We've worked with a number of cacao suppliers over the years. From Bali to Sri Lanka to Ecuador and Peru, one may say we've really tasted the globe. And an important note which I just was reminded of by The Chocolate Journalist, not all cacao from the same country tastes the same!
I'm reminded of a conference I went to in Ecuador years ago. I met up with various farmers and processors- many of them providing samples from their establishments. There was one farmer's cacao I will never forget because it was that incredible. 100% dark chocolate before it became chocolate- the beans were out of this world.
Other suppliers from Ecuador- delicious! But they didn't hold a candle to this guy's beans from the Esmeraldas.
Unfortunately, he didn't have his organic certification and for the sales channels we operate within (truly, another story in and of itself- don't worry, I'll tell it), it meant we couldn't work with him.
But, I healed my heartbroken tastebuds. And after many trials and learning processes, found our current supplier- who we may or may not continue working with ;)
Here is what we always require from our suppliers:
- Canadian accredited organic certification- different countries have different standards for organic certification- so, an item that may be USDA organic would not qualify to be COR (Canadian Organic Regime) certified. For this specific example, a common challenge purchasers may run into is whether or not the cacao has been grown with additional nitrites. (COR does not allow this).
- Some sort of personal connection with the supplier in the country of origin- this does not mean that we require a 3rd party certificate (like Fair For Life, Fair Trade, etc.), but that we communicate with and get in writing from the supplier the conditions that the hands on workers experience while growing, harvesting and processing the cacao. We do this because additional certifications (and organic alone) can be very expensive for the producer- they sometimes cannot afford to both pay workers well and pay for certification. I'd choose the former, personally.
Now, ethical certainly does not always equate to tasty.
And ethical cacao, to us, means those very basic basics.
1. Organic: for the health of the planet and ecosystems
2. Slavery Free: I cannot even bring myself to use any sort of language pertaining to 'fair' here because I doubt there is a labourer on the planet who is paid their worth. It is always the most difficult jobs that go with too little reward and, supportive work environment, 'living wage' and recognition. And yet, influences peddling cheap garbage make millions. Make it make sense.
3. Environmental Stewardship: in addition to organic agricultural pracitces being our bare minimum, there need to be practices in place that support local ecosystems. This can look like embracing intercropping and eschewing mono cropping, reforestation of native trees and supporting local wildlife initiatives.
Alright, so, where are we getting our cacao from, currently?
Well. It comes from an organization, the OCE, who works with several producers in Peru. The OCE has the infrastructure to process the raw cacao beans into finished and semi finished products- like roasted beans, nibs, paste, butter and powder.
They connect with different chocolate makers and other buyers so that the farms have a wider customer base.
The producer we got our cacao from is the Campirushari Organization in Pangoa, Peru. Now in the sake of transparency, I don't want the title of 'organization' to in any way give off any charitable vibes. This is a group of families who have cacao trees on their property and have brought in part time workers to harvest as orders come in.
So, in that sense, it's kind of cool- I like that there is an additional income stream for folks who may be interested in making a bit of extra cash while learning agricultural practices.
It feels less cool in the sense that we could be purchasing from farmers whose livelihoods depend upon this income entirely.
I asked about the wages they provide their laborers as well as the cost of living in the surroudning areas.
Apparently, the minimum wage in Peru is S/ 35.00 soles ($9.80 for 8 hrs) or S/ 1025.00 soles monthly ($285). However, this organization pays S/ 50.00 soles ($14.00 for 8 hrs), and workers also receive the main meal of the day (lunch).
They also state that they support themselves with smaller-scale alternative crops that can be grown on the farms, such as plantains, yucca, or beans. In addition to these being a profitable selling option, these crops also serve as food for our families and workers.
So, there's that.
As I learn more about the vast inadequacies our society takes as given, I am always relieved to hear of employers treating the humans upon whom they rely with basic decency. This line of work is neither easy nor glamorous, and as referenced earlier, never praised the way it should be.
I think it is important to talk about this, and to make sure that we don't get frivolous items, like chocolate, from sources reliant on slavery. No cacao farmer will receive the recognition they deserve, even if their faces are plastered on every corner of marketing material some 'righteous' craft chocolate maker spits out into the world.
In fact, I find it in really poor taste. It is hardly virtuous of us to support those in the global south, parading that we do so.
These people- the almost entirely black and brown people who harvest our crops- they live out a legacy of colonialism, and we in the global north still are benefitting from it. Paying for a product that allows for the allocation of a living wage and a lunch at work is hardly anything to write home about- which is precisely why I am writing that to you here.
Anyway. That's where we get our cacao.
What a system.