For my object of concern I choose chocolate, or more specifically Cocoa beans. For chocolate there is a long and diverse journey from bean to bar. This journey includes many players, and I would like to give exposure to all of them in my paper. I will go into the history of the creation of chocolate, following that I will apply two lenses that show how this object affects the economy, the environment, and world as a whole. The first lens will look at how the production of chocolate from the cocoa and how its economy of bean effects those involved in the process of bean to bar. The second lens I will use to approach chocolate is the effect its production has on the environment. These I believe are two very important ways of looking at the production of a good especially if it is a commodity. Although some of us like to think that we are discounted from nature or that we are the ones that should control its future, that is not the case. In actuality we connected to the environment, just as is the birds in the rainforest and the fish in the sea. Our power to change the planet dramatically shouldn't give us the right to be unethical about our choices. The resources that nature provides us must be accepted and treated with consideration for they are not unlimited. Just like us, the plant has a life that will end. We should do everything in our power to make that life last as long as possible and not to shorten it which is the case today in many areas.
Going back almost four thousand years ago, in present day Mexico there was a ancient civilization known as the Olmecs. Finding the cocoa plants in tropical rainforests around Central and South America, this Mesoamerican civilization would roast the beans and brew it into a frothy chocolate drink with vanilla, honey, chili peppers and other ingredients. It wasn't soon after till other cultures started to use cocoa beans for their own use. Mayan and Aztec civilizations started to make it into drinks as well and found out that it’s also a mood enhancer and aphrodisiac. The Mayan believed that the plant was a “gift from the gods” and they would use it in special ancient ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and religious rituals. It is also evidenced that these cultures thought so highly of cocoa that they used it as a form of currency and would use it to trade with each other. In Aztec culture they believed the god Quetzalcoatl, was the one responsible for providing humans with the coca plant. In Mayan culture, Chak ek Chuah was the patron saint of cocoa. Both Aztecs and Mayans would hold religious rituals dedicated to these figures, thanking them for the rich plant.
In the 1500’s, Spanish conquistadors arrived and with them so did war. Looking for gold, Hernán Cortés landed in latin America. By invading and colonizing the native cultures Cortés found the cocoa plant or “brown gold”. Bringing it back to Europe, specifically Spain, the chocolate drink was improved with the introduction to sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. It was a luxury import that only those of nobility and officials would enjoy in “chocolate houses”. Spreading around Europe chocolate began to have different forms of production and ingredients. When the Industrial era arrived so did changes to chocolate and its economy. In 1780 Spain, Germany and Switzerland were where the first chocolate factories were built. As well as the spreading of the plant to Africa and the start of Africa becoming biggest cocoa producer. Because of this, chocolate become more widely available to the world. By the end of the 1800’s chocolate had many of the forms we see and eat today.
The first lens I will approach chocolate with is the effect it’s production has on the working class and political economy. Just like any other crop, cocoa must be grown, maintained and harvested. This is done by farm workers in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Indonesia who are according to an article from the Smithsonian, “below the poverty line.” Since the demand for chocolate has grown as the years have gone on, more and more have started to work in the cocoa bean picking business. This is where child and slave labor have been used to reach the demand for the corp. Because many families are poor, they force the children to go into labor for cocoa farms, and in some cases they will be sold to farmers or live on the farms and not see their families for years. The conditions these kids work in are very unsafe, with some cases they use chainsaws and machetes. Because these workers are very young (ages between 12 and 16) injuries do occur and the farm owners refuse to improve the conditions. The farms are sprayed with agricultural chemicals where the workers and children ingest which lead to disease and death. The “Child Labor and Slavery in the Chocolate Industry” looks at this issue and states that “While the term “slavery” has a variety of historical contexts, slavery in the cocoa industry involves the same core human rights violations as other forms of slavery throughout the world.” Many of the workers are left in the dark about what the cocoa beans are used for. Shown in a video from VPRO Metropolis, titled “First taste of chocolate in Ivory Coast”, a journalist brings a chocolate bar to workers in the ivory coast to show them what the end product looks like. One of the workers respond saying “Now we enjoy the result. What a privilege to taste it”. For me as a kid and today chocolate has been available everywhere and to see these workers who grow and harvest the crop, taste it for the first time was very eye opening. Since more than a third of the world's cocoa comes from Ivory Coast, there are countless farms that grow cocoa beans. A large number of these farmers support their families and workers on very little money per day, ranging from 1-3$ per worker. This is no way to make a living and is on the borderline of slavery.
