea and sugar (or coffee and sugar) were therefore complementary goods. For the poor, a cup of sugary tea could reduce feelings of hunger, and give energy for a short time. Tea could serve as a substitute for a hot meal, especially where heating fuel was in scarce supply (Mintz 1985).”

By this point sugar production was the result of nearly 200 years of entrepreneurial advancements to take advantage of the high demand in Europe (I use the term “advancement” loosely and only related to the increase in sugar production, regardless of the morals surrounding them). Some of the advancements made were notable, a steam engine to better crush and separate the sucrose from the sugar cane, seen below, or a locomotive to move sugar cane from far out fields on the plantation.

Other “advancements” were more logistical, such as methodical record keeping and note taking. Perhaps the most important, although, had to be the development of the coordinating to transport free labor across the atlantic and putting them to work on sugar plantations.

Over the years, the usage of black slaves necessitated the desensitizing of their owners surrounding their quality of life. As told by slavery museum in Liverpool:

“Inside the plantation works, the conditions were often worse, especially the heat of the boiling house. Additionally, the hours were long, especially at harvest time. The death rate on the plantations was high, a result of overwork, poor nutrition and work conditions, brutality and disease. Many plantation owners preferred to import new slaves rather than providing the means and conditions for the survival of their existing slaves.”

This desensitivity lead way to racism, which only further perpetuated the horrible treatment of slaves in the Americas. As explained by Dr. William Hardy of the Open University, “The long-term economic exploitation of millions of black slaves was to have a profound effect on the New World’s history. Most fundamentally, it produced deep social divides between the rich white and poor black communities, the consequences of which still haunt American societies now, many years after emancipation.”  

It’s hard to argue that sugar production would become as lucrative as it was, when it was, without the use of free labor, so it’s easy to see how the exploitation of Africans directly led to wealth growth in European nations who participated. However, not only did Europeans exploit the use of labor from Africa, they exploited the use of land from much of the Americas. By exporting virtually everything those colonies created back to the mother-country, the countries who were producing the most lucrative crops on the planet never saw a share of the wealth created. This relative economic stagnation could explain why many countries which were once occupied by European ones, today remain rather poor and play catch up to the rest of the world.

Works Cited:

Hardy, William. “Riches & Misery: The Consequences Of The Atlantic Slave        Trade.”OpenLearn, The Open University, 25 Feb. 2014, http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/riches-misery-the-consequences-the-atlantic-slave-trade#.

Hersh, Jonathan, and Hans-Joachim Voth. “Sweet Diversity: Colonial Goods and the Rise of European Living Standards after 1492.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2009, p. 9., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1402322.

“Slavery in the Caribbean.” National Museums Liverpool, http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/slavery/archaeology/caribbean/.



Not So Sweet: Slavery in the Cacao Industry

dairy-milk-barsChocolate is arguably one of the greatest culinary achievements in human history. I currently do not have a citation for that statement, however I am banking on scholars and researchers to catch up to my sweeping generalizations. Chocolate, and cultivation of Cacao have been interwoven into the fabric of societies all across the globe. These connections have happened in so many ways that are not just appealing to the pallet but also to the spirit. Chocolate confections for some are the corner stone to childhood, and to others it is a symbol of ancestral connection. For some groups and societies, this connection has a more malevolent feel, either due to historical significance or even current trends in the chocolate marketplace. Chocolate and cacao production, have and continue to be connected to one of the darkest parts of the human experience. Slavery and forced labor are probably not what most consumers of chocolate think when they pick up their favorite chocolate candy in the local grocery aisle. This is likely due to the disparity and disconnection of the consumer from chocolates actual production. Chocolate production has been, and can continue to be, a marker for where such social disparity exists in our global market places. Using examples of past and present issues related to cacao production, it may be possible to shed light on how practice and policy of large candy manufacturers could potentially impact the lives of some of the most vulnerable communities in the world.
screen-shot-2015-03-12-at-7-11-13-pmGeorge Santayana said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Building on this philosophy, it is important to acknowledge our past mistakes in order to inform our future practice. On the other side of the coin, we can also adopt what was successful into the same playbook. One instance that is important to highlight takes place over 100 years ago with a Quaker owned chocolate producer called Cadbury. The Cadbury family was not just associated with the prominent industrialist family, but also with the Quaker philosophy of passivity and equity. In the workplace, it was also important to the Cadbury brand and philosophy that this applied to the treatment of those in their employ. In the early 1900s, William Cadbury investigated allegations that the primary source of their chocolate was being produced with slave labor. Their chocolate was being imported from the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, just off the western coast of the African continent. Once the allegations were verified, Cadbury petitioned the Portuguese government to change the labor practices and laws in their colony, however was not successful in its initial attempts. During this time, Cadbury continued to import a great deal of chocolate from the island, and in response faced a tremendous outpouring of public pressure. Due to their inability to appeal to the Portuguese government, Cadbury refocused their chocolate production elsewhere, and urged other chocolate companies to do the same. (Satre, 2005) While it was not a solution to the problem, it did demonstrate a morality in business practices that can be emulated in today’s chocolate industry.

So why look to Cadbury and the action of a chocolate maker 100 years ago? Well in the past two decades, allegations of chocolates connection to slavery have surfaced again. One of the countries that has been a focus for this issue has been Côte d’Ivoire. The accusations stated that nearly 90% of all chocolate produced there, had been involved in some form of slave labor. The international community was outraged, as Côte d’Ivoire was responsible for almost half of the world’s supply of chocolate. (John, 2002) cocoa-productin-and-consumption-map This practice also involves children, who are sometimes sold into labor from bordering nations like Mali. A great deal of pressure was put onto some of the largest chocolate manufactures such as Nestle, due to international laws and increased media attention on the subject. (Schrage & Ewing, 2005) One of the major differences in this instance and the Cadbury example is the speed of information and the influence of the global media. The outcry from the international community was enormous and promises were made from major manufactures because of it.

That was almost 20 years ago that light was shed on this issue. What about today? Côte d’Ivoire, along with others, is still listed by the U.S. Department of Labor as an exploiter of forced/child labor. (U.S. Department of Labor, 2016) Apart of their research found that in 2016, 2.1 million children had been involved in cacao production in an “inappropriate form.” (Lowy, 2016) 13E10CBB-C119-4185-AF0F-985DBD4FDAFE
Using Cadbury as a case study, it is possible to show that morality in business practice does not just positively affect the global community, but also can still be lucrative for a company. Cadbury did not solve the issue of slavery in the instance of the Portuguese colony, however they did influence the other chocolate makers to change their business practices which ultimately did leave a lasting impact on the islands need for forced labor. By doing so, they did not cease to exist, and by all accounts still flourish today. In today’s global economy, large manufactures have the opportunity to follow Cadbury’s example, and even potentially go a step further to create more sustainable practices for the global community.

Works Cited:

John, A. V. (2002, June). A new slavery? History Today; London, 52(6), 34–35.

Lowy, B. (2016). Inside Big Chocolate’s Child Labor Problem. Retrieved March 9, 2018, from http://fortune.com/big-chocolate-child-labor/

Satre, L. J. (2005). Chocolate on trial: slavery, politics, and the ethics of business (1st ed.). Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Schrage, E. J., & Ewing, A. P. (2005). The Cocoa Industry and Child Labour. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, (18), 99–112.

U.S. Department of Labor. (2016). List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Retrieved March 9, 2018, from https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/

The Fine Line of Cadbury Business Ethics

We are often reminded that it is wise to toe a fine line and adhere to a certain code of moral conduct; but at what cost exactly?  This is a question that Britain’s chocolate giant Cadbury wrestled with during the beginning of the 20th century.  They flourished when it came to business ethics in their own Utopian village, Bourneville, yet struggled to maintain the same integrity when dealing with the horrific slave labor producing its most precious cacao supply.

In Lowell Satre’s article entitled Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business, the trial of the Cadbury chocolate company begins when a young journalist by the name Henry Nevinson embarked on a field assignment for Harper’s monthly magazine of New York in 1904.  The focal point of Nevinson’s field research was centered predominantly in the Portuguese controlled Angola territory in Africa.


