Growing cacao (cocoa beans) is no easy task and I have to say that chocolate is an incredible value. I don't know of any other food on the market that requires as much effort as cacao and is priced at such a reasonable value.
Just look at one aspect of cacao production and this is with the small family farm that actually grows cacao.
Cacao is a fruit that is grown in equatorial regions on small family farms generally no larger then 5 acres. With climate change and delicate trees, losses in cacao cultivation on any given farm can reach as high as 75%. The average harvest per cacao tree is about 20 pods and each pod produces about 1.5 oz of dry cocoa beans. Considering the tree losses, size of the farm and yield the average cacao farm produces 1 ton of cacao per year.
Now keep in mind there's still a lot more work that goes into making that raw cacao into chocolate (i.e. transport, roasting grinding, packaging, delivery etc), so the farmer is not getting paid the direct price of what you buy your chocolate bar. If the farmer is not part of a CO-OP, Direct Trade or Fair Trade program, they get paid less and might only earn $2,000 for that ton. This equates to $5.48/day in earnings. But that's not all profit to go out and buy food, clothing and necessities. Out of the $5.48 a day there's the hard material expenses of caring for the cacao, harvesting, fermenting, drying, packaging etc. That reduces those earnings to about $1.50/day if the farmer is efficient and lucky. So from a labor stand point, the average farmer probably works 10 hours a day and that means he earns $00.15/hour. The farm laborers that grow and harvest cacao therefore support their family and home on 15 cents an hour! Even in a third world nation this is considered a low pay with a lot of hard work.
Okay, so why isn't the farmer getting more? There's several factors. One possible reason to be considered is that some choose to buy inexpensive mass produced chocolate from manufacturers that have motivations to keep the farmers underpaid so they can continue to offer "cheap" chocolate. Remember someone in the supply chain is working for only 15 cents an hour. ****I have to add that a very select group of producers of mass made inexpensive chocolate do pay living wages, but one would need to research this thoroughly to know who is actively involved. One company that I know of that works closely with the farmers of Ghana to ensure living wages is Cadbury of England.
What if we all were to choose chocolate that was grown ethically and the farmers were paid a true living wage? The direct result would be the quality of life would improve greatly for that farmer in higher wages. The higher wages would further motivate the farmer to keep growing cacao, making high quality chocolate for all to enjoy. Across the board the quality of chocolate would go up, people would be happy and motivated to consider their actions and implications. Fortunately many companies here in the USA realize the importance of making life better for farmers and are actively getting involved.
So, chocolate is an incredible value and it can always be a value, but it doesn't need to be at someone's expense. The market is driven by consumer's choices and if you, the person who likes to eat chocolate, chooses to buy chocolate from suppliers that care and that are fair, you can have a direct effect on an individual's life. I'm very proud to say Santa Barbara Chocolate Co chooses to buy from grinders that care. Santa Barbara Chocolate works with farmers, CO-OPs, brokers and suppliers that have a vested interest in making this a better world for all. So let's all have our chocolate and eat it too.