The Cacao Cooperative: Measuring Sustainability in Transparent Cacao Sourcing Systems

This is the first in an occasional series of blog posts on measuring sustainability in transparent cacao sourcing systems by FCCI Senior Advisor Summer Allen, PhD, in collaboration with Executive Director Carla D. Martin, PhD.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact their shopping decisions can have on communities of origin. Similarly, businesses have an interest in ensuring their supply chain is managed for social, environmental, and economic responsibility. FCCI has previously discussed themes that are of concern in the supply chain such as labor rights at individual events and in our larger forum The Chocolate Conservatory. However, a baffling number of certifications and labels exist that pledge sustainability or transparency in supply chains despite accepted definitions on the terminology used or substantial third-party oversight. Additionally, there is no agreement or uniform tracking of quality as there is with coffee, which hinders growth and acceptance of specialty cacao as a distinct product from commodity cacao, leading to downward pressure on prices. 

The only way to assure sustainable management of limited resources is through unbiased measurement or, at the least, targeted observations over time. Many specialty cacao producers and chocolate makers already track a set of particular indicators such as the price paid for cacao and visits made to producers at origin. However, they often lack the resources required to track other important indicators that could help ensure sustainability in their supply chains.  Given that the majority of specialty cacao used by specialty chocolate makers is sourced from less than twenty origins, there is an opportunity for stakeholders to participate in joint tracking across common indicators. 

The proposed Cacao Cooperative project aims to develop a consortium of companies, producer cooperatives, academic institutions, and development organizations with a shared vision of transparent trade. An online platform, accessible by members of the Cooperative, will compile existing information from select origins while accounting for relevant ethical and business considerations. This data will be available via the platform to allow institutions to more efficiently and effectively understand and communicate regarding sustainability in their supply chains. We anticipate that this work will reduce the burden of data analysis for smaller operations that cannot manage it internally. Beyond this, it will support the strengthening of transparency-focused companies and cacao producers through collective action.

Current coverage of indicators varies, with a number of agencies, programs, and companies using different definitions to report on a range of sustainability metrics. Some indicators have good coverage that can be improved simply through coordinated data sharing. For example, the prevalence of worst forms of child labor in certain origins is widely reported by certifying agencies and NGOs, but less by manufacturers. Other indicators, such as those related to ecological practices and quality or flavor, are widely collected but without a uniform definition. For ecological practices, reporting can focus on a number of indicators including use of chemicals, intercropping, or measures of biodiversity. Improvement of such indicators will require consensus on common language and definitions.

Other important indicators such as income are missing in most cases, likely due to limited data collection and methodological challenges. Alternative methods for data collection and analysis could improve coverage and bring together available data in a coordinated manner. This could better allow for targeted recommendations for producers and help inform ongoing discussions on supporting living incomes.

Consortium members of the Cacao Cooperative project will work to structure guiding documents that provide clarity on quality, sustainable sourcing, and the requirements for transparency.  From these indicators, a gap analysis will be completed using the data that exists for each origin. Based upon the needs of the consortium and the costs involved in gathering the information and training requirements, a financial plan will be drafted, relying upon a mix of grants and fees to support the work.

Once developed, the platform will provide members of the Cacao Cooperative options of various output formats (e.g. spreadsheet, visualized data, and text output) for key indicators from a particular origin. When fully developed, the platform will allow for multiple origins and indicators and, where available, data over time. The consortium can then decide how best to use this information for reporting to consumers and producer cooperatives and associations that are part of the consortium can use this to better understand their constraints and opportunities. It is expected that over time, the database will be increasingly robust and the data collection can be done using mobile phone surveys throughout the value chain in addition to working with local research partners to capture field-based measurements, thus providing an unbiased view of the supply chain. 