Shortly after the United States of America had abolished slavery in 1865, Portugal had followed suit during the 1870’s by legally outlawing forced labor in all of its controlled colonies as well.  However, Satre writes “plantation owners still desperately craved workers” as this sweeping outlaw of slavery threatened the convenience of free labor by tipping the economic scale slightly out of their favor.  Satre continues, “To satisfy this constant demand for labor, a state-supported system of “contract labor” emerged, wherein government agents certified the natives could, or of their own free will, sign contracts committing themselves to five years of labor for a set wage” (Satre, pg. 2).  These “contract jobs” also came with the so called benefits of being treated humanely and having the ability to return to their homeland after their contract expired.  However, Henry Nevinson would soon discover, and corroborate an earlier tip that the Cadbury Company received in 1901, that these were empty promises and the idea of working voluntarily under humane conditions was clearly not the case.

The Cadbury Chocolate Company was located somewhere north of 4000 miles away from where Nevinson carried out his expedition.  This was a Quaker owned firm, which meant that they were very serious in regards to their Christian religious beliefs; abstaining from particular vices that could be frowned upon – such as alcohol.  The Cadbury Company in particular experienced a boom in business which warranted moving from the smaller shop that John Cadbury, founder and sole proprietor, operated out of in Birmingham; to a factory town that his son George Cadbury had designed himself.  After John’s first son, Richard passed away suddenly in 1899, George became chairman of Cadbury’s board of directors along with he and Richard’s sons serving as board members.  If you visit the Cadbury website, you can get their account of their story here:

The Story of Cadbury

            Interestingly enough, Lowell Satre reveals what the Cadbury Company site dared not mention; the 1901 trip, when William Cadbury (George’s nephew) visited Trinidad.  The company owned a small cocoa bean plantation there and he was told that slave labor was being used on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe.  Shortly after, this rumor was “given credence when the Cadbury company received an offer of a plantation for sale in Sao Tome that listed as assets two hundred black laborers worth 3,555 dobra” (Satre, pg. 18).  Despite the reports of slave labor and its corroboration by Henry Nevinson’s trip to Africa, the Cadbury Company began sourcing cacao from Sao Tome and Principe indicating that they needed to seek out additional confirmation that the laborers’ treatment there was indeed slavery.

William’s Cadbury’s uncle, George, had created a village called Bourneville in England with the intention for its portrayal to highlight what it meant to take care of company workers.  Bourneville had no pubs – further emphasizing the Quaker lifestyle that the Cadbury family believed in – and was “built upon George Cadbury’s vision of improved dwelling, light, space and air for his employees” (YouTube: Barton’s Britain: Bourneville).


The contradiction was stark however, as the admirable gesture was tainted by the charges of knowingly benefiting from slave labor in Sao Tome and Principe.  It raised the eyebrows of the media as they began to question the integrity of the company for its blatant hypocrisy.  On one hand, they demanded further proof of people dying in Africa due to gruesome work conditions; while on the other hand politely fired female employees in Bourneville who announced they were pregnant so they can endure less stress and prepare for parenthood.

It is my inclination to believe that William Cadbury did not want to swiftly back out of using these cacao plantations because he did not want to affect the bottom line of his family’s business.  So instead, he bided his time looking for a second voyager to travel to Africa and double down on Nevinson’s account to a) protect the company’s investment and b) not offend their Portugal partners overseeing the plantation operation.  While the Cadbury Company strategically dragged their feet with these goals in mind, pressure was mounting from activist groups such as the Anti-Slavery Society and the Aborigines’ Protection Society.  Along with the press, these entities were pushing for the relationship between the Quaker company and slave labor it employed to officially be brought to light.  Finally, William Cadbury elected Joseph Burtt to travel to Africa and confirm what everyone already knew.

In Catherine Higgs article entitled Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa, Higgs details how Joseph Burtt embarked on his journey to Africa and found that Henry Nevinson’s account of slavery occurring was more than accurate.  It was so accurate that Joseph Burtt’s initial report, in the interest of Cadbury needed to be edited multiple times to lessen the impact of the ugly truth and not upset their cacao supplier.  Higgs states that “Cadbury argued that publishing the report in the English press without first giving the Portuguese the opportunity to respond – which Burtt favored doing – would give them “every right to say, as they have done with Nevinson’s report, that they consider the whole attitude as unfriendly and unfair” (Higgs, pg.  134).  William Cadbury was more concerned with protecting his brand, along with his business partners interest that he’d go as far as sugar coating (no pun intended) the truth about their operation rather than taking a stand against what was morally unacceptable.

Shortly after Burtts report had circulated within media circles in October of 1908, William Cadbury had diligently tried to walk back the implications of his company being accused of hypocrisy.  In the end, the Cadbury Company backed out of Sao Tome and Principe, leaving the door wide open for the Hershey Chocolate Company of the United States to swoop in and assume the position of having no moral compass.  In 1839, British colonial administrator Herman Merivale wrote, “Every trader who carries on commerce with those countries, from the great house which lends its name and funds to support the credit of the American Bank, down to the Birmingham merchant who makes a shipment of shackles to Cuba or the coast of Africa, is in his own way an upholder of slavery: and I do not see how any consumer who drinks coffee or wears cotton can escape from the same sweeping charge” (Martin, Lecture #6).  While Herman’s words were about 60 years before the Cadbury controversy in Sao Tome and Principe, they eloquently capture the struggles William Cadbury and his company faced in attempting to tight rope the fine line of running a successful business while being an honorable one simultaneously.




Works Cited

“Barton’s Britain: Bournville.” Gaurdian.co.uk, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz6tyxHlRlA.

“The Bournville Cadbury Site.” The Manufacturer, 16 Jan. 2015, http://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/200-workers-take-voluntary-redundancy-cadbury-plant/.

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2013.

Katz, Frau. “A Map of Angola.” Pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/pin/345510602641044139/?autologin=true.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture #6.”

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ.Press, 2006.

http://www.iconinc.com.au, Icon.Inc -. “The Story of Cadbury.” Cadbury, http://www.cadbury.com.au/about-cadbury/the-story-of-cadbury.aspx.


The Tea Habit and The Dramatic Increase in British Sugar Consumption in the 17th and 18th Centuries

British sugar consumption dramatically escalated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Records show that British per-capita annual consumption grew from 4 lbs. in the early 1700’s to 18 lbs. in the early 1800’s representing a 400 percent increase in just one century (Mintz). While the figures are astonishing, the increase in sugar consumption can be attributed to several things including the decrease in price, the democratization of use, and most notably, the ritualization of drinking tea.  Henry James once said, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” And with tea, came sugar.

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But let’s go back to sugar’s not so humble beginnings.  Initially, sugar was considered a luxury item afforded only by the noble and wealthy. In Britain, sugar served 5 different purposes – as a medicine, a spice, a decorative material, a preservative and as a sweetener.  And it commonly served more than one such purpose at a time (Mintz).  Cookbooks of the late 16th and early 17th century even treated sugar as a sort of drug to help balance the “humors” — energies that were believed to affect health and mood (Godoy). Like other spices, sugar was used to enhance the flavor of foods.  When combined with various ingredients, sugar was molded into fantastic shapes and structures to decorate noble dinner tables as a symbol of the host’s wealth and standing. Sugar’s preservative qualities extended the life of perishable fruits and meats and prevented spoilage.  But it was with the introduction of chocolate, coffee and tea that sugar’s use as a sweetener became relevant.  Interestingly, the British enjoyed a long-standing familiarity with sweetened beverages such as ale and wine so it is understandable that they would chose to sweeten these otherwise bitter beverages with sugar.

Sugar was expensive and relatively rare, making it a perfect object of conspicuous consumption for the status chasing elite (Goody).  Tea, an exotic import first made fashionable by a Portuguese princess, quickly gained popularity with the rise of coffee houses in London. As the price of tea and sugar dropped, they gained wider appeal across all socioeconomic lines and daily consumption per person increased. Over a relatively short period of time, the habit of drinking tea with sugar became ritualized.  In the chocolate and coffee houses of London, gentlemen and wealthy merchants took their tea sweetened with sugar. Women of privilege enjoyed tea accompanied by pastries, breads and jam at home with their friends often using their finest china and tea pots.

