Yesterday, we reported on the dark side to chocolate that many consumers are often blissfully unaware of, or deliberately chose to ignore. Cacao is grown predominantly on small family farms in a narrow tropical band around the equator. While a handful of massive global corporations control and profit handsomely from the worldwide chocolate trade, millions of cacao farmers and their families toil in poverty year after year and deforestation is widespread. Worse still, child slavery tragically persists, despite reputable international reports that surfaced over a decade ago–in particular highlighting the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, the Ivory Coast.
Mindful of the unbearable social and environmental costs endemic to the current chocolate trade, and concluding that the industry doesn’t have the resolve to create material positive change, many courageous folks are responding with a different approach. Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Profit Sharing, Co-ops, and Bean to Bar are among many alternatives being pursued.
Gratefully, there are some inspiring souls who have been moved by the troubling social and environmental injustices endemic to today’s chocolate industry. On February 22, 2011 at Viracocha in San Francisco, Kitchen Table Talks hosted an intimate discussion about the issues facing, and solutions offered, by some conscious industry role-models.
To set the stage, the 85 folks in attendance watched a brief clip from 2001’s award-winning documentary, Slavery: a Global Investigation. In it, Kate Blewett and Brian Woods (inspired by the work of Free the Slaves‘ Kevin Bales), documented first hand accounts of modern day child slavery in the cacao fields of the Ivory Coast. Former child slaves chillingly spoke of “masters,” whippings, beatings, and daily abuse, and a local expert stated his belief that 90 percent of cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast (the world’s largest cacao exporter at roughly 40 percent of global supply) are tainted by slavery.
Following the film clip, we served a pastry graciously baked by Jim Dodge, the Director of Special Culinary Programs at Bon Appétit Management Company, using Fair Trade chocolate from Cordillera. Jim’s delicious creation resolutely dispelled a concern about the taste and consistent quality from Fair Trade chocolate suppliers.
The discussion among these industry pioneers was reflective, thought provoking, and inspiring. John Kehoe, VP of sourcing and development for Tcho, relayed his keen observations from more than 20 years in the specialty cocoa trade. John provided color on the remoteness of small family cacao farms in Ecuador, Peru, and the Dominican Republic, and the many difficulties faced by growers in getting their beans to market.
Brett Beach, co-founder of Madecasse (recently named by Fast Company as among the 50 most innovative companies in the world) shared similar insights about growers in Madagascar, and the myriad ways farmers are cheated by collectors once they manage to get to market. Carlos Mann, co-founder of Nicaraguan chocolate maker Momotombo, and founder of the exciting educational initiative OMETEOTE, re-affirmed the harsh conclusion that in this industry “farmers will never grow their way out of poverty.”
But rather than acquiesce and contribute to such a fate for the farming families whose lives have crossed their own, these enlightened leaders are choosing to obliterate the traditional business models based on more than 100 years of the colonial ethos and are empowering their partners, rather than exploiting them. For these visionaries, paying a higher price for beans—a fair price—is just the start. They are also cognizant that by providing farmers knowledge, skills, tools and training in fermentation and artisanal chocolate making, they create lasting value that benefits all parties. Farmers learn to add-value to their beans, while at the same time the knowledge gained through making and tasting chocolate (sadly, a rare occurrence) creates a positive feedback loop that improves the quality of both farmed and finished product.
Treating their cacao farmers with dignity as partners, rather than solely as a dehumanized link in their supply chain, creates value in economic terms and beyond. A win-win to be sure.
Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, Fair Trade campaign director for Global Exchange, highlighted some of the many benefits that the Fair Trade system has meant for these remote communities since Fair Trade certification began in 2002: Price premiums for Fair Trade certified beans that are re-invested in the community, the availability of low-cost credit, and empowerment through democratically run cooperatives.