Why is FCCI engaging research on labor in cacao production in Brazil?
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.
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:
Understanding the reality, root causes, and risk factors of the situation in Brazil.
Contextualizing the situation in relation to cacao production globally.
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.