“We can imagine them then that while seventeenth century men were

at coffee houses drinking tea and exchanging gossip, their wives

gathered at one another’s hoes to do exactly the same thing – justin a more

refined atmosphere” (Tea.co.uk)

The first sugar habit learned by the English poor was part of the tea habit, and the tea habit spread downward from the rulers and outward from cities at a rapid rate (Mintz).  For the working class, tea with sugar often served as a break from their backbreaking jobs.  In homes of the poor, men who were the primary bread winners dined on meat while their wives and children subsisted on tea with sugar, bread and preserves.  Regardless of wealth or social status, the amount of sugar consumed at each meal continued to rise.  Tea sweetened with a strong dose of sugar was an affordable luxury: It gave workers a hit of caffeine to get through a long slog of a day, it provided plentiful calories, and it offered the comfort of warmth during a meal that otherwise often consisted only of bread (Godoy).

It is important to acknowledge that the dramatic increase in domestic demand for sugar was intertwined with the rise of the slave trade. Britain relied heavily on her sugar colonies to sustain her rabid consumer base, and forced labor allowed more sugar to be produced at a fraction of the price (Sheridan). They conquered the most colonies and went the farthest and fastest in creating the plantation system to satisfy growing demand for sugar (Mintz).  In the British West Indies, the number of enslaved Africans grew to 263,000 by the mid 1700’s (Martin). They were required to work 18 hour days and received only minimal food, clothing and shelter from the plantation owners. As a result, their life expectancy was only 7-8 years (Martin).

Sugar consumption levels continued to rise during and after the Industrial Revolution. By the 1900’s, annual per capita consumption approximated 80 lbs. climbing to an astonishing 120 lbs. in the 2000’s (Martin).   As processed food manufacturers gained a better understanding of taste preferences, they increasingly added sugar to everyday consumables like ketchup, cereals and dairy products. Currently, soft drinks are the biggest single source of added sugar for young people, with boys aged 11-18 getting 42% of their intake this way; and for adults aged 19-64, the main sources are also confectionery and jams, soft drinks and cereals (Jeavans). Clearly, the British love for sweet beverages survived and flourished throughout the centuries.

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In conclusion, the significant increase in British sugar consumption in the 17th and 18th centuries was a direct result of the increasing affordability of the commodity, the democratization of use, and the ritualization of tea time. Today, the British remain some of the greatest consumers of sugar in the world and are taking great steps to encourage people to limit their daily added sugar intake to ward off obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.


Works Cited

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition and Forced Labor.” Lecture

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.  New York:Penguin, 1985. Print.

Sheridan, Richard B. Sugar and Slavery: An economic history of the British West Indies, 1623-1775.  University of West Indies  Press, 1974.  Web.

Jeavens, Christine. “How Much Sugar Do We Eat?” BBC News, BBC, 26 June 2014.  22 Feb. 2018.  http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27941325

Godoy, Maria. “Tea Tuesdays – How Tea + Sugar Reshaped the British Empire” The Salt. NPR. 7 April 2015.  22 Feb 2018. https://www.npr.org.sections/thesalt/2015/04/07/396664685/tea-tuesdays-how-tea-sugar-reshaped-the-british-empire

“Tea – A Brief History of the Nations Favorite Beverage” UK Tea and Infusions Association 2018.  22 Feb 2018. http://www.tea.co.uk

Ward, J.R. “Oxford History of the British Empire.  The Eighteenth Century. The British West Indies, 1748-1815” Oxford University Press.  New York. 1998 https://books.google.de/books?



The cacao production workforce in Ecuador throughout history

For its historical role in the growth and agrarian features of the country and its print on the national culture, the production of cacao constitutes without a doubt a relevant subject with regards to the Ecuadorian economy and society. As central to the nation as the cultivation of cacao can be, it seems however that this has not been reflected on the life conditions of its main producers.



The origin – 3300BC

As explained by Professor Martin, Carla D. from Harvard University, the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao L.), is native from the Amazonian basin on the foothills of the northern Andes, a region that spreads on what are now Ecuador and Colombia. A ceramic pottery dating 3300BC and found in Ecuador’s southern Amazonian region of Zamora Chinchipe, contained microscopic remnants of cocoa, suggesting that cocoa beans were being harvested and consumed there more than 5,000 years ago.


The beginning of the colonial period (1530- 1750)

Cacao production became a business under the colonisation of the territory by the Spaniards. «Around 1600, the collection and exploitation of the cacao beans constituted one of the most important activities of the old province of Guayaquil. Almost 9 boats were leaving annually the port transporting cacao» (Chiriboga, 2013: 27).

The agrarian structure then developed trough the system of Encomiendas, large land concessions (Haciendas) received by the colons with a right of serfdom over the native population. Theoretically they were in charge of educating and baptizing the Indians under their guardianship, in practice they were reducing them to slavery through the necessary tribute (gold, chicken, maize, cacao and other foodstuffs) as well as through services of personal nature. Thousands of Indians died. In 1600 there were approximately 500 Encomiendas in Ecuador.

Meanwhile, the trade of slaves had started in the middle of the XV century in Spain. Slaves were brought by the colons mainly as workforce for the agricultural labour. In fact, native populations (often coming from the highlands) were not considered as performant for such hard labour under the hot and humid climatic conditions of the coastal area where most of the cocoa cultivation was taken place. Mortality rate amongst slaves was high and average life expectancy extraordinarily low. Approximately 30% of the slaves died in the process of adaptation to their new life (environment, diseases) therefore the system of control and repression was extremely hard as it had to face rebellions and escapes from the slaves.


The First Cacao Boom (1779-1842)

Following the Bourbon reforms, the departure of the Jesuits and the authorisation in 1789 by the king Charles IV to cultivate and export cacao from the region, the food crops and tobacco plantations turned into cacao plantations (in high demand in Europe). Cacao production then spread all over the country and the first large cacao Haciendas were born. Exports went from 5,600 metric tons (MT) to 15,700 MT in 1843. Spain was the first market, then England and Germany.

The cacao crop did not require year-round attention and it was often just as profitable for an owner to let his slaves buy themselves and then hire them to work for wages during the high-season. It is estimated that between 1780 and 1820 several hundred slaves took advantage of this new reality.

More details on the slavery and manumission in Ecuador are available in the following article:


This first boom, led by the exports to foreign markets, was also achieved through the movement of the workforce from the highlands. Indeed, an important migration of the native people from the highlands to the coastal area took place that was entirely related to the cacao production. Around 1830 there were many more day laborers than small landlords/producers on their own piece of land.


The second cacao boom (1870-1925)

During the Second Cacao Boon the production increased consistently up to 100,000 MT annually and Ecuador became the first world producer supplying 15 to 25% of the international demand.

Soon appeared a reduced group of 20 families that controlled more than 70% of the producing area. These Hacendos were known as the « Gran Cacao » and accumulated land that were initially acquired by indigenous people during the colonial period. These appropriations – often dishonest –concentrated power and created an even bigger contrat between this new oligarchy and the workforce made of farmers brought from the highlands and former slaves (abolition of slavery was in 1861).


Source: Anecacao website (Asociación Nacional de Exportadores de Cacao – Ecuador)

 Indeed, the « Gran Cacao » enjoyed the increased world demand, high prices but above all, the cheap domestic workforce that were scarcely remunerated and submitted to high debts.

« Indians and negros of Ecuador do the work of cacao and other plantations. These unfortunate creatures are slaves. They are not called slaves. Slavery is not permitted by the constitution of the Republic. […] The explanation is very simple: every plantation worker must buy what he needs at the plantation store. He is given credit and encouraged to get into debt. Once in debt, he is a slave. He has no hope of clearing his debt. » (People of All Nations: Their life today and story of their past, J.A. Hammerton P.1627)

In this context, arose new popular revendications and the first workers associations and syndicates were created.


The cacao crisis (1920)

The increase of the world production in the new colonies such as Ivory Coast or Indonesia as well as in Brazil (trees had finally reached maturity) and the start of the First World War led to a market saturation, lower demand and falling prices. Finally, an outbreak of Monilia and Witches’ Broom diseases (1915-1920) finished to depress the cacao industry locally. The production dropped to 15,000 MT in 1930 and soon plantations were abandoned by their owners.


The current model (since 2000)

Nowadays the country is a major player in the international cocoa market not due to volumes but to quality. The demand for specialty cocoa is growing and outweighs supplies which creates a very attractive niche market. Ecuador’s cacao annual production is above 230,000 MT since 2013 and continues rising:


Ecuador counts approximately 100,000 cacao producers (not always exclusively), out of which 85% cultivate less than 10ha, 15% between 10 and 20ha and 5% more than 20ha.

