Cocoa cultivation and chocolate consumption are still increasing worldwide as folks from Seoul to Stockholm just cannot get enough of the serotonin-laden treat. Chocolate became the new wine, as varietals that boasted hints of flowers, leather, berries, and citrus saw it blended with everything from bacon to chili pepper. Many consumers could care less about the delicate nuances, and were happy to inhale it for the antioxidants or to numb themselves after a heinous day in the office.
With increasing popularity came a bevy of environmental and social issues. Speaking of Hershey—few were impressed with their first corporate social responsibility report because of the company’s questionable sourcing of their cocoa. Cadbury did not fare much better. Critics of both companies urged them to buy fair trade cocoa; other experts fretted over chocolate’s future, as unsustainable farming practices could very well demolish the industry within 20 years. For those focused on fair trade, technology could offer some encouraging news.
Consumers now have an opportunity trace the source of the cocoa beans that go into some of their favorite indulgences. The technology firm Helveta has partnered with the cocoa supplier Armajaro to tag sacks of cocoa. Here’s how it works: Armajaro employees scan bar-coded labels at each step of the cocoa supply chain. Helveta’s supply chain software, CI World, will track the sacks of cocoa, which will be secured so that no one can tamper with them. For now the system will run as a pilot in four of Ghana’s districts. The hope is that all data in Armajaro’s central system will allow the trading firm to analyze, reconcile, and share information about the cocoa to boost traceability and transparency throughout a company’s supply chain.
The process will not reveal the exact profiles of cocoa farm workers, but if all goes as planned, consumers and advocacy groups will be able to track the cocoa bean sacks back to areas that have reported cases of child abuse or human trafficking.
Whether or not the large chocolate manufacturers participate remains to be seen. Hershey, for example, already has a public relations headache from the closing of its original Pennsylvania factory, and while many of its competitors are fair trade certified, Hershey still has not disclosed any plans to follow in their footsteps. Mars, Nestle, Kraft, and ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s are shifting towards fair trade; if Hershey is going to keep that 40% market share, they had better follow.