Chocolate is possibly the most widely acknowledge source of edible pleasure known to man, but do you ever stop to think about who grew the cacao that made your chocolate moment possible? Reports of more than 15,000 child slaves working on cacao farms in West Africa, documented in books such as Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet make for uncomfortable reading. So can you tell me who grew the cocoa in your Easter egg? Does that chocolatey treat still taste so sweet?
The widely acknowledged dark side to the world’s chocolate consumption is not new. In 1994, a small ethical movement called the Fairtrade Foundation set out to ensure that farmers who were growing their cocoa in an ethical and sustainable way got a fair price for their production. The Fairtrade Foundation has gone from humble beginnings and now, twenty years on, has more than 4,500 products licensed to carry the ‘Fairtrade’ logo.
In the early days of the Fairtrade Foundation, paying the extra and supporting fairtrade cocoa was predominantly taken up by small, independent chocolate manufacturers, who differentiated themselves from the mass market. I remember the first Fairtrade certified product from Green & Black’s, Maya Gold Chocolate made with cocoa from Belize, launched in 1994. What started as a small idea has grown into big business.
Now with three of the largest manufacturers of chocolate – Nestle, Cadbury and Mars – on board with Fairtrade, the chocolate world seems set to be a fairer place. The reassuring Fairtrade label seemingly guarantees that Third World farmers who grow cocoa receive a fair price. But all may not be what it seems because, despite the logo, when you tuck into your Dairy Milk, Kit Kat or Maltesers, it may not actually contain any Fairtrade cocoa beans at all.
The current system of ‘mass balancing’ allows manufacturers to mix Fairtrade beans with other beans from non-Fairtrade sources, and the ratio of finished products is then labelled as ‘Fairtrade’. To put it simply, mass balancing is a way of mixing cocoa beans so that if a manufacturer buys 20% of its beans from Fairtrade farms, then it can label 20% of its products as such. The result? There’s no guarantee that the Fairtrade branded chocolate bar you have just bought and enjoyed actually contains any Fairtrade cocoa beans whatsoever. Many of the people who understand this feel that this labelling is misleading and the system less than transparent.
Farmers still receive an extra premium from the Fairtrade system (an additional sum for community development). This is used by farmers’ groups for community projects, such as building schools and medical clinics, providing clean drinking water and piloting organic conversion schemes to help farmers work for the future, so good things do happen as a result of the Fairtrade label. However, the majority of profit is still generated by turning the cocoa beans into confectionary and it’s the biggest companies that take the lion’s share of the profit.
Because of this, not everyone is convinced that the Fairtrade logo does as much good as it could. Martin Christie, the chair of Direct Cacao, says that he is deeply suspicious of many companies claiming sustainability. ‘Most people in fine chocolate do not consider the Fairtrade model to be working. When you ask questions such as, ‘Does it really benefit the farmers in Africa? Is it working for the people that really need it the most? And does it guarantee that the farm workers themselves are paid a fair wage?’ It’s clear that it is not. So the only way you can make sure you get a truly fair and ethical bar is by buying chocolate from direct trade models where there is a direct relationship between the grower and the manufacturer.’
There are a growing number of these direct trade companies and they are making some of the best chocolate around – Pacari Chocolate, Duffies Chocolate and The Grenada Chocolate Company, to name a few. They offer an alternative to mass-market and Fairtrade chocolate. Their chocolate tastes of the care and is processed by conscious growers and producers – it costs more but is worth the higher price that you’ll pay for it. Chocolate should be a luxury product, small amounts of high-quality, high-impact taste, left lingering on the tongue, leaving the eater sated on much smaller amounts.
The story of the Grenada Chocolate Company tells you much about what makes this chocolate different. It has always been widely accepted that you can’t make chocolate where the pods grow – it’s just too hot. Cacao trees grow in a limited geographical zone, approximately 20 degrees to the north and south of the Equator. But Mott Green, one of the original founders of The Grenada Chocolate Company turned that premise completely on its head.
I was first introduced to The Grenada Chocolate Company by my friend Chantal Coady of Rococo Chocolate about four years ago. Chantal described Mott as an anarchist, a brilliant streak of creativity combined with unwavering determination to produce sustainable organic chocolate where it grew. Her description of the plantation and Mott captivated me and once I’d tasted this smooth, easy chocolate, there was no returning to anything less.
A combination of Grenada’s perfect growing conditions and Mott’s commitment to doing things his own way resulted in one of the most delicious chocolate bars I’ve ever tasted, made from bean to bar within a one-mile radius of where the cocoa grows.
Mott’s remarkable chocolate quite literally turned the conventional model of chocolate production on its head. The Grenada Chocolate Company is co-owned by the farmers. The manufacturing process takes place just a mile from where the cocoa is grown and fermented. It is totally organic, powered by solar energy, and the chocolate is enjoyed by local consumers.
Cocoa farming is generally small scale and unsophisticated, and almost entirely produced on small family farms. At The Grenada Chocolate Company, beautiful deep burgundy and sunshine yellow pods are organically grown and transported – until just a few months ago, by hand – across boulders and over a river to just a few hundred yards away, fermented to the point of perfect fruity balance, before being transported to the chocolate factory.
The factory is a joyous painted domestic house with the bright colours of the company logo faded by the sun. You can smell chocolate from a hundred yards away. Inside, instead of furniture in the kitchen, dining room and sitting room, there are antiques and crazy-looking contraptions built or modified for purpose by Mott. A roaster roars as a flame jets under the beans, a winnower shakes like a crazy dancer, and a huge Victorian conching machine grinds the beans continuously. It’s Wallace and Gromit meets Willy Wonka.
On 1st June 2013, Mott died in a tragic accident. He was just 47 when he was electrocuted while working on solar-powered machinery for keeping the chocolate cool to transport between islands on a sail boat. The chocolate world was heartbroken.
Mott’s chocolate was committed to sustainability at every step, including its transport on a 32 metre brigantine called the Tres Hombres. The precious cargo was sailed 5,000 miles across the Atlantic to bring this chocolate to the UK, maintaining its zero carbon credentials through the power of the wind and solar powered refrigeration.
So for me, chocolate needs to be more than Fairtrade. Mott Green’s legacy is a model for the chocolate world in its striving to be the fairest and most sustainable chocolate possible. Mott started a chocolate revolution developing a truly fairtrade system that cocoa farmers can replicate across the globe, allowing the world’s poorest farmers more than just an extra slither of a small and unjust price.
This Easter, be a part of the chocolate revolution and buy a better chocolate. I can promise that it is much more delicious to be a revolutionary.
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