The increasing demand for organic and Fairtrade cocoa also helps to improve small producers’ income. A survey made with a representative group of cocoa producers in the Manabí province showed that 69.8% produced or have produced at one point with a Fairtrade label.

However, one of the representatives of the Kallari association (https://www.kallari.com.ec/), explained that the annual cost, some non-adapted procedures and the lack of selling premium were the reasons why they stopped their Fairtrade certification. Hence extent of Fairtrade certification locally is not necessarily representative of the actual treatment of the producers. What is more representative is the rise of producers’ associations, sometimes establishing their own bean to bar transformation and selling onto the domestic or foreign market. As such they control the whole value chain and ensure fair revenues for the whole community. One representation of this trend on the domestic market is Kallari, composed of 850 producers (mainly Quechua families) from 21 communities of the Tena region in the Ecuadorian Amazon:




Although slavery and forced labour constitute a large part of the history of the commercial cacao production in Ecuador (for 3 centuries), Ecuador’s cacao industry has taken a drastic turn in the last 100 years placing it in the top 10 world producers targeting the niche market of specialty cacao produced mainly by small farmers more and more organised into producers associations that allow them to capture a fairer revenue for their cacao beans or a bigger part of the value chain through transformation of the raw products and marketing of the bars.



Works Cited

Martin, Carla D.“MesoAmerica and the « food of gods »”, Harvard University, AAAS E-119, 2018

Martin, Carla D.“Slavery, abolition and forced labour”, Harvard University, AAAS E-119, 2018

Chiriboga, Manuel (2013). Jornaleros, grandes propietarios y exportación cacaotera 1790-1925. Quito: Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar.

Vassallo, Miguel Diferenciación y agregado de valor en la cadena ecuatoriana del cacao / Miguel Vassallo. — 1ª. ed. — Quito: Editorial Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales IAEN, 2015

Wilmer S. Sepúlveda, Irinuska Ureta, Claudia Mendoza & Louiza Chekmam (2017): Ecuadorian Farmers Facing Coffee and Cocoa Production Quality Labels, Journal of International Food & Agribusiness Marketing, DOI: 10.1080/08974438.2017.1413612. P 7

Radi y Martínez, 2008: 4.

Melo & Hollander, 2013


Web Sources






Two Sides Of The Chocolate Coin

While American and European consumers associate chocolate with romance, desserts, and luxury, the disparity between end product consumer and cacao producer is significant. One perspective is that northern consumers provide self-agency and opportunity through a free market economic exchange in an environment that provides few opportunities. While western Africa currently provides 75% of the world’s cacao (Coe &Coe, 2013) the African cacao grower has to rely solely on northern purchasers as they lack the economic resources to purchase, manufacture, or market their product. With labor as their only agency, the African cacao grower is in a disadvantaged position in the food production paradigm despite their high product yield. Corporate complicity in unethical labor, slave legacy that has left southern producers turning to raw materials for economic survival, and consumer apathy created by distance from the food supply chain have culminated in producing very opposing experiences for the cacao supplier and the chocolate consumer.

Success in Cacao

With the steady increase of cacao prices, the cacao-growing region of western Africa has seen steady socioeconomic growth in the industry for decades. According to “CNN Freedom Project,” an organization focused on labor practices worldwide, in 2008-2009 western Africa supplied more than 75% of the world’s chocolate, while Europeans and North Americans were consuming a roughly equal amount (2012). In their book Cocoa in Ghana: Shaping the Success of An Economy, Shashi Kolavalli, and Marcella Vigneri observe the steady increase of cacao prices have allowed for significant improvement via more investment in production yields through transport and infrastructure. (2012). Kolavalli and Vigneri further observe that so lucrative is the cacao production in Ghana  that positive socioeconomic influences of the crop, and improvement in western Africa’s poverty, have been significant by stating,

“economic growth has been solid, averaging more than 5 percent since 2001 and reaching 6 percent in 2005–06. Coupled with the effects of greater access to education, health services, and land ownership (World Bank 2008), this rate of growth has contributed to the near halving of the national poverty rate since the beginning of the 1990s, from 51.7 percent in 1991/92 to 28.5 percent in 2005/06” (p. 205).

For cacao growing countries in Africa, maintaining this resource is critical to prevent sliding backward economically in an already impoverished environment.

Who is Eating All the Chocolate?

According to CNN’s freedom project, northern countries are driving the demand for chocolate. In this breakdown for 2008-09, Europeans and North Americans were responsible for eating an equal amount of western Africa’s entire production, which is 75% annually of the world supply. In simple terms, if you live in the northern hemisphere there is a good chance you are consuming on average between 9 to 24 lbs. of chocolate per year. (Satioquia-Tan, J. 2015)

The Swiss eat 24 lbs. of chocolate per person, per year. That’s roughly equivalent to eating half of a Hershey bar every day for one year (Maxim75, 2016)

World consumption of cocoa: 2008/09
Europe – 49.32%
North America – 24.22% (United States only – 20.19%)
Asia and Oceania – 14.49%
South America – 8.68%
Africa – 3.28%

The demand from northern consumers continues to increase steadily. In his paper, Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments, Marius Wessel projects necessary agricultural growth for western Africa to maintain its current supply when he states, “The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) forecasts a 10 percent increase in the world cocoa production and a 25 percent increase of the cocoa price in the next decade. … If West Africa wishes to maintain its present world market share a 10 percent increase in production is needed in the next decade” (Wessel, M., 2015). This is significant in that considerable investment will be required to meet the growing demand, which in turn will offer more employment from land developing to harvesting; boosting the economy even further. The staggering contrast of chocolate consumption between northern consumers and southern producers however, in relation to race and geography is no accident.

A History of Disconnection

After the chocolate drink of Mesoamericans made it to Europe via Spanish colonists in the 16th century, popularity of the drink in Europe began to rise. When Spanish colonists exhausted the Mesoamerican population as a resource for labor, they turned to the middle passage across the Atlantic to Africa for labor to meet the demand (Coe & Coe, 2013). On a continent that functioned tribally with no formal governments, it was quite easy to enslave people into labor for the remainder of their life, which on average due to hard labor and dismal living conditions was about 7 to 8 years after enslavement (Coe & Coe, 2013). This of course, required massive quantities of slaves, which Africa had in abundance. In his book Sweetness and Power Sidney Mintz observes that by the 18th century, the European lower proletariat was adopting the culinary habits of the aristocracy as a way of establishing equality for people in lower social stations (p.181, 1986). The biggest promoter of chocolate consumption for the masses According to Coe & Coe in their book A True History of Chocolate was the industrial revolution when they state,

The Menier Chocolate factory in Paris, France. Mechanized in 1830, and shortly after became France’s largest chocolate supplier. (Expressing Yourself, 2009)

“The Industrial Revolution, which changed chocolate from a costly drink to cheap food, [was] the driving force in this metamorphosis” (Coe & Coe, p. 232, 2013).

Before the industrial revolution the use of people from southern countries as a commodity for labor separated them from society and cultural habits of northern countries. Even had they wished to adopt the habits of their masters, there was no means or opportunity as a consumer base. Having never been ‘folded in” to European culture, they were completely disenfranchised as a chocolate consumer base. The exclusion of southern laborers and slaves from society as citizens, also found them ignored by the industrial revolution; leaving them to lag behind economically and industrially, unable to participate as consumers of chocolate.

State of Labor Today

After northern consumers developed a social conscience for disenfranchised populations and impoverished nations, one might be tempted to think everything has changed, but it has not. Still lagging from being on the outside of the industrial revolution, Cacao farming practices have changed little in the last hundred years. In villages of working adults there is a complete disconnect to their labor once it leaves the village. In her book Bitter Chocolate, Carol Off  tells of a village where all but the chief were ignorant of where the cacao went, none knew how it was used, and only one had ever tasted chocolate. Micheal and Sophie Coe argue that it is not only adults and families working, but that millions of children are trafficked and forced into slavery from neighboring countries (Coe & Coe, 2013). Off supports this claim by observing that slavery is alive and well  particularly in the Ivory Coast where child slavery is so common, it is a sub-industry of cacao with its own economy, as farmers finance networks to traffic children for forced labor who then suffer from starvation, disease and physical abuse while working on cacao farms (Off, C. 2006). While numbers of child slavery are at times sketchy and often disputed, no one denies it exists (Off, C. 2006).

