Turning point for chocolate? Theo pegs fairtrade and ethical sourcing as “fundamental principles”
12 Mar 2020 --- US-based chocolatier Theo Chocolate is highlighting a turning point for the chocolate industry. Following its recently published 2019 Impact Report, the company pegs fairtrade and ethical sourcing as key principles of its ethos. Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Monique Heineman, Brand Manager, explains how “the conventional chocolate industry is not as sweet as the products it produces,” – however, Theo wants consumers to be aware of issues and challenges and is deliberately transparent in its storytelling on how to reach a fair and sustainable cocoa supply chain.
“Fairly trading commodity raw ingredients – both near and far – is a fundamental principle of why we’re in business. There are inequalities throughout the cocoa supply chain – pricing, labor and environmental – and paying living incomes is one very important component to the change we seek to make in the industry,” Heineman explains.
Presently, the majority of cocoa from Theo is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo. As part of the company’s annual contracts with farmers, Theo pays into a fair trade premium development fund, which is an additional premium above what they pay farmers for cocoa. “The farmers are in complete control over how these funds are deployed to best benefit their community. Education is one of those priorities,” she continues. “Today, 3,900 children have access to schooling, the community is also building a university, which will provide a local option for higher education.”
The opportunity for fair trade chocolate is now with consumer awareness and demand, according to Heineman. “Consumers will always be the driving force for change within any industry,” she affirms. “By purchasing more fair trade certified chocolate, consumers can help the industry move to a more transparent and equitable cocoa purchasing model.”
Unfortunately, due to conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, many women have lost their husbands and are looking for new ways to support themselves and their families. “Women that have turned to growing cocoa as their solution have found that not only are they able to support their family’s immediate needs, but they are also able to save for future needs,” Heineman notes.
For Heineman, gender equality is of utmost importance in any industry, and the cocoa industry is no different, she says. “At origin, there are many factors at play that cause gender inequalities, including cultural differences. While we’re not attempting to change cultural beliefs, we always ensure that farmers have equal access to ESCO Kivu’s cocoa purchasing and support programs.”
“The conventional chocolate industry is not as sweet as the products it produces,” Heineman reveals. “Unfair prices to farmers for cocoa beans, forced labor practices and harmful farming methods are just a few of the industry’s biggest unkept secrets. In 2019, we reached a turning point for chocolate in the media. The Washington Post article around forced child labor in the cocoa industry, and Netflix’s Rotten series [episode around chocolate] are only a few of the stories that were brought to light last year,” she states.
Heineman hopes the Theo business model inspires other companies to incorporate fair trade practices across their entire supply chain.
Moreover, price swings in the cocoa commodity market create volatility for farmer incomes. “We contract our beans a year in advance and independent of the world cocoa commodity market. This ensures farmers are paid a living income with a reliable sourcing partner,” she adds.
Organic certified cocoa is another important factor in Theo’s sourcing practices. “Not only are we organic for our consumers, but we are organic for our farming partners too,” Heineman contines. “Most cocoa farmers and their families live on their farms. Growing certified organic cocoa means that they are not spraying harmful chemicals near their families and communities.
Looking ahead, Heineman hopes to witness a significant change in the cocoa industry. “Cheap chocolate is produced on the backs of hard working people thousands of miles away. It’s time to bring much more fairness to this industry,” she affirms. “It’s time for consumers to understand where their food comes from and for cocoa manufacturers to take a more responsible stance on how they source and produce the world’s chocolate,” Heineman concludes.
By Elizabeth Green
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