Upon learning of his troops’ devastating losses in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, soon to be Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, is said to have proclaimed “Damn sugar! Damn coffee! Damn colonies!” Two years later in 1804, the colony would proudly proclaim its independence as Haiti, and Napoleon would soon after part with most French holdings in the Western Hemisphere (Baptist, Edward E). While the Haitian revolution would wipe out coffee production on the island and contribute to a “sharp decrease” (Mintz, 69) in global sugar production, there was another casualty not included in Napoleon’s famous epithet: cacao.
The first commercial cacao plantation of the Spanish empire was established by Hernando Cortez in present day Haiti during the early 1500’s (“Chocolate History”). While this early attempt did not turn out favorably for Spain, it did not stifle other attempts to increase cacao production on the island. The period spanning the early 17th century through the early 19th century “saw the institution…of large scale cocoa production” in which “Haiti’s cocoa production dwarfed that of Venezuela, being nearly ten times as large” (a Brief History of Chocolate) However, following the Haitian revolution, there was a distinct move away from the plantation system as former slaves strongly tied independence to land ownership. When the country divided briefly into the northern kingdom and the southern republic, a plantation system was maintained in the north while small plots of land were distributed to those in the south. Unsurprisingly, the population preferred the “free and poor” life of the latter over the “happy against their will” (Girard, p.67) existence often used to describe northerners. Once the North fell following Christophe’s suicide by silver bullet, Jean-Pierre Boyer reunited the country and instituted the smallholder farmer system nationwide. However, the propagation of small landholder model meant a precipitous decline in production.
In the years to follow, political mismanagement, global isolation driven by fear – many nations at the time still had legal slavery and had no desire for their “property” to be filled with ideas of independence – and racism led to a steady decline in the Haitian economy. By 2015, over 200 years since Haiti declared independence, Haitian cacao made up only 0.1% of global supply, averaging just 4,500ha a year (confectionerynews.com). This diminutive output, while rooted in historical injustices, is also due to the following causes:
Post-harvest loss estimated to be between 20-25%, due to “poorly kept ageing plantations that are usually in just one hectare of land and managed by ageing farmers” (confectionerynews.com) Many youth in Haiti, not seeing a future in agriculture, migrate to urban centers for education and work opportunities.
Haitian cacao being sold unfermented due to poor infrastructure for drying which often leads to mold growth during the rainy periods (confectionerynews.com).
Lack of access to credit facilities (confectionerynews.com)
Lack of access to electricity, including affordable electricity, electricity for more than 6 hours a day, and predictable/scheduled electricity (“How Askanya Is Reviving Haiti’s Chocolate Industry”)
Lack of awareness of Haiti as a origin for fine cacao, particularly among American consumers (“Haitian Chocolate Project.”) While the Dominican Republic is a fairly well-known origin country, and services both the US and Latin American markets, many consumers are unaware that the countries share an island and that Haiti has comparable cacao.
Burdensome government regulations that do not respond to market needs and make it tenuous for businesses to operate within the country (Haiti ranks 181st on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report (Doing Business in Haiti))
Arcane property laws (including land tenure) that make it difficult (and often costly) to even secure a site (Building a Stronger Haiti with Chocolate)
Low investment by growers at the plantation level as well as the lack of research on cocoa varieties and the improvement of their aromatic and productive potential (“Le Cacao D’Haïti”)
However in recent years there have been a number of initiatives to revitalize the Haitian cacao industry. Premium chocolate companies such as Taza (“Haiti Trip!”), Equitable, Singing Rooster, and Askanya have worked to both source Haitian cacao as well as create sustainable bean-to-bar production companies within the country. Because of their efforts, Haitian chocolate can now be purchased at Whole Foods, and other fine retailers in the United States, France, and Belgium. Products include Taza’s 84% Dark Haiti Chocolate Bar (“84% Dark Haiti.”) and Singing Rooster’s Lemon Ginger Chocolate Bar (“Haitian Chocolate (and Raw Cacao for Bean to Bar Makers)”). Haitian cacao has also been used in beauty products, with Haitian-owned companies such as Kreyol Essence (“Haitian Black Castor Oil”) producing Haitian Organic Chocolate Black Castor Oil, also sold at Whole Foods.
Furthermore, noting that cacao accounts for 30 percent of the country’s primary exports, the Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR), along with donors such as the IDB, USDA, and USAID, have worked to improve infrastructure, farmer/cooperative capacity and access to markets. In 2011, FECCANO, became the first Haitian cooperative to export fermented cocoa, which was also certified fair and organic. In November 2013, Haiti’s cocoa was voted the best in the world, according to the International Cocoa Awards (“Le Cacao D’Haïti”).
Thus while the challenges are plentiful there exists a strong possibility to build up the cacao industry in Haiti and create livelihoods for tens of thousands of families on the island. While some components are structural and must be addressed by the government and donors, consumers can as well support Haitian cacao by purchasing specialty bars and spreading the word about the emerging market. Haiti also serves as a microcosm for the nuanced history cacao has throughout the Americas, showing how a product that was initially associated with slavery and forced labor can, with a concerted effort, be transformed into a product that provides freedom for it’s growers in the form of new opportunities for education, healthcare, and property-an example of just some of the items cacao livelihoods can provide. The responsibility now is for everyone in the supply chain to practice responsible production and consumption to assure that cacao continues to be a plant of opportunity and joy.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Cacao Market was established on the backs’ of slaves, and to this day, the injustices from its origins have continued to haunt the Cacao-Chocolate Supply Chain. With the abolishment of legal slavery in the Cacao Trade, there was indeed hope that the “Free” Market would correct some of the rampant inequalities that existed between cacao producers (farmers) and chocolate suppliers (companies). Unfortunately, economics has allowed an oligopoly to form: Big Chocolate Companies control the majority of the cacao market. These companies have the power to collude and have outsourced the production of cacao almost entirely away from South America, where cacao originated, to West Africa, where labor is much cheaper and the use of modern day slaves is not uncommon. Fortunately, there is a small group of chocolate companies that are working towards correcting the market inequalities that have become the norm in the last century, and this small group is composed is the collection of bean-to-bar chocolate companies that use Direct Trade practices. Bean-to-bar chocolate companies, and specifically, Taza Chocolate, employ unconventional business operations, in what is known as Direct Trade, in order to benefit cacao producers (the supply side of the market), by paying a premium for cacao beans and ensuring that ethical standards in production are met (e.g. no slave labor), while also benefitting chocolate consumers (the demand side of the market), by providing the public with a more rich kind of chocolate.
What is the Problem?
The issues in the cacao market are twofold: an issue of economic inequality, and as a derivative of the economic problem, the issue of unsanctioned slavery. The economic issue has developed due to the oligopoly in the cacao market, and this oligopoly has resulted in Chocolate suppliers having the ability to unfairly set prices below the market equilibrium. Slavery occurs due to the need for uncompensated labor since most cacao producers cannot make a predictable living income. For example, cacao farmers in Ghana typically receive less than $1 per day, and sometimes, these farmers receive as little as $0.50 per day. (Martin, 2017). Since the issue of unsanctioned slavery is a derivative of the economic problem, the economic problem must be solved before slavery is addressed.
How did this Economic Problem happen?
An oligopoly in the chocolate market was able to come about due to the high barriers of entry for chocolate makers. Depicted below is a graph which outlines the original chocolate making process that was used in the early 20th century:
(Coe & Coe, 2013)
As it can be interpreted from the graph, chocolate making is a very complicated process and involves expensive machinery. Since only a handful of firms were able to afford this machinery, those companies quickly rose to dominate the market. These Big Chocolate Companies that quickly rose to the top (Callebaut, Cargill, Blommer, and Cemoi), have come to control over 50% of the industrial chocolate market share, as outlined in the pie chart below.
Industrial Chocolate Market Share
To have an understanding of the size of the companies: Cargill is the largest privately held company in America and had over $120 Billion in revenue for the year 2016 (Forbes). If Cargill was a publicly traded company, it would rank as Number 15 on the Fortune 500 list (Fortune).
In emerging industries, such as the chocolate industry in the late 19th Century, it is not uncommon for a monopoly or oligopoly to arise. The problem, from an economic standpoint, only occurs when a monopoly or oligopoly persists over time.
Why has the Oligopoly Persisted?
Most modern oligopolies form during the infant years of a new market that possesses high barriers of entry. Unless the oligopoly has a unique limited resource or is protected by the government, the oligopoly will usually be broken apart as technological advancements allow new firms to enter with lower barriers. However, in the market for chocolate, Big Chocolate has been able to maintain their power through the purchases bulk beans, which “account for more than 90 percent of the world’s cacao production” (Presilla 123). “Bulk cacao” refers to the practice of aggregating cheap, low-quality cacao beans from various farmers, which Big Chocolate companies use in order to produce more chocolate at once. Africa produces 75% of the world’s cacao, and almost all of this cacao is in the form of bulk beans (Martin, 2017). Bulk cacao has become the most common form of cacao because it is what almost every major chocolate company chooses to purchase, and the sale of bulk cacao has allowed various middlemen and governments to unjustly benefit from the labor of the cacao farmers.
What can YOU do?
Removing these middlemen would allow cacao producers to sell more pure, high-quality beans, make it easier to increase the wages of cacao farmers, and eliminate slavery from the market. The best way to remove these middlemen is by increasing public awareness of the ethical issues that are supported by Big Chocolate Companies, and also increasing public awareness to the bean-to-bar chocolate companies that have started to emerge. By increasing public awareness, more consumers will make the switch from big brand chocolate to the smaller, bean-to-bar companies. If enough people switch to supporting bean-to-bar over Big Chocolate (including whoever is reading this post), then the companies that support ethical practices will become more profitable, and expand through the marketplace, and the companies that directly or indirectly support unethical practices will become unprofitable, and thus be removed from the marketplace.
Bean-to-bar chocolate companies are those that make chocolate completely in-house, as opposed to the Big Chocolate Companies which buy bulk cacao. Bean-to-bar companies are more likely to use high-quality cacao beans since it is common for bulk cacao to be composed of overly roasted and even rotten beans (Presilla, 2009). The best bean-to-bar companies are those that engage in a form of Direct Trade with cacao farmers, and although a Fair Trade Certification is better than no certification at all, Fair Trade is somewhat a misnomer as the non-profit does little to increase the welfare of farmers.
Fair Trade vs. Direct Trade
Here is a video that quickly overviews the differences between Fair Trade and Direct Trade:
The video paints Fair Trade in a very decent manner, especially considering the high amounts of criticism that Fair Trade has received in recent years. An entire book has even been written on the issues with Fair Trade (The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich by Ndongo Sylla). Overall, the consensus is that companies with Direct Trade practices can be more beneficial to cacao farmers than companies with Fair Trade certifications. Taza Chocolate’s Direct Trade practices have become so transparent that consumers can actually see how cacao farmers benefit by working with Taza Chocolate. For this reason, Taza Chocolate should either expand to work with even more farmers or other bean-to-bar companies should aim to achieve Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certification in their own practices. Both of these options are viable possibilities if more consumers make the switch from big chocolate to bean-to-bar.