Children from the Ivory Coast. Due to extreme poverty many children seek out work in cacao only to be abducted and worked as slaves. (DFID, 2011)

Consumers Grow Distant

The consumer vending machine selling prepacked processed chocolate adding a further degree of separation from labor to consumer. (Whitehouse, P. 2007)

While slaves grow cacao, consumers grow distant. Though southern laborers have not advanced industrially, this is not the case for northern consumers. The industrialization of food completely changed northern food culture. Through mechanization, transport, and refrigeration, the distance between consumer and food source has grown. Mechanization produced food en mass cheaply, allowing access to goods that were more accommodating to lower budgets, while transport and refrigeration allowed food to travel further than it had before. (Counihan & Van Esterik, 2013) The biggest game changer in food culture was the mechanization of canning and preservation. With better preservation, food sources began to change, ingredients began change, and soon we had processed and prepackaged food embraced by women everywhere for freeing their time and labor (Counihan & Van Esterik, 81-82, 2013). After two or three generations of eating processed food transported from faraway places, with lists of ingredients that are rarely inspected, consumers today know very little about their food, or even what it contains. They are not unlike their southern counterparts in this way who do not know where cacao goes, or what its use is after it leaves the village.


Distance Creates Apathy

Capitalist consumerism breeds competition, creating incentive to keep the consumer

Cacao farmer in Ghana with his crop before it is prepared and bagged to be sent to manufacturers to make chocolate. (Rberchie, 2014)

happy. As modern chocolate consumers in the north are far more concerned with inclusiveness, fair treatment, and food activism than previous generations, the power of the purchase is seemingly an easy solution to the poor working conditions and poverty that are still prevalent in the cacao industry despite its economic growth. Far removed from the supply chain, unaware consumers continue to purchase due to lack of transparency in food product, and manufacturers remain complicit in the absence of financial threat. Manufacturers however also have limited power. Even with strict purchasing policies, and government regulation it is still difficult to know if a supplier is using slaves without constant physical inspections (Martin, C. 2017), and blame shifts all along the supply chain making it easy for manufacturers to be complicit, and consumers to remain uninformed.  Lack of transparency in food sourcing, blame shifting in the industry, and distance from food sources, culminate to create a culture of apathetic food consumers.

How It All Comes Together

The dichotomy between cacao consumer and producer today began with early Europeans and European colonists who failed to view southern peoples as sovereign and instead as a voiceless labor resource. Excluded from global interaction, Southern populations failed to participate in cultural trends, shifts, and innovations that were transforming society and industry elsewhere. Non-participation in the industrial revolution left southern continents behind in what would become a global economy with no agency for economic competition; turning to natural resources and labor for economic survival in a state somewhere between hunting and gathering and industry with little opportunity for growth. While mechanization followed by technology has created decadence in northern populations as compared to southern countries, northern consumers are today ignorant of their food supply chain because of these advancements, and unaware of the poverty and labor practices of those supplying it. Lack of transparency in food products add to this distance, and northern Chocolate manufactures as well as governments are complicit in unethical labor practices, shifting blame along the food supply chain leaving those who are aware unsure of who to even hold accountable (Martin, C. 2017). While northern consumers today have more of a social conscience than their ancestors, the opposing lifestyles of the chocolate consumer and the cacao laborer have failed to come closer together over the last several hundred years due to a legacy of “othering,” and complicit corporate interests protecting their revenue stream that has created an apathetic northern food culture.

Where We Go From Here

Consumer awareness is growing. Projects like Fair Trade, CNN Project Freedom, End Slavery Now, Slave Free Chocolate etc., have been working hard to inform the public. Many consumers now seek out fair trade products when available, and appear willing to pay more for ethical practices. In their paper, Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment ,  Hainmueller, Hiscox, & Seguiera state,

“Total sales of Fair Trade goods in the United States in 2011 amounted to roughly $1.4 billion (FLO 2012) … But the average annual rate of growth in U.S. sales of Fair Trade certified goods was close to 40% between 1999 and 2008” (2014).

Fair Trade is not without its problems, as certification can be costly and marginalizes the poorest producers, but it is a start, and one of few ways to access transparency of the food supply chain in a consumer market that provides no source-to-store product information. Legislators are also working to intervene in child slavery practices. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engen introduced a protocol to reduce trafficking in the cacao industry, agreed to by manufacturers and legislators from Ghana and the Ivory Coast as stated by the ILO, “that aims to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent across the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire by 2020” (ILO, 2017). Currently Fair Trade and other transparent and ethical alternatives have not achieved mainstream mass production, making it difficult for a consumer to use the power of the dollar against corporate complicity even when they choose to. Raising awareness and creating a demand for ethical products can aid in ending consumer apathy by closing the information gap, and denting corporate revenue streams that, with some work, will promote less disparity between southern suppliers and northern purchasers.


Works Cited


Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The true history of chocolate (3rd ed.) London, ENG.Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Counihan, C., Van Esterik, P., (Eds.). (2013). Food and culture a reader New York NY. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

CNN Freedom Project (2012) Who eats the most chocolate?. Retrieved from:                          http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/17/who-consumes-the-most-chocolate/

DFID, (2011) Children of the Ivory Coast [digital image].  Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Flickr_-_DFID_-_UK_Department_for_International_Development_-_Children_pictured_at_a_UNHCR_food_distribution_point_in_Liberia

Expressing Yourself (2009) Menier Chocolate Factory. [digital media]. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Menier_Chocolate_Factory

Hainmueller, j., Hiscox, M., Sequeira, S., (2014) Consumer Demand for the Fair Trade Label: Evidence from a Multi-Store Field Experiment. Retrieved from: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/conferences/2014-launching-the-star-lab/Documents/FT_final_2_20.pdf

ILO, (2017) Africa: Child Labor in Cocoa Fields/ Harkin-Engel Protocol. Retrieved from:     http://www.ilo.org/washington/areas/elimination-of-the-worst-forms-of-child-    labor/WCMS_159486/lang–en/index.htm

Kolivalli, S., Vigneri, M. (2014) Cocoa in ghana: Shaping the success of an economy. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/AFRICAEXT/Resources/258643-1271798012256/Ghana-cocoa.pdf

Martin, C. (2017) Modern Day Slavery. Harvard Extension School. [Mar 22, 2017 Lecture].

Maxim75 (2016) Hershey Bars. [digital media] Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hershey%27s_chocolates_in_store.

Mintz, S.W. (1986) Sweetness and Power. NY, NY. Penguin Books 1986

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

Rberchie (2014). Cacao farmer [digital media] Retrieved from Wikimiedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cocoa_farming_in_Ghana

Satiodqua-Tan, J (Jul, 2015) Americans eat how much chocolate?. Retrieved from:             http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Wessel, Marius (Dec, 2015). Cocoa production in west Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments. NJAS-Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 74-75, 1-7. doi:                 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001

Whitehouse, P.  (2007). Vending machine [digital image]. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons Website: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Mars_Bar


Chocolate and Ethics

Quality of life and ethical life choices are important factors in everything we do. Chocolate is a frequent part of our lives as well, for some, a daily part.  Chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry.  When consumers spend money in a business that supports ethical business practices, it can make a difference in lives around the world.  Taza Chocolate is one such business.

Taza Chocolate.

Taza Chocolate makes stone ground chocolate from organic cacao in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Taza has been in business since 2005, and is an example of an ethical and forward-thinking chocolate business (Taza, 2017).  Taza devotes much of their time and business planning to ensure their business practices and those of their suppliers, who they refer to as partners, improves the lives of farmers, while reforming the chocolate industry from the ground up.  Taza has a wide selection of chocolate, including chocolate bars, gift sets, and even bulk chocolate so people can bake or cook with stone ground, organic, Direct Trade chocolate.

Photo of Taza Chocolate products in public domain by Johnny Lai.

The process of purchasing cacao beans.

