PORTLAND, Oregon- Apart from initiatives like fair trade and co-op businesses commonly used in the cacao industry to preserve farmer’s interests, the owner of Woodblock Chocolate has taken another step.
As simple as it sounds, Woodblock Chocolate has continued the practice of personally reaching out to farmers and building relationships to produce a high quality product. By doing this, they have been able to offer farmers 2 or 3 times the market price for their product- keeping farmers afloat as rising prices cut into profit margins.
Farmers in Woodblock’s production line sprout from all over Latin America, including Venezuela, Ecuador, and Trinidad. As cacao commodity prices continue to rise due to increased demand from new markets, as well as poor weather conditions in key cacao producing countries, many manufacturers have looked to cheaper producers to obtain their beans. One such market lies in West Africa.
West African cacao farms, as opposed to those in Latin America, have become known for rife stances of child labor abuse and slavery. Almost entirely hidden from the average consumer, labels are no indicator whether the beans in their chocolate bar was cultivated using exploited children.
In 2010 many West African suppliers were suspended of their Fair Trade Certification, indicating that at one point some of the “fair trade” chocolate was actually a product of child labor. Personal interaction and in-person visits between Woodblock’s owner and their supply lines ensure not only a more ethical production process, but also a higher quality product.
Though Woodblock Chocolate comes at a higher price tag than your average Hershey’s chocolate bar, many are willing to pay to keep their conscious clear. Hershey’s has been put in the spotlight more than once for sourcing cheap cacao beans from West African farms despite the documented rampant abuse.
In 2012, Hershey’s was sued by its own investors for “overlooking” the abuses on its cacao farms. The company then denied the allegations as well as requests for transparency, stating, “We have been involved in on-the-ground programs, working with public and private partners, to help eliminate inappropriate labor practices in cocoa communities.” Though it is true the company has invested millions of dollars in West African communities, demand for the beans has continued the incentive for abuse.
The best remedy to end this abuse is either not sourcing chocolate from West Africa entirely, or paying farmers a living wage for their product. Efforts by Woodblock chocolate founder, Charley Wheelock, are a step in the right direction and hail far above practices of larger corporations whose oversight committees often act as little more than public relations groups.
As Woodblock Chocolate expands, the frequency of personal trips to farmers becomes less possible, leading them to launch their own cacao importing business to ensure intimate contact remained between producer and supplier. As long as these connections are maintained, accountability will be possible and the luxury of quality chocolate will not have to come at unethical price.
– Jamison Crowell