"This is why white people are so healthy"
July 30, 2014 12:16 AM   Subscribe

What happens when some Ivory Coast cacao farmers get to taste the end product of their labors for the first time? A rather touching mini-doc shows their reactions.(SLYT)
posted by Purposeful Grimace (54 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

This is not why white people are so healthy.
posted by bicyclefish at 12:21 AM on July 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

Or, why white people are not so healthy. ;)
posted by pwnguin at 12:26 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

What struck me (wonderful video!) was that while they have never seen chocolate (nor tasted it), I have never seen a cocao bean, nor fruit it comes from.

Touching is a good word - it was joyous to see them taste it, and sad that this was their first taste.
posted by el io at 12:32 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

A little more context would be helpful. Are we really meant to take their comments at face value, or is it possible that the farmers are in on the joke and making fun of the film crew? I could see it going either way.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:33 AM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

This link discusses some of the economics behind chocolate. No reason to believe this was a joke, given those numbers.
posted by el io at 12:38 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can buy that this is their first time trying European chocolate bars, I'm just skeptical that they really have no clue about the end-use of their crop. But maybe I'm just imposing my western views of the supply chain on them.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:43 AM on July 30, 2014

I make desserts as a personal hobby. This video drove home two points for me in a concrete way, that: fair trade includes transparency (what your work is used for), and that people should have the opportunity to fully enjoy the results of their labor. The reactions made clear to me these ideas that I merely value in the abstract. So, I am going to have to rethink how I rely on this ingredient: from now on, probably buy it only rarely, and otherwise exclusively buy fair trade labels.
posted by polymodus at 12:47 AM on July 30, 2014 [15 favorites]

polymodus: what about buying fair trade chocolate all the time, and increasing ones chocolate use to further support fair trade?
posted by el io at 12:51 AM on July 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

From one viewpoint, this seems rather a cruel thing to do.
posted by Decani at 12:51 AM on July 30, 2014 [10 favorites]

I love both the disbelief, and the worker asking how it's made. I can't help to think he was trying to figure out how to get some beans and make it on his own.

I have told this story far too many times, but I'll tell it again because it seems appropriate. I had really bad congestion my whole life, believed to be from allergies. In 2010, allegist figured something else must be going on, and the long story short is I had surgery that opened up my nasal passages, and vastly improved my sense of taste. I had no idea my sense of taste was lacking.

It took about 6 weeks for me to start noticing things tasted better, but it wasn't instantaneous. One day, a friend gives me a Herseys kiss. Jesus Christ, I had no idea chocolate could be better than chocolate! I already liked chocolate far too much, but having it taste better was amazing!!!

I imagine their experience was like that times ten.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:55 AM on July 30, 2014 [13 favorites]

[icnh]: I have a deviated septum, I have no idea from what, that presses on my olfactory nerve in a way which cuts off the signal it sends to my brain. I generally have about 20% of the normal human sense of smell.

However, about 2-3 times a year, for reasons entirely unknown, that situation clears up temporarily for a short while (usually less than 12 hours) and I suddenly have a full sense of smell, and thus a full sense of taste.

I usually notice this because I am awakened at night by the smell of my sheets, something which basically does not exist at all for most of my life.

In these rare windows of olfactory richness, I try to focus on foods which have a subtlety which is generally lost on me most of the time. It's like a small adventure into the land of flavor and smell, like Dorothy opening the door to her house after the tornado has landed it in Oz and she's (we are) seeing color for the first time.

Really good chocolate is always a part of this. (And I don't mean Hershey's, although that's a perfectly pleasant chocolate, it's sort of the box wine of chocolates... there are so many better, subtle, delightful, flavors out there to experience.)
posted by hippybear at 1:08 AM on July 30, 2014 [52 favorites]

Wait til you try real chocolate, clever name, and not that chocolate flavored wax Hershey's sells.

On preview: that's amazing, HB. Do you keep the tasty stuff on hand, at the ready for Flavorday?
posted by notyou at 1:12 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, I've had real chocolate in many forms since then. It's become a problem, to be honest... In fact, before surgery, I didn't "get" the expensive chocolate thing. It was certainly good, but seemed very similar to other chocolates.