With the global chocolate market is nearing 100 billion, the biggest profiters are the industry heads and companies whose names we see on the products. Where on the lowest end of the production chain, the workers get close to nothing. This shows that the chocolate industry is a example of economic inequality. Corporations know that consumers want products that are made humanely and cruelty free. Chocolate companies tell the public that their products are sourced from cocoa in ethical ways. Should we blindly trust these statements? The 2012 documentary Shady Chocolate looks at if child labor and trafficking are still being used in the harvesting of cocoa beans. Danish journalist Miki Mistrati travels to the Ivory coast and investigates the farms to find the truth. Mistrati is brought to multiple farms in Ghana and speaks to farmers and child workers about their employers and work conditions. After these interviews Mistrati finds out that the corporations have been lying to their consumers and their workers. There is no money being contributed to schools or housing, and the children are turned away from education and being placed in farms. This is proof that these corporations are not being truthful about the laboring of their products.
The second lens I will use to approach chocolate is environmental ethics. Just with any resource from the the earth, it’s a long process from crop to finished product. In this journey there can be multiple ways the environment is affected negatively. Using this lens I will look at how the production of chocolate can cause environment consequences. In food goods it takes specific resources to create the wanted end result. The research article “Environmental impacts of chocolate production and consumption in the UK”, looks at what goes in the production of chocolate and how it affects the environment. In this study one of the things that was discovered is the use of water in the production process. Approximately 10,000 liters of water is needed to produce 2 pounds of chocolate. This is a large amount and can be compared to the production of almond milk which uses 100 liters of water to produce 3 ounces. Since chocolate is a commodity, chocolate company’s means of production is of great value. Therefore water usage isn't a issue nor a concern for them as they put the profit of the product over the cost of production or growing.
The cocoa plant is grown in places located around the equator, it is however not put into products until it arrives in places like America or Europe. Approximately 5 million tons of cocoa beans is harvested every year. The farms needed to grow beans that must be free of other plants or invasive species. Therefore land must be cleared which is done by burning and razing trees and other plant life. Carbon is stored in leaves and branches of trees when they are burned the carbon is released into the atmosphere. Every year the chocolate industry produces 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This increases the greenhouse effect of the atmosphere which leads to global warming. This is just one effect of the farming of cocoa beans; there are others when we look at the development of the product.
All of these beans must be counted, packaged and shipped to production plants located around the world. This uses a lot of manpower as well as resources just to transport a bean, not even to produce into something yet. Depending on the type of chocolate product there are ingredients that are added. One of the post popular products is milk chocolate, which is used in drinks, bars and spreads. In the production of these goods a ingredient called milk powder is used. The process of making milk powder starts off by boiling the milk under reduced pressure in order to evaporate the water and leave behind the powder. This is very energy intensive as well as produces massive greenhouse gas emissions. These things although aren't visible, such as runoff or pollution, it is still a problem that must be looked at. What does this solution to the problem look like though? One of the authors of the study mentioned in the past paragraph states that “It is true that our love of chocolate has environmental consequences for the planet. But let’s be clear, we aren’t saying people should stop eating it.” As well if the articles about the use of child slaves, the main goal is to educate and make consumers aware of the impact that their purchased goods have on the environment and people around the world.
Looking at the overall farming and producing of a corp, there can be multiple effects that can relate to the environment. In my paper the object of concern I chose was chocolate or more specifically the cocoa bean. The growing of this crop uses methods that are a violation of basic human rights. The corporations behind the selling and manufacturing of chocolate know how the beans are being grown, yet they refuse to do anything about it because it will mean spending more and lowering the amount earned annually. This brings the topic back to environmental and economic ethics. There are many things that should be looked at when controlling an industry especially when it's a commodity. How it affects the planet and the living things on it should be the primary concern. Chocolate has a great history that has spread from culture to culture and from country to country, through war, trade and gifts. Although chocolate has a semi-pure image because it is a dessert treat, it has a history that is hidden (child slavery and negative effects on nature). Doing this paper has opened my eyes to looking into how things are made and how products I buy affect the planet and people around the world as a whole.