Welcome to Guilt-free Shopping!
Fact: Millions of farmers producing some kind of food for the Dutch do not have enough to eat themselves! Tropical products such as coffee, cacao, tea or fruit are grown by hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers that live under the World Bank and national poverty levels.
For who: for the few (unfortunately) consumers who are conscious about their feelings and values when they buy food.
Why: my goal is to enable people to easily decide which food products to buy, without having to worry about negative impacts suffered by farmers, or by the environment. I try to see through all the bullshit of companies with all kinds of labels and sustainability claims. I analyze foods that cannot be grown locally.
What are the most ‘fair’, ‘sustainable’, ‘green’ (insert other cliché words here) that you should buy:
Large corporations avoid taxes, maximize profits, pollute and pay low prices, keeping farmers at poverty levels. They have more power than states do and come up with trade treaties in secret. Stop buying their products!
Guilt Free Shopping analyzes and compares smaller companies, which from the start declared their social or environmental goals. These are the companies that try to convince us that profits come second and social or environmental impacts come first. Some call themselves ‘social enterprises’.
But as you’ll find out below, even these companies either exagerate, wrongly believe in an approach which actually doesn’t lead to positive outcomes, or simply lie to everyone.
– preliminary list –
In recent talks about possible solutions to improve farmers’ wellbeing, the business model of Divine Chocolate doesn’t come up anymore. Formerly known as Day Chocolate, Divine is owned in proportion of 44% by a cacao cooperative in Ghana. I still believe that farmer-ownership is the only way in which farmers can earn more from their cacao.
Chocolate, but also coffee, tea and fruits prices in Western markets are stable. However, prices at farm gate are extremely low and volatile. Even if some farmers afford enough food and other basic goods, they cannot invest and cannot plan for investing in their farms. By being connected to consumer prices in Western markets, farmers have the biggest chance to get more of the value from their products.
I couldn’t yet find any information on what prices farmers actually receive. The company is far from being transparent. In any case, 44% of the profits obtained from sales of the Divine Chocolate bar, belong to the Ghanaian coop, which invests them in social projects, such as training women in farming methods.
On paper, Divine Chocolate is one of the most democratic companies, with (in theory) a truly fair farmer-owned model. I will do more research on it, specifically on price margins, wellbeing and incomes of farmers. Until then, the fact that some of the poorest cacao farmers in the world partly own the brand in Western markets, should be enough to recommend Divine as a very good option.
There are only a few Dutch chocolate companies. Chocolate Makers is a Dutch manufacturer, which gets raw beans and turns them into chocolate in their small factory in Amsterdam Noord. Their focus is on quality, and they produce craft chocolate from high-quality beans. I attended their presentation on the sustainability issues behind their company, and I asked them a few questions.
Chocolate Makers states that they pay farmers 50% over market prices (4.500 dollars, with an average market price of 3.000 dollars, per tonne). A big plus is that they clearly state on their website that Fairtrade and other certifications and labels simply do not work. Something I strongly agree with.
They buy cacao from farms in Latin American countries (Peru and Dominican Republic) and from Congo.
On Latin American cacao farms poverty is most of the time not as big of a problem as in West Africa. Chocolate Makers comes up with many claims of positively impacting farmers, but they mix up the Latin Americans with the Congoleze ones. The truth is those latin farmers are part of cooperatives which already have many buyers offering the same prices.
An important criteria for ‘social enterprises’ is to create impact where it is needed. But as is the case with most single origin chocolate producers, the founders of these companies start sourcing from farmers or farmer groups with good track records.
You can’t say you are great at doing the dishes, if there were no dishes to be cleaned in the first place. In the same way, Chocolate Makers should not make any claims, if they don’t make an effort to source from farmers living in poverty, who have no other buyer.
As far as the Congo cacao goes, I was not able to find out more information. The lack of transparency and annual reports makes me very skeptical of any sustainability related claim that this company makes.
Taking all the information into account, for now this brand is a safer option than others. Plus, it’s real chocolate, not the supermarket crap with too much sugar, in which you cannot even taste the cacao flavours.
This notorious Dutch company is the most active in communicating their sustainability efforts. They ‘go beyond certification’, offering stability of revenues through long-term contracts to their cocoa farmer cooperatives. They pay a price of 25% on top of the market price. By comparison, Fairtrade certification only offers a 10% premium. Plus, on average, only 44% of all certified cacao is sold as certified. The rest is sold as ‘normal’, due to a lack of demand, and farmers don’t receive the premiums.
Tony’s meets the ‘needs’ criteria, as they source from countries where some of the poorest cacao farmers are located (Ghana and Ivory Coast). Therefore Tony’s works where impact is needed. However, they are active for 10 years, so one would think that by now the farmers are not poor anymore. Wrong!
Recent living income and living wage studies are measuring what prices farmers should receive, to cover all their costs and live decent lives. It turns out the prices should be 400% higher than now. For a Tony’s bar the supermarket price should increase with around 1 euro, provided that the full 1 euro is transfered to what farmers receive at farm-gate. 25% over market prices, currently offered by Tony’s, is far from the 400% needed.
You can read an analysis of Tony’s business case here: Tony’s Chocolonely Teaching Case.
Placing all the information in perspective, I conclude that Tony’s is more talk than impact.
We haven’t yet looked closely at many coffee companies in the Netherlands, but one brand is mentioned more than the rest when it comes to ‘fairness’.
Moyee Coffee attended a B Corps meeting and had a stand offering free coffee and sharing their story. I was there too, challenging their business model.
They state that coffee is just the means to solve inequality in the current coffee value chain. Normally only 2-15% of the value (price) of the final products in Dutch supermarkets is distributed in the producing countries, to farmers and workers. The rest of the value is added through roasting, packaging and selling (retail costs and margins). Moyee Coffee aims for a 50-50 share, sourcing their coffee in Ethiopia and also roasting it there. However they are far from their goals and they mislead the public in many ways!
The company used to claim that they pay their supplying farmers double of what they would get from selling Fairtrade certified coffee beans. However, in their 2015 impact report, they mention that only the premium is double. This means that in the same way Fairtrade pays 10% over the too low market prices, Moyee pays 20% over the same price. This is extremely far from paying prices that would allow farmers to earn a living income.
Coming back to the 50-50% share that Moyee wishes to achieve, I must strongly contest its relevance. Moyee shareholders of Dutch nationality, together with Dutch and Ethiopian investors, bought an Ethiopian coffee farm from which Moyee sources its coffee. They do also source from around 100 smallholders surrounding the farm. But to conclude, who cares about the 50-50% value distribution claim, if the value is absorbed in Ethiopia, by rich business men.
Here’s the take of one farmer. He doesn’t even know Moyee. The ‘higher prices’ were only enough for him to drink more wine and obviously not enough for him to fix his teeth. How can Moyee talk about social impact when their own farmers don’t know who Moyee is?
Moyee’s farmers live in poverty and the company’s claims have been bullshiting consumers for more than 3 years. On top of that Moyee is determined to own their own coffee farms, an ambition that would make Marx roll in his grave. I suppose the current coffee farmers, already facing unfair trade conditions, will have to compete with Moyee. And Moyee will hire workers, which will be unable to own production means and will become wage-slaves.
As it turns out so far, there aren’t many tropical products on the Dutch market, through which enough value is transferred from consumers to producers, to enable farmers to live equal lives to ours.