Taza Chocolate, located in Somerville, MA, is a bean-to-bar company that employs crazy transparency regarding their Direct Trade practices. These direct trade practices center around one simple belief: “We (Taza Chocolate) believe that both farmer and chocolate maker should share the reward of making a great product” (Taza). Each year, Taza publishes a Direct Trade Transparency Report, which details how their practices have benefited cacao farmers. A summary of the report can be found in the infographic below:
Taza has “said no to predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices” (Taza) by following Direct Trade practices. It is clear that Taza does not support the unethical practices that are normal in the cacao industry, but what is amazing is how all of the economic and ethical problems of the cacao industry could be solved if all companies had a Taza Direct Trade Certification.
Removing Middlemen; Increasing Wages (Solving the Economic Problem)
There are many different types of middlemen in the cacao industry, some of these go by the name of “cacao brokers”, but another kind of middlemen is the governments themselves. Some governments have prevented the oligopoly, and thus the issue of slavery, to be solved by economic markets. For example, Ghana’s government requires all cacao to be sold to the Cocoa Marketing Board, which acts a monopoly in the marketplace. By removing these middlemen, the price of cacao beans, and thus the income of cacao farmers, can increase substantially. Taza Chocolate’s Direct Trade initiative purchases cacao beans directly from farmers. Working directly with farmers allows for farmers to focus on the quality of their beans instead of the quantity that is required to make a living in a market that favors the use of bulk beans. If all companies had Taza Direct Trade Certifications, then all middlemen would be removed and cacao farmers would make more money.
Eliminating Slavery (The Derivate of Economic Problems)
Slavery in the cacao market is sometimes simplified to one or two primary beliefs: either adult cacao farmers are exploiting children by the use of slave labor or adult cacao farmers are using slave labor because they are being exploited by the low market prices and their governments. Unfortunately, the problem is not that simple: a hybrid of both beliefs is correct. At the community level, some cultures view child labor as acceptable. In Ghana specifically, scholars write, “child labour is very much imbedded (sic) in the socio-local dynamics of Ghanaian society” (Berlan 1098). This may be true, and the belief that “it is hard to implement a slavery-free label for cocoa” (Ryan 52) may have also been true at a point in time, but this could all be changed with Direct Trade practices. If all companies had a Taza Chocolate Direct Trade Certification, then all companies would be working directly with farmers, and thus, companies could educate farmers as to why child and slave labor is unethical. In the interim, a “slavery-free label for cocao” can now exist, and with enough training at the microeconomic level, cacao farmers in Western Africa could eliminate the use of all child and slave labor. This would also now be a very realistic option since the increase in prices (by cutting out the middlemen) would allow for slave labor to no longer be a necessity in the industry.
In Conclusion– Direct Trade as the Solution
In summary, the cacao industry has been plagued by inequalities ever since the Western World found chocolate. The inequalities started with legal slave labor, and slave labor, albeit illegal, is still seen throughout some parts of the cacao industry. The reason as to why these inequalities are still prevalent is the economic market has failed to provide a competitive environment. Through public education, the market can be corrected with consumers choosing their chocolates more carefully so that Direct Trade practices become the norm for chocolate companies. Taza Chocolate has created a Direct Trade Certification which increases the wages of cacao farmers and eliminates slavery, and every chocolate company should have this certification.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.
The chocolate industry has been fraught with ethical dilemmas since the beginning of its existence. From imperialism where Europeans co-opted the traditions of Mesoamericans to the reliance on slavery for cacao production chocolate producers have engaged in problematic and exploitive practices in order to build their companies and brands. As present-day American and Europeans become more aware of this troubled past and still troubled present, they are demanding more from chocolate brands. This has manifested itself most commonly in the form of fair trade certification but it has also taken the form of chocolate producers trying to connect their brands to what they perceive as the authentic origins of their cacao beans. Through packaging and advertisements, chocolate producers try to convince their consumers that they care about the West African cacao farmers and Mesoamerican cultural origins of cacao that are responsible for the products they sell today. However, their efforts are often misguided, insufficient and sometimes even harmful.
One such example is a set of Divine Chocolate advertisements featuring the Ghanaian farmers that grow and harvest their cacao. Divine Chocolate is a London-based fair trade chocolate company that is co-owned by Ghanaian farmers like those featured in the ads (Leissle 137, 123). Their advertisements attempt to convey this fact while combating negative stereotypes of Ghana, and Africa more generally. Scholar Kristy Leissle believes they achieve this goal, but, in reality, the representation of the cacao farmers is mostly superficial and still ultimately exists to cater to a Western audience. Another example is Taza chocolate, a Somerville based chocolate manufacturer, that sells stoneground chocolate inspired by the founder’s trip to Mexico (“Our Founders – Taza Chocolate”). Taza chocolate is an example of a chocolate producer that tries to tie itself to the origins of cacao in Mexico as a part of its branding and marketing strategy. However, the result is just another chocolate company that has appropriated Mexican culture for its own benefit without paying real and meaningful reparations to the communities it takes from. I will be discussing the effectiveness of Divine and Taza in truly providing representation and compensation to Ghanaian cacao farmers and Mexican chocolate makers, respectively, for their, often involuntary, contributions to the chocolate companies.
Each advertisement in this series features a Ghanaian farmer in a westernized version of African dress standing in front of “images of Ghana’s agricultural economy: cocoa drying tables, plantain trees, coconut trees, mud buildings, and dusty roads” (Leissle 128). The women pose with one hand on their hip, the other holding a piece of chocolate and finally a caption including the name of the farmer along with the claim that they are a co-owner of Divine. Additionally, each advertisement has a tag line. In the ones pictured it says “Equality Treat” and “Decadently Decent” while others say “Serious Chocolate Appeal” (Leissle 124-126, 128). By photographing the farmers in Ghana in what appears to be African dress, Divine is implying that they are presenting an authentic representation of the lifestyles of the Ghanaian farmers. Divine also paints themselves as more ethical with the use of the tag lines as well as the declaration that these farmers own part of the company.
While these photographs may appear authentic to naïve Western eyes, they are not accurate reflections of the lives of these farmers. Kristy Leissle observes that “Despite its ‘African’ appearance to viewers outside the continent, these textiles and dress styles are historically hybrid designs” (Leissle 129). Divine Chocolate presumably tried to imitate traditional Ghanaian dress when they dressed the farmers for these advertisements. However, the women are wearing “Dutch wax print cloth” and not traditional Ghanaian dress (Leissle 136). In fact, the clothes were provided by Divine and St. Luke’s, an advertising agency in London (Leissles 124). Both of these companies are based in London, so achieving traditional Ghanaian dress would be nearly impossible without incorporating the input of either the farmers themselves or other Ghanaians, which is not what Divine did.
Leissle suggests that this lack of authenticity is acceptable because “their clothing and fashion suggest that they are cosmopolitan participants of this exchange” (Leissle 128). Leissle seems to think that Divine might not be aiming for authenticity but instead for representing the farmers as worldly and engaged in the chocolate production industry. This theory is supported by the fact that their farmers are co-owners of the company. However, this is a midguided goal if Divine is trying to be an ethical company. This viewpoint still privileges Western society rather than sincerely helping and uplifting cacao farmers. By portraying this cosmopolitan factor as admirable and desirable, Divine is suggesting that Ghanaian farmers find ultimate value in being a part of the European economy of chocolate production and not in other ways like the Ghanaian economy.
Their advertisements also cater to a Western audience by making them feel good for helping the Ghanaian farmers by buying Divine Chocolate. Consequently, Divine is perpetuating the harmful stereotypes associated with all of Africa in their advertisements. Kristy Leissle praises these ads for being “bold” (127) disruptions of the normal representations of Ghanaian women in the beginning paragraph of her article:
By representing these Ghanaian women as glamorous business owners, the images invite viewers to see them as potent actors in transnational exchanges of cocoa and chocolate, and as beneficiaries of these exchanges, in contrast to analyses that focus on market exploitation by the nation state or corporate actors. The images pose a challenge to narratives that cast Africa as continually on the losing side of harmful binaries – primitive/civilized, traditional/modern – and in an eternal developmental lag. Instead, they offer an alluring female figure that envisions and promotes Africa’s roles in industrial production and luxury consumption (121).
However, it is not showing the farmers as “actors” because there is no suggestion that the farmers sought out this deal with Divine. Divine Chocolate allowed the women to be co-owners as a way to market their product as more ethical and thus more appealing to a more conscious consumer pool. There is no direct action on the part of the Ghanaian farmers; they are the receivers of what Divine wants consumers to see as their generosity. There is definitely still “market exploitation” because by basing their ultimate manufacturing and production in Europe and not Ghana, Divine Chocolate is doing little to drastically impact the lives of the farmers in the way that they need to truly say they are an “equality treat.”
Ultimately the farmers are used as pawns for the profit of Divine Chocolate, which is not a new phenomenon. Emma Robertson synthesizes the work of other scholars Jan Pieterse and Anandi Ramamurthy when she recounts:
As Jan Pieterse demonstrates, products made available through the use of slave labour, such as coffee and cocoa, often used, and many still use, images of black people to enhance their luxury status…According to Ramamurthy, in her impressively nuanced study of race in British advertising, support for indirect rule in West African (as being favourable to cocoa production) resulted in the Quaker chocolate firms adopting images of Africans as ‘peasant producer[s]…with the appearance of potential development.’ Furthermore, the Sao Tome and Principe slavery scandal of the early twentieth century encouraged the Quaker manufacturers to use more ‘positive’ images of Africans (Robertson 36)
Divine is using images of black people, as Pieterse observes, and shows the Ghanaian farms as producers “with the appearance of potential development” as Ramamurthy observes. Even more disturbing is the fact that Ramamurthy observed this in a response to support for imperialistic policies in Africa, which shows a connection between that imagery and the exploitation of Africans. Furthermore, all of this is on the assumption that as co-owners, the farmers are getting a fair compensation and that they have access to the chocolate they help produce. However, as Emma Roberston reveals, “Such romanticized narratives of chocolate may be pleasurable to those lucky enough to be able to consume them. However, they are largely divorced from the material conditions of production” (Robertson 2). Even though Divine does a very good job of making us believe their Ghanaian farmers have this, ultimately the ads are made for the European consumer Divine is selling to, so they will make it look as good as possible.
Finally, Divine played into stereotypes of black people in the way they asked the farmers to pose. According to Leissle, the theme of the photoshoot was “‘women with attitude’” (124). Black women specifically are thought to have attitude problems and as a result are often described as disrespectful, rude and sassy. In fact, Leissle describes the farmers as having a “sassy assertion of confidence” in their poses (134). While the way she describes the poses puts them in a positive light, the added context that these are Black women that have been asked to pose “with attitude” and “sass” reveals that Divine still probably sees the women in a stereotypical light.
There is a plethora of chocolate bars on the market that claim ties to the Mesoamerican origins of cacao. However, more often than not there is an enormous amount of erasure of Mesoamerican culture and history of imperialism that has denigrated those areas by these companies. As Emma Robertson notes
In the light of recent marketing campaigns for luxury fairtrade chocolate such as ‘Mayan Gold’, it is important to recognise the ways in which ethical consumption today may smooth over the inequalities of the imperial past, and bypass an awareness of the processes of industrial manufacture, by drawing on ancient, mystical and exotic imaginings of the origins of cocoa (5).
As a chocolate manufacturer, Taza chocolate has tried to emulate the Mexican process of chocolate production and was founded because the founder wanted to bring stone ground chocolate, which he discovered on a trip to Mexico, to America (Taza website). To truly accomplish this ethically, he needs to not only be authentic in order to live up to the claims of Mexican-inspired chocolate but also needs to give back to the community that he is borrowing and profiting off of, with special attention to the history of imperialism.