Hippy Bear, have you considered getting it fixed? Because I really look back on it being life-altering. And not just the chocolate part. ;)

I now want send chocolate to the poorest parts of the world. Probably not the most helpful, but I never considered their might be people that don't know chocolate.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:56 AM on July 30, 2014

This is a fragment from the Dutch tv show Metropolis, for loads more clips on all kinds of topics visit the website.
posted by mirthe at 2:42 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

what about buying fair trade chocolate all the time, and increasing ones chocolate use to further support fair trade?

One factor that's worth considering on this point is the extent to which reliance on cash-crops is problematic, particularly in developing economies. I don't think there are simple or generalisable answers.
posted by howfar at 3:21 AM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Keep in mind that chocolate isn't native to Africa. If you go to the other place that grows chocolate, they know very well what to do with it.

I think it's an intentional strategy of colonialism in general to prevent them from making any finished goods instead of exporting raw materials.
posted by empath at 3:21 AM on July 30, 2014 [18 favorites]

Hmmm. Yeah, I don't know about this. It really feels staged. Entirely possible that those two did in fact have that exact conversation, but when the camera wasn't rolling. So they repeated the conversation for the camera.
posted by zardoz at 3:28 AM on July 30, 2014

The sad part is when the guy says he will save the empty wrapper to show the kids.
posted by snofoam at 4:10 AM on July 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Was the thing staged? I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Their houses weren't staged. Their clothing wasn't staged. Their work wasn't staged.

Perhaps they were pulling our leg about never eating chocolate before but even if they were, we now see where it comes from, we see the lives of those who give us little luxuries we can easily choose, or not choose, on a whim.

My being poor is cooking at home, not spending 15 bucks on a movie and 8 bucks on popcorn and a coke at a theater; their being poor is considerably different.

Staged or not, it's good I saw it.


I had a heart attack on the way to the hospital in a friends pickup, I was dead, without oxygen, for a long time.

I told you that to tell you this: I lost my sense of smell. It's absolutely the one I'd have chosen to give up, could just as easily been vision, or hearing, ability to walk talk scratch myself fuck ride a bike, whatever.

So. Food is now about heat, cold, spice (IE pepper, jalapeño, whatever others), salt, sweet, bitter (IE black, strong coffee), and texture.

And chocolate is still good. And better chocolate is still better.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:17 AM on July 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

I find this video pretty distasteful (and that's aside from the link between cacao plantations in Cote d'Ivoire and child slavery).

I work in southwestern Cote d'Ivoire, just on the border of Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia. The men I employ are largely cocoa farmers, when they're not in the forest taking complex observational data on primate behavior and ecology.

Most of the people in this region are farmers with 5-10 acres in cacao or rubber production, and a much smaller subsistence plot with manioc, cassava, rice, pineapple, avocado, and oranges. Cacao is a labor-intensive crop. Once a year, the pods get harvested from the trees. They're then cut open and the cacao bean is pulled out of the membrane and left on tarps in the sun to dry (everything smells like vinegar as the beans ferment), before being bagged up in 50L sacks, and then brought to central cacao-grower organizations. If you're in a slightly more developed part of the country or part of a wealthy organization, you can get your cacao loaded onto trucks to bring them to a central location. Otherwise, we see men with these big sacks on bicycles pushing them from the village to their closest big town. Where I work, guys are generally walking 15-20 km. Once you get your cocoa beans to the organization, you're at the mercy of the buyers. They generally set a price per kilo, and sometimes will set a quota for the amount they're buying from particular regions depending on supply and demand.

Cacao is an attractive crop because demand is fairly steady, and the farms have been productive for a really long time. The problem is that you only harvest once a year, and then you have to rely on that lump sum of cash to get you through a whole year. This is particularly hard because mobile banking hasn't really penetrated the market, and what (few) banks there are in rural southwestern Cote d'Ivoire aren't really set up to cater to small-scale cash crop farmers. Some people are relying on the long-term prospects of rubber, which is currently getting better prices/kilo and can be harvested year-round - this makes it a lot easier to pay for things like school fees, uniforms, books, and supplies that need to paid for year-round. The problem is that rubber plantations take a while to come into production (5-7 years), so first of all you're cutting down your producing cacao trees, and then you're twiddling your fingers for 6 years while you're not earning any money, hoping that the price of rubber won't crash when all the new trees start producing, and that there's still a market in the future.

