Tag Archives: fair trade

Some Better Solutions: Local Ownership and Direct Trade

Fair trade programs might increase a grower’s profit margin by a few percent, but it will take a radical change in trade dynamics to shift the balance of economic inequity. Divine Chocolate represents one model for this change—the growers’ cooperative that supplies cacao for Divine bars also owns a majority 44% share in Divine. They have ownership over the entire supply chain, and reap the same benefits as any other shareholders.

Direct trade is another alternative to fair trade certification. Like fair trade, it is a term used by chocolatiers to describe their bean-buying practices. Rather than operating within the conventional chocolate supply chain and paying a premium for certification, direct trade chocolate companies establish relationships with individual growers. Direct trade chocolatiers often visit plantations to evaluate growing and working conditions while cultivating partnerships with individual farmers. Most of these are small “bean-to-bar” companies that do everything from roasting to conching to molding to sales in-house. Direct trade isn’t governed by a certifying body, so various companies interpret the term differently, but many have established codes of ethics that guide their buying practices.

Diego’s Chocolate in Guatemala and Madécasse in Madagascar offer a radical answer to concerns about trade dynamics and global economic inequality. By growing, producing, and packaging chocolate locally in their respective countries, they retain most of the profit that would otherwise go to chocolatiers in the global north.

Ultimately, fair trade and direct trade are incomplete solutions. Poverty and lack of education prevent many growers from producing better quality crops, driving a harder bargain with buyers, or moving into higher-profit segments of the chocolate supply chain. There is no single solution, but right now it seems like the best thing we consumers can do is support equitable alternatives that allow everyone in the chocolate industry to run successful businesses and build healthy communities.

PREVIOUS: Fair Trade: The Market-Driven Answer

NEXT: Chocolate at war

Chocolate in Africa: From Cadbury to Child Slavery

In South America, respected priest Bartolomé de las Casas, spoke out against slavery and feudalism. The closest equivalent in Africa was the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers. Quakers had been historically persecuted for their egalitarian religious beliefs and were barred from many professions, but they were often successful in business, and well respected for honest practices and quality goods.

Quakers brought their concern for fairness and welfare to the chocolate industry with four major English brands: Fry, Cadbury, Rowntree, and Terry. They shared with the Aztecs a dislike of drunkenness, and thought that chocolate beverages could be a good replacement for alcohol. They also established the predecessor to today’s fair trade movement by buying only beans that had been grown without slave labor. Cadbury’s radical ideas about labor extended to their workers at home in England as well. They even constructed a utopian factory town in the countryside to get their employees out of urban slums.

Cadbury’s original ideals didn’t always prevail, though. In the early 1900s they were purchasing nearly half their beans from São Tomé, where slavery was commonplace on plantations. Even after the violation was brought to light, Cadbury argued that they could do more for slaves by working with slave-holding Portuguese planters than by finding a different source. But with up to six thousand slaves dying on São Tomé each year, the public outcry continued and Quaker chocolatiers returned—at least for a while—to their boycott of slave-grown cacao.

With much of the industry boycotting São Tomé, the island’s growers shifted away from cacao production. Smaller farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, owned and operated by West African families, stepped in to take up the slack. For several decades, they made good money, first under colonial governments and then, for a time, under their own rule. It didn’t last.

In the 1950s, farmers in West Africa found cacao a valuable cash crop, but as France and England let go of these former colonies and withdrew financial investment, Ghana and the Ivory Coast started to rely on the chocolate industry for most of their revenue. Today, farmers are heavily taxed and must operate through resellers—sometimes several layers of them—to bring their crops to market. Each intermediary takes their cut, as does the government, and industrial chocolate companies in Europe and America are always happy to drive down costs and increase their profit margin.

Between post-colonial disinvestment, class tension, and religious disputes, the economic and political climate in West Africa hasn’t been good for cacao growers. Many of them now live in poverty or have turned to other professions. Others make up the gap in a different way: with unpaid child labor. An oft-quoted U.S. State Department report describes conditions on some farms as “the worst forms of child labor.” Reporters interviewing plantation workers find a range of stories—from those who were paid and treated well to those who were abducted, purchased from their families, or promised pay and then enslaved. These children endure labor that is almost literally back-breaking, carrying heavy loads, and are unlikely to receive any education.

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NEXT: From Liquid to Solid: Chocolate Innovation

Chocolates we have loved

“Chocolate Coins” by William Warby via Wikipedia

The question everyone’s been asking us: so which chocolate should I buy?

Food is Power has already done the hard work of compiling and maintaining an up-to-date list of ethical fair trade (or better) vegan chocolates.  So we’ll leave that to them.