Marie Sarita Gaytán writes about the authenticity of Mexican restaurants in the Northeast and
argue[s] that the accomplishment of Mexican authenticity, whether maintained by Mexican owners or performed by large restaurant chains, is a social construction. However, despite its socially created qualities, performances of authenticity and ethnicity affect not only how individuals understand each other, but illustrate the challenges faced by different groups of people in the commercial production and consumption of identity (315).
She argues that this is the case because companies attempting to achieve Mexican authenticity submit to the will of the consumer, which inhibits their ability to be able to be authentic. She studies Mexican restaurants primarily owned and operated by Mexican immigrants or first generation Mexican-Americans who would presumably be both the most authentic and most passionate about sticking true to that authenticity. She expands on this later in her essay when she says “While they are able to display personal values associated with their presentation of ethnic heritage, they must also make concessions to fulfill certain customer expectations…Customers desired the ‘illusion of authenticity’ regardless of modifications pertaining to the use of spices, methods of preparation, and styles of service” (326). If those with Mexican heritage are unable to truly achieve and maintain authenticity, then it seems nearly impossible for Taza Chocolate, with a White American founder with no claim to Mexican heritage, to be authentic to Mexican chocolate production. However, the founder Alex Whitmore, did an apprenticeship in Mexico to learn how chocolate was produced so that he could reproduce it in America and their chocolate production process is captured in a video on their website (“About Taza – Taza Chocolate”).
(“About Taza – Taza Chocolate”).
The next video is chocolate being made in Mexico by Chocolate Mayordomo De Oaxaca, a Mexican chocolate company.
There are a lot of similarities between the videos, which suggests that Taza has made a significant effort to stay true to the authentic Mexican chocolate production process.
Taza does not appropriately give back to the communities it is profiting off of. It claims to source its beans ethically and pay fair wages to the farmers, but that will not truly change the lives in the way that Whitmore’s co-opting of their culture is changing his life. In order to do that, he could move manufacturing to Mexico itself and import into Massachusetts. That would truly give Mexico its fair share of the profit, especially given the history of imperialism that has allowed Whitmore to profit off of someone else’s culture.
With a rise in conscious consumers, the fairly infamous chocolate industry has seen an expansion in advertisements and packaging geared towards the ethical consumer. Unfortunately, many of these efforts do not accomplish what the companies intend. The companies still prioritize the Western consumer over the Ghanaian and Mexican producers, in the case of Divine and Taza chocolate, which continues to skew the power structure and equality. However, these companies sell themselves as ethical while profiting off of the producers in unequal and unfair ways much like those they claim to denounce. It takes a radical reversal of power given the history of imperialism and slavery for these companies to truly represent and uplift the communities they are profiting off of and claiming to help.
“About Taza – Taza Chocolate.” Taza Chocolate | Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold
Today niche markets blossom as the national food system increases efficiency and homogeneity. These two interconnected trends force us to ask ethical questions that our grandparents never faced. Firstly, technology both mechanical and genetic, have spurred unprecedented efficiency in food production. We see record yields per acre in corn and soybeans every year (Kristy). Discussions about the risks of GMOs aside, most would agree that today’s feast is preferable to the famines our ancestors faced only a few generations ago. As the most privileged consumers in history, we take for granted the concerns of our forefathers; namely, access to safe, nutritious, food at a reasonable cost. Today food is more accessible, cheaper, and safer than any other time in history (Laudan). This is all good news for consumers. As food choices have become unanimously safe and inexpensive, little was left to differentiate one brand from another.
As consumers we are currently experiencing the, “process generation.” Beginning around the time of the organics movement in the late 1990s, process has come to dominate marketing and consumption. Companies all had complete access to the same limitless basket of ingredients, and were producing only marginally different products. Process became king. When choosing the type of pasta, one no longer looked at the nutrition facts, knowing they would all be roughly the same. Rather, one looked for branding that might denote the most ethically, or sustainably produced pasta made by the most charitable and socially conscious company, packaged in the least wasteful and most recycled paper. Food no longer had to be safe and nutritious, those aspects were assumed, food needed a story.
Thankfully food producers were quick to answer the call. The dichotomy of processed versus non-processed has become complicated by the addition of ethical process issues. Shoppers suddenly can choose between Kraft mac-n-cheese and Annie’s organic and all natural mac-n-cheese, never mind both products are made by multinationals. It does not matter what the story is, but if you are a conscious consumer your food needs a story. Morality suddenly sits on the dinner plate, every food option is either, right or wrong, typically buying the, “right” food costs a little more. Your eggs need to be cage free, your fish needs to be caged, your coffee needs to be fair trade, and your beer needs to be a local brew. The birth of the process generation means that food makers can choose one of many social issues to attract customers. Those customers in turn, use their food purchases to signal their values to their communities. Though people have always used food to signal wealth, for the first time in history, your salad dressing can prove to your neighbors what a charitable person you are. Of course the vast majority of the food industry has remained unchanged, but among premium products differentiation comes with a back-story. Though a little slower to the table, the chocolate industry is no different.
Food advocates often refer to consumption decisions as casting a vote. When walking down the chocolate aisle at the grocery store, you can vote for a wide range of social causes. Your chocolate can help save endangered species, fight global warming, empower women, build schools, pay farmers livable wages and stop deforestation. A relatively new niche has developed in the chocolate industry. Bean to bar chocolate makers occupy a tiny portion of the total chocolate industry but claim to impact producer communities while delivering superior chocolate. Bean to bar chocolate makers are the latest iteration of food snobs, combining the artisanal specificity of a craft brewer with the social awareness of a fair trade coffee roaster and the geographic condescension of a wine connoisseur. If your purchase is your vote, we need to understand who’s on the ballot and what exactly it is that they stand for. This post will try to figure out if bean to bar chocolate makers actually reduce inequality in the chocolate industry or if they simply provide the latest luxury for affluent consumers: peace of mind.
Chocolate bars are typically plastered with certifications to prove their ethical engagement. Gluten free, GMO free, organic, and fair trade are all common badges. However bean to bar makers often go beyond these more standard certifications and claim to address problems that more mainstream bars only hint at. Namely bean to bar chocolate makers try to address the issue of inequality in the chocolate industry. Activists often accuse large chocolate makers of selling “blood” chocolate, or chocolate made from cacao produced by exploited people (Ryan). The common narrative paints cacao farmers as impoverished surfs, exploited by the fickle winds of a corrupt commodity market. However, those same farmers are often accused of exploiting children, by forcing them to work in their cacao plantations as slave labor. More than 500,000 children are estimated to be trapped in forced labor between Ghana and Cote D’ivoire, an area that produces roughly 75% of the worlds cacao (Mustapha). For this reason many consumers flock to chocolate certified as fair trade, searching for assurance that their favorite chocolate company pays farmers enough to avoid forcing children to work as forced laborers.
Taza chocolate based in Somerville Massachusetts is often cited as a shining example of social responsibility in the chocolate world. Self described, “chocolate pioneers” Taza created their own certification, “Direct Trade” that supposedly holds producers to higher environmental and fair-labor standers than the current “Fair Trade” certification. Taza is not simply blowing smoke. They seem genuinely committed to their standard, going so far as to employ, “Quality Certification Services” a third party auditor accredited by the USDA, to audit their internal supply standards. To go even further Taza publishes a yearly transparency report that illuminates the amount and price paid for cacao from each producer region. Currently Taza partners with five grower communities in Bolivia, Belize, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. The below video describes how Taza has impacted their farmer partners in Haiti and generally how the Direct Trade model is supposed to work.
Though not explicitly stated, the video shows how Direct Trade relies on a framework of intermediaries to organize high quality cacao production. Though Taza found quality cacao in Haiti, investment and technical support were required for industrial production. Pisa is a cacao company that buys raw cacao seeds from farmers and prepares and markets them for export. In addition to coordinating with buyers such as Taza, Pisa supports farmers, helping them grow the most efficient and highest quality cacao possible. The video only briefly referenced Root Capital. This Cambridge based company works to, “connect smallholder farmers to world markets” typically through financing, technical training and business education (Root). Though called, “Direct Trade” Taza’s video shows that farmer – chocolate maker interactions are complicated, and even in their simplest forms require third and fourth party involvement. As ethical consumers, we can celebrate the impact that Taza and their partners have had in Haiti. The Direct Trade model appears to help stabilize demand and provide consistent, fair pricing for farmers. In his book “The Fair Trade Scandal” Ndongo Samba Sylla explains how price fluctuation and market inconsistency are two of the main factors preventing farmers from investing in their farms. His point, as the title might suggest, is that the “Fair Trade” standard falls short of reducing inequality in the chocolate industry. Adding a few hundred dollars to an ever changing global cacao price is often not worth the high certification fees for farmers (Sylla). Taza appears aware of the shortcomings of “Fair Trade” and seems determined to overcome the challenge of inequality. However, is there a point at which too much foreign involvement can hurt a cacao community?
Taza founder Alex Witmore explains about his role as co-founder of “Maya Mountain Cacao” in Belize. Maya Mountain acts much like Pisa did in Haiti, providing industry coordination as well as technical support for new and existing farmers. A cynic might see Taza’s investment in the Belizean company as a step backward toward colonial sugar or cacao production, once so common in Sough America and the Caribbean. However, while some socially conscious consumers might still cringe, Taza appears to be fostering an infant industry in Belize. Firstly, according to Taza’s transparency report, they only bought 3.81 metric tons of cacao from Maya Mountain in 2016. This purchase made up approximately 1.6% of all Taza’s total purchases by weight. Secondly 74.5% of the sale price went to Maya Mountain’s partner farmers, this is on par with, or slightly higher than the percentages paid to farmers in Taza’s other four production groups. At this point it appears that Taza is leveraging their considerable industry knowledge to support cacao cultivation in an infant cacao industry. After going through the literature and the information on Taza’s website, it seems like they are the gold standard for a reason. Taza strives to create legitimate impact in their producer communities. We can’t fault Taza for their limited impact simply because they are a comparatively small company.
As a second case study we examine Lake Champlain Chocolates, a confectioner based in Burlington Vermont. From the start LCC and Taza appear to be from two different generations. Taza embodies the ideals and desires of the “process generation” prominently sporting the option, “learn” next to the, “buy” or, visit buttons on their homepage. This header sits over a slideshow of chocolate close-ups, machinery grinding beans and farmers growing cacao. The website expertly communicates that Taza values process as much as any millennial. LCC on the other hand, is a retail website. The homepage sports glossy images of neatly packaged seasonal gifts. Customers have to scroll to the bottom of the page and hunt through the fine print to find the “About Us” section. While this product-oriented approach to marketing denotes humility on LCC’s part, it misses the importance that current consumers place on a food’s background. On the face of it LCC is appears to be from the generation where luxury meant flavor and packaging, not a social conscience. However beneath the superficiality of websites, LCC and Taza may have much in common.
Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker is one of LCC’s sub-brands. Blue Bandana is a bean to bar chocolate maker, currently producing five, single origin bars. Started in 2012 by LCC’s, now CEO, Eric Lampman Blue Bandana partners with growers and cooperatives to provide consistent income while ensuring the highest quality cacao. One of the ways that Blue Bandana ensures that their partner-farmers are upholding high labor and environmental standards is through site visits. The below video shows follows funder Eric Lampman as he pays a visit to Anselmo Luc, a Guatemalan cacao producer.
