Why is FCCI engaging research on labor in cacao production in Brazil?

Part 1 of a multi-part blog series. Updated links to additional posts will be added here as they become available.

In December 2018, we learned of an International Labor Organization/Ministério Público do Trabalho (ILO/MPT) report that confirmed instances of conditions analogous to slavery and child labor in cacao production in certain areas of Brazil. As an organization committed to the abolition of slavery, we read the report and watched the related documentary with concern. The cases described are grave. They do not appear to reflect the majority of practices in cacao production in Brazil. But they do reflect part of a broader structural problem throughout agricultural production in Brazil and globally. We strongly condemn these human rights abuses. We also know that colleagues of ours throughout Brazil are working tirelessly to build a robust, vibrant supply chain focused on social and environmental responsibility, directly in opposition to these types of human rights abuses.

Our goals

We began a period of reflection during which we considered carefully our responsibility to acknowledge the research, understand its context, and respond. We turned for additional insight to our scholarly colleagues who study Brazil, labor in cacao, and labor in Brazilian cacao production. We collected information and resources to support us in the following goals:

  1. Understanding the reality, root causes, and risk factors of the situation in Brazil.
  2. Contextualizing the situation in relation to cacao production globally.
  3. Defining potential actions that the fine cacao and chocolate community might take to address the situation.

For those who know FCCI's work and those who do not, we are releasing a series of answers to frequently asked questions on our blog this week to offer a clear narrative and public education on this situation.

Film screening and discussion on April 24, 2019

As we conducted our own investigation, we began a conversation with the journalist who oversaw the research, Marques Casara, of human rights-based research unit Papel Social. Casara and his team member Poliana Dallabrida shared their research with us and answered many of our questions about their work. They then generously agreed to travel to Boston along with Maria Claudia Falcão of the International Labor Organization and Patrícia de Mello Sanfelice of the Ministério Público do Trabalho to continue our conversation. This gathering presents a unique opportunity to discuss this report in an academic setting, provide a space for questions and answers, and highlight some of the excellent work being done by our colleagues in Brazil today to reform the cacao-chocolate supply chain.

On Wednesday, April 24th, we will host a film screening and discussion with these four guests as part of the class our Executive Director teaches at Harvard University, "Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food." To complement our focus on the reality of the labor situation in Brazil, we will serve chocolate from Gutzeit Chocolates produced with cacao from one of the farms, Fazenda Panorama, cited by the report as an example of transparent labor practices in action. Additional contributions of chocolate and commentary are forthcoming from other stakeholders in Brazil. This event will be livestreamed and archived for future viewing.

FCCI is devoted to identifying, developing, and promoting fine cacao and chocolate. A key element of our mission is to create opportunities for knowledge sharing and mutual understanding throughout the cacao-chocolate supply chain, and the planned event of next week aims to do just that.

Why is FCCI engaging this research?

As much as the quality of Brazilian cacao and chocolate and the efforts of institutions throughout Brazil are succeeding in the face of many challenges, the report from December 2018 indicates that a need for social change still exists as well as a need for institutional capacity to study and support this change. This is true of cacao and the agricultural system globally, both of which remain a site of many human rights abuses. Our own home, the United States, is not exempt from this, and we likewise follow developments here closely for comparative purposes. The labor abuses documented in the report appear primarily distant from the work of the fine/specialty cacao-chocolate sector in Brazil; they nevertheless place the entire industry at risk, from both reputational and ethical standpoints.

This calls for further education, communication, and action.

Our collective expertise at FCCI includes agricultural labor, historical and modern slavery, African and African American Studies, and the Lusophone world; this knowledge informs our approach to this issue. Members of the academic, political, and advocacy communities expert in these issues have been invited to participate in the audience at the event. Throughout the next week, we will share resources via our blog that will support nuanced, informed discussion of the labor issues in cacao.

Our work requires that we address the factual reality of the cacao-chocolate industry. We believe that we must champion ethics and human rights at the same time as we promote cacao and chocolate quality. Denying the reality of the labor situation in Brazil, no matter its scope or scale, is untenable and unconscionable. We also recognize that in addressing this issue directly, we confront the controversy, politics, and intense emotions inherent in dangerous, ignominious subjects such as slavery.

The reaction from our colleagues in Brazil has been divided - many welcome this conversation, but some have critiques they wish to share about this report, and some are understandably uncomfortable with the risk that it poses to their country's image and to their businesses. We know from years of study that leaving a report such as the ILO/MPT one floating untended and unaddressed is not an option. Clear, informed education and communication is urgently required.

In fact, we watched a similar situation play out in the Brazilian coffee sector beginning in the summer of 2013, and participated in the specialty coffee industry's response to that situation in 2016. (See resource links below.) By engaging with the issue actively, working with knowledgeable actors to understand and narrate the situation, the coffee industry was able to begin addressing the issue.

We hope that the community of professionals and chocolate-lovers will follow along over the next week with an open mind, determined to face this reality with honesty, transparency, and a readiness to enact change. We invite you to join us in better understanding cacao and labor in Brazil, and in addressing the abuses of human rights that this report has documented.

