By Blenna Kiros
The Globalization of Chocolate: From Bean to Bar
Through the process of trading goods and services, capital enters the markets in the form of money every day. The circulation of commodities which generates money is produced by human labour and offered as a product for general sale on the global, regional and local scale. Chocolate is a an example of a commodity produced and created by such human activity. Although it is often seen as an ordinary item on grocery store shelves, the way it circulates around the world can be viewed as a political and environmental problem (Robbins, 2010). The processes of extracting, producing, and selling chocolate involves the interaction of politics, culture and economics with many people, plants and chemicals among other things. Thus, to put in context its historical relationship with humans as well as the environment, chocolate will be presented on this blog as an object of concern.
A Short History of Chocolate
Today, chocolate is a luxurious food item extracted from the tropical tree which yields cocoa seed. According to authors Sophie and Michael Coe of the book titled The True History of Chocolate,the scientific name of the cocoa tree--Theobroma cacao--translates to “the Food of the Gods” ( 1996). As such, it is not after processing the seeds into a liquid or powdered form that cocoa seeds are referred to as chocolate and cocoa butter (Coe,2013). According to Albers, on a biological level, people love chocolate because it contains theobromine, which is a stimulant that can increase heart rate and bring feelings of arousal (Psychology today). It also contains caffeine which can make us feel awake and increase our ability to work and focus. Another reason why humans love chocolate so much is because it is typically sweet and high in fat content making them two preferred food sources because they are calorie dense.
The history of the consumption of chocolate began with the cacao tree. Across time and space, the cacao tree has been a plant that bore much importance because it was religiously, socially, economically and medicinally useful. Its habitat can be traced back to tropical portions of the New World where it had been first domesticated and harvested by the Mokayas, Olmecs, Mayas and Incas, all of which are ancient civilizations in Central and Southern America (Coe 1996). Some of the earliest civilizations of the New World brewed the seed into an alcoholic beverage and even used it as a form of currency. However, it was not until the 16th century, that Europeans discovered the bean, fell in love with it and began to mix it with sugar, increasing cocoa’s capitalization.
More specifically, the cultivation of cacao received great attention in 1519 when Spanish conquistador Cortes was introduced to the Aztecs national cacao drink by the emperor at the time Montezuma (Knapp, 2007). Consequently, the conquistadors brought home to Spain quantities of cacao in which noblemen alike experimented with. By the seventeenth century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, also believed to have nutritious and medicinal properties. The rising popularity of chocolate eventually trickled to the hands of the European mass after the invention of chocolate houses, a place one could purchase chocolate (but not as we know it today). The invention of the cocoa press by Conrad J. Van Houten in 1828 also contributed to the popularization of chocolate (Klein, history channel). The cocoa press was a machine that separated the cocoa butter from the roasted beans to process product into a powder which made it easier to create easily digestible chocolate. According to Klein, the drop in the production cost led by Van Houten’s cocoa press is what made chocolate affordable to the masses (2014).
Another significant figure who contributed to the transformation of chocolate is Daniel Peter, the inventor or milk chocolate Daniel Peter.
His invention was influenced by his exposure of milk products during his employment at Nestle in the 1800’s which at the time only manufactures products that mimic dairy. He called his product “Gala” from the Greek, which means, “from the milk.” Before conducting an experiment on chocolate he studied the processes of cocoa harvest and transportation of the basic cocoa ingredients from the tropics. After extensive doubts and further research on the mixture of milk and chocolate, Peter produced a desirable product with the help of his wife and another employee. With timeless effort and support from anyone willing to help him, Peter managed to put his products on the market.
Political economy: Multinational Corporations Globalize Production
Indeed, globalization has made life (at least in the global north) more fruitful by bringing change in one area with the help of another. Multinational corporation (MNC) facilitate global change by playing a significant role as mediators. In our contemporary society, MNCs tend to be the only service providers in charge of setting prices and controlling the flow of most goods. Not only does that set a monopoly and plague markets but what is worrisome is the fact that “the potential parties in a market have not yet been born” (2010). As a result, MNCs that have had the opportunity to tickle the business profits to its offsprings become invincibly influential. Nestle is an example of a MNC that has been one of the world’s most influential food and beverage company in the industrial history because it expanded and gained power over centuries.
What was once a bitter beverage consumed by few has been transformed by the industrial revolution into an affordable sweet for the masses. As chocolate became more and more popular, local artisans like Hershey, Mars, Cadbury and Nestle created a rising industrial legacy most memorably left to the generations of the twenty first century. Amongst the industries of chocolate, Nestle is one one the most productive ones since 1866, with the foundation of the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company in Switzerland (Nestle.com). The company was founded by the Pharmacist Henry Nestle whose initial motivation for creating milk products was to reduce high infant mortality rates. Upon his accomplishment he sold his company to three businessmen whose intentions were to expand production and sales. Nestle’s involvement in the chocolate industry began when the company took export sales for Daniel Peter.
Since then, Nestle’s chocolate business has expanded globally. The company established subsidiaries world wide in order to drive dairy export sales. According to statistics, Nestle owns over a hundred and fifty chocolate based brands which are consumed globally (nestle.com). The Nestle logo is one of the most recognizable images in the world, and the global reach of their chocolate products is immense. The global nature of the production of their chocolates includes the involvement of more than five nations and requires Nestle to have a heavy presence abroad. Nestle is one of the biggest corporations whose taken the role of supplying foods to citizens of the world. As Kegley said about the globalization of production, “countries do not really trade with each other, corporations do (2011). Furthermore, Nestle moves large commercial flows across borders subsequently creating a monopoly on products and forcing less developed nations to submit by means of implementing corporate policies and regulations. Transnational business groups like Nestle, Mars inc and Hersheys exert heavy influence on policies and regulations, while citizen groups are marginalized and excluded. Although, cynics would agree that an end to exploitation on this form of a dominant/subordinate relationship in the global economy will subside only slowly, the exploitation of a less developed nation is crucial for a capitalistic system .Unfortunately, most developing nations remain frustrated and helpless as they get used as a resource to be exploited for profit gain.