I had the good fortune to speak with Nick Hadsel-Mares, the principle chocolate maker at Blue Bandana about the company and the bean to bar industry more generally.
Nick explained that Blue Bandana, and many other bean to bar makers are riding a wave of consumer demand. According to Nick, “Chocolate is a completely different landscape than it was ten years ago.” He added that, “Consumers have shifted, they expect a lot more transparency, they want Fair Trade and organic and are willing to pay a premium for it.” The new tide of consumer interest in transparency is one that Nick thinks is unlikely to end. When asked what drove Blue Bandana to work with a specific community he said, “Well firstly, it’s all about the beans, we’re a company after all and we need to produce exceptional chocolate bars. That being said, we care deeply about the working conditions and practices on our partner’s farms. If a producer is not transparent about their practices, we won’t work with them.” According to Nick, Blue Bandana’s commitments to ethical process and Direct Trade are not unique in the bean to bar community. From his years in the industry, Nick assured me of the earnestness and responsibility that bean to bar makers feel about their partners growing the cacao. Because Blue Bandana is much smaller than Taza, they don’t have the resources to produce an in-depth transparency report. However Nick assured me that part of their direct trade model is paying farmers well above the “Fair Trade” price for premium cacao.
After researching both companies and speaking to Nick, it appears this post is premised on a false dichotomy. Bean to bar chocolate makers might simultaneously impact their producer communities while also providing a product inline with consumers’ ethical standards. Because the bean to bar industry makes up an estimated .47% of the chocolate industry, their impact might go further than critics expect. Consumers are demanding more transparency and more ethical process. Though small, companies like Taza and Blue Bandana are validating that consumer interest. Some, including Nick, hope that Taza and Blue Bandana can teach the rest of the chocolate industry how to be “better” while still turning a profit. When evaluating these companies as consumers it is important to remember one thing; Blue Bandana and Taza never ask consumers to compromise on taste. Both companies are jointly driven by finding powerful and unique flavors while achieving a tangible benefit for their places of origin. Ethics aside, many would argue that the premium for these bars is justified by taste alone. However, knowing that farmers are paid a fair price only makes the bar that much sweeter.
Special thanks to Nick Hadsel-Mares who took time out of his busy schedule to chat. His skill as a chocolate maker is paralleled only by vast knowledge of the industry.
Kristy Foster Seachrist | Sep 09, 2016. “Georgia producer sets new world soybean yield record.” Corn and Soybean Digest. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.
Laudan, Rachel. “Plea for Culinary Modernism.pdf.” : n. pag. Print.
Mustapha, Kemi. “Taste of Child Labor Not so Sweet: A Crititue of Regulatory Approaches to Combating Child Labor Abuses by the U.S Chocolate Industry.” 1 (2010): n. pag. Print.
“Root Capital.” Root Capital. N.p., 03 May 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.
Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. N.p., 2011. Print.
Sylla, Samba Ndongo. The Fair Trade Scandal. N.p., 2014. Print.
Harsh working conditions of sugar cane harvesters and child- and slave-labor involved in harvesting cacao pods stand in stark contrast to the delicious enjoyment of chocolate in our Western societies. To rectify this juxtaposition, B corporations have the built-in mission to benefit society by meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency (BCorp, n.d.). The chocolate industry, an industry particularly riddled with ethical dilemmas, is only represented by five certified B Corps. Another fitting addition is Taza Chocolate from Somerville, Massachusetts!
Tracing chocolate-maker’s value chain steps, which are interwoven with old-mindset problems, Taza Chocolate’s business practices pose solutions to real-life business challenges. The following is an ethnographic analysis of Taza Chocolate, an ethical and transparent bean-to-bar chocolate maker that sources organic raw cocoa beans and turns them into minimally-processed chocolate products. To ensure continued success and growth, Taza Chocolate may get B Corp certified to grow and enlarge its mission, customer base and the movement itself, sending a strong signal particularly in such an ethical-dilemma ridden industry as chocolate production.
Chocolate History and Supply Chains are Riddled with Ethical Concerns
One of the biggest concerns with chocolate-maker’s supply chains is the supply of labor needed in the farming and harvesting of its main ingredient cacao. During colonialist times, the Spanish crown granted colonists through the Encomienda system control over people and nature to extract cacao, replaced by chattel slavery as the indigenous population collapsed and disappeared. Post-abolition, non-compensated familial and child labor particularly in West Africa replaced slavery and made the Gold Coast the least expensive region world-wide for cacao as response to ever-decreasing prices paid for cacao with companies, such as Cadbury, being implicated by having chocolate produced by slave labor (Satre, 2005). Still to this day, as cacao’s commodity price changes, so does farmers’ income, making it extremely volatile (Ryan, 2011).
Fairtrade certification ensures just compensation in addition to teaching communities how they can take advantage of the free market with the ideological undermining of paying famers fairer prices and raising consumers’ awareness. “Every purchase matters. Every dollar spent does economic development or destruction.” (Fairtrade, 2017) But cost of certification is shouldered by farmer and harms non-certified farmers. Also, farmers whet through all steps for FT certification but not enough companies buy FT chocolate with the expected income boost premium, they had to sell the rest of their cacao at bulk prices. Doubts arose as to whom FT really benefits, maybe only the US luxury consumers who can afford to pay the premium when presented with less-costly alternatives in stores. Taza goes one step further in doing Direct Trade which of course hinges on complete transparency (and Taza does publish a yearly transparency report) but also hinges on consumers trusting and being willing to pay for this extra on-top certification.
Health and nutrition
Adulteration scandals involving ground red brick led the British to pass food safety laws as people worried about what might be put into their food choices. Worries about adulteration persist as we further globalize our food. One way to mitigate this is through a transparent and self-owned supply chain to ensure good practices and not having to rely on so many suppliers. Big Chocolate, i.e. Hershey and Mars have been notoriously secretive about chocolate ingredients especially about containing and mentioning any hidden sugars or thinly coating chocolate to cover up cheaper ingredients. Taza on the other hand discloses the few ingredients of its chocolate prominently on its website. With regards to sugar: While myths persisted as to the presumably contaminated brown sugar crystals, to this day white sugar is perceived as the purer alternative. Another visible trend is the move back from processed Big Food companies to smaller-scale production of Whole Foods. (Martin, 2017)
In the 17th century, access to chocolate reflected the socioeconomic class leading to “snobbification” of chocolate. In a way, this still rings true today if pure organic chocolate sells for above-average selling price and therefore is only affordable for the upper middle class while the rest has to make do with the unhealthier, more implicated chocolate. Is buying ethical and the feelings associated with this superior purchase only open to richer segments of society? How can we as consumers and companies weaponize our power? According to the saying the consumers decide with each dollar spent which industries to support. B Corps offer consumers a certified and transparent way of supporting business that is socially-conscious.
Fundamental structural inequality in chocolate industry with solutions treating symptoms not underlying pressures. What does work though: multi-stakeholder collaboration, transparency, grassroots approaches, sustainability on social, economic and environmental factors, shared value and responsibility, profit kept in-country as rural vibrancy contributes to national stability (Martin, 2017). Taza Chocolate’s mission is to make more transparent its chocolate-making process and therefore has solved many of the previously inherent ethical dilemmas found in the value chain.
Taza Chocolate’s Transparent Value Chain
Founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton, Taza Chocolate produces “stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all” (Taza, 2017) in its Somerville, Massachusetts factory. An all-around ethical, socially-conscious and purpose-driven business, history is in its name: Taza, meaning cup in Spanish, is reminiscent of the way Aztecs ritualistically consumed chocolate in liquid form using specially designed cups or vessels for this purpose (Coe, 1996). History is also found in its design and packaging displaying a cacao pod and its signature mold in the form of the Mexican millstone stone that ground the chocolate itself.
Taza Chocolate’s company culture is driven by founder and anthropology-major in college Alex Whitmore who is very much standing in his purpose in building his company as he “apprenticed with Mexican molineros, learning their ancient chocolate-making secrets.” (Hofherr, 2016) and brought these to Somerville, Massachusetts. Taza Chocolate has a lean start-up-like organizational structure headed by a 8-member Leadership Team. Taza offers an easy application process opening up more opportunities in making an effort to get natives from the countries that it sources its cacao from involved in its business processes.
Taza Chocolate revamped the usually long supply chain that often involved slave-labor and many parties that wanted a share of the price paid for raw cacao, and instead instituted ethical quality-ensuring Direct Trading relationships and disclosing transparency reports on each country of origin: “Our pioneering Direct Trade Certified Cacao sourcing program guarantees direct relationships with growers, fair wages and work practices on the farm, and the highest quality ingredients.” (Taza, 2017). Taza directly sources cacao from Middle and Latin America (Dominican Republic, Haiti, Belize, Bolivia) but does not source from any West African cacao-producing country. While not a native plant to Africa and riddled with history involving child slavery, foregoing sourcing from these countries and not having to ship across the Atlantic presumably keeps emission and transportation costs lower. Taza Chocolate’s commitment to high quality origin cacao is symbolized in a designated “Cacao Sourcing Manager” whose job involves managing Taza Chocolate’s ownership stakes in cocoa bean export companies such as Alto Beni Cacao Co., Cacao Verapaz, Maya Mountain Cacao and Uncommon Cacao (Taza, 2017).
On the related issue of nutrition, seeing as there has been a history of contaminated chocolate, and contrary to long and illegible ingredients lists, Taza Chocolate uses few ingredients and organic sugar contrasting conventional chocolate products and discloses all ingredients on its website: “We use organic turbinado sugar (also known as sugar in the raw). Taza Chocolate is proud to partner with the Native Green Cane Project for our sugar sourcing.” (Taza, 2017).
Taza’s cacao beans are harvested, fermented and dried at their farm of origin, then undergo the subsequent steps of roasting, winnowing, and shelling, grinding at the factory in Somerville. On the issue of minimal processing, Taza follows artisanal manufacturing and back-to-the-roots traditional Mexican stone grinding techniques: “We stone grind cacao beans into minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture. We use authentic Oaxacan stone mills instead of steel refiners to grind our cacao.” (Taza, 2017). The video below follows Taza’s entire chocolate-making process from bean to bar:
Marketing & Sales
Being a socially-conscious business and revered local employer, community engagement is high on its list of priorities, also being part of the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts: “We have very loyal customers. We work really hard at winning them over not only with delicious chocolate but also by being a great citizen in the community, making sure we pay the producers really well and are a good employer here in Somerville. We’re trying to have a net positive impact in our community.” (Hofherr, 2016).
In furthering transparency of its operations, Taza Chocolate offers Factory Store Tours: “We also practice open book management; we’re very transparent and allow people to walk through our manufacturing factory.” (Hofherr, 2016). Additionally, Taza’s stand at Boston Public Market has a traditional chocolate grinding stone on display.
Transparency and Certifications
Taza chocolate products carry five certifications to ensure safe labor practices as well as organic ingredients: USDA Organic, Taza chocolate Direct Trade certified Cacao (own certification), Non-GMO project, Certified Gluten-Free and Vegan, whose integrity is guaranteed by having their “five Direct Trade claims independently verified each year by Quality Certification Services, a USDA-accredited organic certifier based in Gainesville, Florida.” (Taza, 2017). “Taza is big on ethical cacao sourcing, and is the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party certified Direct Trade Cacao Certification program, meaning, you maintain direct relationships with your cacao farmers and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao.” (Hofherr, 2016). Taking the transparency one step further, in its Transparency report displayed below, Taza Chocolate discloses what it pays for its cacao beans.
