In The Bitter and the Sweet of Craft Chocolate in the Global South” episode of Gravy, producer Sarah Holtz engages important voices in the complex conversation about ethical chocolate, from central Ghana to southern Missouri. 

In the chocolate world, terms like corporate sustainability and ethical sourcing are gradually entering the mainstream, but they remain a little vague. Holtz explores how direct trade and profit-sharing models offer alternatives to the practices of the largest chocolate companies in the world—Big Chocolate—which conceive of cocoa farmers not as partners, but as links in the supply chain.

Direct trade is one way to decolonize the cocoa trade. These days, companies in the craft chocolate movement (also called bean-to-bar chocolate), such as Askinosie Chocolate and Olive & Sinclair, cultivate close personal relationships with their farmer partners. They use profit-sharing models to compensate cocoa farmers and pay well above the market price for beans. That’s why a craft chocolate bar may cost $10, while a Hershey bar at the grocery store sells for $2. 

Fundamental to direct trade, there’s no slave labor in the supply chain. With Big Chocolate, forced child labor is widespread and well-documented. However, those scandals shouldn’t overshadow the many farmers and chocolate makers who are doing it right. With a more nuanced understanding of the trade, farmers can work to improve practices for future generations.

In her reporting on labor in the chocolate industry, Holtz asks: How do you define ethical consumption? Is there such a thing? And—when you’re standing in the grocery aisle, gazing at a wall of options—how do you know which chocolate bar to choose?

To begin to address these questions and more, Holtz speaks with Kwabena Assan Mends, founder of Emfed Farms, a company that serves small cocoa farmers in central Ghana, especially those who are aging or have physical disabilities. She also talks to Shawn Askinosie and Lawren Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate, and Scott Witherow of Olive & Sinclair, two vanguards of the craft chocolate movement. Finally, Megan Giller, food writer and author of Bean-To-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution, weighs in on the history of the chocolate supply chain and upending a pattern of colonization. 

Sarah Holtz is a reporter and producer based between Oakland and New Orleans. Her work has aired on Houston Public Media, New Orleans Public Radio, Northern California Public Media, and elsewhere. She received training in audio and writing at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.


Thanks to Fabio Parasecoli and Kristy Leissle for assisting with this episode.

Featured music

“Pryce Armah Hmmmmm” by Prekese
“The Sheltering Firs” by Chad Crouch
“Valladolid Funeral” by Blue Dot Sessions
“Kingslets” by Chad Crouch
“Freesia” by Chad Crouch
“Onyina Mo Mary” by Prekese 

Image: Shawn Lawren Askinosie at a 2019 bean inspection. Image courtesy of Askinosie Chocolate.