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Monday, July 2, 2012

Is Divine truly divine?

Food Empowerment Project has received a lot of pushback from corporations and those with chocolate certification systems about our chocolate list because we do not simply give a blanket approval to these schemes; however, we do pride ourselves on recognizing that this issue is complex and there are a lot of grey areas.

When it comes to comments about our list, we have received the most from consumers who are disappointed about particular companies (such as Clif Bar), but the most feedback we have received from companies is regarding Divine Chocolate.

We have had numerous phone calls and email discussions about Divine, and our stance has been that since child labor was found in the fields of their cooperative, we could not (at the time) put them on our recommended list. We have never said the door was shut.

Recently, I was contacted by the CEO of Divine regarding our stance on cacao from Ghana. We had a lengthy conversation about where we were coming from, and she took the time to explain to me what was happening at the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative, an organization established in Ghana in 1993.

I am not going to go into that in this blog, because Divine’s website can explain it better than I, but she talked about their sourcing with pride. Wouldn’t it be great if all corporations could beam with pride and really mean it?

When I asked about the children found on the farm, she explained to me that “they” (the farmers) were working on this issue to make sure those problems with education and monitoring didn’t happen again.

And that stuck with me. She had been telling me that they were the only fair trade cooperative and I heard her, but not until she said “they” did I have this, well, epiphany. She didn’t say, “We are going to do this” or how any scheme was going to be adjusted, but what “they,” the farmers, were going to do.

When looking for solutions to the lack of access to healthy foods in communities of color and low-income communities, I have talked about one of the problems being not asking those who are living with it. I feel that decisions being made by well-intentioned people without input from those who are impacted is a mistake. 

And this struck me as the same thing. What is going to help end the issue of child slavery in the cacao industry may not come from Westerners telling the farmers what to do – they know their culture and they know what will work. (Please note, I am making a lot of qualifiers here if you can’t tell because I am not saying it is impossible for someone else to do – just a powerful perspective.)

These are farmers who are learning and wanting to improve the lives of their families. They aren’t getting paid for a certification they understand is a way out of poverty for themselves and their families. They are the owners of the farm.

As a vegan organization, we know that there is never going to be a way that anyone can or will ever convince us that animal products can be acquired without suffering – the animals are part of a commodity, not a system.

With something like this cooperative, however, we know that they are the ones living it and working on it, and therefore, things can change.

Oh, and to answer the question at the top, Divine is now on our recommended list.

If you have not already, please sign our petition to Clif Bar:


  1. Wow - always glad to read new information about what's happening on cocoa farms! So, Divine is truly divine - thanks!

  2. Very pleased to hear that Divine is on the "recommended list". Good work.
    I will share this info.
    So true that the real change will come right there at the farm level.
    You are changing hearts.

  3. Amazing what can be accomplished when a company is willing to have meaningful dialogue. Important questions can actually be answered and both parties can move forward. The details matter tremendously with this complicated issue. It's extremely important that we support only the companies who show this level of respect for the children and farmers of West Africa. Thank you FEP for your unrelenting commitment to meaningful change.