Fair trade chocolate from a farmer-owned company
Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, where workers often earn as little as 25 cents a day in brutal conditions. To make matters worse, child labor is rampant in West African cocoa plantations. More than two million children take part in backbreaking work on cocoa fields in the Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana alone, according to a 2014 study by Tulane University.
Buying certified fair trade chocolate means supporting a company that pays its workers a guaranteed income, fosters sustainable production methods, and ensures no abuses of child labor on the cocoa farms.
In 1998, Divine Chocolate was one of the earliest companies to bring a fair trade chocolate bar to the United Kingdom market. What only added to its unique business model is that the farmers in Ghana don’t just grow the cocoa for Divine—they own shares in the company, too.
Divine Chocolate’s roots are planted in Ghana, where in the early 1990s, the cocoa market was wildly unstable, and farmers found it hard to fend for themselves while middle merchants and Western chocolate companies were thriving. One farmer decided to do something about this inequitable system.
“There was one cocoa farmer specifically [who] was working with a fair trade NGO called Twin Trading, and he was just trying to figure out a way for cocoa farmers to have more opportunities and have a sustainable livelihood,” says Liz Miller, marketing manager at Divine.
That farmer, Nana Frimpong Abebrese, gathered others and decided to create Kuapa Kokoo—meaning “good cocoa farmer”—a farmer-owned co-op of cocoa farmers.Through the co-op, the farmers would band together to sell their cocoa to the Cocoa Marketing Company, the state-owned exporter in Ghana—no middle merchants required.They also made a point to increase participation of women farmers in their network in a country where cocoa farming was largely considered “men’s work.” Today, around 85,000 cocoa farmers belong to the co-op.
Soon after it began, Kuapa Kokoo worked with Twin Trading to create its own company, the Day Chocolate Company, which is now known as Divine Chocolate.The co-op democratically distributes Divine Chocolate profits to its farmers.
Divine now has offices in the United States and the United Kingdom and over 70 different chocolate products, including chocolate bars and minis, baking chocolate, and cocoa.The bars come in a wide variety of flavors, such as dark chocolate with mango and coconut, milk chocolate with hazelnuts, and white chocolate with strawberries.
As part of the fair trade system, Divine Chocolate and Kuapa Kokoo ensure that all of the farmers have a democratic say in how the co-op is run.Together, they make all their own decisions about how benefits are distributed and to meet the fair trade standards, which are independently audited every year.They also work to ensure that all farmers labor under healthy conditions, earn a guaranteed income from the sale of their cocoa beans, and use sustainable production processes whenever possible.
“Our staff in both the US and UK offices visit Ghana every year, and our CEO presents at the [co-op] general meeting every September,” says Miller.
The company also goes beyond chocolate when sourcing ingredients for its bars, purchasing fair trade sugar, vanilla, and more to help lift up other workers worldwide.
In addition, two percent of Divine Chocolate’s income is directly invested in the co-op’s projects, particularly focused on empowering women, nurturing good governance, and improving farming methods.
“It’s to support the infrastructure of Kuapa Kokoo and to really elevate the opportunities of the farmers themselves. For example, one of the programs supported by that fund offers women’s literacy and [math] classes,”
Recently, the US office hosted one of the farmers, Mercy Zaah, who was also
a student of the women’s literacy and numeracy program. Zaah started cocoa farming in 1986, and she joined Kuapa Kokoo in 1999.The fair trade difference was formidable for her.
“When we sold to the PBC [the state cocoa-buying company], we didn’t get paid on time, and were sometimes cheated at the scales,” she told those who attended the presentations she gave around the US with American-based Divine staff. “Selling to the PBC, there is no relationship beyond the point of purchase. [In the fair trade system], we farmers receive a bonus every year, and with it, I have paid for my five children to be educated. My eldest is now qualifying to be a nurse.”