The Confection Connection Between Chocolate and Supply Chain: A Sweet or Sour Tale?

In the Mexican coastal town of Puerto Vallarta, where the weather is hot and the tequila flows like wine, a new trend is emerging from an old Mexican delicacy…chocolate. The town is host to a chocolate museum, chocolate tour and fancy tequila/chocolate-paired tasting. Last week I had the opportunity to attend to one of these tastings where I learned about the different types of tequila and how the chocolates amplify their flavors when properly paired.

This unique experience also came with a crash course on the history of Mexican cocoa, the main ingredient used to make chocolate. Cocoa was once only consumed by ancient Mexican royalty. According to my tequila sommelier and a report by the World Agroforestry Centre, the Olmecs – an ancient tribe in Mexico – were thought to be the first people to consume chocolate. These indigenous people crushed the beans, added water, spices and chilies and drank the delicious elixir.

Ironically, last week an article came across my desk about cocoa. What were the odds that in the same week that I learned about the origins and use of this delicious nut, I’d also circumstantially run across an article about its production? I found the correlation too good to be true until I read the article and discovered the unfortunate state of cocoa production. Sadly, this article did not come with tequila, but the bitter reality of a lack of ethics in the cocoa industry’s supply chain.

As supply chain practitioners know, it is critical to know where and how your products are being sourced, but the farther you are geographically from the beginning of the supply chain, the harder it is to control…and in countries where labor laws are lax, it becomes even more tragic. This gets tricky with products that can only be produced in very specific environments. Cocoa is one such product that can only be grown 10 degrees north or south of the equator with the majority of its production in West Africa, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Now here is something to think about the next time you indulge in your favorite chocolate delight: the majority of the cocoa used to make chocolate is produced using unfair labor practices, specifically the use of child labor. These children are not the product of slavery or human trafficking, but are actively seeking work to support their families in this difficult area of the world. The lack of willingness on the part of the consumer to pay high product prices for impulse buys like chocolate does not help the unfair labor practices as it squeezes profit margins, which further contributes to these unjust conditions.

I will not call out your favorite chocolate companies for their bad supply chain practices, but I will encourage you to read the latest article on supply chain in the cocoa industry in Outsource Magazine, where you can learn more about the cause of these unfair labor practices and also find organizations that are actively working to solve the issue in the cocoa production chain. While you are at it, check out SIG University where you can improve your supply chain management practices and become more informed.