An additional priority of the project is to track transparent pricing information from companies sourcing cacao, organizations in origin, and research institutions. Information on cacao quality will also be included with the goal of informing the ongoing development of international standards. The project will facilitate a shared understanding of specialty cacao and sustainability in the sector as well as the compilation of data that can help track activities and potential impacts in the supply chain. It also has the potential to contribute to a clear definition of specialty cacao and a set of guidelines for assuring not only high quality but also sustainably sourced cacao.

Updates on the Cacao Collaborative will be made available over the next few months. If you are interested in being part of this movement, please reach out to us at contact [at] chocolateinstitute [dot] org.

Dr. Summer Allen is a senior advisor with the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute and a Senior Research Coordinator at the International Food Policy Research Institute. Summer is an agricultural economist whose work focuses on agriculture for nutrition and food security and sustainable development throughout Latin America, Africa and India. Before joining IFPRI in 2014, she served as the Research Coordinator for the Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA) where she evaluated the impacts of certification ofor producers of cacao and coffee. Summer has previously worked with the Economic Research Service (US Dept of Agriculture), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the US Environmental Protection Agency. She is currently based in California as a Visiting Scholar with the Food Security and Environment group at Stanford University.

The event: Examining Brazil's Cocoa-Chocolate Supply Chain

Part 3 of a multi-part blog series. Part 1 is available herePart 2 is available here. Updated links to additional posts will be added here as they become available.

Leia parte 1 em português no Chocólatras OnlineA parte 2 está disponível aqui.

On Wednesday, April 24th, we hosted a film screening and discussion with a delegation of Brazilian guests as part of the class our Executive Director teaches at Harvard University, "Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food." The event was attended by scholars and students from several Boston-area universities, Brazilian community members, and representatives of NGOs and businesses.

The speakers at the event were, in order of appearance:

Thanks to the generous contributions of several cacao-chocolate companies, we also included a tasting and discussion of products made with supply chain transparency. These included:

Many of these chocolates are available to purchase in the United States via the following suppliers: Caputo'sChocolopolis, The Meadow.

Event video

View the full event (in English) below in three parts. Part 1 includes presentations from Carla D. Martin and Poliana Dallabrida. Part 2 is the Papel Social documentary The Cocoa Route. Part 3 includes a group discussion and question and answer period with the full Brazilian delegation.

Part 1: presentations from Carla D. Martin and Poliana Dallabrida

Carla D. Martin's slides and Poliana Dallabrida's slides are also available.

Part 2: Papel Social documentary The Cocoa Route

Part 3: group discussion and question and answer period

Please stay tuned for more posts to come on this topic.

What types of international conventions exist to address slavery and define human rights today?

Part 2 of a multi-part blog series. Part 1 is available here. Part 3 is available here. Updated links to additional posts will be added here as they become available.

Leia parte 1 em português no Chocólatras OnlineA parte 2 está disponível aqui.


"There are no longer any legal rights of ownership over human beings anywhere in the world."
– Siddharth Kara

All recognized countries today have technically outlawed slavery. Yet "unfree labor" – a term used to describe a variety of types of employment against will – persists. Today scholars and activists use terms like "unfree labor," "modern slavery," "modern-day slavery," "slavery-like practices," "conditions analogous to slavery," or "contemporary forms of slavery" to describe practices such as forced labor, debt bondage, human trafficking, and more. Examples of contemporary unfree labor can be found in almost every country in the world, and stem from the long human tradition of slavery in many cultures, which has existed since the time before written history.

What types of international conventions exist to address slavery and define human rights today?

Research on human rights abuses in labor requires knowledge of both international human rights law and domestic law. In the case of Brazil, applicable international human rights law is primary comprised of international conventions that have been signed and ratified by the national government, and applicable domestic law establishes regulations in harmony with or building upon these international laws.

A few important organizations are relevant to our discussion:

The United Nations is "a global organization that brings together its member states to confront common challenges, manage shared responsibilities and exercise collective action in an enduring quest for a peaceful, inclusive and sustainably developing world, in conformity with the principles of justice and international law and with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is "to work for the protection of all human rights for all people; to help empower people to realize their rights; and to assist those responsible for upholding such rights in ensuring that they are implemented."

