Women love chocolate. It’s undeniable. Just enter the words chocolate and woman in a Google search, and you’ll get a flood of (predominantly outrageous) pictures of women having explicit food-gasms in very questionable poses.
Long-time Oprah Winfrey Show contributor and lady-brain expert Dr. Mitchell says that according to her research, "Chocolate is hands down the number one food women crave [...] because the combination [of ingredients] gives you that overall optimum brain happiness." And we all know how much ladies love optimal brain happiness.
Other experts echo her findings. Because chocolate contains a natural antioxidant called flavonoids, it boosts blood flow and reduces blood pressure. Studies also show that there is a significant difference between the way men and women respond to the tempting substance. Moreover, scientists are unanimous that it’s the perfect period pal! Because serotonin levels are lower than usual in the 7-10 days preceding menstruation and chocolate is a known serotonin booster, Snickers may be the ideal antidote to PMS cranky-pants-ness.
Chocolate may be women’s most palpable sin, but according to a new report by Oxfam, women’s guiltiest pleasure just got a whole lot guiltier. Although chocolate may be women’s best friend in the Western World, it’s an entirely different story for women living in the Third World. According to the report, women in developing countries play a central role in the production of chocolate and most of them live below the poverty line. In Nigeria, one of the world’s main chocolate producers, most laborers are female and grossly underpaid. Despite accounting for 60–80% of cocoa farmers, these workers bear a disproportionate amount of abuse. In their investigation of the ten largest food and beverage companies in the world, Oxfam found that there is a "universal lack of attention to the issues women face in the industry." They explain that:
"... women working on cocoa farms usually get paid less than men if they get paid at all for their work […] they rarely own the land they farm even if they work the same plot their entire lives, […] face problems like harassment or discrimination while at work [and] don’t have the same opportunities to attend agricultural or financial training as men."
Salaries in the chocolate industry are so low that it’s hard to believe how women can survive on them. For instance, in Côte D’Ivoire, cocoa workers would need a 1608% salary increase just to clear the poverty line.
Source: 2012 Cocoa Barometer
The social impacts of the chocolate supply chain are disgraceful, and yet companies are showing no sign of budging. The report offers a helpful price breakdown of your common chocolate bar and the results are shocking. Only 3.2% of a company’s total spending is actually collected by the farmer, while a whopping 43% goes directly into retail and supermarket pockets.
Source: Oxfam Novib. Frank Mechielsen. (2009). Eerlijk duurt het langst, de Nederlandse chocoladebranche doorgelicht
Unfortunately, the problems in the agricultural sector don’t only impact women and aren’t limited to the chocolate industry. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization affirms that simply guaranteeing women the same access as men to agricultural resources could trim down the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million.
Considering that the chocolate industry is worth $83 million (which is larger than the GDP of more than 130 countries), even a small difference could mean lasting change for the world. Bearing in mind that the U.S. is the largest net importer of cocoa, the power really is in our sticky, chocolate-covered hands. I’m not suggesting we cut off our chocolate supplies (that’d be outrageous). However, considering that chocolate companies overwhelmingly target women in their advertisements and rely on their loyalty to thrive, women in particular (and men as well) should be re-thinking the way they buy chocolate.
So the next time you reach for your daily dose of crispy crunch, you may want to check out your favorite chocolate bar’s scorecard in the Oxfam's battle of the brands. You could also use social media to raise awareness about these injustices and nudge your favorite companies into changing their practices. Go ahead and do it. I dare you. What do you have to lose anyways? The worst thing that could happen is that you earn yourself some extra moral licensing to indulge in your favorite sinful snack.