How has the perception of chocolate in the US been influenced by the production of chocolate?
From harvesting through consumption, chocolate lives through various stages of its social life, such as harvesting, processing, marketing, consumption and representation, to name a few. These different phases affect the way the chocolate is viewed as a product by consumers, and this in turn will affect the consumption habits and marketing. This paper will attempt to explore the link between the production methods of chocolate and how these production methods have come to affect the way that chocolate is viewed and sold in the US today.
In its production phase, cocoa beans is mostly grown on the Ivory Coast, supplying 33% of the cocoa consumed in the world with production of about 1.8 million tonnes a year. The controversy surrounding the harvesting of cocoa beans is that the Ivory Coast, and other West African cocoa nations, have come under criticism for using child slave labor to meet the high demand of cocoa from western chocolate companies like Nestlé.
In 1998, UNICEF reported that Ivorian farmers were using enslaved children as slaves in cocoa farms. In Ivory Coast, up to 15,000 children are thought to be part of the slavery trade. Traffickers promise paid work, housing, and education to children on farms that are then forcibly beaten and made to work up to 100 hours a week. This has led to global human rights organizations to rally and form a cause to liberate these child slaves from their plight. In the process, well know organizations have drawn the public eye to these issues. Organizations such as the Fair Labor Organization (FLA) and the International Labor Organization, as well as implementations of amendments like the Harkin Engel Protocol have brought this issue into the public eye and have made consumers in the US more aware of the issues regarding production of chocolate and human rights.
From a political standpoint, a labeling system was considered in June 2001 to ensure that slave labor would not be used in the production of chocolate. What ensued was a legal battle between the US House of Representatives and the Chocolate Manufacturers association to fight the use of the labeling requirement. On one end, the US Chocolate Manufacturers Association argues that a “Slave Free” label would hurt the people of West Africa, as consumers would boycott products that came from that region without a “slave free” label. However, politicians see this as necessary in order to pressure chocolate retailers to start making the change towards slave free fair trade.
An analysis of chocolate ads from the past (1950s -1970s) have revealed an emphasis on a lifestyle, emphasizing the luxurious nature of the chocolate, placing emphasis on the product qualities rather that the circumstances surrounding the product, as is more the case when looking at chocolate ads in today's contexts. Reasons for this could potentially be due to the lack of information connections, hence information on the sources of the chocolate such as the ingredients and sourcing methods would not be as readily available. It would also be easier for multinational corporations such as nestle and the cocoa farmers to get away with concealing their unethical practices, such as the use of child slavery and the improper payment of these cocoa farmers in order to keep production prices low.
From a marketing perspective, many retailers have made use of this human rights issue as a effective marketing strategy, targeting their sales towards humane sources of fair trade chocolate, as well as making apparent their support for humanitarian causes that aid child laborers in these west African countries. Huge multinational corporations that do not support free trade in order to keep costs low are also being brought into the spotlight, as more and more humanitarian organizations begin to make use of human right legislation to file lawsuits against these companies. Nestle, Hershey, and Mars, amongst other brands, are currently in the process of fighting an array of lawsuits, claiming that they choose to turn a blind eye to child workers and improper labor practices in order to keep their costs low and maximize profits.
Because of this, Nestle has had to drastically alter their marketing strategies, not only making transparent their sourcing methods and practices, but also working with welfare organizations such as the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) to tackle the issue of child labor. Their marketing strategy has shifted away from the marketing of the lifestyle, and instead chooses to focus of the efforts taken to improve the lifestyle of the African children in the countries that they harvest cocoa from. This is just one example of how production methods of chocolate in third world countries like Africa has lead to a change in the marketing strategies taken by chocolate retailers in the US.
On the flipside, other companies have taken advantage of fair trade chocolate to market their brand in a more positive light. Smaller, more artisanal higher end chocolates have entered the market and made use of their unique size and stance to engage with consumers and gain properties. They boast more chocolate in their products since they are made in small batches, and also proudly display their collaborative efforts with cocoa farmers, something that larger multinational corporations are unable to do because of their sheer size. These companies liberally make use of the anti slavery logos, and their marketing strategies also focus on on the fair trade stance that they take, actively publicizing their efforts on the free trade stance. From a marketing standpoint, it appeals to the consumers' moral side, making them feel less guilt when they purchase these fair trade chocolate as opposed to chocolates from multinational corporations that have some legal slavery lawsuit issues like nestle, Hershey's, and mars.
In conclusion, the sale of chocolate is definitely evolving, as more and more light is shed on the inhuman practices that are behind the production of chocolate. From the days on the past where the emphasis was placed on the nature of the product and the marketing of a lifestyle, more and more advertising attempts are shifted to ethical fair trade policies and human rights activism that ensure the products consumed are responsible ones.
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