Kickstarting Truly Fair Wages for African Cacao Farmers

Chocolate may be one of our favorite luxury goods, but sadly, its production process is also one of the most abusive. Child labor, unfair wages and low prices for cacao farmers tend to reinforce a state of poverty in Africa, a major producer.

Numerous campaigns are exploring ways to change that — Fair Trade certification may be the most famous — but a new Kickstarter campaign could be a roadmap to reform.

What if the way to improve the chocolate industry involves putting control of production into the hands of the people who grow and handle cacao from the start?

This is what fairafric explores. Historically, once cacao is harvested, it’s exported for processing and production elsewhere in the world. Farmers receive a very small percentage of the per-bar cost because all they provide is raw ingredients and initial handling.

Even fancy, single-origin chocolates, which are growing much more popular among connoisseurs, still rely on beans grown elsewhere. The beans are imported to a factory that handles and packages them, ostensibly for quality control purposes and to centralize production.

Fairafric’s approach to chocolate-making, though, is a bit of a twist. The group proposes keeping the entire bean-to-bar process in Africa and then exporting the finished product. That means more money in the hands of the Africans who grow, handle and produce the chocolate — and a chance at a better life.

Developing fair wages to address social issues and abuses in agriculture, as elsewhere, remains challenging. Individual companies must participate in the development of industry standards and comply with them.

Ideally this occurs with the assistance of a third party auditor, but auditors cannot be everywhere — and some are less accountable than others. Concerned consumers don’t necessarily have a way to track performance, instead counting on labels and certifications — sometimes without understanding what they mean or realizing their hidden implications. Fair trade campaigns are well-intentioned, and a good start, but we still need more.

And the chocolate industry illustrates why.

Slavery continues to be a problem, for example. Fair trade certification aims to monitor working conditions to address the issue, and certified chocolate is less likely to be made with slave and child labor.

But growers typically earn only six percent of retail price. Even though farming plays a huge role in their lives, they play a small proportional role in chocolate production. Farmers may spend all day in the fields, dedicating tremendous amounts of time and resources to cacao farming, yet most still live in poverty with limited access to education, health care and other basic rights.

So how do we solve a problem like chocolate, where the complexities of the industry and pricing volatility pose a fair pricing problem?

Put as much of the production process as possible into local communities, allowing them to benefit from a higher percentage of the sale price. That includes growing, harvesting, fermenting, curing, roasting and grinding beans, as well as producing a variety of bars, packaging them and then exporting them.

The chocolate production process can empower local communities, creating infrastructure and a framework to improve their financial situation, rather than dependence on a capricious industry.

While fairafric is a single Kickstarter campaign that would benefit some cacao producers in Ghana, it has the potential to be something much bigger. Demand for bean-to-bar chocolate is growing — and with it, calls for fair production of consumer goods. The combination could result in better outcomes for chocolate producers and a much happier chocolate bar for everyone.

Photo credit: Department of Foreign Affairs Australian Aid

49 comments

Elisa F
Elisa F5 months ago

A start in the right direction. NO Slavery, NO Child Labor!

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william Miller
william Miller11 months ago

thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiranabout a year ago

noted

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Alice Mullen
Alice Mullenabout a year ago

No to slavery, no to child labour and yes to fair wages.

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Rose Becke
Rose Beckeabout a year ago

No child slaves

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Sen Heijkamp
Sayenne Habout a year ago

Good!

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Tanya W.
Tanya Wabout a year ago

May there always be fair trade in the future

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Tanya W.
Tanya Wabout a year ago

Thanks 🍫

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Doris F.
Doris Fabout a year ago

fair wages are overdue...all over

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