Over at Jezebel, Marie Lodi writes about the expose published at Dallas Food about the supposed “bean to bar” chocolate manufacturers known as the Mast Brothers in New York. Dallas Food already has a track record of exposing fraudulent chocolate makers and chocolatiers (their 2006 series on Noka was a pioneering effort on food blogging exposes). Commenters on the site, with the usual wit of internet commenters everywhere receive this report with the apathy and lack of concern that is expected on a site like Jezebel. There are gems that range from “who cares” to “I am happy to see suckers who pay those premium prices get scammed”. Now, here is why you should care about this alleged fraud if you care about human rights, equality and food justice:

– Bean to bar chocolates are expensive because the principle behind bean to bar production is one of fair trade and fair compensation for farmers and cocoa bean growers. There is an incredible amount of injustice that goes on in the production of chocolate. One of the reasons for the chronic poverty in vast areas of West Africa is the vile prices paid to cocoa bean farmers. From a feature at Candy Industry:

Extreme poverty among West African cocoa producers fuels cocoa production — farmers in Ghana earn as little as 84 cents a day, and Ivorian farmers, 50 cents.

When you buy a bean to bar chocolate, the implicit agreement is that you are willing to pay more for the sustainability of a farming project that will allow the producer to lead a life with dignity and access to a minimum wage. You agree to pay more not only because the chocolate will be of better quality but because you agree that the people who produce your food and their families deserve to be compensated fairly for their efforts.

– Last year, in a feature about the Mast Brothers production at Ecocult, this is what the Mast Brothers were said to stand for (emphasis mine):

And when it comes to the sustainable, artisanal varieties, the vocabulary is the same: single origin, roasted, fair trade, organic, family farms, house blend, rainforest conservation, flavor profile, Brooklyn.[…]

Mast Brothers has a good relationship with family-owned, organic coop farms around the world to create their intensely flavorful chocolates, which are brought to you packaged in what looks like high-end, patterned wrapping paper.

If their so called bean to bar scheme is a lie, this is what is at stake: the well being and sustainability of cocoa growers and their children. Which brings me to the next point on why you should care about this fraud…

– Cocoa production is maintained with slave labor and, more specifically, with child slave labor. From a feature at Food is Power 

In Western Africa, cocoa is a commodity crop grown primarily for export; 60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from its cocoa. As the chocolate industry has grown over the years, so has the demand for cheap cocoa. On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line. As a result, they often resort to the use of child labor to keep their prices competitive.

The children of Western Africa are surrounded by intense poverty, and most begin working at a young age to help support their families. Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and traffickers tell them that the job pays well. Other children are “sold” to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives, who are unaware of the dangerous work environment and the lack of any provisions for an education. Often, traffickers abduct the young children from small villages in neighboring African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, two of the poorest countries in the world. Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever.

Most of the children laboring on cocoa farms are between the ages of 12 and 16, but reporters have found children as young as 5. In addition, 40% of these children are girls, and some stay for a few months, while others end up working on the cocoa farms through adulthood.

Still don’t care because “hipsters scamming foodies”? The business model of the Mast Brothers was supposedly based on counter acting these injustices. Again, I insist: you agree to pay more so that everyone involved in the process, from farmer to factory worker can earn a decent living rather than barely survive as a slave since childhood.

– The history of coca bean production in Africa is one of extreme colonial exploitation with women and children bearing most of the brunt. Since the 19th century, Asante women were sold into indentured servitude/ slavery to work in cocoa plantations owned by European colonialists. Fair Trade practices, bean to bar manufacturing and sustainable farming practices are a way to address these historical wrongs and correct the grave injustices perpetrated against these women. When a company like the Mast Brothers uses deception and lies to market their products, they participate in the perpetuation of these injustices and they make the “who cares” crowd complicit by making a mockery of the tacit agreement to pay more for something that is basically a lie.

If you do not care about any of the above because “hipsters gonna be hipsters” then that is your prerogative as a consumer. You can continue buying your Nestle chocolate which comes with a huge percentage of African child slavery. Or you can be outraged that these brothers lied to us as consumers and that is not even the worst of the issue. The worst being that the injustices, abuses and exploitation of vulnerable people can continue unabated because, as the Jezebel crowd put is so succinctly: who cares?


Image via Mast Brothers.

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About The Author

Flavia Dzodan

In no particular order and not necessarily with equal degrees of talent or skills: writer, eater, cook, experimenter (a grown up way of saying "never stopped playing with her food").

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