The International Labour Organization is a UN agency, and since 1919 its mandate has been focused on social justice – bringing together governments, employers, and workers of the now 187 member States, to set labor standards, develop policies, and devise programs to promote decent work for all. The fight against forced labor remains one of its top priorities.

Additionally party to the ILO/MPT working paper is a national agency, the Public Prosecutor's Office (Ministério Público do Trabalho, MPT), the branch of the Public Ministry of Brazil whose function is to act in the defense of collective and individual labor rights.

Internationally, unfree labor is considered an abuse of human rights, as codified and defined by the United Nations (UN) and other organizations. Notably, the UN defines human rights as:

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

The following conventions and declarations on human rights are especially important to understanding the possible violation of rights through unfree labor in the global context:

Each of these organizations places priority on addressing pressing human rights violations as they are defined by these documents, and in focusing attention on the violations and proposing solutions to them. It is in this context that the ILO/MPT working paper must be understood.

What legal definitions and indicators are used to define "conditions analogous to slavery" and "child labor" in the ILO/MPT working paper?

In any investigation on slavery or child labor, there are certain conditions or indicators that can satisfy the definition.

A "condition" is a property of a situation that could be used to classify it as a type of labor. For example, to qualify types of work as "child labor," a situation must include the conditions described by law around the child's age, type and hours of work performed, and the conditions under which it is performed. These conditions are then measured by "indicators," a defined metric to indicate the level or quantity of a thing, in surveys and interviews, as a way to calculate estimates according to statistical standards.

The ILO/MPT working paper is primarily concerned with two types of rights violations: "conditions analogous to slavery" and "child labor," though it is not always clear what specific type of child labor is being described in the writing.

The authors cite several specific legal definitions linked with domestic Brazilian and international policy that are used to define these particular labor conditions and rights abuses, including but not limited to:

  1. International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Rights and Principles at Work (1998):

Adopted in 1998, the Declaration commits Member States to respect and promote principles and rights in four categories, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions.

These categories are: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

  1. International Labour Organization definitions surrounding child labor (1999):

Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children's or adolescents' participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children's development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.

The term "child labour" is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
  • interferes with their schooling by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

The worst forms of child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age. Whether or not particular forms of "work" can be called "child labour" depends on the child's age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.

  1. Article 149 of the Brazilian Penal Code (originally published in 1940, updated in 2003):

Reducing someone to a condition analogous to that of a slave, namely: subjecting a person to forced labour or to arduous working days, or subjecting such a person to degrading working conditions or restricting, in any manner whatsoever, his mobility by reason of a debt contracted in respect of the employer or a representative of that employer.

Penalty – two (2) to eight (8) years of imprisonment, together with a fine, on top of any sentence handed down for violence.

1º Any persons committing the following offences shall receive the same penalties:

I – retaining workers at the workplace by preventing them from using any means of transportation

II – retaining workers at the workplace by confiscating their personal papers or personal property, or by maintaining manifest surveillance

2º The prison sentence is increased by half if the crime has been committed:

I – against children or adolescents

II – on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity, religion or origin.

  1. Article 7 item XXXIII of the Brazilian Federal Constitution (1988 with amendments):

The following are rights of urban and rural workers, in addition to any others designed to improve their social condition:
XXXIII. prohibition of nighttime, dangerous or unhealthy work for those under eighteen years of age, and of any work for those under the age of sixteen, except as an apprentice.

  1. Article 227 of the Brazilian Federal Constitution (1988 with amendments):

It is the duty of the family, the society and the Government to assure children, adolescents, and youths, with absolute priority, the rights to life, health, nourishment, education, leisure, professional training, culture, dignity, respect, liberty and family and community harmony, in addition to safeguarding them against all forms of negligence, discrimination, exploitation, violence, cruelty and oppression.