Here are the responsible chocolates we’ve latched onto over the years:

  • Dandelion: I’ve only actually had one of these, but it was given to me by a friend (who lists me in IM as dandelion, which pleases me).  Plus they’re bean-to-bar, so that’s something.
  • Divine: The company is partially owned by a cacao growers’ collective in Ghana.  The collective holds two seats on the board of directors and, as shareholders, collective members receive dividends from Divine’s profits. 
  • Diego’s chocolate: A lovely and uniquely made cigar-shaped chocolate that’s “Mayan-grown, Mayan-made from tree to chocolate in Guatemala”.  We mention these folks in our book.
  • El Castillo del Cacao – I’ve bee living in León, Nicaragua for a couple weeks now, and this locally-produced organic chocolate seems to be THE local option.
  • Heavenly Organics: Not vegan!  But so good, and they say they’re bee-friendly.  They buy from Indian worker-owned cooperatives they helped make. Unsweetened dark chocolate with a honey + simple flavoring center.  Great for folks like me who never wanted their peas touching their mashed potatoes (and shoved their chicken in the upholstery when I thought nobody was looking) at the dinner table growing up.  Simple, yet interesting.
  • Madecasse: Produced in Madagascar!  I liked their pink pepper & citrus one.  They recently seem to have grown?
  • Taza: Direct trade, based in the east coast.  Theirs is the round chocolate, usually kind of gritty like Mexican chocolate.  So great.
  • Theo: Based in Seattle, they’re into making fair trade, organic chocolate accessible.  I enjoy their mission statement, and I stock up on these to use as minor presents to give to friends & strangers as thank yous.
  • Tony’s Chocolonely: They’re also into making fair trade chocolate accessible, but they’re so single-minded about slave-free chocolate that they’re not focused on the organic aspect, and I can live with their logic. (They’re also aware of their environmental impact with dairy, which is a start.)  I do like how they’re reframing and mainstreamifying the fair trade concept.  Another chocolate that’s great for gift-giving.

Saucy Roasted Eggplant (p.141) & Saucy Roasted Eggplant Pie

This easy eggplant dish gets rave reviews at potlucks.  The cocoa is used as a subtle spice, but for a bolder chocolate flavor you can use 1/4 cup of cocoa powder and increase the sugar to one tablespoon.

Makes one 8 x 13-inch cake pan
Takes 60-90 minutes

1 eggplant (about 1 pound)
13.5 ounces of coconut milk (about 2 cups)
2 cups diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 teaspoons ras el hanout or garam masala
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Cut the eggplant into slices up to 1/4″ thick and put a single layer in the bottom of an oiled 8 x 13-inch cake pan.

Mix together the coconut milk, diced tomatoes, cocoa powder, ras el hanout, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.  Evenly distribute about half the sauce over the eggplant.  Add the remaining eggplant slices as a second layer, and then pour all the remaining sauce on top.

Roast until the eggplant is soft and completely saturated with the sauce.  This may take 40-60 minutes depending on your oven and the thickness of your eggplant slices.

Serve with a starchy food to sop up the sauce.

Fantastic burrito filling or bean dip: Keep any sauce that remains after baking.  Add the sauce to a couple cups of cooked black beans and heat it on the stove for 5-10 minutes.  If you mash the beans while cooking them, it also makes a great bean dip.

We used this recipe to make the filling for the savory pie we brought to Day #5 of Nine Days of Pie at Afru Gallery. It was a hit! We were informed that of hundreds of unique pies tried over the years, this was truly one of the best. High praise!

Someone asked Darin at the book reading today which chocolates he recommends as equitable. That’s a book of its own! [UPDATE: chocolates we have loved] However, Darin suggested Creo and Tony’s Chocolonely as a couple example chocolate companies he recommends to show the range of slavery-free chocolates that are sold locally. Here’s a blurb I thought was interesting from Tony’s Chocolonely’s FAQ:

Did you know that certified chocolate bars (e.g. Fair Trade) also contains non-certified cocoa – and vice versa? If you buy certified chocolate, you can be certain that somewhere in the world the quantity of certified beans needed to make your bar was purchased. It’s just not physically in your bar. It’s really not. We can tell you precisely where the cocoa in our chocolate comes from. We believe that traceability is a critical step toward 100% slave free chocolate.

Reminder: When making Saucy Roasted Eggplant, if you use a can of tomatoes, they’re typically pre-salted, so you can omit the called-for salt.

Saucy Roasted Eggplant Pie: Follow the Saucy Roasted Eggplant recipe above, with the following exceptions: Dice the eggplant into 1/2″ cubes instead of slicing it. It will only take up a single layer in the cake pan. That’s fine, just cover it with all the sauce. Dicing the eggplant means there’s more surface area. You don’t need to cook it as long; it took 35-45 minutes to soften in the oven we used – the goal is for it to provide almost no resistance when pierced with a fork. Remove the eggplant from the oven. Stir in two cans of beans (or four cups of cooked beans). We used one can of black and another of cannelini. Fills two standard pie shells.

If your pie shells don’t come with instructions, it’s probably sufficient to pierce the bottoms with a fork (after defrosting, if applicable), bake them at 350°F for 10-12 minutes, until they start to brown, take them out, add the filling, and bake them for another 10 minutes to help everything settle.