The region is still politically unstable, and conflicts over land rights are a major part of that. A lot of the men I work with either fled themselves, or sent their families, to refugee camps in Liberia during the recent crisis. During that time, people from northern Cote d'Ivoire moved south and took residence in these abandoned farms - so even now, two years after La Crise officially ended, people still in refugee camps in Liberia are sneaking across the border and killing people they suspect took over their land. In addition, the effects of climate change are making the rains less predictable. The rainy season normally goes August-October (more or less); we didn't get rain in 2013 until almost the end of November, which had serious consequences both for people's cash crops and people's subsistence crops. Food prices are rising, commodity prices are falling, and the situation is looking grim. The forested buffer zone around the national park I work in has now been entirely converted to fallow fields, cacao, coffee, and rubber plantations.

And, the men I work with know what chocolate is. When they can afford to buy it, their kids eat a knock-off version of nutella called Chocomax (it is pretty gross). These are smart, sophisticated adult men (and women, though fewer women own their own land... they mostly just do a lot of the labor on their husbands' and fathers' farms). Even if they didn't know what chocolate was, they're plugged into their local economies, they have a sense of larger global economic forces, and they know what's going on (we listen to BBC world service: francais every night in the forest on Ferdinand's satellite radio. They'd ask me cutting and incisive questions about stupid American politics, like who the hell is that Sarah Palin person anyway?).

But look, this is the way an extractive (exploitative) cash-crop economy works. It's not cute or endearing that these men who are working incredibly hard have never, or rarely, had the opportunity to sample the end-product of their labor. It's not touching that you have to go to the big city to find chocolate, and that only a little of it is locally produced (Milka is very popular in Abidjan; Ivorian brands less so), It wouldn't be touching if you showed a cell-phone to a coltan miner in DRC and said "Look at this amazing machine your backbreaking labor in dangerous conditions enabled!" or a diamond miner in Sierra Leone with your sparkly pretty engagement ring and said, totally amazed, "But why don't you have one?" Consumers in the developed world should be smarter than that. The producers in the developing world - the folks enabling our lifestyles - certainly are.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:22 AM on July 30, 2014 [571 favorites]

ChuraChura, flagged as fantastic.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:48 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by pearlybob at 4:57 AM on July 30, 2014

Thanks for saying that ChuraChura. I'd been struggling to articulate it in a way that doesn't impose my own very different experience in South Asia in a way which suggests that all developing countries are the same so I'm glad someone in the region came in to make the point much more convincingly.
posted by tavegyl at 5:25 AM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

ChuraChura makes a good point: Never assume that because someone is living a menial existence they are unsophisticated in the ways of the modern world. That's an incredibly classist and often racist point of view.
posted by pjern at 5:37 AM on July 30, 2014 [13 favorites]

ChuraChura, flagged as fantastic.

No kidding.

These are smart, sophisticated adult men (and women, though fewer women own their own land... they mostly just do a lot of the labor on their husbands' and fathers' farms). Even if they didn't know what chocolate was, they're plugged into their local economies, they have a sense of larger global economic forces, and they know what's going on (we listen to BBC world service: francais every night in the forest on Ferdinand's satellite radio. They'd ask me cutting and incisive questions about stupid American politics, like who the hell is that Sarah Palin person anyway?).

This, a million times over. I lived in a cacao producing area on the other side of the world and this was true there, too. No one who farms cacao hasn't roasted a couple of pods and grated them for cocoa, for example, and now that I think about it I saw cheap chocolate products for sale in roadside stands in West Africa decades ago. (Things like chocolate coated biscuits, chocolate drink mixes, and some european brand of chocolate bars mostly.)