The Next Step: B Corp Certification
Especially in a time when operations seem to be running smoothly, a new goal towards which the company can focus its purpose would lead to continuous innovation with a new tangible goal in sight. While becoming certified would involve additional documentation as well as slightly new impact measurements, Taza is already in a position where much of its own certification criteria overlap with those of B Corp requirements. Most importantly, the B Corp community would provide a network for growth and sharing best practices, further perpetuating and mainstreaming the idea of B Corps as a viable alternative to how business is done. Especially seeing that CEO and founder Alex Whitmore hopes to grow the company in the near future, many of his quotes ring true to B Corp: “We have a very holistic approach to the business. Some people call it “capitalism with a conscience. We like to think that a rising tide lifts all ships. Transparency is a key value for us.” (Hofherr, 2016). Even though incorporating as B Corp is not currently on the agenda (in a phone call to Taza Chocolate Customer Service on May 3, 2017), there are several advantages in considering this next move:
As self-proclaimed social enterprise company, Taza Chocolate would join the “fast-growing global network of certified businesses that have made a commitment to managing, measuring and reporting their social and environmental impact while driving sound profitability” (Bcorp, 2017). The prestigious designation of Certified B Corp certifies that the company meets a range of social and environmental business standards, as well as accountability and transparency, with a commitment to ongoing development and improvement in all these aspects of its business. Taza would join the existing 2,000+ B Corps, but would join only five chocolate-manufacturing companies (the most famous and widely available one being Tony’s Chocolonely). The scarce number of chocolate companies is probably a testament to how difficult the usual value chain of a chocolate company is to get certified and really change the status quo. Does Taza not have an obligation to grow and in so doing both mainstream this ethical offer and ensure famers have a market big enough to continue this better way of farming? Or does the mere existence and carving out bigger companies’ market shares lead to a paradigm shift in other firms too? Either way, B Corps’ network of consciously-minded business is aligned with, and can propel forward, Taza Chocolate’s mission of organic and sustainable bean-to-bar chocolate.
When someone says “direct trade”, we’re inclined to think “ethical practices” and, in the context of our class, “Taza Chocolate”. Generally, direct trade in the chocolate industry is a form of sourcing where companies work directly with the farmers who provide their cacao, often paying above market price (Martin, Lecture 10). However, it is important to note that direct trade can serve purposes beyond fostering communication within the supply chain or paying farmers higher wages. By contrasting Taza Chocolate with TCHO, pronounced “choh”, I hope to demonstrate direct trade’s evolving applications. Instead of emphasizing direct trade as a platform to promote ethical practices, as Taza does, TCHO focuses on the role of technology to empower their farmers to improve their product’s taste. Although TCHO and Taza are both companies striving to change the way chocolate is made, they utilize direct trade in vastly different ways, signaling that there is not yet an industry-wide interpretation of what direct trade means.
As background, Taza Chocolate was founded in 2005 by Alex Whitmore and Kathleen Fulton after a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico (About Taza, 2015). Whitmore loved the traditional stone ground chocolate he had tried on the trip and decided to start Taza with his wife, Fulton, as a way to bring this style of chocolate to the United States (About Taza, 2015). Today, their chocolate is known for its minimal processing, use of traditional Mexican stone mills, and gritty, unrefined texture (About Taza, 2015). Below is a video produced by Taza detailing their unique chocolate process.
Whitmore and Fulton opened the Taza factory, seen in the video above, in Somerville, MA in 2006 and continue to operate from this location today (About Taza, 2015). Their products can be found across the United States, most notably in Whole Foods. Overall, the company has three main aims: 1) produce a unique tasting stone ground chocolate, 2) promote ethical cacao sourcing through direct trade, and 3) create a certification for direct trade that can be used throughout the chocolate industry.
In contrast, TCHO is much less about a founding story and much more about their business model. In fact, they are so much less about how they were founded, that you have to look at the third to last question on the bottom of their FAQ page to figure out who founded TCHO. Here, you will find that they were founded by Timothy Childs, a NASA space shuttle contractor, and Karl Bittong, a 40-year chocolate industry veteran, in 2005 (FAQ, 2017). They are based in the San Francisco Bay Area and are self-described as a “Silicon Valley start-up meets San Francisco food culture” (Our Vision, 2017). Below is a video produced by TCHO that gives a brief overview of their company.
TCHO produces high-end chocolate centered on the flavor of the cacao it comes from. Rather than focusing on the percentages of cocoa in each bar, TCHO creates dark chocolates based on cacao flavor profiles (Our Vision, 2017). TCHO believes that its chocolate is bringing to life terroir, or the characteristics imparted on cacao by where it is grown, similar to how terroir is used with fine wines (Nesto, 135). For example, its “Fruity” chocolate is single source from Peru, its “Citrus” bar from Madagascar, its “Chocolatey” bar from Ghana, and its “Nutty” bar from Ecuador (FAQ, 2017). TCHO wants to educate its consumers on how to taste chocolate with emphasis on how cacao can impart such differing flavors. TCHO even put together an interactive taste wheel for its consumers to understand TCHO’s thought process when making each bar.
In comparison to Taza, TCHO’s process, while important, is not their proudest achievement; rather, it is the high-quality beans they source from across the world. Like Taza, their products can be found throughout the United Sates, most notably in Whole Foods, Wegmans, and on private label at Starbucks (FAQ, 2017). Overall, TCHO has three aims: 1) create products that cultivate the terroir of cacao beans, 2) use direct trade to help farmers improve their product, and 3) employ technology every step of the way.
The clear commonality between Taza and TCHO is that they both utilize direct trade to source their cacao beans. However, how they advertise and promote their direct trade methods are significantly different. For example, Taza’s emphasis is on constructing a uniformly accepted definition of direct trade for the chocolate industry. In fact, they created the first direct trade certification program for the industry, Taza Direct Trade, that they certify all their products with (Taza Direct Trade, 2015).
The Taza Direct Trade program calls for 5 commitments including, 1) develop direct relationships with cacao farmers, 2) pay a price premium to cacao producers, 3) source the highest quality cacao beans, 4) require USDA certified organic cacao, and 5) publish an annual transparency report (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). More details on these commitments can be found here. Overall, these commitments hit all the key tenets of direct trade; however, they are vague, incomplete, and, in effect, don’t do enough to prove ethical practices. This isn’t to say that Taza doesn’t have an ethical sourcing program, only that Taza Direct Trade is not a foolproof certification program.
For example, how does one define “develop direct relationships with cacao farmers”? For Taza Direct Trade, this means that company staff must visit their farmers at least once per year and provide flight receipts of these trips (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). But, does this really mean that a company has good relationships with their farmers? Providing flight receipts isn’t a personal or appropriate indicator of productive relationships like, for example, feedback or comments from the farmers themselves would be. Taza, as a certified Taza Direct Trade company, makes up for this by detailing their trips and relationships with their farmers in their transparency reports, but it is unclear if other companies certified under Taza Direct Trade would go through the same effort.
Similarly, what does “source the highest quality cacao beans” mean? As Taza Direct Trade explains, their requirement is that the beans have an 85% fermentation rate or more and are dried to 7% moisture or less (Taza Direct Trade, 2015). While these are important factors, they aren’t sufficient measures for high-quality cacao as they miss other crucial aspects such as growing conditions, pH levels during fermentation, or sorting efficiency (Martin, Lecture 4). Again, this isn’t to say that Taza’s cacao isn’t high-quality, only that Taza Direct Trade does not have a stringent enough standard.
However, Taza Direct Trade does make a significant contribution to defining direct trade with its transparency report requirement. Direct trade is all about companies being personally involved in every step of the supply chain. Because of this, physical requirements, like providing flight receipts, to detail personal relationships are not adequate. As alluded to before, the transparency report allows companies more creativity and flexibility in showing consumers these relationships. Taza’s transparency report from 2016 does an excellent job of illustrating this point. By using personal details and compelling stories, this report clearly demonstrates that Taza has direct relationships with each of their farmers.
While I am convinced Taza is a direct trade company, I am not convinced Taza Direct Trade is the right certification for direct trade. In fact, a traditional certification may not be appropriate for direct trade right now at all. Because of direct trade’s emphasis on company built supply chains, it appears that company communication, like Taza’s transparency report, is really the most effective means to prove direct trade. In contrast to Fair Trade, where companies aren’t involved in every part of the supply chain, certification can be useful because it signals to companies that a certain level of quality is ensured with their cacao providers (Martin, Lecture 10). Because direct trade companies are active with all their suppliers, they are personally ensuring quality. In this sense, direct trade companies should focus on demonstrating their relationships with their farmers to their consumers, like with Taza’s transparency report, rather than seeking a uniform certification. A vague list of commitments can be applied to direct trade companies, but it doesn’t follow the essence of direct trade.
TCHO just does this with its commitment to direct trade, “individuals and companies have the power and responsibility to act directly to make a better world, not just buy a logo” (TCHOSource, 2017). TCHO makes it clear that they participate in direct trade not only because it is ethical, as Taza does, but because it is a mutually beneficial system for them (TCHOSource, 2017). Unlike Taza, TCHO details not only their relationships with each farmer, but the ways in which they help each farmer to produce a higher quality product. Whereas Taza pays a premium price to farmers because it is part of their ethical commitment with Taza Direct Trade, TCHO pays farmers more because they produce a certifiably higher-quality product that garners the price premium.
Key to TCHO’s mutually beneficial relationship with their farmers is their use of Flavor Labs. Because TCHO’s chocolate is produced to capture the natural flavor of cacao, TCHO buys cacao with the best natural flavor. But, to do this, they need farmers to understand what these natural cacao flavors are. However, cacao farmers have often never tasted chocolate (Off, 7). To train their farmers, TCHO installs Flavor Labs, 10 across the world so far, where farmers can make small batches of chocolate from their own cacao to learn the flavor profile of their beans (TCHOSource 2017). By understanding how to taste chocolate and cacao, farmers learn the lexicon essential to talk about the quality of their product (Stuckey, 140). Because farmers have the knowledge to understand the goals for their cacao, like “fruity” or “nutty”, they can actively work to create a higher-quality product themselves. TCHO’s chief chocolate maker, Brad Kintzer, gives a brief overview of how these Flavor Labs create a mutually beneficial direct trade system for TCHO.
Besides giving their farmers access to Flavor Labs, TCHO gives their famers strategies to improve their cacao. For example, fermentation and drying are crucial stages in cacao processing where most of the flavor profile is determined (Presilla, 108). While most farmers don’t have access to extensive tools and practices to improve or monitor their fermentation practices, TCHO gives their farmers tools to measure variables such as pH, temperature, and Brix (TCHOSource, 2017). Interestingly, these are some of the exact measurements for high-quality cacao that were missing from Taza Direct Trade’s commitments. TCHO continues to follow their farmers through cacao processing and helps them set up solar drying stations to reduce the moisture in the beans and to continue developing flavor (TCHOSource, 2017). Finally, TCHO gives their farmers a cloud-based software, Cropster, that allows them to upload their data concerning fermentation, drying, and flavor so that they can track their cacao and so TCHO can communicate with their farmers and give them adjustments as conditions change (TCHOSource, 2017).