Obtaining cacao beans direct from growers is an important part of fair labor practices.  Historically, the cacao industry has taken advantage of its workers, ignoring abuse and slavery to achieve a greater profit.  An example of this can be seen in São Tomé and Príncipe in the 1900s.  Slavery had been officially abolished in 1870, and the cacao industry needed workers, so they began using the system of contract labor, where workers would agree to work a set number of years for a set wage (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).  Workers traveling to provide contract labor were “coerced, repatriation was all but impossible, and the death rate was as high as twelve percent” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).   In 1907, long after these abusive practices became public knowledge, “Cadbury still imported 7.4 million pounds of cacao beans from São Tomé, about thirteen percent of the island’s total exports” (Satre, 2006, Location 1603).  Today, the chocolate industry is attempting to improve working conditions and payment for cacao farmers through fair trade initiatives.  There are several certifications that ensure fair labor practices in the cacao industry, but Taza’s Direct Trade is the first cacao sourcing program that is third-party certified (Taza, 2017).  Taza purchases their beans directly from growers with no “predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices,” so that farmers and their families receive more money for the cacao they grow and harvest (Taza, 2017).  Every year all five of Taza’s Direct Trade claims are certified by “a USDA-accredited organic certifier” (Taza, 2017).


Cacao beans, taken by me, 2017e846.

Direct Trade certified claims by Taza.

The five Direct Trade certified claims Taza makes improve quality of life for cacao farmers and their families while improving the quality of cacao beans used in Taza chocolate.  The first claim is that Taza develops “direct relationships with cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017).  By visiting Taza’s partners every year and reviewing how much of the money paid for cacao beans reaches the farmers directly, other benefits farmers receive besides monetary payments, and actually meeting and speaking to farmers, Taza develops direct relationships with farmers.  The second Direct Trade certified claim is that Taza pays “a price premium to cacao farmers” (Taza, 2017).  Invoices are reviewed to verify that Taza has met this claim by comparing the price paid for cacao to the NYICE price for cacao on the same date as the invoice (Taza, 2017).  Another important Direct Trade claim is that Taza sources “the highest quality cacao beans” (Taza, 2017).  Taza staff perform a quality assessment of every container of cacao beans purchased, and complete an evaluation form indicating the results of each assessment (Taza, 2017).  A further Direct Trade claim is that Taza requires “USDA certified organic cacao” (Taza, 2017).  This is important to ensure the quality of the cacao used, and Taza provides documentation to support USDA organic certification to the independent certifier (Taza, 2017).  The fifth certified claim is a self-imposed action on the part of Taza.  It includes publishing a yearly Transparency Report.  Taza publishes every year a Direct Trade Transparency Report, so that consumers or anyone else who wants to verify their claims, has all the information to do so (Taza, 2017).  Currently, there are links to the report for the past six years available on Taza’s website.  This level of transparency in the bean to bar operation is unique in the chocolate industry.

Link to a discussion by Taza Chocolate on the difference between Direct Trade and Fair Trade.

Fair compensation to growers and farmers.

To maintain an ethical and healthy cacao industry, growers need to receive fair compensation.  Although slavery has been abolished, cacao farmers in many areas do not make a livable wage.  As recently as 2008, in a Côte d’Ivoire cacao village, people “lacked clean water, health care, and decent schools” (Orla, 2011, Location 793).  The issue of child labor was brought to public attention in 2000, when it came forward that children were being enticed by traffickers with promises of riches, and brought to cacao farms in Côte d’Ivoire, where they “survived on little food, little or no pay, and endured regular beatings” (Orla, 2011, Location 807).   In fact, some officials were even “convinced that the farmers were paying organized groups of smugglers to deliver the children to their cocoa groves…and police were being bribed to look the other way” (Off, 2006, Location 1893).  In 2001, the Harkin-Engle protocol was signed to help address the problem of child labor (Orla, 2011, Location 807).   In 2015, cacao farmers in Ghana earned “as little as 84 cents a day, and Ivorian farmers, 50 cents” (Soley, 2015).  Taza visits farmers that they buy cacao from every year, and “only buy cacao from growers who ensure fair and humane work practices” (Taza, 2017).  Additionally, Taza pays “at least $500 above the market price…and never less than $2,800 per metric ton” for their cacao (Taza, 2017).  In 2016, Taza purchased 233 metric tons of cacao beans, equating to at least $116,000 dollars more in the pockets of growers and farmers in developing countries due to Taza’s forward-thinking labor practices (Taza, 2017).  In 2016, Taza paid its Bolivia partner a fixed price of $5,300 per metric ton, and the partner paid 76.4% of this amount to the farmers (Taza, 2017).  This set price is paid by Taza even though the price of cacao on the world market may be much lower.  As an example, the International Cacao Organization lists the average daily price of a metric ton of cacao in December 2016 at $2,287.80 (ICCO, 2017).  Despite this price, Taza would pay its Bolivian partner $5,300 per metric ton for any cacao purchased in December, protecting farmers from the price fluctuations throughout the market.   This process ensures higher income for growers and farmers, cutting out the middleman, so they may better support their families.  With “most of the world’s cacao farmers living at or below the poverty line of $2 per day” (Taza, 2017), the chocolate industry needs to follow Taza’s actions, and customers need to spend their money with companies that are encouraging humane labor practices.

Monetary compensation is supplemented by other benefits to farmers.  Taza’s partners, in addition to paying their farmers more, also provide other benefits that cut costs for farmers and increase profits.  For example, all of Taza’s partners “drive to producers’ farms to pick up the cacao in its unfermented form” (Taza, 2017).  This saves farmers money on delivery, fermenting, and drying costs, so their profit is greater.   Taza’s partners may provide high-quality cacao seedlings, loans to buy farms, food, housing, and many other types of assistance that are meant to help farmers become more successful and live better lives (Taza, 2017).

Chocolate ingredients other than cacao.

The other ingredients used in chocolate production need the same devotion to fair labor standards and wages as cacao.  Historically, some chocolate merchants added dangerous ingredients to chocolate, such as “brick dust, chalk, clay, dirt, paraffin, talc, and other items” (Grivetti, 2009, Location 10908).  Using organic ingredients that are held to higher ethical standards is important.  The sugar industry is tied to the chocolate industry in many ways, and has a similar history as cacao in terms of the treatment of slaves.  As of 2013, the Department of Labor cited problems with child labor in the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).  The submission found violations of labor law concerning wages, hours of work, occupational safety and health, child labor, and forced or compulsory labor (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).  It is important for customers and corporations alike to work for better conditions and wages for all workers.

Taza purchases certified USDA organic cacao and sugar from farmers “who respect the environment and fair labor practices” (Taza, 2017).  The country of origin of the cacao beans is listed on many of Taza’s products, and the partners are specifically listed in the Transparency Report, so individuals can research and verify fair labor practices.  Customers can buy a product with ingredients from a specific country, and support the practices of that supplier by choosing to do business with them.  The sugar that Taza purchases for their chocolate is organic, non-GMO, and the supplier is committed to sustainability and fair labor practices (Taza, 2017).  Not only are the mills that produce the sugar energy self-sufficient, the “organic farming system has resulted in 20% higher productivity than conventional sugar cane production while reducing Native’s carbon footprint and saving water, soil, energy, and promoting human welfare” (Taza, 2017).   Although Native Sugar uses a mechanical harvester, it has retrained its workers for “other positions within the organization” adhering to the commitment to fair labor and making workers lives better (Taza, 2017).   Business practices that promote environmental sustainability are important in today’s world.  Not only is this good for future generations, it is also benefiting the company economically.

Labor in the production process. 

The production process has become highly mechanized for many chocolate companies.  Historically, laborers produced chocolate using basic tools.  Some cacao farms, like Hacienda Buena Vista in Puerto Rico, began using hydropower to increase production and change the roles of workers.  It is impressive to see, with one pull of a lever, water rushing down and causing large equipment to start processing cacao, or coffee, or corn.  The process of making stone ground chocolate keeps the historic element alive, while mechanizing chocolate production.  Taza uses “traditional Mexican stone mills, called molinos, with hand-carved stones that turn inside” the mills (Taza, 2017).  Workers pay close attention during the process to ensure quality that cannot be achieved through high production automation.

Hacienda water run equipment
Machinery run by hydropower at Hacienda Buena Vista, taken by me 2017e846


Chocolate recipes.