Postscript: Our commitment to Brazil

In the three years since FCCI was founded, we have had the great privilege to work in support of Brazil's rural vibrancy and cacao renaissance.

First, in the spring of 2016, we supported the coffee industry's response to a similar situation of slave labor in the Brazilian coffee supply chain. This culminated in a talk delivered by our Executive Director at the Re:co Symposium in Atlanta, Georgia.

In July 2016, we hosted an FCCI Cacao Grader Intensive class at the International Festival of Cacao and Chocolate in Ilhéus, Bahia, Brazil, attended by representatives of CEPLAC, Instituto Cabruca, Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia Baiano, Universidade Estadual do Sudoeste da Bahia, Universidade da Amazônia, and over a dozen cacao and chocolate businesses.

Since that time, our team members have traveled to Brazil three additional times: first, to participate in the Perfect Daily Grind Micro-Coffee Festival, next to attend the World Cocoa Foundation Partnership Meeting as part of their Innovation Marketplace program, and then to offer a Cacao Grader Intensive course in partnership with Dengo in São Paulo.

We have continued our relationship with many members of the groundbreaking Associação Bean to Bar Brasil, promoted the work of researchers from Brazilian universities and the inspiring Centro de Inovação do Cacau, supported the Instituto Arapyaú and many emerging scholars in their work to better understand the specialty industry, and even been interviewed by Brazilian journalists about our own projects.

We have likewise hosted experts in Brazilian cacao and chocolate production at our events in the United States and included Brazilian cacao and chocolate products in several of our courses taught around the world.

We have, through every step of this journey, witnessed firsthand the commitment to quality and sustainability that exists in the Brazilian specialty cacao-chocolate sector, and the incredible potential that it holds for the future. In short: Brazil is one of the most exciting countries in today's cacao-chocolate universe and we must collectively support its future success.


Read the ILO/MPT report on labor in cacao production in the original Portuguese and in English. Watch the original documentary in Portuguese and the trailer for the documentary with English subtitles.

To learn more about the response of the specialty coffee industry to reports of human rights abuses in Brazil's coffee sector, read the Catholic Relief Services blog post series "Modern Slavery in the Coffeelands" and watch the Specialty Coffee Association's Re:co Symposium panel on this topic:

The views expressed in this blog post are those of its authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the journalists, policy makers, companies, or organizations mentioned in this post.

#farmworkerawareness #trabajodecacao

During this year's National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 25-31) we at FCCI are committed to highlighting the work of laborers on cacao farms. Every year, millions of cacao farmworkers cultivate cacao trees and handpick the cacao pods that go on to become 4.5 million metric tons of cacao, yet they remain largely invisible in narratives of the cacao-chocolate supply chain. Throughout the world, farmwork carries with it significant risk of physical injury. In addition, farmworkers often lack equal protections under the law - they can struggle to access living wages, overtime, unemployment insurance, union or cooperative membership, and more. We believe in dignity, safe working conditions, and fair treatment under the law for all farmworkers. Each day for the next week, we will share important facts about cacao farmworker conditions and their important, underrecognized, and undervalued contributions to the cacao-chocolate supply chain. We invite you to join us in contributing to the documentation of #farmworkerawareness and #trabajodecacao!

Want to join us in posting to social media this week? Use the hashtags #farmworkerawareness and #trabajodecacao. But before you do, remember some of the important rules of conduct for sharing images:

  • Informed consent. Never post someone else's image without their full understanding of how and where the image will be used and their express permission for its use.
  • Context matters. Use captions, full names, and relevant details to explain an image.
  • Reject stereotypes. In the case of cacao labor, this includes the rejection of poverty porn, racist and sexist tropes, and other stigmatizing portrayals of farmworkers.
  • Solidarity above all. Marketing is not the same thing as education. This is not a sales campaign or a pity party, and it definitely shouldn't be all about you. Farmworkers are our equals.
  • Self-representation. Encourage photography by community members in cacao-producing areas and posts made by farmworkers themselves over the privileging of your own voice.

Our first post is about the economic study of work on cacao farms. When it comes to cacao, labor often makes up the largest cost to production. However, research has shown that a small and ever-shrinking proportion of overall value from finished chocolate products makes its way back to cacao farmworkers. In other words, the value that our global capitalist system attributes to farmworker labor is, in general, very low relative to value delivered.

The primary way that cacao labor has been studied by agricultural economists is in terms of "man-days," where the following calculation is used:

  • number of men employed x average number of days worked by each = total man-days

Note that this calculation is complicated by the inevitable variety in rates of work, and that these can be dependent on factors like season, gender, age, and skill. Chapter 10 of the classic text Cocoa by Wood and Lass includes details from several case studies that follow the man-days per hectare per annum for each task. These types of calculations can be traced back to at least the management practices of plantation slavery systems, where enslaved people were treated as chattel (property) and their value as commodities was calculated in relation to their labor productivity. To this day, many of the popular ideas around "ideal" cacao farm size and farmworker productivity link directly to this history.