As an example of how people's poorly paid labor and products are extracted so that people here can enjoy cheap, high quality goods and have all the economic value fail to accrue to the producers, cacao is a great example, and the video shows how the people doing the work can easily never have access the good quality end product. But they aren't stupid about this (as Churachura brings up, there are regular exposés about cacao supply chains on the exact radio stations the guys in the video listen to) and to my eyes the guys in the video were having fun at the same time they were enjoying eating high quality chocolate for perhaps the first time.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:52 AM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

I just...I hear what you guys are saying, but what would have been the motive to fake this?

I don't mean politically, I just mean practically. I'm struggling to think of why a producer would want to say: "Here, take this chocolate bar and find some farmers willing to pretend they've never had chocolate before, spend some time practicing their fake reactions until they seem utterly genuine, then film them trying it 'for the first time'."

Or maybe we just want to convince ourselves this is fake so we can go on eating chocolate without feeling guilty.
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:20 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Or maybe we just want to convince ourselves this is fake so we can go on eating chocolate without feeling guilty.

That is really not the takeway you should be getting from churachura's comment or the follow-up comments at all.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:51 AM on July 30, 2014 [16 favorites]

"Maar hij kan er zelf geen chocolade van maken."
There is an extra layer to the Dutch here, and this program is pretty ridiculously Dutch, where it is a cutsey pun. It literally means; "But he could not, himself, make chocolate out of it," which plays off of the old Dutch idiom where you can describe being unable to make something or more commonly to be unable to understand something as being unable to make chocolate out of whatever raw substrate you're starting with. For example, "I worked really hard at my biochemistry class, but was unable to make chocolate out of it" or "I bought this ridiculous piece of furniture from IKEA, but was unable to make chocolate out of it"

The whole thing reminded me of this super classy Coke ad showcasing their exploitation of the loneliness of forced laborers in conditions indistinguishable from slavery, eliding over the more uncomfortable bits relating to why there is such abject oppression to begin with in a similar way in order to try and feel good about something utterly meaningless.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:52 AM on July 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

"We complain because growing cocoa is hard work. No we enjoy the result. What a privilege to taste it."

oh boy.... buying fair trade now....
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:53 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The video reminded me of a trip the missus and I took to Guatemala. Everywhere we went people were drinking Sanka and we just couldn't understand why, in a country that produces some of the world's best coffee beans, they would drink that swill. Until we were buying a couple bags of beans to bring home with us at the end of our trip and realized that we'd just spent the equivalent of a month's wages (if not more) for the average Guatemalan.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

ChuraChura - you helped me understand something in a richer and more nuanced way. Thank you for taking the time to do that.
posted by 26.2 at 9:12 AM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Hippybear, I can't believe Ray Bradbury is in charge of your nose.
posted by armacy at 9:51 AM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

On a related note, I have made several batches of fudge using local chocolate producer Taza's direct-traded products. Looks like the farmers, whose farms are USDA certified organic, are getting paid fairly, and no child labor.

Best. Fudge. Ever. It didn't come cheap, though.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 11:15 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best. Fudge. Ever. It didn't come cheap, though.

No, but ultimately that's the point: do you want fairly grown and traded chocolate that when done properly leads directly to better consequences for the people farming the cacao beans and the environment in which they do it...or do you want cheap chocolate?

When posed that way, it's a facile answer but it rapidly becomes less so when you unpack the idea of chocolate as a luxury good. If chocolate is a luxury good, not only does that upend the business of huge multi-nationals like Nestle and Mars, it also upends a lot of the Western cultural norms that have grown up around chocolate over the past century or so (what happens when a hot fudge sundae costs $10? Or when Hershey's kisses costs $7/bag?).

I say 'when' not 'if' because global warming may not make this debate avoidable, at least in the case of Côte d'Ivoire, as ChuraChura points out. It's an interesting question with what is unavoidably a lot of impact on people thousands of miles away from most of the people debating it.
posted by librarylis at 11:54 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah the coffee in Central America is almost universally awful, unless you go someplace owned by Italians. The chocolate, otoh, is excellent. The Mayans tend to drink herbal tea more than coffee, from what I can tell.
posted by empath at 12:00 PM on July 30, 2014

Historically, even in Europe and America, chocolate was something only rich people could afford. The story behind Hershey chocolate is that his dream was to make chocolate the common man could afford, so it would no longer be the purview of rich people.

