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.
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