Cacao transparent and direct trade — what does it mean?

18 April 2021

5 minutes

The global chocolate market is growing – in 2017 it was worth $103 billion, and it is estimated to grow at about 7% per year, reaching $162 billion by 2024¹. If the chocolate sector is growing so rapidly, how is it possible that most cocoa farmers live in poverty? How are transparent trade and direct trade chocolate producers improving conditions on cocoa plantations? Here are some answers:


Exploitation and abuse 

Wages that do not even allow farmers to make ends meet are just one area of cocoa production where abuses occur. Human and labor rights are still being violated on plantations. Industrial crops have a negative impact on the environment. 

What factors make the wages of cocoa farmers so exceedingly low? On the one hand, it is the unstable market price of cacao/cocoa. On the other hand, a small group of companies producing and distributing cacao and chocolate dominate the market. Large players do not follow sustainable practices. They lower the prices for raw material and obtain their cacao at such low rates that the price often does not cover farmers’ costs².


Hand to hand or direct trade

At the opposite end of the spectrum, away from the leading mass producers, there is a growing number of craft bean-to-bar chocolate makers. They don’t go for the lowest price when choosing their raw material. On the contrary, they are willing to pay more to get beans that meet their requirements. They pay attention to every aspect of the production process, to the conditions in which the cacao grows and to working conditions on the plantation. In order to be able to realistically assess quality, artisans forgo intermediaries and establish direct relationships with cacao producers. This practice is called direct trade, which means trade based on a direct relationship with farmers.


Mutual benefit through direct relationship

The artisans have an overview of the entire bean production process and the farmers are better compensated for their work. They also stop being anonymous within the supply chain. The collaboration between chocolate makers and farmers at all stages of cacao production, from harvesting to drying and fermentation, helps shape the flavour of the beans and, ultimately, make the most delicious chocolate.


Transparent trade 

Transparent trade is the practice of measuring and providing clear data from every transaction and activity throughout the supply and production chain. This makes it possible for us to know the full story behind the product. Transparent trade promotes attention to the quality of working conditions, wages and products. It is also fundamental in building authentic, long-term and responsible relationships based on trust and respect. This, in turn, is key in the struggle to improve the situation at the very foundation of the global chocolate market. You can see how this works in practice, for example, by visiting the website of Uncommon Cacao, a company that exports cacao in Belize and in Guatemala.




Higher quality comes at a higher price

If you want to eat better, healthier and more sustainable chocolate you may want to spend a bit more to purchase a bar that has been made in controlled conditions from high-quality cacao. Low price likely means low quality. By making informed choices and purchases, we can show our support to chocolate makers that are committed to sustainable and ethical practices.

As a consumer of a fair amount of cacao and chocolate, I cannot imagine using products that bring suffering to other people. The quality of the working conditions of the cocoa farmers and the environmental impact of the plantations, in addition to the quality of the raw material are key components of good chocolate for me. I choose products that clearly communicate the brand policy. That is why I most often choose artisanal chocolate. And what matters to you when you buy your chocolate?

Cacao transparent and direct trade — what does it mean?

1. Sustainable practices are still lacking in cacao cultivation and trade.

2. Artisanal chocolate makers are moving away from using intermediaries and engage in direct trade with cocoa farmers.

3. Transparent trade is the foundation for authentic, long-term and responsible relationships based on trust and respect.  

4. Direct trade brings mutual benefits for both artisans and farmers (better quality of the raw material and better earnings)

5. With our choices and purchases we can support chocolate makers in their sustainable and ethical practices.

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