As I’m sure you’re already aware, the mainstream cacao industry is rife with ethical issues, such as slavery, enforced child labour and the general mistreatment of farmers, who often earn barely enough to survive. As people become more and more aware of these issues, we see more and more chocolate companies ‘greenwashing’ - making dubious claims about the ethics behind their products, and often using made-up symbols and fake certifications on their packaging.
Even the official certifications are failing to achieve most of what they promise to. I’m not an expert on this topic but I talk with many people who are, and there’s an almost unanimous consensus that, whilst filled with good intentions, well known certifications like Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance are not even close to achieving what they set out to achieve, particularly in West Africa, where about 60% of the world’s cacao is grown. That’s not necessarily entirely the fault of these ambitious certification schemes, but the result of trying to fix a system that is so heavily broken. There’s an old saying where I come from - ‘you can’t polish a turd’. The mainstream cacao industry is undoubtedly a turd, and the system needs a complete overhaul.
The fine cacao and craft chocolate industry are showing how things can be done differently, and with as much transparency as possible. The chocolate makers we work with are paying around two or three times the market rate for their beans, as opposed to the tiny premium offered by certification schemes (usually around 10% more than the market rate). They are working with farms where slavery is absolutely not an issue. One of the key things that is different about the fine/craft system is that it values quality over quantity. The much higher rates paid to farmers are based on the quality and flavour profile of the beans - it’s about doing the right thing, but it’s also about creating mutually beneficial business relationships that are sustainable and built to last. Likewise, that is why the chocolate we sell is more expensive than most supermarket brands - you’re paying for something that’s truly ethical, as well as something that is much higher quality and offers a completely different flavour experience.
These issues around ethics and sustainability in chocolate are unbelievably complex, and made all-the-more confusing by the greenwashing we see everywhere, not to mention the big money marketing campaigns that are so much more prevalent than the voices of people and companies who are actually doing great things. Fine cacao and craft chocolate is just a drop in the ocean of this huge industry, but I hope that one day the example we’re all setting will be much more widespread, and that the world can embrace ethical trade and a quality over quantity approach to chocolate.
Photo courtesy of Luisa Abram. Views expressed are my own.