Can you imagine a life without chocolate?
I don’t even want to think about it.
Without the cacao bean, we wouldn’t have chocolate. So it’s safe to say the cacao bean may be one of man’s greatest discoveries. This leads to chocolate — quite possibly one of man’s greatest creations.
And from cacao powder to cocoa powder (yes, there’s a difference!), from fermented to non-fermented, from cacao nibs to cacao butter and everything between, it’s safe to say we’ve fallen in love with this plant!
Cacao vs. Cocoa
Their spellings are so close you may not see a difference until closer inspection. However, cacao and cocoa are 2 different products.
Both come from the same tree pod. Cacao is the term used when the resulting powder is raw — as in, raw cacao. The bean is cold-pressed and is the most nutrient-dense form of powder from the cacao tree. It is high in essential minerals and still contains copious amounts of antioxidants because it has not been heated. All the enzymes are intact, and the fat is removed (cacao butter) so that is a dry product.
When researchers tout the benefits of chocolate, they’re referring to cacao powder. (Read about the 8 Amazing Benefits Of Cacao to learn more.)
Cocoa, on the other hand, is the roasted version of cacao. It is not still raw since it has been heated. The flavor is vastly different than its raw sibling. If you’ve ever purchased cocoa powder in a dark brown container, this is the product you bought. Because of the high-heat processing, much of the nutrition, including enzymes and antioxidants, are destroyed, resulting in a far less nutrient-rich product.
When I refer to cocoa in this post, I am referring to the industry as a whole — not a specific product. WFN sells raw cacao powder, not cocoa; yet cocoa/cacao/chocolate are all part of the same industry.
A Quick Background Check On Cocoa
Originating from Central and South America, cocoa was considered one of the most valuable crops ever since the Mayans and Aztecs developed techniques to cultivate it on a wider scale. It was even used as a form of currency and was a status symbol of wealth. To this day, we still clearly value cocoa like it’s gold!
Cocoa has become BIG business. We are obsessed.
In 2014, the chocolate industry was valued at over$150 billion (source)!
To put this into perspective, that’s more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over 130 countries! Global cocoa production exceeded 4 million tons during the 2015-2016 period (source).
That’s a lot of cocoa!
But here’s the catch…
Most of the cacao plantations are in countries which don’t actually consume that much of their own product. The United States alone is responsible for consuming over 20% of the world’s cocoa. Yet, you’ll look long and hard to find a cacao tree growing here!
From Plant To Powder
Cocoa production is largely concentrated to Africa, with smaller production output coming from Central America. Collective production from African nations contributes to over 70% of the world’s cocoa. The Ivory Coast is the leading producer of cocoa and accounts for around 35% of the world’s supply.
The World Cocoa Foundation estimates 80 to 90% of cocoa farms are actually small scale enterprises. These farms support the livelihoods of 5 to 6 million farmers around the world.
Producing the cacao bean, then processing and preparing it to become the desired end result — chocolate — is a time- and labor-intensive process.
This process begins with the cultivation of the cacao bean.
First, the cacao pods are harvested.
Next, the beans are extracted from the flesh of the pod. The beans go through a careful fermentation process that can take several days and manual stirring to avoid the growth of mold and harmful pathogens.
Then, the now-fermented beans are dried. This is also a touchy process and requires constant monitoring. Finally, the beans are roasted. Roasting enriches the flavor of the cacao bean and allows for the removal of the rough husk through a process called winnowing.
More pressing and processing provides us with a wide array of cocoa products including butter, powder, and nibs. Hopefully, you will appreciate exactly what goes into cocoa production as you consider what is a fair price.
While it’s easy to conjure a romantic image of a chocolatier working in her white lab coat, singing along with the Oompa Loompas and the quirky Willy Wonka, the reality is far from it.
The Dark Side Of The Cocoa Industry
Unfortunately, beneath the gooey, rich deliciousness of chocolate lies the dark side of the cocoa industry.
We must know what goes on in the cocoa industry as we strive to make ethical, sustainable choices for our families. Holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Halloween are very chocolate-focused.
Perhaps we need to reconsider our chocolate-buying habits…
In these poorer regions of Africa, where poverty ravishes whole communities, the cocoa industry is susceptible to child exploitation, environmental degradation, and social injustices (source).
Volatile weather conditions, civil unrest, and ongoing child labor exploitation have presented huge challenges for the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry (source).
Furthermore, workers on cocoa farms struggle to earn a living wage. Fluctuations in global output and demand, a changing climate, diseased trees, and rising production costs cause unstable cocoa prices. Consequently, this only perpetuates the poverty cycle many farmers find themselves stuck in.
Child-slave labor is the most prevalent problem tainting the industry.
Many of these stories of child labor are coming from cacao farms in West Africa. Across the Ivory Coast and Ghana alone — where the greatest portion of cocoa is being produced — a Tulane University survey reported over 2 million children working in cocoa production.
The International Labor Organization reports many of these children have been trafficked and consequently, are less likely to receive an education.
Quite commonly, these children are sold into slavery by their families with the hope of securing paid work and funneling money back to their families. Unfortunately, they are gravely misled. These children are often forced to work 12-hour days in slave-like conditions and are frequently beaten (source). They work under hazardous conditions using machetes to split cacao pods in their hands and spray pesticides without protective gear.
Fair Trade Cocoa Principles
Cocoa products can and should be Fair Trade-certified. Fair Trade is a trading partnership that seeks greater equity in global cocoa trade. As an advocate for disadvantaged producers, Fair Trade works to secure better trading conditions.
The Fair Trade logo is displayed on certified products to help consumers to quickly identify a product that has been produced in an ethical manner.
The producer must comply with a rigorous set of standards relating to social, economic, and environmental criteria to become Fair Trade-certified. These criteria include securing better labor conditions, advocating for a higher price for the producer, and eradicating child-slave labor.
The Fair Trade USA principles include:
Producers receive a guaranteed minimum floor price (or the market price, depending on which is higher) thereby eliminating some of the volatility found in the commodity’s trading price.
Better Labor Conditions
Child and slave labor is strictly prohibited under Fair Trade Certification. Furthermore, farm workers are provided safe working conditions and sustainable wages.
Importers of cocoa products can purchase directly from Fair Trade producers, eliminating the unnecessary middle man. Thus, more money is funneled back to the original producer, empowering them financially in the marketplace as a result.
Transparency and Democracy
Transparency is required for Fair Trade certification. Therefore, farmers are able to democratically decide together where their premium funds are spent.
Farmers and workers are able to invest in education, training, and organic certification because they receive a fair price for their Fair Trade certified cocoa.
The use of GMOs and agro-chemicals are strictly prohibited under Fair Trade standards.
Farmers are educated and encouraged to adopt more sustainable farming practices. Reducing the environmental impact of cocoa farming preserves valuable ecosystems for future generations.
Despite all this, Fair Trade certified products still only capture a small share of the overall market at around 0.5%.
Are WFN’s Cacao Products Fair Trade Certified?
Furthermore, our organic certification guarantees best quality cocoa products available, while supporting small scale farmers, organic and sustainable farming practices, and fair labor practices. WFN is dedicated to ensuring that our cocoa farmers receive a fair price for their quality products.
We love chocolate just as much as anyone, so we hope to provide you with high-quality, sustainable, and fair cacao products!