He grew up poor. His first business failed. He ended up penniless and had to start over. He was an idealist who paid his employees well and was deeply hurt when they tried to organize and push for better wages during The Great Depression even though they were already being paid well and the company really could not do more for them.

My mom is German. I grew up getting good quality German chocolate periodically as a child. So I don't eat tons of Hershey chocolates (though I do eat them at times). I favor more expensive, better quality brands. But I always wince a little when the product is bad-mouthed. It is relatively low quality because that is how it was made affordable to the masses. It is still all over the place. So, in some sense, they must be doing something right.

So I can believe there are people in the world who grow cocoa beans and have never tasted chocolate. It wasn't really that long ago that even in Europe and America, chocolate was only consumed as a lifestyles of the rich and shameless type indulgence. If Americans all know what chocolate is, that's in part because Milton Hershey wanted it that way.
posted by Michele in California at 12:23 PM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

As soon as I watched the video I posted it to my brother. One of his favorite scenes in one of his favorite movies is in Open Range when "Boss" Spearman, played by Robert Duvall, buys a chocolate bar for the shopkeeper who had never had one because he couldn't afford it. "Sitting right here in front of you. Never even tried it. Shame to go forever without taking a taste of something," Spearman tells the shopkeeper. It's something of a guiding principle for my brother. This reminded me of that.

Then I scrolled down and started to read the comments here. ChuraChura, thank you sincerely for setting me straight.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:26 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

It is relatively low quality because that is how it was made affordable to the masses.

And yet Dairy Milk, produced by similarly honourable and philanthropic manufacturers for the mass market, somehow manages not to taste of vomit.
posted by howfar at 12:39 PM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just...I hear what you guys are saying, but what would have been the motive to fake this?

To dramatize the poverty of the farmers, in this case presumably with the help of the interviewees from what churachura said. It might not ever have been explicitly discussed but everyone seem to be on board with playing that angle up.

I've been involved in several documentaries and they fake everything, basically. Either the director shows up with a story he wants to tell or they make it up in the editing room. The subjects of the documentary are usually trying to tell a story or make a point too.
posted by fshgrl at 1:03 PM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

I also looked up the idiom Blasdelb was talking about.

This site indicates:

Daar kan ik geen chocola van maken
Literal translation: 'I can't make chocolate from that'.
Meaning: When something is illogical, or so incoherent, incomprehensible or strange that the information is useless.
posted by Michele in California at 1:26 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Same reason that it's really hard to get a passable cup of coffee in coffee growing Indonesia without going to a Starbucks or other international chain.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 1:30 PM on July 30, 2014

I love both the disbelief, and the worker asking how it's made. I can't help to think he was trying to figure out how to get some beans and make it on his own.

Chocolate is essentially produced through mechanical frictional homogenization-emulsification of cocoa solids and fats. Special cylinders for this "conching" stage reduce cocoa particles to 10–20 nanometers, yielding the smooth mouthfeel (jargon, ≈ texture but not exactly) that we are familiar with. Historically this key processing step was discovered and invented by the founder of Lindt; cacao was not much eaten as a confection before this.

Besides the various ingredients, and temperature control, I'd venture to guess conching is the main technical challenge to making chocolate.
posted by polymodus at 2:41 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Consumers in the developed world should be smarter than that.

*smile* Granted. There are many wonderful lessons in this video. One of the sayings in the developed world is "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

The web has brought all humanity face-to-face with the "Matrix Dilemma": Ignorance is bliss. Red, or blue?
posted by Twang at 2:46 PM on July 30, 2014

Well I think the parallax of the situation is that for consumers, chocolate exists to be eaten and enjoyed, whereas for producers, cacao exists to be grown, processed and sold. That is, beyond the psychological attribution that these kinds of people are smart/savvy and those kinds aren't, it's more that the opaqueness and compartmentalization of the economic system sometimes creates this lack of awareness, i.e. the understanding of the different things that really matter to people in occupying different places in globalized society.
posted by polymodus at 3:01 PM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best. Fudge. Ever. It didn't come cheap, though.