Recipes for chocolate are an important component of a chocolate company.  Many of today’s chocolate recipes contain ingredients traditionally used in different cultures.  Cinnamon has been used traditionally in cacao recipes, and Taza uses it in some of its chocolate recipes (Taza, 2017).  Chili is also an ingredient to some of Taza’s products, similar to the “ancient Mesoamerican tradition of adding chili to chocolate” (Coe and Coe, 2013, Location 3828).  Additionally, vanilla, various nuts, sea salt, coconut, coffee and other ingredients are used today to make a chocolate bar that is both traditional and current.

Traditional chocolate ingrediates.  Taken by me, 2017e846.

Value of the product.

For consumers in developed countries today, and some developing countries, chocolate is an affordable luxury.  Taza’s chocolate is reasonably priced given the quality and commitment to the cacao community of growers that encompasses its business model.  A Taza chocolate bar or disc are for the most part between $5.00 and $7.50 (Taza, 2017).  That is a reasonable price for organic chocolate, at least given prices for organic chocolate in the Caribbean.  An artisan chocolate bar made here in Puerto Rico is approximately $10.00, and they are small bars.  Organic chocolate is a relatively affordable luxury that enriches our lives.


The chocolate industry as a whole is making strides towards incorporating more humane practices into its business model.  However, large companies are slow to change.  Small, independent chocolate businesses have the ability now to make positive changes in the lives of farmers and their families, showing larger businesses a better way to operate and improving the lives of those they do business with.  Taza Chocolate is one such company who appears to look at every aspect of their business in trying to improve the lives of others while growing a successful chocolate company and delivering a high-quality products.

Works Cited

Coe, Michael D., and Coe, Sophie D.  The True History of Chocolate.  Kindle ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Grivetti, Louis E.  “Dark Chocolate:  Chocolate and Crime in North America and Elsewhere.”   Chocolate:  History, Culture, and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro.  Kindle ed., John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2009.

International Cocoa Organization website.  Retrieved from: https://www.icco.org/statistics/cocoa-prices/monthly-averages.html?currency=usd&startmonth=12&startyear=2016&endmonth=12&endyear=2016&show=table&option=com_statistics&view=statistics&Itemid=114&mode=custom&type=1

Off, Carol.  Bitter Chocolate:  Anatomy of an Industry.  Kindle ed., The New Press, 2006.

Orla, Ryan.  Chocolate Nations:  Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa.  Kindle ed., Zed  Books, 2011.

Satre, Lowell J.  “Chocolate on Trial:  Slavery, Politics and the Ethics of Business.”  Journal of British Studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2006.  Retrieved from:  https://oup.silverchaircdn.com/oup/backfile/Content_public/Journal/ahr/111/5/10.1086/ahr.111.5.1603/2/11151603.pdf?Expires=1494532181&Signature=Bktk0Wtwlcjwcjdb8gNc0UvvCVDVd8BNVD8Z4iKlCR9HALBUWSYbk55G2xWUJaxbqlN4Zvxkhe6860o3tEN~-8IS7dCLOuIUwFuh5pyob2uamoCVT~W-mzPbaBebkCVoWo1ywvI4HCJBf-fHA9k2e2bmNLlrGL0BxhqnMblaLW2HuEJWqY1lTAtB-4m60OXMHRyDWrsajBcFPLbHyQ8erLkEQelz2yZBq5lumwXYQ3m2M8so1i6LVviTHWrgXuokMQfgIlMrrjy6XKxoH71bHKuMAu20Ph8wNY3Rd70Q6yOIobiKhaBV6xhRrC8kjzuWuB6SCIqGldwX3B1006WE~w__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAIUCZBIA4LVPAVW3Q.

Soley, Allison.  “Cacao Farmers Still Aren’t Making enough money:  Cocoa Barometer review shows young farmers no longer replacing older farmers due to extremely low wages.”  1 July 2015.  Candy Industry website.  Retrieved from: http://www.candyindustry.com/articles/86817-cocoa-farmers-still-arent-making-enough-money.

Taza Chocolate website. Last accessed 10 May 2017.   https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/about-taza.

United States Department of Labor, “Dominican Republic Submission Under Central America-United States Free Trade Agreements.” (7 September 2013).  Retrieved from:  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/our-work/trade/fta-submissions#DR


There is No Pleasure in Guilty Chocolate!

Why do you love chocolate? Because it is good! It tastes good and makes you happy. It is all that is good in the world wrapped in a beautiful candy bar. What if you learned that your delicious candy bar is a by-product of something bad, the output of someone else’s suffering?  A child’s suffering? Would you enjoy it just the same? Eating is not just a means to satisfy hunger; it is also an emotional and psychological experience.  We like to eat, and we like to eat good food without any negative connotations. Chocolate does not taste as good when it is served with a side of guilt. Chocolate tastes better when you wholeheartedly know that it came from a good place and produced in an ethical and social responsible manner.

Did you know that the global chocolate industry is nearly $100 billion dollars a year? The United States alone spends a little over 18 billion dollars in chocolate (2015), and that the average American consumes approximately 4.3 kilograms / 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year (2015). In comparison, beating the Americans at chocolate consumption are the Swiss who consume approximately a little over 9 kilograms / 20 pounds per person, then tied for second place are the Germans and the Austrians who approximately consume 3.6 kilograms / 7.4 pounds per person (Satioquia-Tan). Chocolate can be found anywhere around the world and is affordable to the masses especially to those who live in the developed world. Chocolate can be found in candy bars, truffles, fudge, cakes, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pancakes, health bars, sauces, drinks, in your café mocha, and anywhere you can sprinkle chocolate syrup. You can buy it in a specialty shop, supermarket, mini-market, drugstore, or any corner street gas station.

The majority of chocolate eaters are rather naïve in knowing the history and the current nature of the chocolate-making business. They simply eat it because they love chocolate without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, who makes and how; or any related social issues. For those consumers who are more aware of the social and economic impacts of the chocolate industry are a little more selective in choosing and enjoying their chocolate. To fully appreciate food is to experience it through all the possible senses, the physiological and psychological (Stuckey 13). Only twenty percent of what we physiologically taste happens in our mouths, the rest of the tasting experience happens through our remaining senses of sight, smell, touch, and sound. We, also, want to psychologically feel good about what we are eating. We want to know about the origins, the farming practices, and the ethics of what we are tasting (Stuckey 14). We want to know the context, the beautiful story, of what we are eating so we can enjoy it fully. The other option is to choose to remain a little ignorant of the subject as not to sour our chocolate taste, however this pleasure would be more superficial and would not represent the fullest appreciation of what we are eating. To fully appreciate today’s chocolate, we will have to fully experience it with the body and mind in full awareness of its origins, present journey and social impacts.

  1. What is Chocolate?

Cocoa is the main ingredient for all chocolate recipes.  Cocoa derives from cacao seeds, or more commonly referred to as cacao beans, which grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree.  Cacao trees are finicky trees that can only bear fruit in hot and humid tropical climates,twenty degrees from the equator at a specific altitude. These trees are highly dependent on midges, an insect, for its flowers to pollinate and bear fruit (Coe and Coe 19-21, 27). Cacao beans grow inside a fruity, pulp filled pod, approximately 30-40 beans grow inside one pod. Unlike most trees, where fruit grow dangling down from branches, cacao pods sprout directly from the tree trunk. In raw form, cacao beans constitute half its size in fat, cocoa butter. When cocoa butter is extracted from the cacao bean, what remains is the cocoa (or cocoa powder), the main ingredient of all chocolate (Coe and Coe 27). Before cacao beans turn into chocolate, cacao fruit is first farmed.  Upon harvest, fruit pods are removed from trees and cracked open to extract its beans with machetes. Cacao beans are then fermented, dried, sorted, roasted, transported, winnowed (deshelled), ground to a liquor, pressed (to remove the cacao butter), conched, and then what remains is added to chocolate-making recipes. Chocolate is the result of a labor intensive and highly processed food.

