Divine Chocolate Asks: Who Should Own Africa's Wealth?

chocolate in a wrapper

Not only do many cocoa farmers labor for poverty wages, at times even employing the forced labor of trafficked children; many have never even tasted the milk chocolate candy that makes their cocoa such a valuable commodity. And consumers of chocolate worldwide are often as unfamiliar with the origins of cocoa: “Farmers historically have been put into a place in the cocoa supply chain and the chocolate market where most people never really hear about them,” says Erin Gorman, CEO of Divine Chocolate USA, “they never see them and they really don't know what their lives are like.”

In our Spring Green American, “Economic Actions for Africa,” we explain how materials extracted from African countries fail to benefit African communities because the value is “added” to the product in another place and later stage of the supply chain: Latex tapped in Liberia is manufactured into tires in the US. Ethiopian coffee is roasted with sophisticated machinery throughout the global North. Diamonds pulled from the rough in the Central African Republic or South Africa are often cut and polished in India. And transnational companies based in the global North own most of the infrastructure and machinery that extracts oil from the earth in Nigeria, which then turn that oil into gasoline, plastics and other valuable materials.

The chocolate's Divine.

How might life be different for African producers if they owned the companies which manufactured products out of their vital raw materials?  The makers of Divine Chocolate have set out to answer that question. As the world’s only chocolate company majority owned by cocoa farmers, Divine stands out as a hopeful departure from business as usual between the global North and African producers.

At the 1997 annual meeting of Kuapa Kokoo, a cocoa farmers’ cooperative in Ghana, the farmers decided to start their own chocolate bar company, and with UK partners Twin Trading Company and The Body Shop, Day Chocolate Company was formed. Day is the parent of the Divine Chocolate bar brand, and continues to be majority-owned by the farmers who provide the bars’ cocoa.

Kuapa Kokoo farmers understand why their cocoa is valuable to consumers. This empowers them to demand fair prices, and to secure a fuller share of the profits from Divine’s sales. The democratically-elected representatives of the cooperative make decisions about the chocolate company’s policies and priorities. And every American or European consumer who enjoys a Divine chocolate product can read on the wrapper about the cooperative of Ghanaian cocoa farmers who harvested the cocoa in their candy bar.

“What makes Kuapa Kokoo so unique and pioneering,” says Gorman “is that … it’s taking Fair Trade one step further by asking: How do you really bring benefits back to the producers?” Recent cocoa prices on the world market price have fallen as low as $1000 per ton. In comparison, on the fair trade market Kuapa farmers receive $1600 per ton, plus an extra $150. Kuapa Kokoo has put its Fair Trade premiums to use by building four school buildings, 27 corn mills, one bridge, 174 water wells, and new health care facilities.

The Divine model invites us to imagine how African communities might be empowered to enjoy the wealth of their land through cooperative ownership of product supply chains – chains that already transform latex, gold, diamonds, coffee, petroleum, and cocoa into things we want to buy.