Saving the World with Chocolate

In the wake of an exciting week in RI politics, I wanted to write Laughing Gull’s second blog post about the role of women and how we interact with chocolate and impact the $83 billion dollar industry. 

During the week leading up to Valentine’s Day Americans purchase more than 60 million pounds of chocolate. Over 75% of that is purchased for women – perhaps men influenced by the marketing industry’s insistence that chocolate was the key to a woman’s heart, as well as her sexuality. There may be some truth to this – 91% of women consume chocolate regularly! Though, men do not lag far behind in their chocolate eating habits at 87%!

This impact is not unique to the chocolate industry; women have a similar impact across all sectors. In fact, as of 2011, women make up 58.1% of the workforce. There’s a bumper sticker that makes me smile every time I see it: “Well behaved women rarely make history.” There have been many women who have taken – and continue to take – strides to break the proverbial glass ceiling, but there is so much more needed.

In Rhode Island, The Women’s Policy Institute (WPI) works to make a difference. Trained on policy, lobbying, and advocacy, fellows at the Women’s Policy Institute works to not only to increase the number of women leaders in the state, but also increase the number of women who are actively involved in influencing and applying policies for the well-being of women and girls. There were five of us who began working on the issue of pregnancy accommodations in September 2013, an issue critical to RI’s state of affairs and attitude towards women. We talked to women across the state, and heard stories from women all over the country whose rights were not being accorded. Although the U.S. Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination act 35 years ago, the laws have been weakened by case law. For this reason, several states and local legislatures have enacted laws requiring employers to provide workplace accommodations to pregnant employees. 

This bill guarantees simple accommodations, such as permitting pregnant women to sit behind a counter. Allowing reasonable accommodations not only improves local economies, but it also ensures safe, healthy pregnancies and protects future generations. This bill – first passed as ordinances in the cities of Central Falls and Providence – was a huge step. To learn more about pregnancy accommodations in RI, read here

There is still more to be done in RI before it is completely business friendly. To do this, state policy makers and business leaders should continue to ensure gender equality. And each step is critical. 

Likewise, cocoa production has historically relied on immoral practices, such as child labor, slavery, and inadequate worker protections. While there have been some small steps towards improving the way chocolate is produced, we have a long way to go. Women have not only been a part of chocolate’s story, but have also  led the campaign for more sustainable practices in cocoa farming globally.

According to Oxfam.org, women working in cocoa fields and processing plants suffer “substantial discrimination and inequality…and while women increasingly occupy positions of power in food and beverage company headquarters, women working in company supply chains in developing countries continue to be denied similar advances in wealth, status or opportunity.” This plays out, for example, in a cocoa processing factory in Indonesia when all female workers were laid off after a few demanded equal treatment and pay. Those who follow economic news or any news about chocolate may have heard that there is some concern about the future of cocoa production, yet many ignore the influence that women have had on the industry. Although cocoa is largely deemed a “male crop,” The Guardian argues that women actually make up an estimated 25% of farmers in Ghana, and have an unmeasured impact due to unpaid family labor and/or low-wage casual labor. Research shows women are especially active in early crop care, fermentation, and drying, all of which are critical for ensuring productivity and high quality chocolate. Women historically have had a role in chocolate production as well, which I intend to write more about in another blog post. 

Moving forward, as the chocolate industry progresses, more women will step into leadership roles, and push the chocolate industry to make more ethical, moral choices. Empowering women through chocolate will only strengthen our society, improving the well-being of our economy, our children, our families and our communities. 

Issues that women face are in no way limited to the cocoa industry, but it is a start. Laughing Gull Chocolates does its best to make a small impact. Meanwhile,  women and men around the world can do something, even if that something is as small as making informed choices about the values of the company from whom you buy your chocolate bar.

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