A variety of additional decrees and land statutes from Brazilian domestic law also inform the working paper, as described in the text. These address tax evasion, sharecropping, and corporate responsibility, all of which are relevant to the context of cacao production and sales in Brazil.

While definitions and indicators along the international and domestic legal lines described above are not free from controversy, it is important to understand that they nonetheless serve as an important basis for research and protection against human rights abuses. Research completed according to traceable definitions is essential to informing conversations within industry and in supporting evidence-based policy making.

What additional measures exist to support research and action against labor rights abuses in Brazil?

Since 2003, the public mechanism of transparency of the Brazilian state has been the Register of Employers (Cadastro de Empregadores) that subjects workers to conditions analogous to slavery. This is known colloquially as the "Dirty List" (Lista Suja).

The list discloses the names of individuals or legal entities found to engage in human rights abuses according to Article 149 above. Overseen by the Ministry of Labor and Employment, the Slave Labor Eradication Inspection Division administers the list. The list is published every six months and the names of businesses stay on the list for two years. Any businesses on the list cannot receive public funds, experience bank lending penalties, and are subject to investigation.

While the list has experienced interruptions and technical changes in recent years due to legal challenges, it currently lists 202 entities, a small number of them involved in cacao production. It is often the case that when an entity is placed on the list, it is covered in local and national media; suppliers to well-known large companies can sometimes even attract international media attention.

The Dirty List has historically generated considerable impact, especially through the creation in 2005 of the National Pact for the Eradication of Slave Labor, where companies signing the pact agreed to cut all ties and financial support for businesses on the list and to share best practices in the prevention and eradication of slave labor. At one point, the pact had 300 signatories representing more than 30% of Brazil's GDP. This pact was further institutionalized in 2013 with the founding of InPACTO, the Institute of the National Pact, with the objective to unite the private sector and civil society organizations to prevent and eradicate slave labor in productive chains.

The current businesses committed to InPACTO as dues-paying members are listed online, and include come of the most powerful companies in Brazil (e.g. 3M, Carrefour, and Walmart). They also include some cacao-chocolate companies and organizations operating in Brazil such as Cargill, Nestlé, and UTZ, with a number of notable omissions. The coffee sector formed a working group in conjunction with InPACTO and Catholic Relief Services in 2017 to address its own labor challenges.

Finally, since 1992, the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has been active in Brazil. Brazil was prioritized for this work due to the ability of existing institutions in Brazil to measure statistically the incidence of child labor, and due to the country's political environment, which often openly acknowledges that child labor exists and works to eradicate it.

With the support of the ILO and UNICEF, Brazil launched the National Forum on Preventing and Eradicating Child Labor (FNPETI) in 1994, bringing together stakeholders from the government, NGOs, employer organizations, labor unions, and other institutions dedicated to eliminating child labor from Brazilian supply chains. It serves as a democratic, non-institutionalized space for discussing proposals, defining strategies, and building consensus between government and civil society on the issue of child labor. The current FNPETI national network includes the ILO and the MPT.

Both the work of InPACTO and the work of the FNPETI are important to understanding the context of the ILO/MPT working paper on cacao.

Brazil faces many challenges in eradicating human rights abuses in labor. At the same time, the reality is that many Brazilian government institutions, companies, and NGOs are working to address these challenges actively, serving as an inspiring global reference for action around the world.

Postscript: Brazilian labor history

Chattel slavery was formally abolished in Brazil with the passing of the Lei Aurea (Golden Law) in 1888, though its impact remains to the present day. To read more about the history of slavery and forced labor in cacao production, read "The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe," by Martin and Sampeck.


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.

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

Part 1 of a multi-part blog series. Part 2 is available here. Part 3 is available here. Updated links to additional posts will be added here as they become available.

Leia parte 1 em português no Chocólatras Online. A parte 2 está disponível aqui.

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 working paper 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 working paper 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 working paper 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 working paper 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 working paper 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.