Cropster confronts Taza Direct Trade’s requirement that company staff visit farmers yearly to ensure direct relationships. Is it necessary for TCHO staff to visit their farmers yearly if they are communicating through Cropster almost daily? Similarly, if the farmers have been trained in the Flavor Labs and have the tools to improve their cacao themselves, what is TCHO’s role when they visit? TCHO’s business model takes away the need to visit their farmers yearly, pushing back against Taza Direct Trade’s limited and rigid definition of direct trade. TCHO’s technology-based model also allows them to have far more direct trade relationships, an argued weakness of direct trade in general (Martin, Lecture 10). Not only does TCHO have more direct trade relationships than Taza, but they also span more of the cacao producing region worldwide. While Taza is confined to South America, TCHO has farmers across South America, Ghana, and Madagascar (TCHOSource, 2017). TCHO’s model makes their farmers more independent, sustainable, and profitable, a key goal of direct trade and ethical sourcing, but also gives TCHO access to the highest quality beans.
Overall, Taza and TCHO both accomplish the key tenets of direct trade. They have personal relationships with their farmers, pay price premiums, and source high-quality cacao. However, while they are both direct trade companies, they utilize direct trade very differently. While Taza focuses on creating an industry-wide certification program, Taza Direct Trade, TCHO is more company oriented, focusing on the technological advancements they can provide their farmers with. While neither company’s use of direct trade is unambiguously better, TCHO’s direct trade method conflicts with the Taza Direct Trade certification in a way that suggests the interpretation of direct trade is still evolving. Because of this uncertainty, it seems that for today’s direct trade companies, it is less important to create a unified certification program, as Taza is doing, and more important to further explore the beneficial aspects of direct trade. In fact, this may be the reason that no other direct trade company has become Taza Direct Trade certified or created a certification program of their own (About Us, 2015). Altogether, TCHO demonstrates that direct trade is a practice that can provide higher quality beans and increased profitability, signaling that the applications of direct trade expand beyond just an ethical practice.
The supply chain which governs the production of chocolate is full of complex relationships, blind spots, and middle men. With these issues, inefficiencies and exploitative practices run their course throughout the chain. Fixing these problems is not a one man or company job, but a change that must start with a small step. This step has come with Taza Chocolate. With Taza’s certifications, specifically its one concerning Direct Trade, and its “Bean to Bar” philosophy, they have shrunk the cacao/chocolate supply chain to take out these inefficiencies and harmful, exploitative practices in order to benefit both the growers and the consumers.
Launched in 2005 in Somerville, Massachusetts by founder Alex Whitmore, Taza strives to create “unrefined, minimally processed chocolate” with an incredible flavor (About Taza, 2015). Not only does their chocolate taste great, but it is ethically sourced. This means they partner directly with the cacao farmers they buy from and pay a premium above the Fair Trade price for their cacao (About Taza, 2015). Additionally, they only partner with farmers who “respect the rights of workers and the environment” (About Taza, 2015). Taza uses a “Bean to Bar” philosophy, which utilizes their Direct Trade certification. The video below gives you a sense of what “Bean to Bar” means to Taza, its partners, and workers.
Direct Trade ensures that Taza workers partner directly with the growers and maintain a face-to-face relationship with their farmers. Additionally, Taza pays well above the market price for cacao beans, which currently stands around $1800 per metric ton. (Nasdaq: Cocoa, 2017). To showcase how this buying works, Taza puts out an annual Transparency Report that highlights their program, prices, and key statistics. Click here to view their 2016 report. As you navigate this page, be sure to examine particular partner reports as they emphasize this program’s price benefits, stability, and room for farm improvement.
Their “Bean to Bar” and Direct Trade practice has shrunk the supply chain significantly. The only non Taza or grower related dealer is the import company, which ships the cacao beans to Taza. A typical supply chain for Taza can be seen below.
This chain comes specifically from Taza’s partnership with the Alto Beni Cacao Company from Bolivia. As you can see, Taza uses Atlantic Cacao as their importer and has developed a relationship with them such that they are used for all imports coming from the Caribbean and Central American region.
So, how does the chocolate supply chain look for a chocolate producer or retailer that does not operate as Taza does? The answer is it is a lot longer with more independent players. Below is an image depicting what this supply chain might look like.
Throughout this chain, there are many actors with varying roles and profit margins. The proportion of a final bar price for some individuals in the supply chain is as follows: farmers receive 3%, cocoa buyers receive 5%, manufactures receive 20%, and retailers receive 43% (Martin, Lecture 1). This highlights a major inefficiency and exploitation that occurs during chocolate growing and production. With little pay received by the growers, there is essentially no money left after operating expenses have been paid. This means less money is put into the farm to improve the crop and harvesting process. Additionally, apart from the growing and harvesting itself, no money is left to improve the lives of the farmers and their families.
This lack of money feeds into an even larger problem, which has become a topic covered extensively by media and activists, child labor. There is certainly a negative side to this sort of labor, but it is very much a part of the African culture. It is very typical for a young son or daughter to accompany his or her parent to the farm and help with simple tasks such as carrying food or lesser manual labor (Ryan 45-46). This is generally deemed acceptable if the child does not miss out on schooling that will help him or her with their long-term career. This is often not the case. With the poverty and small income that come with being a grower, there is a benefit to having one’s child work on the farm. With fewer employees to pay, there is a lower cost associated with family labor (Berlan 1093). However, this mentality breeds an even worse form of child labor, trafficking and debt bondage.
Child trafficking has become an all too familiar phenomena on cocoa farms. In 1998, UNICEF wrote a report that described how the transactions of children work out. “Recruiters” will seek out children at bus stops of busy cities who have left home seeking work that will bring in more money for them and their family (Off 130). The transporter then receives money from the farmer who uses this fee as overhead for the child’s contribution on the farm; thus, the child receives no money from working (Off 130-131). Conditions for the worst kind of child labor are quite grim as they may work at gunpoint, eat little, sleep in bunkhouses that are locked at night, and are subject to horrible sores on their backs from carrying heavy bags of cacao beans and from being beaten (Off 121). The image below showcases how grueling this labor can be and the types of dangerous tools children use while working.
One area of tension that arises when chocolate producers and organizations talk about exposing and ending child labor is the possibility of a boycott from a growing area. For many African countries, a boycott on their cacao beans would be devastating to the economy as most depend on jobs in the cacao industry (Off 142). Firms and larger chocolate companies and producers have attempted to eradicate this problem, but their efforts have been mostly ineffective. Put in place in September of 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was an attempt to solve this problem:
Cocoa beans and their derivative products should be grown and processed in a manner that complies with International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182 Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (Harkin-Engel Protocol).
This objective would be accomplished with the help of governments, global industry, cocoa producers, organized labor, non-government organizations, and consumers (Harkin-Engel Protocol). Many big chocolate companies such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle supported this protocol and hoped to solve the problem of child labor in cocoa farms by 2005 (Martin, Lecture 8). While having big companies backing this program promises a source of funds, they have continued to push back the deadline and now have it stand in the year 2020 (Martin, Lecture 8). So, perhaps a large-scale, top-down approach is not the best solution to the problems plaguing the chocolate supply chain. While I have digressed from Taza, now is great time to return to their company approach, as they work a more effective grass-roots style.
As seen in the diagram above highlighting Taza’s supply chain, there are fewer players at work in the production of their chocolate. To tackle how their process is more efficient and beneficial compared to that of a larger company with a longer, more complex supply chain, we shall examine the benefits and even some of the drawbacks seen within the growers, in the production process, and with the consumers when Taza chocolate hits the shelves.
Starting with the grower, the benefits seen with Taza’s partnered farmers compared to the conditions seen on farms of those who supply to larger companies all stem from Direct Trade. With Direct Trade, Taza can form a long-lasting relationship with farmers. By traveling directly to the farms, Taza buyers can see who they are buying from and the conditions of the workers and those living on or near the farm. This eliminates the poor labor practices that may take place on farms that supply larger companies, as these big companies are unable to see the conditions of their cacao growers. In fact, Taza is so in touch with their partners that they share on their website profiles of these farms and their workers to showcase this relationship and the benefits it provides. Here is a link to a profile on Maya Mountain Cacao that tells you a bit about their farm and the fermentation and drying facility built by Taza.
In addition to the relationships formed with the farmers, as published in their report, Taza pays a premium for the beans purchased from suppliers. It has been noted by many scholars that the key problem the chocolate industry faces is poverty among primary producers, yet no large-scale programs have been implemented to address this issue (Off 146). By paying a premium for their cacao beans, Taza is attempting to address this economic issue.
Apart from these benefits, there are some faults with Taza’s model. The first is the small scale and limited reach of direct trade. In 2016, Taza purchased only 233 metric tons of beans (Taza: 2016 Transparency Report). This pales in compassion to the millions of metric tons purchased by the chocolate industry each year. A second issue can be identified in the types of farms Taza partners with. The beans that Taza purchases are high quality, fine cacao beans, which tend to be more expensive to grow. Therefore, some of these farms are more wealthy, and Taza is in fact not benefitting the farms in dire need. Of course, these negatives do not outweigh the positive work Taza does in the chocolate industry. To start a change, small steps must be made, and Taza’s Direct Trade is a step in the right direction.
Turning to the production of Taza chocolate, their process is vastly different than those of larger companies and this difference is directly influenced by Direct Trade. There is a high degree of care and precision that goes into crafting each bar of chocolate. Taza strives to limit the amount of processing involved in production to “let the bold flavors of (their) organic, Direct Trade cacao shout loud and proud” (Our Process, 2015). A diagram of their production process is presented below and highlights the easy to follow and minimalistic process used by Taza.
Lastly, in regards to their process, ingredients used are source known, which is a direct benefit of Direct Trade. When you flip over the wrapper to read your bar’s ingredients, there are simple, organic ingredients that can be easily traced back to their origin. This allows for confidence in consumption and in knowing ingredients come from a sustainable, humane farm.
The last component of the supply chain involves the consumer. Taza certainly plays on a feel-good sensation seen by a consumer when they purchase a bar of Taza chocolate. This feeling stems from the smart, ethical sourcing associated with Direct Trade. When a consumer picks up a bar and sees the Direct Trade certification, they feel that they are helping tackle many of the problems in the chocolate industry. Is this an ethical practice for Taza or are they preying on the gullible emotions of consumers? With Taza’s small-scale production relative to the chocolate industry, it is acceptable to question whether you are actually making a difference when you buy a bar of Taza chocolate. However, you are contributing to their mission. Taza has ambitious goals, but is also thinking about the well-being of all cacao farmers. They may not be helping all of them, but they are trying to make a difference.
In conclusion, Taza’s Direct Trade does mean something and is making a difference. By shrinking the supply chain seen with larger chocolate companies, Taza is eliminating many of the exploitative labor practices and economic inefficiencies seen in a typical supply chain. So, next time you are craving some chocolate, head to the store and grab that Taza bar.
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.
Ethical chocolate can come in different shapes and sizes. What ethical means to various chocolate companies can be very different, from fair work conditions, to organic ingredients, to environmental sustainability. Taza Chocolate is a company that boasts chocolate that is “seriously good and fair for all,” given their bold flavor and direct trade practices (“About Taza,” 2017). Alter Eco is a company that creates chocolate and other foods and aims to nourish “foodie, farmer, and field” with their sustainable food (“Our Story,” 2017). This post will explore the similarities and differences between Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco, two ethically minded chocolate producers, and how they portray themselves in order to appeal to consumers. Exploring their trade relationships, environmental impact, and community impact, it becomes apparent that Taza Chocolate has a main focus on fair and ethical trade as a means for driving improved conditions for farmers, whereas Alter Eco has a greater emphasis on sustainability and positive environmental impacts.