Ahhhhh.. paying the social and environmental costs UP FRONT.. Unfortunately that means no $200 flat screen televisions either..
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 4:01 PM on July 30, 2014

Actually, on Youtube West Africa, there's a video of fat Americans tasting the flesh from the raw fruit from the cacao tree for the first time, and looking equally astonished.

Seriously, I don't see how the situation is any different in reverse. Most Americans couldn't even tell you that chocolate comes from a tree, much less that the fruit itself (which we throw away) is pleasantly chocolatey tasting.
posted by miyabo at 9:21 PM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Kudos redux 4 churachura.
posted by spitbull at 7:06 AM on July 31, 2014

What annoys me about some of the fair trade brands is that I don't believe the added cost is because the funds are going directly to the farmers. It's because most of these are very small producers with fixed overheads that get added to every product. It's because they're marketed for luxury consumers, and its because creating the fair trade industry is a way of feeling less guilty about the fact that the super wealthy will always extract as much value as possible from the work of those below them.

A fair trade chocolate bar might be a whole dollar (or more) more expensive than its exploitative cousin. If all of that money made it back to the farmer it would be incredible.

Let's imagine a generic, non-fair trade plain chocolate bar which for the purposes of this exercise costs $1 (I know they generally cost a little more than that, even the non-fair-trade ones).

According to this infographic, retail margin and marketing take up around 53% of the cost of the bar. So the wholesale cost of the bar is 47 cents. Of that, the farmer gets 3 cents, or a little over 6%.

I'm not sure what is or isn't a fair price for a pound of cocoa, but I'm guessing a farmer would be over the moon if he was getting 10 times the going price. I would be surprised if they get that much more, but it's possible. So we multiply what he's paid for his crop by 10, increasing the cost for just the cocoa by 27 cents.

So for each and ever fair trade candy bar, maybe 27 cents of the 100 cents extra of that goes to the farmer. That means another 73 cents goes somewhere else.

And this is where I have the real problem. It shouldn't be more expensive to market a fair trade candy bar than a conventional one. And in theory the retail markup shouldn't go up either, since there are no additional costs inherent in selling fair trade chocolate.

I'm guessing, of course, that the retail markup *does* increase, precisely because it is presented as a luxury or niche item and is purposefully marketed towards the affluent (you'll notice that if you pay attention to how things are marketed, poor people must not care much about the suffering of others).

But of course a lion share of the bounty is going to the people in the middle — the producers and suppliers. Maybe some of them live in the same country as the farmers, maybe they don't. Maybe they can identify with and relate to the struggles of the farmers, maybe they can't.

One thing is for sure though — whatever all those people in the middle are doing, they are getting paid a lot more per pound of chocolate than non-fair-trade producers, doing the exact same thing only with cocoa with a fairer price.

That's the issue I have with nearly all manufactured goods. Either you pay a price that is somewhere between cheap and reasonable for something that was manufactured by people being paid as little as possible, or you pay through the absolute nose for a product in order to know that the person at the other end of it got paid a reasonable wage.

The demand is out there for products which are made with fairly-paid labor, and in theory it should be possible to do a direct transfer of a price increase to a wage increase: increase shirt by $.50 to make it a fair labor wage, worker in Bangladesh was making 10 shirts a day at 25 cents a shirt and getting $2.50/day; transfer all of the added cost directly to the worker and now they make $7.50 per day. An increase of 4% retail cost translates to a wage increase of 200%.

But this never, ever happens.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:59 AM on July 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

"since there are no additional costs inherent in selling fair trade chocolate"

The problem with every "niche" product is that producers sell way less while having comparable start-up, transportation and other costs as big corps. Divide the overhead by 10K or by 100K of sold product and you know why "niche" products are more expensive. Some producers of fair trade products can't even afford to invest in production facilities themselves and rent conventional factories, which is an added cost because those factories have to switch production to fair trade cocoa only for certification purposes and can't accept work for other conventional producers during that time.

"whatever all those people in the middle are doing, they are getting paid a lot more per pound of chocolate than non-fair-trade producers, doing the exact same thing only with cocoa with a fairer price."

