Bean-to-bar chocolate: more than just a trend!

Faire Schokolade

Translation from the recent article by Jornalist Pedro Araújo:

Are the problems eternal? I have to come to the conclusion that they are. Otherwise, I cannot find an explanation for the problem I have. Let me explain: On 17 June 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) ruled in favour of Nesté and Cargill in a case filed by six people over 15 years ago. This means little to nothing to the ordinary citizen, who is unaware of the impact the contrary decision could have on the industry, trade and consumption of chocolate worldwide. So what is it all about and what impact will the SCOTUS decision have on chocolate and the world?

First, we need to understand who the companies sued are. While Nestlé, as one of the largest food companies in the world with a considerable weight in the chocolate industry, needs no introduction, Cargill, on the other hand, is an illustrious unknown, despite being a giant in the global business of cocoa and its derivatives. And these six people? They are Malian citizens who were sold into slavery on cocoa plantations as children. They sued these two companies 15 years ago for the role they play in perpetuating the slave trade and for the decisions they make to keep the price of cocoa low and profit margins high. Under the Alien Tort Statute, an 18th century law that allows foreigners to sue in US courts for serious violations of international law, these Malian citizens decided to sue the companies in question. However, the SCOTUS ruled that this law did not apply to the case because the acts took place in Côte d'Ivoire and not in the United States. Let's take a trip back in time to January 1909. The world is a very different place than it is today, we would think, right? Wrong. In January 1909, São Tomé and Príncipe (a Portuguese colony) was the largest cocoa producer in the world (17%), but Cadbury's (one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world and responsible for buying about 45% of São Tomé's cocoa) began to ban Portuguese cocoa in protest against the use of slave labour on São Tomé's cocoa plantations. A stance followed by many others of the world's major chocolate producers, marking the end of Portuguese domination of world cocoa production. Let us travel almost 100 years into the future. It is September 2001. Representatives of the cocoa and chocolate industries sign the Harkin-Engel Protocol, an agreement developed by Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Eliot Engel to eliminate the worst forms of child labour in the cocoa and chocolate industries. The agreement is comprehensive and lists solutions to address the problem. Let's travel a little further, back to the present, to July 2021. What has changed since January 1909?

Nothing, or from an optimistic perspective, very little. And I say that because speakers have acknowledged that child labour and slave labour exist, that they are part of the problem and that the problem must be eradicated. Some facts: * the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) are the world's largest chocolate producers; * the EU (about 50%) and the US are the world's largest chocolate consumers; * the African continent produces over 70% of the world's cocoa, with Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana producing about 60% of the world's cocoa; * child labour exists; * slavery exists; * one in ten children is a victim of child labour; * 71% of child labour is in agriculture. Yet the problem persists and at this rate it will take another century to eradicate the problem. So how can we, ordinary citizens who are also part of the problem, make a difference? First of all, we need to realise that buying a bar of chocolate for one euro can never be fair trade. Why is that?

Because 23% of that euro is VAT, and if we add up the retailer's margin, the wholesaler's margin, the importer's margin, the chocolate maker's margin and the cocoa importer's margin (and this example is a simple chain, there are much more complex supply chains than this), how much do you think ends up with the cocoa maker? And this is not because there are any stamps certifying the fairness of the business, of the product or anything else, but because nowadays everything is certified, everything has a stamp. The subject is very complex and delicate, I know, but allow me to explain: The cocoa trade is divided into two types - bulk cocoa, which is traded on the stock exchange (USD 2300 per tonne) and accounts for more than 90% of world cocoa production, and the cocoa known as Fine & Flavour, which is not traded on the stock exchange and whose average price per tonne is USD 6000. The former is the enemy to defeat for two main reasons: The cocoa is of very poor quality and because the problem of slave and child labour is rooted in this type of production. Why doesn't the big chocolate industry use the incomparably better quality Fine & Flavour cocoa? Well, because it would have no margin and no profit left, as the business model is based on the low price of the raw material, which in turn perpetuates the problem of slavery and child labour. In short, no more one-euro or two-euro chocolates.

Anbau Kakaobohnen

So how can we as ordinary citizens make a difference? By doing to the big chocolate industry what it did when it had an interest in solving the same problem. In other words, by imposing an embargo. Don't buy chocolate from a brand that is industrially produced, don't make deals! Buy chocolate from bean-to-bar producers, they are the only guarantors of justice in the process. Why is buying bean-to-bar chocolate the solution? For three reasons: It's better for the farmer, it's better for the environment and it's better for you. The injustices in the cocoa industry are well known, an industry worth over $100 billion, but where farmers in West Africa earn less than $0.80 per day. And that's why we have certifications like Fairtrade, UTZ or Rainforest Alliance, right? The truth is that while these certifications guarantee slightly higher prices than non-certified cocoa, the certification system is wounded to death because it is in fact also a business. To get the certificate, the farmer has to pay for it, upfront. This means that 90% of the world's cocoa is produced by smallholder farmers who cannot afford the cost of the certification that is supposed to protect them. Bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturers do not carry a Fair Trade logo on their packaging, but they are proud to negotiate directly with cocoa farmers and pay far more than the reference price for certified cocoa. This direct trade allows the chocolatiers to get to know the producer and the cocoa in its many facets. For these reasons, it is better for the farmer.

Feitoria do Cacao Schokolade

None of this happens with industrial chocolate. For example, as of December 2018, Lindt, Mondelez, Ferrero, Hershey's and Nestlé brands could only trace less than 30% of their cocoa back to the producer, and it is this lack of transparency that allows slave and child labour to persist. The impact on price is obvious: standard cocoa costs $2300/tonne, certified cocoa $2500/tonne and Fine & Flavour $6000/tonne. From an environmental perspective, the impact of the massive use of bulk cocoa is unmistakable. Regularly grown in monoculture, it greatly exacerbates the problem of deforestation.

For their part, Fine & Flavour producers work in symbiosis with the environment by growing other types of crops in the cocoa fields (timber trees, pineapple, cardamom, etc.), protecting the biodiversity of ecosystems, using indigenous cocoa varieties and thus preserving the genetic diversity of cocoa. Contrary to what we think, cocoa has many health benefits. It is very rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, has anti-inflammatory effects, benefits cardiovascular health, and recent studies show that it has positive effects on memory, stress, immune system and mood. And that's why it's better for you. However, not all chocolate contains the same amount of antioxidants. Bean-to-bar chocolatiers only use Fine & Flavour cocoa, cocoa butter and sugar because the focus is always on the end taste, meaning the cocoa is always the star. Unfortunately, this is not the case with industrial chocolate, and no matter how much brands try to sell themselves as "luxury", "fine" or "premium", the truth is that they use mass-produced cocoa, cocoa in which the parts that are important for flavour development, fermentation, drying and roasting, are not taken into account. The result: badly fermented cocoa, badly dried cocoa, badly roasted cocoa, burnt cocoa, everything is used. This, of course, has an impact on the taste. To control it, the cocoa is alkalised, that is, it is washed with a chemical solution to reduce its acidity. This makes it very bitter, very dark, with little flavour and more than 80% of the antioxidants and flavonoids are removed. In other words, the health-giving properties disappear and the taste is corrected by adding flavourings and stabilisers. To summarise once again:

Why is buying bean-to-bar chocolate the solution? Because it's better for the farmer; it's better for the environment and it's better for you. In conclusion, problems only last forever because we don't look for the solution. Note to self: This reality is not exclusive to chocolate/cocoa; it is in many other areas.

Source photos: Feitoria do Cacao

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