About the Companies
Taza Chocolate is a company founded in 2005 and based in Somerville, MA that creates stone ground chocolate. The stone ground beans create a unique coarse texture unlike most mass-produced chocolate on the market today. Besides the flavor, Taza Chocolate prides itself on its role as a “pioneer” in ethically sourced cacao. They are Direct Trade certified, holding them to standards of fair pay and partnerships with cacao farmers who respect workers’ rights and the environment (“About Taza,” 2017).
Alter Eco is a food company in the business of chocolate and truffles as well as quinoa and rice with a focus on sustainability and fair practices. Their mission is to create a global transformation through ethical relationships with farmers and a focus on sustainability in their supply chain (“Our Story,” 2017). The company puts an emphasis on the benefits and social and environment changes that can be made through their practices.
Taza stands apart from other chocolate companies because of its Direct Trade. Direct Trade is a third-party certification program that Taza has established that ensures cacao quality, fair labor, and transparency. Direct trade means what it sounds like – direct trade and relationships between cacao farmers and the company. Taza establishes relationships with cacao farmers in countries like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Belize, having yearly visits to the farms and staying knowledgeable and transparent about where their beans are coming from (“Transparency Report,” 2015).
Direct trade is based on five key commitments (“Our Direct Trade Program Commitments,” 2017). The first is to develop direct relationships with cacao farmers, which they do by visiting their partners at least once per year. The second commitment is to pay a premium price for cacao of at least $500 above market price per metric ton of cacao beans, with a price floor of $2800. Their third and fourth commitments are to sourcing the highest quality beans, with an 85% or more fermentation rate and 7% or less moisture, and USDA certified organic beans. The fifth and final commitment is to publish an annual transparency report, which displays details of the visits to partner farms in various countries, as well as prices paid and amounts of cacao beans purchased. The key aspects of the Direct Trade certification that set it apart from others are the high premium paid for chocolate, which exceeds that set for Fair Trade certification, as well as the transparency report.
Direct Trade beings benefits to farmers in the form of a monetary premium paid for their beans, and it brings benefits to consumers with the transparency report that keeps consumers informed about the chocolate’s origins. However, Direct Trade can in some ways still fall short of being a wide-reaching solution to problems in the cacao-growing world. Direct Trade relationships can be fragile, and if Taza Chocolate were to go under, the partners would lose a key purchaser of their beans. Despite this, Direct Trade has economic benefits for the producers that cannot be discounted.
Alter Eco is Fairtrade certified. Fairtrade is a much more widespread certification, with 1226 Fairtrade certified producer organizations worldwide (“Facts and Figures about Fairtrade,” 2017). Fairtrade sets a price floor as a Fair Trade Premium that companies must pay for the products, so for organic cacao beans currently have a price minimum of $2300 per metric ton, and companies pay an additional premium of $200. This Fair Trade Premium is for investment in social, environmental, and economic projects, such as education or technology, which the producers decide upon. Alter Eco attributes their social impact to the effects of their Fair Trade contributions.
Comparing Direct Trade and Fair Trade, we can see that Direct Trade demands a higher price for cacao than Fair Trade, though both require premiums above the market price. Fairtrade sets aside premiums into a fund for investment into the community, whereas Direct Trade has buyers pay more for the beans, resulting in profits that could be used to invest in the community.
Sustainable farming practices have been on the rise over time, as international buyers have become more demanding about production practices. These practices can require a lot more hard work and labor, and require farmers to learn new processes, but they can be essential in order to survive long term as demand grows (Healy, 2002). A commitment to environmental sustainability is important to restoring or preserving nature’s biodiversity and preventing damage from industrial farming practices.
Taza Chocolate is committed to making an environmental impact through their use of USDA certified organic beans. Organic farming involves using practices that maintain or improve soil quality, conserve wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife, and do not use synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering (“About the National Organic Program,” 2017). By only purchasing USDA certified organic beans, Taza is supporting farms that comply to these standards set to protect and preserve the environment.
Alter Eco, on the other hand, takes sustainability and environmental impact to the next level. Not only do they purchase organic cacao, but also they have a focus on their carbon footprint in the supply chain and take active steps to minimize it. Working with the PUR Project and the ACOPAGRO cacao producers, Alter Eco supports an effort to reforest the San Martin region in Peru, which had suffered from severe deforestation in the 1980s. From 2008 to 2015, they planted 28,639 trees through this initiative, improving biodiversity, restoring soils, protecting wildlife, and providing necessary shade for cacao (“Impact Report,” 2015). In addition, they are a partner of 1% for the Planet, with which they commit to giving at least 1% of their sales to nonprofits aimed at protecting the environment.
Furthermore, Alter Eco seeks to be a carbon negative business, net reducing more than they emit, though this goal is still far-reaching. They post a yearly carbon report that breaks down consumptions of water, waste, and energy in chocolate production and approximates greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, chocolate production directly or indirectly resulted in a little over 2,400 tons of CO2. Alter Eco uses its tree planting initiative as its efforts to offset CO2 emissions, and between 2008 and 2014 they had offset 7,690 tons of CO2 (“Yearly Carbon Report,” 2014). All in all, the transparency that Alter Eco provides about their environmental impact and their efforts to reduce it are satisfyingly informative. Though it can feel like their claims about sustainability are mainly a marketing ploy or way to make consumers feel good about their purchase, it is reassuring to have the information that allows consumers to be informed and hold Alter Eco accountable if they really wish to do so.
Taza and Alter Eco both make an impact on the communities of producers that they work with. Both companies have direct relationships with the farming cooperatives that they purchase cacao from, involving in-person visits to the partners. They build deep, trusting relationships with their partners that bring an extra level of support to the community. However, while Taza’s relationships appear to be mostly business, Alter Eco shows a commitment to community development. Alter Eco also boasts 48 development programs that they are involved in (“Socially Just,” 2017). They are also a certified B Corp, recognizing their social and environmental performance and transparency. Alter Eco uses Fairtrade premiums as their main way of supporting community development. It is important to note that this method of supporting developing is not a solution to large problems in poor regions, but it can have an impact in small ways by better stabilizing income (Sylla, 2014). Analysis of the impact that Fairtrade has on producers has pointed to a slight impact that is “all but exceptional” and is something that can better protect farmers from extreme poverty rather than lift them out of poverty (Sylla, 2014).
It is important to note that though Alter Eco does a good deal more marketing their positive impact on community development through their development programs and Fairtrade premiums, Taza still pays more per metric ton for their cacao. The difference between the two is that Alter Eco prioritizes their funds supporting community and environmental development projects, whereas Taza pays the money to farmers which is then theirs to use.
Both companies make a commitment to transparency in their chocolate. Taza produces a transparency report each year detailing the company’s purchases, prices paid, and visits to various cacao farms. Alter Eco lists details of each chocolate bar’s cacao origin, cocoa content, organic ingredient content, and fair trade certified ingredient content on their website. These added details, way beyond which the average consumer would demand of a Hershey bar, give these Taza and Alter Eco bars a story for the consumers to follow and a justification of the ethical nature of the purchase. Small scale chocolate companies often find success in the education of their consumers of things like single origin cacao and fine cacao flavors, as it gives them an edge on industrial chocolate which dominates with marketing and low prices (Williams and Eber, 2012). By emphasizing transparency and providing detailed information about cacao sources and flavor notes, Taza and Alter Eco are leveraging this.
Furthermore, Taza and Alter Eco market their products in a way to make the consumers feel like they are making an impact. Advertisements need to show images that make the viewer feel good, or at least good enough to buy chocolate, a luxury item (Liessle, 2012). By emphasizing the ethical nature and the social benefits of their products, these companies play up the consumer’s feelings of being altruistic by purchasing the chocolate bars. These companies may be flaunting their ethical practices as a marketing strategy, but if they are making a real, positive impact for the cacao-producing community or for the environment, then it is a win-win situation for the companies and the farmers.
Taza Chocolate and Alter Eco are both chocolate-producing companies that are ethically minded, where Taza has a large focus on direct trade partnerships with cooperatives, and Alter Eco has some focus on fair trade but a greater emphasis on environmental sustainability. These companies demonstrate how ethical practices in the chocolate industry can have different implications, whether they be for farmer compensation, farmer community development, greenhouse gas emissions, reforestation and biodiversity, amongst many others. What is important to take away is that some companies may focus on some impacts more than others, and it is important as consumers to be educated and to know what impact you believe is the most important to make.
Despite the variety of available chocolate products, the process by which a chocolate bar comes to fruition maintains certainty consistency. A ubiquitous procedure, the evolution of a cacao pod to a chocolate bar ought to have reached contemporary standards of ethicality and efficiency. Yet, the bean-to-bar progression is plagued with inherent injustices that have been embedded in the chocolate industry from the start. Fundamental to the development of capitalism, cacao, a commodity crop like tobacco, sugar, coffee, rum, and cotton, initially relied heavily on the slave trade to fuel increasing demand. (Martin, 2017) Yet, despite the abolition of slavery in the mid 19th century, modern day slavery still prevails in the cacao industry. In response to the persistent pervasiveness of injustices in the bean-to-bar process, particularly surrounding the harvesting and cultivation of cacao, bean-to-bar brands have proliferated as a potential solution with a commitment to both the ethicality and culinary aspects of chocolate production; Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts typifies one of these companies striving to produce palatable chocolate through ethical practices and a high degree of production transparency.
Cacao-Chocolate Supply Chain
The cacao-chocolate supply chain begins with the cultivation of cacao pods. After cacao cultivation, the pods are harvested and the seeds and pulp are separated from the pod. The cacao seeds are then fermented and dried before being sorted, bagged, and transported to chocolate manufacturers, chocolate makers, and chocolatiers. The cacao beans then undergo roasting, husking, grinding, and pressing before the product undergoes a type of “polishing,” called “conching,” in which final flavors develop. (Martin, 2017) Differences in the execution of each step influence the ultimate taste, texture, feel, and consistency of the chocolate bar.
Today, cacao cultivation and harvesting has predominately shifted away from the Americas to West Africa. Almost all of the world’s cacao used in the making of chocolate, approximately 75%, grows in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. (Martin, 2017). Despite the shift of the geographic foci of cacao trade, partially fueled to escape slavery associated with commodities crops in the Americas, a narrative of slavery and exploitation continue to plague the cacao trade. (Martin, 2017) Modern day farming of cocoa has exploited child and migrant labor, with price fixing by governments a likely causal link between abuses and the need for farmers to reduce their own cost. (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014) Additionally, as small producers, the farmers lack collective bargaining ability and are thus dependent on price fixing governments or commodity boards that “leave them at the mercy of independent traders or other large buyers of their cocoa.” (“Organic Cocoa Industry” 2014)
Approximately two million small, independent family farms in modern day West Africa produce the vast majority of cacao. Each farm, between five to ten acres in size, collectively produce more than three million metric tons of cacao per year. (Martin, 2017) While some of the farms also grow crops like oil palm, maize, and plantains, to supplement their income, the average daily income of a typical Ghanaian cacao farmer hovers between $0.50-$0.80. (Martin, 2017).