Why do you think that? First, many middle man along the conventional supply chain are cut out in fair trade, which is meant to go as directly as possible. Second, most fair trade cooperatives have more to offer than just the fairer remuneration, they re-invest the "surplus". That can mean teaching farmers how to adapt to climate change, giving leadership training, courses on women's empowerment, building housing, clinics or schools, or starting scholarship funds.

You can find a lot more info on http://www.fairtrade.net/standards.html.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:50 AM on July 31, 2014

Except for the possibility that this documentary is lying, I'm unclear why some of you think this video is distasteful. It appears that since it has been described as "touching", this has been equated with "heartwarming". I think the main way it is touching is that it is sad and surprising. Nonetheless, when the farmers are joking and laughing at the end, I don't think I have to wear my serious face through a little bit of human happiness, even if I know that they live in quasi-slavery. Basically, the point of the video seems to be to inform us Westerners about the unfairness of the situation, and it seems to me that it makes that point well.

I don't think this compares to that disgusting Coca-Cola ad, which turns a bit of charity into something self-serving and manipulative. I've watched this Dutch video clip twice, and I don't see the host gloating over the farmers about how he's bringing light into their world. He's simply sharing some chocolate with them, which is simply a decent thing to do, and and he's acting decent while he does it.

Is it distasteful because of the praising and ingenuous things the farmers say after they've eaten the chocolate? It might make me feel awkward, but I'm inclined to believe that is how they would talk to the distinguished visitor with the film crew. If this is partly or entirely the result of the servile position they're in, that isn't really the fault of the filmmakers.

So has this been faked? If it was, then yes, this video was fucking distasteful, to say the least. Well, here's an interesting datapoint: CNN seems to have made a copycat documentary. This one has an added scene of the host in the marketplace demonstrating that there's no chocolate there. Sure, he could easily be not showing us the table full of Milk Duds on the next corner, but I'm leaning back to thinking it's all honest. Here's what a seemingly knowledgeable person posted on that story.

The fact that cacao farmers haven't eaten chocolate is widely used to illustrate the economic disparity between cacao producers, and the processors and consumers of the eventual goods. While the income gap is deplorable and undeniable, chocolate is also just not widely available in the rural agricultural areas that produce cacao because it melts above about 20 C, and very few grocery-type vendors have much, if any, refrigeration. It would better illustrate the point to frame local chocolate prices in with respect to the farmer's income (e.g., chocolate bar cost as % of income), and make the same comparison for a chocolate bar bought in the UK, and reported compensation of a Cadbury exec (or Nestle exec in their country, etc). Richard Quest expresses surprise that street vendors in Abijdan do not have chocolate. Anyone who has traveled there, and who understands chocolate, knows it would become molten and unsellable very quickly. Chocolate is available in closed groceries in Adijdan, and smaller cities and towns like Soubré. As I recall when I was there some months ago, a 100 gm bar of chocolate made in Cote d' Ivoire (Amigo) cost 700 CFA. Not sure what the average farmer's income (profit) is.
posted by polecat at 12:57 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

The video is distasteful partly because of the belittling notion that these farmers are so naive and untouched, goshdarnit, that despite living and working as part of a global economy they don't know what chocolate is. These people are watching you/us as much as you/we are watching them. Even more so because developed countries have a far greater footprint on world media than developing countries do.

In any case, having watched the video again, I'm pretty sure the farmers are taking the piss. The joke is on the filmmakers here and it is mixed up in the economic realities ChuraChura describes.
posted by tavegyl at 1:06 PM on July 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

Fairtrade accused of failing to deliver benefits to African farmworkers

Study claims wages on officially certified markets are below what is paid by comparable employers

posted by infini at 1:27 AM on August 2, 2014

Same reason that it's really hard to get a passable cup of coffee in coffee growing Indonesia without going to a Starbucks or other international chain.

I had lots of extremely decent coffee every morning in Indonesia last month that was infinitely superior to Starbucks' perfumed, gutless, (and unbelievably overpriced!) sugared swill. My background is in Italian coffee, so this is a style thing, but I will certainly never again darken the door of a Starbucks. Is rubbish.
posted by Wolof at 7:14 AM on August 3, 2014

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