Conflict-Free Chocolate: Voices of Innovation

As the complexity of global commodity production escalates due to scarcity constraints and climate change, cacao particularly bears these influences with impacts we are just beginning to understand socially and systemically. “A Path to Conflict-Free Chocolate” convened innovators to explore surrounding topics relating to the shadow of slave labor in chocolate, delving into systems level aspects such as sustainability, procurement, certification, impacts, wages and scale.

Among the voices gathered to contribute were Dary Goodrich, Chocolate Products Manager for Equal Exchange, working to more closely connect small-scale farmers with markets and consumers, to tell their stories and transfer benefits of trade back to farmers in Latin America.

Han de Groot, Executive Director of UTZ Certified, a label for sustainable agriculture, coffee, tea and chocolate that is making standards for better marketable and sustainable cocoa, tracing it from farm gate to supermarket shelf, and addressing companies to help them make commitments to sustainable supply chains.

Daniele Giovannucci, President of The Committee on Sustainability Assessment, is tracking economic, environmental and social outcomes to determine tradeoffs and track what is working well and what is not per results desired across these kinds of supply chains.

Alex Whitmore, Founder of Taza Chocolate, sources cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Belize as a pioneer in ethical trade practices, with a direct trade program purchasing at high premiums and whose annual transparency reports are a model for the industry.

The conversation, skillfully moderated by Dr. John Forrer, Director of The George Washington University’s School of Business’ Institute for Corporate Responsibility, was a fascinating exploration of aspects we are deeply considering in creating our prototype. Highlights include key quotes as follows and see here for full transcript and here for part one of the salon series, featuring Madecasse Chocolate, Theo Chocolate and Rainforest Alliance. More information on this ongoing initiative, supported by John Brittell of Capitol Food Ventures, can be found at: www.conflictfreechocolate.com.

“Child labor… it’s not only a chocolate problem, it’s also a poverty problem.”Han

“In Belize for instance, we actually work with producers so when their kids are home from school for weekend, that’s when they all go out and harvest the pods off the trees, as a family, so they are not being taken out of school to go help mom and dad help pull the pods down from the tree. So that’s an example of how we incorporate that kind of challenge into our process and our relationships with the producers we work with. I think it is different in every culture and every place you go.”Alex

“A lot of the issues…ultimately come down to abject levels of poverty among the producers of these commodities, and it’s not just cocoa of course. That challenge itself is the underlying basis, for a lot of the issues we’re discussing, so the solution is as big as that challenge inherently. There is no single approach to this. There is as much complexity as there is inherently in sustainability itself.”Daniele

“The solution…to understand what’s going on, to make good decisions…is having a sound basis of information. We have a lot of anecdotal evidence but its difficult to convince a donor, a government, even an NGO sometimes, much less a company that’s buying…to take action to invest in new alternatives or approaches.”Daniele

“From our perspective what we’re trying to do is de-commodify cocoa, there needs to be more direct linkage between people selling the product in the market …and people seeing it not just as a commodity but as a livelihood for farmers around the world.”Dary

“The chocolate, cocoa chain is one of the most narrow ones…[an hourglass with the] narrow part of it occupied by 10 to 20 international companies.”Han

“For the moment, we are dealing with levels of trust, essentially, and because of the complexity of the supply chain, and farmer conditions, and remote farms, many companies have made the bet that their way of managing this particular risk, both for their reputation and for their concern for the farms they deal with, is in certifications.”Daniele

“Over time, we need to teach consumers that chocolate isn’t just cheap candy. There are a lot of affiliations with chocolate and candy in the consumer’s mind and chocolate just isn’t candy…they’re buying something that has got a lot more value than the hard candy. Thinking about chocolate differently is something that’s going to have to shift in the consumer mind.”Alex

Transparency is to “utilize modern technology…to shorten supply chains, increase visibility not only for the manufacturer but also for the consumer…a little bit of effort would go a long way towards making industry more sustainable and honest. Actually a lot of the business that is being done is brokers and people taking advantage of market environments that are opaque, down long dirt roads, in countries that are very difficult to do business with, and these people who have these connections are making a lot of money by keeping the great distance and a great communication gap between the end user of these beans and the producer of these beans. So by eliminating that you can get rid of a lot of the inefficiencies in the system and bring a lot more value to producers at the ground level.”Alex

“Yes, I think going back to the core/root issue…being poverty driving a lot of these issues. I think transparency [is important], all the companies showing exactly where they are sourcing and what the reality is on the ground…opening that book up so everyone can look in there and see what is going on. Floor price – really making sure that farmers are getting paid enough to have a sustainable livelihood. And I think a key piece too is empowering farmers, I think we talk about them as someone at the end of the chain and the reality is they need to be part of all of these discussions and they need to be an active player…so they can pool their resources and become an economic and political power in these countries…so shortening that chain, and making sure the farmers are moving up that chain.”Dary

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