The current system of buying and selling cacao in West Africa typically involves the growers and farmers selling to intermediaries, who subsequently sell upstream to additional intermediaries. The longer the supply chain, the greater opportunity for corruption and the exploitation of the farmers as the latter receive increasingly smaller shares of the overall price of a chocolate bar as the supply chain grows more layered with intermediaries adding their own profit layer. The marketing structures in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, the two largest cacao producers in West Africa, typify West African cacao trade. In Ghana, farmers take cacao to buying centers operated by the Ghana Cocoa Board, Cocobod. Cocobod fixes prices, and either Cocobod representatives or private buyers purchase the cacao. In Cote d’Ivoire, private traveling buyers collect cacao from farmers and pay a guaranteed minimum export price. (“Organic Cocoa Industry,” 2014)
The marketing structures in both countries exemplify the complexities of the exploitation of cacao farmers. In Ghana, local elites dominate cacao farming. Raising cacao prices would empower the local elite, and threaten the state. (Martin, 2017). Therefore, the state, by controlling cacao prices through the Cocobod, also controls and restricts the power of the local elite. In Cote D’Ivoire, peasants comprise the majority of cacao farmers, and consequently, present a lesser threat to the government of the Cote D’Iviore. Consequently, allowing itinerants to collect cacao from farmers, while giving peasant farmers more ability to negotiate prices and thus greater power, does not, in the government’s view, create a threat to the state.
Cacao, a commodity, theoretically should command a volatile price as determined by the global markets. Market variability within the past half-decade, however, has demonstrated the effects of a long cacao-supply chain. Due to farming conditions, over the past five years, cacao supply has gone from a severe deficit to a surplus. In late 2014, poor harvest yields coupled with increased demand for chocolate drove the supply of cacao way down. (Ferdman, 2014) In fact, a 2014 Bloomberg report even suggested that in 2020, when the demand for cacao would exceed supply by 1 million metric tons, the world would have to turn to a genetically modified form of cacao, even at the forfeit of flavor, to attempt to meet demand. Yet, despite market economics which dictate that with increasing scarcity an item should demand a higher price, unusually, cacao farmers struggled to make a profit and began switching to other crops like palm and rubber. (Ferdman, 2014). Profits from the higher prices, instead of trickling down to the farmers, were captured higher up the supply chain. As recently as March 2017, however, cacao supply had usurped demand. Rather than let the market reset the pricing of cacao, the governments of both Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana announced an unspecified cut in prices of cacao, which further economically harms the farmers. With only meager profits, and constant subjection to harsh work conditions, the farmers cannot move beyond subsistence level and suffer from inescapable exploitative labor practices. (Hunt & Aboa, 2017)
In response to the social and economic injustices associated with the cacao-supply chain, various organizations—governmental, non-governmental, global and national—have been established with the common mission of improving ethicality and corporate responsibility of global cacao practices. For example, the International Cocoa Organization, ICCO, ratified by the United Nations, unifies cacao producing and cacao consuming countries. The ICCO established an official mandate on a Sustainable World Cocoa Economy to addresses the exploitative environment cacao farmers face. (“International Cocoa Organization”) In 2012, Cargill, an American global corporation with a large focus on agricultural commodities, founded Cargill Cocoa Promise which specifically concentrates on bringing transparency to the global cocoa supply chain by supplying ethically sourced cacao to their buyers. (“Cargill is committed to helping the world thrive” 2017) On a micro, private level, Cargill itself develops professional farmers’ organizations in the regions from where the corporation buys cacao in order to help farmers develop a sustainable way to improve and maintain their livelihoods.
Further, various organizations have established criteria for certifications with the goal of enticing companies to comply with specified ethical requirements in exchange for public acknowledgement for doing so. “Fair Trade,” a designation granted by the nonprofit of the same name, stands out as a recognizable stamp on many shelf-brands. Self-defined as an organization which “enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth,” Fair Trade certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee farmers making Fair Trade certified goods receive fair wages, work in safe environments, and receive benefits to support their communities. (“Fair Trade USA,” 2017) Yet, while in theory Fair Trade seems to address many issues the cacao farmers face, critics of the certification point out there exists a lack of evidence of significant impact, a failure to monitor Fair Trade standards, and an increased allowance of non-Trade ingredients in Fair Trade products. (Nolan, Sekulovic, & Rao 2014) So, while in theory certifications like Fair Trade offer the potential to improve the cacao-supply chain by ensuring those companies who subscribe to the certification meet certain criteria, the rigor and regulation of the criteria appears debatable.
Contemporary Solutions: Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
In contrast to the traditional process of chocolate manufacturers buying beans in bulk from suppliers who amalgamate beans from anonymous farms, “bean-to-bar” companies offer another potential solution for the injustices in the bean-to-bar process. By maintaining absolute control of the bean-to-bar process by cutting out the middle-men and dealing directly with the cacao farmers, these small companies not only strive for superior quality, but commit to ethical standards. (Shute 2013) The hope is that the the bean-to-bar “pipeline will make for more ethical, sustainable production in an industry with a long history of exploitation.” (Shute, 2013) The expensive price tag associated with a small-batch bean-to-bar product contributes to a more decent wage for West African cacao farmers, while simultaneously promising an excellent product.
The close relationship proves to be mutually beneficial as the bean-to-bar companies get well-flavored chocolate and the cacao farmers receive fair wages. (Zusman, 2016) Further, the transparency associated with the small-batch bean-to-bar process motivates the companies to adhere to ethical criteria, as well as keep up to date on ethical practices, and encourages the cacao farmers to take extra care in drying and fermenting their beans. Some bean-to-bar chocolate companies have also started following the lead of coffee companies by implementing Direct Trade, a partnership arguably doing more, directly, to help minimize exploitative practices, than Fair Trade. (Zusman 2016)
Direct Trade, a type of product sourcing, partners bean-to-bar buyers directly with cacao farmers. While providing some oversight on ethical practices, Fair Trade’s supervisory capacity does little to create a more direct relationship between the farmers and the ultimate producers or to eliminate extraneous intermediaries diluting profit from the growers. Further, achieving a Fair Trade certification costs between US$8,000 and US$10,000. In contrast, Direct Trade costs the chocolate bar producer nothing while facilitating their purchase of cacao directly from farmers. This one-step connection, perhaps the epitome of the bean-to-bar movement, allows the buyer and seller (the farmer) to together dictate fair prices, and ensure the cacao farmers receive fair wages, working conditions, and support. With control over the bean-to-bar pipeline, and Direct Trade making such a choice more accessible, these smaller chocolate bar companies seem to provide a more viable blueprint to mitigate, and hopefully end, the exploitation of the cocoa farmers.
Alex Whitmore, an innovator of the bean-to-bar chocolate movement founded Taza Chocolate in 2005. A ground-breaking chocolate shop committed to “simply crafted, but seriously good” chocolate, Taza exists as “a pioneer in ethical cacao sourcin.” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Taza “created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all.” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Taza maintains a direct “real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices,” and pays farmers a premium for cacao well above the Fair Trade price. (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) Within this symbiotic relationship, in exchange for ethical treatment and the removal of middlemen, the cacao farmers provide Taza with the “best organic cacao.” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017)
Taza maintains a high degree of transparency on their website. In addition to publishing their Direct Trade Program Commitments (“1. Develop direct relationships with cacao farmers; 2. Pay a price premium to cacao producers; 3. Source the highest quality cacao beans; 4. Require USDA certified organic cacao; 5. Publish an annual transparency report” (“Organic Stone Ground Chocolate for Bold Flavor” 2017) ), Taza provides hyperlinks to their transparency report, cacao sourcing videos, and their sustainable organic sugar. Seemingly, Taza exemplifies the archetype bean-to-bar company.
I spoke with Ayala Ben-Chaim, Taza’s Tours and Events Coordinator, to gain further understanding of Taza’s revolutionary approach and the impact Taza has on the cacao-chocolate supply chain. Ayala explained that Alex set out with the goal of creating a socially responsible chocolate brand that balanced environmental, social, and quality responsibilities. In 2005, market trends indicated consumers wanted organic products, so Alex initially considered making chocolate that was organic and Fair Trade. Ayala noted, however, that as Taza began to develop, Alex discovered not all organic products aligned with Fair Trade certified products, not all Fair Trade Products aligned with organic products, and occasionally both organic and Fair Trade products tasted poorly. Additionally, early on, Taza did not have the budget to pay for Fair Trade certification; further, Alex realized he could be paying that fee directly to the cacao farmers. Consequently, Alex turned to the idea of direct trade.
Taza identified the main issue with the cacao-supply chain as the length of the chain from farmer to chocolate company. The longer the supply chain, the more opportunity for funding to disperse before reaching farmers, and the more opportunity for corruption by middle-men. Confirming the information I found on the website, Ayala explained that to help combat the supply chain injustices by shortening the cacao-supply chain as much as possible, Taza adopted Direct Trade. Ayala elaborated that, emulating Counter-Culture coffee, an organic coffee company that formalized a third-party direct trade policy, Alex forfeited Fair Trade in favor of Direct Trade, and Taza hired a cacao sourcing manager. (“Sustainability At Coffee Origin,” 2017) Based in Columbia, the sourcing manager oversees all of the cacao sourcing, visits cacao farms regularly to ensure the conditions meet Taza’s own highly ethical criteria, and that the cacao fetches fair prices. One of Taza’s biggest direct trade sourcing successes was creating a relationship with Haiti. Taza consistently pays farmers significantly more under the Direct Trade policy than they would have received under a Fair Trade certification, which would not have necessarily cut out middlemen.
Ultimately, however, the question remains whether the extreme efforts Taza puts forth to create an ethically sound product really produce a significant impact on the cacao-supply chain. Although Taza makes a significant impact on the people with whom they directly partner, Ayala commented that many customers approach her to ask about Fair Trade and completely confuse Direct Trade for Fair Trade, and thus do not comprehend Fair Trade’s shortcomings and the increased benefits to the farmers of Direct Trade. Although frustrating, she does concede that some level of awareness in the choice of which chocolate to purchase is better than a total lack of knowledge or concern.
Ayala offered the statistic that in 2005, Taza was only one of three bean-to-bar chocolate companies. Today, however, Taza is one of 60 bean-to-bar companies. While the significance of Taza’s impact may be relatively small, the overall bean-to-bar movement has started to gain momentum. If each bean-to-bar company identifies issues in the cacao supply chain similarly to Taza, then, over time, an increasingly larger percentage of chocolate will come from ethically responsible sourcing. And, hopefully, that will also mean that customers will start to become more knowledgeable about what they are eating, become more discerning about the distinctions between the various “stamps” on the packaging, and more willing to pay a higher price for product that subscribes to and supports ethical farming.
Bean-to-bar chocolate companies appear to be a viable potential solution, albeit slow and on a more micro level, to addressing the issues in the cacao-chocolate supply. Because currently the consumer base does not seem to possess a critical awareness of different certifications, the bean-to-bar companies must continue to pioneer more moral standards until enough customers catch up and until demand forces the bigger chocolate venders to take a similar approach. Until then, tackling the exploitation embedded in the cacao-supply chain falls exclusively on the shoulders of the chocolatiers equally loyal to both chocolate and social responsibility.
“Cargill is committed to helping the world thrive.” Provider of food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world. | Cargill. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.