Environmental Injustice: The Ethical Treatment of Laborers
The emergence of an imbalance of power between social classes where one group is exploited by the other, usually in the form of systematic slavery is a product of capitalism. Beyond the labels on candy bars, chocolate holds a dark history of unfair distributions of environmental benefits and burdens. The finished product of chocolate is particularly consumed by those who occupy the global north. While those in charge of harvesting the beans live in a unhealthy environment where they don't have the means to fight back abusive conditions enforced by multinational corporations. Workers on cocoa plantations tend to be children who have been forced into a lifestyle of rigorous work; most of which have never even had a piece of chocolate. By its very nature, the deprivation of human rights and the unethical treatment of children comes from the financial drive to create a surplus value and hence profit. As such, child slavery as well as child trafficking is significantly present in the chocolate industry.
Case study: The Sweat Behind Chocolate
According to Raghavan and Chatterjee, Ali Diabate is a twelve year old boy whose impoverished parents decided to sell him to a slave trader so he could go work on cocoa farm in the Ivory coast . The deal between the parents and the slave trader included Aly’s time and labor in exchange for $150 dollars a year plus a bonus bicycle for Aly in order to help support his poor parents in Mali. After settling in Cote D'ivoire, Aly and eighteen other boys found that their lives consisted of labor on a four hundred and ninety four acre farm which is very large by Ivory Coast standards, in the southwestern part of the country. Their days began when the sun rose and they finished work in the evening, just before nightfall. He worked eighty to a hundred hours a week for a cocoa farmer known as Le Gros (the Big Man). When they were they lived in a in 24-by-20-foot room windowless shed where they slept on wooden planks. Once in that room, nobody was allowed to cry or make any sound or leave.
During his time on the farm Aly, was never rewarded instead Le Gros' overseers or older slaves beat him with a bicycle chain or branches from a cacao tree. Aly who was barely four feet tall when he was sold into slavery had a hard time carrying the heavy bags of cocoa beans. Faint scars remain on his back, right shoulder and left arm. If a bags were to fall no one was allowed to help them up and they were beaten and until they picked it up again. But after one of the boys ran away and told elders in the community what was happening on Le Gros' farm, police officers investigated. The boys were freed, and Le Gros was charged with assault against children and suppressing the liberty of people. He faces a court hearing this week. Ivory Coast authorities ordered Le Gros to pay Aly and the other boys 4.3 million francs (about $6,150) for their time as indentured laborers. Aly got 125,000 francs (about $180) for the 18 months he worked on the cocoa farm. Aly bought himself the very thing the trader who enslaved him had promised: a bicycle.
Some would argue that stories such as Ali’s ought to prevent consumers from purchasing chocolate and recommend instead fair trade chocolate (Litvinoff & Madeley 2007). He lived in a shed that lacked a sanitary lavatory in a tropical plantation where he was required to use unsafe equipments. Ali was and other like him are burdened with disadvantages to the psychological and physical health of themselves and their communities. Furthermore, labor is a contentious aspect of globalization in that it directly links individuals with the global environment because goods cannot be produced without labor and space (Kegley, 2011). Interrelated changes around the global economy are not only sped up by the expansion of technology but also by the increasing availability of child labor. This violation of human rights and the injustice of child slavery in the chocolate industry is common and rarely corrected. This is because institutions of slavery serving chocolate corporations continue to practice unethical decisions based on self motivated-interest for the sake gaining profit. Such violations often stem from unfair procedures in the economic sphere, which involve multiple political institutions with uneven powers of voice and representation in the processes and decisions that affect them (Cleveland, 2014). Therefore, promoting the protection of human rights can create a space in which people are able to practice the art of individual, institutional and cultural development. However, concerns about these disproportionate impacts has not ignited a vibrant environmental justice movement in West africa, but advocates are looking for adequate legal tools to protect their communities (Bellows, 2014). Although agencies responsible for child labor and law enforcement exist in West Africa, the absence of enforced social institutions as the defining structural behavior for human rights development, it is challenging to make societies prosper as a whole. This move is especially difficult if the primary motivation of the government centers around short term economic goals.
With rapid globalization, along comes complexities and problems in which human beings chose to disregard. Less and less people are knowledgeable about the process of extracting, producing, selling and trading goods and services. In order to understand chocolate’s dominant position on the global market one must trace back to its origin to early American Civilizations and follow its journey to supermarket shelves today. Many parties are involved in the making of chocolate but few of us know who to credit or who to hold responsible for its production. Although not always spoken about, the production of most mainstream chocolates are produced at the cost of the environment and civilians labor. As the global demand for chocolate increases, chances of having the means and the opportunities within this industry will simultaneously increase. Correspondingly, the comforts of our consistencies that shape our beliefs and attitudes also increase the dissonance we have created between us and the object we love to consume. And as we continue to develop economically it becomes exceedingly difficult for us to accept the clash that occurs between us and the world we perceive to be. Mass growth in our civilization then creates lots of cognitive dissonance and the root for our anthropocentric ethic. Thus, questioning where our food came from and how it has been produced and by whom could enhance our knowledge about the items we blindly consume. Otherwise, entire communities and families will continue to spend their lives farming cocoa while cocoa will continue to sell for low prices because the labor was cheap or even free. Although corporations have unquestionably brought greater wealth, power, and opportunity to the poor, it is at the expensive of our ignorance ,of the earth and marginalized groups.