The image above reflects the labor usage for establishment under planted shade with clear-felling in mid-1970s Brazil. It gives a sense of the major tasks of cacao production and the man-days necessary to complete them. What can you learn from this chart? Is there any important information missing? Does anything surprise you? We are eager to hear your thoughts.



En el transcurso de la celebración anual de la Semana Nacional de Concientización del Trabajo Campesino, en el FCCI nos dimos la tarea de divulgar la importancia de los agricultores cacaoteros. Cada año, millones de cacaoteros cultivan árboles de cacao y recolectan las mazorcas de cacao que se convertirán en 4.5 millón de toneladas métricas de cacao, sin embargo, su trabajo permanece sin ser reconocido en la narrativa de la cadena productiva de cacao y chocolate. Los agricultores se someten a trabajos que pueden generar grandes daños físicos, además que en muchas circunstancias carecen de la protección legal incluyente, es decir, luchan por conseguir acceso a salarios justos, pago de tiempo extra, seguro de desempleo, posibilidad de asociarse en sindicatos o cooperativas, entre otras. Nosotros creemos que la dignidad, las condiciones seguras de trabajo, y el trato justo suscrito por la ley debe estar al alcance de todos los agricultores de cacao. Cada día de esta semana, estaremos compartiendo importantes estadísticas e información sobre la condición de los trabajadores agrícolas de nuestra industria, recalcando las relevantes, poco reconocidas y subestimadas contribuciones a la cadena productiva del cacao y chocolate. ¡Le invitamos seguir en esta conversación mediante #farmworkerawarness y #trabajodecacao!

¿Le gustaría participar en este intercambio? Usa los hashtags #farmworkerawarness y #trabajodecacao. Antes de que lo haga, recuerde que existe un código de conducta para compartir ciertos materiales fotográficos:

  • Consentimiento: Nunca utilice una foto de una persona sin su completo conocimiento verbal y habiéndole previamente informado del objetivo al difundir dicho material.
  • El contexto importa: Procure utilizar notas al pie de foto, nombres completos, y detalles relevantes sobre la imagen.
  • Rechace estereotipos: En el caso particular de los agricultores de cacao, evite expresiones que puedan recalcar a “poverty porn” (término utilizado para referirse a la exageración de las condiciones de pobreza), racismo, sexismo, o cualquier otra representación estigmatizante sobre los agricultores.
  • Priorizar la solidaridad: Hacer publicidad no es lo mismo que impartir y difundir educación. Esta semana no es un foro de promoción ni de campañas proselitistas que se benefician de las condiciones de pobreza, al contrario, todos los agricultores son iguales y merecen estar representados con dignidad y datos comprobables.
  • Auto-representación: Proponga a la comunidad hacer su propia campaña e involucrarse de manera activa en la toma de imágenes, redacción de descripciones, privilegiando la voz de ellos en las plataformas sociales.

Nuestro primer vínculo es sobre el estudio económico del trabajo en las parcelas de cacao. En la producción de cacao, la mano de obra es el insumo más costoso. Sin embargo, algunos estudios indican que el porcentaje de ganancia de la venta de chocolate que llega a los productores de cacao es diminuto y precario. Es decir, el valor que el sistema capitalista global adjudica al trabajo agrícola en general es mucho menor comparado con el valor otorgado.

La principal metodología empleada por economistas agrícolas para medir el trabajo en las parcelas de cacao es “días-hombre,” siguiendo la siguiente lógica:

  • número de empleados x número de días en los que trabajó cada uno = total de días-hombre

Nótese que la variabilidad del anterior cálculo es problemática dada la inevitable disparidad de ritmo de trabajo per cápita, que puede depender de factores como la temporada de cosecha, género, edad y habilidades. En el capítulo 10 del libro Cocoa por Wood and Lass incluye detalles de reiterados casos de estudio en donde se sigue la lógica de las días-hombre por hectárea, siguiendo datos anualizados de cada actividad. Estos tipos de datos se pueden rastrear hasta las prácticas de esclavitud en las plantaciones, donde los esclavos eran asociados a títulos de propiedad y su valor asociado, siguiendo el mecanismo de commodities, era vinculado a su productividad individual. Hasta hoy en día, algunas ideas populares sobre el tamaño “idóneo” de una parcela de cacao y la productividad de quienes la atienden siguen estando relacionadas con el sistema anteriormente descrito.

La tabla anterior refleja las prácticas laborales por establecimientos de sombra bajo tabla rasa en Brasil a mediados de la década de los 70s. En ella se reflejan los pasos principales de la cosecha de cacao y las días-hombre necesarias para completarlos ¿Qué se puede aprender de estas estadísticas? ¿Hay alguna información faltante? ¿Qué le sorprende?
Esperamos leer sus comentarios y comenzar la discusión.



A joint effort of FCCI team members Carla D. Martin and José López Ganem.

Un esfuerzo conjunto de los miembros del equipo de FCCI Carla D. Martin and José López Ganem.