  1. Where Does Cacao Come From?

Cacao is native to the New World, the South American’s amazon basin region (Coe and Coe 25), and the Mesoamerican native cultures of the Mayans and Aztecs and predecessors were the first peoples to ever make chocolate dating back as far as 1500 BCE (Coe and Coe 33). Cacao was precious and a sacred food reserved for the elite, special occasions, and sacred rituals. Mayan and Aztecs Gods often appear alongside or in the form of cacao trees in their native hieroglyphs and surviving art (Coe and Coe 42). So precious, cacao beans were even used as a means of monetary currency. In 1545, documented is the commodity price of a tamale: one tamale equals one cacao bean (Coe and Coe 98-99). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish conquistadors were the first Europeans to discover and spread the taste of chocolate to Europe starting in the 1500’s (Coe and Coe 108). At the beginning of the chocolate history in Europe, chocolate was rare, expensive, and for the upper class.  Then as time passed and soon after the industrial revolution, chocolate became relatively common and affordable to the masses.

Amazon Basin
Amazon basin (based on Wikipedia, Amazon basin article, by Kmusser, using Digital Chart of the Word and GTOPO data)

After the end of the American colonial period, in the late 1800’s, the Spanish and the Portuguese introduced cacao to West Africa. Due to favorable climate conditions, cacao flourished in West Africa.  Today, approximately seventy percent of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa (Wessel and Quist-Wessel 1). The Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two major countries that supply cacao.  There are 2 million, small (3 hectares acres in size), independent farms (Ryan 52) in West Africa that supply three million metric tons of cacao per year (World Cocoa Foundation).

West Africa, Ivory Coast depicted in orange and Ghana  depicted in green (based on Wikipedia, Ghana-Ivory Coast Relations article)
  1. What Are the Social Issues Involving the Chocolate Industry?

Since the first Europeans, the Spanish conquistadors, landed in the New World, the cacao industry has been tainted with slavery and forced labor since 1650’s (Berlan 1092). Upon colonizing Mesoamerica, the Spanish forced the natives to pay tribute in labor and cacao to their new Spanish Crown.  After millions of natives died of diseases, the Spanish, like other colonists in the Americas, resorted to using chattel slavery from Africa to extract New World resources (Presilla 24, 33). Chattel slavery officially ended in 1884, however it continued in disguise in Portuguese West Africa well into the 1900’s in the cacao industry and some reports state that it persisted until 1962 (Berlan 1092).

Today, cacao farmer incomes are very volatile for it depends on operating profits, and since cacao is a commodity, the market price.  Farmers need to sell their cacao at a high enough price in order to pay off their operation expenses which includes labor, a major expense, just like most businesses. Unexpected operating expenses and / or a fall in market price can be devastating on farmer revenues/incomes. Cacao farmers, per capita, constantly live without the security of a reliable living wage. In 2015, cacao farmers earned 50 to 84 cents on the American dollar a day (Cocoabarometer). As it is, cacao farmers barely break even, and there is little economic incentive for them to stay in the cacao farming business.  Due to local poverty and lack of other options, farmers continue to grow cacao under pressure to lower operating costs and often resort to desperate means to make a profit, break even, or just enough to pay for rice and cooking oil (Off 5).

In more recent history in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, a wave of newspaper stories and documentary films exposed the existence of child labor, trafficking, and slaves in West African cacao farms which caused much consumer outrage. The media graphically showed the world the extreme poverty and hard lives of cacao farmers in West Africa and the desperate measures farmers take to lower operating costs by using child slave labor (Berlan 1089).

The documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), especially shocked viewers by showing how easy it was to find child slaves working on cacao farms and how the local people seem to accept the practice as a way of life. On camera, journalists were able, with relative ease, to overtly interview real child slaves and get first-hand testimony about their hardships, a farm owner who openly admitted to having slaves and in how to get them, and a local official who confirmed as matter of fact that at least 90% of the Ivory Coast farms use child slave labor.  Ninety percent implies the existence of hundreds of thousands of slaves (Ryan 118). A 2000 US State Department report estimated that 15,000 Malian children worked on Ivory Coast cacao farms and that many of were under 12 years old and sold into indentured service (Off 133). Two of the local documentary crew even demonstrated how easy it was to buy slaves, posing as buyers, they went to the marketplace and were able to purchase two boys for the total of forty British pounds (approximately $40) within thirty minutes. Economics, low cacao market price, was credited as being the main reason why these farmers resorted to using slavery.  With such low cacao market prices, farmers cannot afford to pay employee wages and still make a profit, and they have no other income options. In contrast, in a free and mature economy, if a business is not profitable it goes out of business, and one can start a new business or find a new job, this is not the case for the West African cacao farmers.

Since the West African child labor scandals, there has an increased awareness and legislation attempts to eradicate forced and most hazardous child labor. Child labor in general is so embedded into the West African culture, not all children who work on farms are slaves or working with hazards. Most children work as part of the family on their family farms. It was deemed impossible and impractical to create a law that would abolish all form of child labor, however a voluntary agreement, The Harking-Engel Protocol, was signed among the Ivory Coast and the International Chocolate and Cocoa Industry in accordance with the International Labor Organization to end the worst forms of child labor in 2001 (Ryan 44, 47). Because of extreme poverty and lack of options, there are children who are better off working for they will at least have access to some food. Today, consumers are more aware, corporations have put efforts in demonstrating social responsibility in self-certifications, and nonprofit/advocacy organizations, have emerged and increased advocacy. There is still much poverty among cacao farmers, and many children  are still working on farms and some are still suspected of being forced to work against their will.  The child labor problems still exist today.  We, the world, hoped for that the state of child labor in West Africa would be better, however it could be worse.

It is natural that corporations would seek to do business with a poorer and less mature economies so to benefit from cheaper labor costs, but there should be limits when business practices violate human rights and the ability for workers to make a livable wage. It is evident that cacao farmers need more money so can they afford to hire farm workers to help cultivate their labor intensive cacao farms. In the least, the cacao market price needs to go up. It may mean that consumers would have to pay a little more for their chocolate treats. Would you be willing to pay a little more for your candy bar if it would end child and forced labor?

I realize that blindly throwing more money at the problem will not necessarily fix it if local corrupt governments and other stakeholders are still there to scheme away the extra money intended for the cacao farmers. This is a complex issue which requires multi-approach solution. We, the consumers, the governments, NGOs, the corporations, the media (or lack of media), the farmers, are all part of the problem, and we could also all be part of the solution. West African farmers and their children need special consideration for they are the most powerless demographic group in the chocolate food chain. The ones with the most power in the chocolate food chain by default have the most ability, and therefore the greater responsibility, to effect change. Wealthy companies and consumers are in the best position to invest and apply influence in the solution. We, the consumers, should expect that our chocolate companies to conduct business in an ethical and social responsible manner or make better consumer choices if they do not.

Here, in the first world, we would not accept the practice of child labor or slavery in our backyard, and we should not accept it elsewhere and in the products that we use and the foods we eat.  The West African modern-day slave issue is especially heartbreaking for it involves children in producing sweets that we all so enjoy so much. If we all knew that children were being kidnapped and forced to cultivate cacao, we would all enjoy the taste of our chocolate a little less. As consumers, we need to be more conscious about what we eat and learn as much as possible so we can make better consumer choices, maybe write a customer complaint to your chocolate provider or your congressman to influence change in law.  There is no better tasting chocolate than the one that is free from social guilt. In the end, we should all have the right to enjoy good and good-tasting chocolate.

Works Cited

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana. The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088-1100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220388.2013.78004.

Cocoa Barometer 2015 report, USA Ed. Cocoabarometer.org. http://www.cocoabarometer.org/International_files/Cocoa%20Barometer%202015%20USA.pdf

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2013.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. The New Press, 2008.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. Zed Books, 2011.

Satioquia-Tan, Janine. Americans East How Much Chocolate? CNBC.com, 23 Jul. 2015, 7:41 PM ET.  http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/23/americans-eat-how-much-chocolate.html

Stuckey, Barb. Taste What You Are Missing: The  Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. Free Press, 2012.

Slavery: A Global Investigation. Produced and directed by Brian Woods and Kate Blanchet.  A True Vision Production in Association with HBO, 2000. TopDocumentaryFilms, topdocumentaryfilms.com/slavery-a-global-investigation.

Wessel, Marius, and Foluke Quist-Wessel. Cocoa Production in West Africa, a Review and Analysis of Recent Developments. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences., vol. 74-74, pp. 1-7, 12-2015. doi.org/10.1016/j.njas.2015.09.001.

World Cocoa Foundation, http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/category/program-region/africa.