A Divine vision for a fair future
Posted by Liz Foggitt, Communications Manager, Twin on 9 August 2019
Twenty years after Divine Chocolate started, it’s leading the way as a sustainable chocolate company. It was recently recognised by the Department for International Trade for its exporting success. Divine has helped draw attention to the complexity of issues farmers face and show the inequalities in supply chains. But serious problems persist. “It’s very interesting that 20 years on, you finally get to a point where a significant amount of people recognise that farmers need to be paid more if you want bad things to stop.” I spoke to Divine Chocolate’s CEO, Sophi Tranchell about the company’s future, Fairtrade and ethical supply chains.
The future of Fairtrade
The Fairtrade mark currently has 91% recognition and Sophi believes it’s been an effective at mobilising consumers in Britain. “It’s given people something they can relate to.” They can see it on a product and choose to buy it, because it’s been communicated well.
Fairtrade in the UK is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and, “In some respects, it’s been more successful than it ever imagined.” There are over 1,400 certified producer organisations across the world which equates to more than 1.66 million farmers benefiting from the system. However, in some respects, “it’s very disappointing.” The recognition and mass consumption of Fairtrade certified products is fantastic, but people are “still living in circumstances that are shocking and medieval.”
It’s a bold statement. Divine’s business is built on Fairtrade. The benefits of the certification are woven through the fabric of Divine’s communications. Sophi’s open criticism demonstrates commitment to the cocoa farmers that own Divine. Despite the criticism, Sophi is optimistic, “The fact that Fairtrade is now looking at Living Income and putting that conversation at the forefront of the industry is really good.” It’s a challenging topic to communicate and collectively, we have our work cut out.
When considering Fairtrade’s current position, Sophi compares it to eBay - they were both set up in the mid-nineties, yet eBay seems more modern. The founders of eBay recognised that community feedback immediately influenced people’s behaviour and made the platform work. Whereas Fairtrade is a very ‘un-live’ audit function. Sophi envisages a modern Fairtrade platform that enables big companies to make three-year commitments. They could report annually against those commitments - share how much Fairtrade they purchased and how much people have earned. And farmers could feedback on their experience of working with that company. The process would offer consumers more transparency and ultimately it would give both ends of the supply chain more power.
Divine has worked with producers in Ghana since the beginning but as it grows has found new origins and been able to deliver on its mission to impact more farmers. Most recently, cocoa from São Tomé was used for the new organic range. But how can a new group of producers from a completely different country, be made to feel part of the Divine brand?
To establish the relationship, Divine visited producers in São Tomé. Then went to considerable effort to bring members of the CECAQ-11 cooperative to the UK in time to launch the range. Getting a visa for the UK from São Tomé is complicated, but bureaucracy wasn’t going to stand in the way. In October they came, met the press and spoke at events. Additionally, stories from farmers were collected to put inside the packaging - another way to connect consumers to producers.
Divine has a producer support & development fund used to help strengthen the cooperatives it buys from. The team ask farmers about issues that affect them and work out innovative and practical solutions. At CECAQ-11 of the biggest is access to land rights for women. Divine is working with Twin to deliver this – we recently ran 10 sessions to raise awareness of the issue with 400 women in the community.
Ethical supply chain of the future
After considering the future of Fairtrade, I asked what a future ethical supply chain would look like. The immediate response was that, “It would be traceable and transparent” and real-time information would be helpful. There are many tech platforms that could help solve problems, so actors along the supply chain should embrace technology.
As everyone across the supply chain gets a cut of the price of a chocolate bar. “I think that sense of who gets what” is interesting. Since Divine’s inception, the percentage the retailer gets from a chocolate bar has increased but that isn’t replicated across the supply chain. But if you increase the price of the product enough for everyone to benefit, there becomes a point where the consumer can’t afford it. “So, we need some elasticity” and that should feature in future supply chains.
The next 20 years
Having heard about the journey so far, I asked what’s on the road ahead. Sophi was firm that she wants Divine to be more resilient. A company with small margins that relies on currency exchange is vulnerable to outside shocks, like the financial crash in 2008 and when the pound plummeted after the EU referendum. So, growing would be great – whether that’s new products like a baking range or ice cream. Or if it’s entering new markets, in East Asia, for example.
The second answer was “to work with farmers in new countries and help them build their businesses to invest in their communities.” This is underway in São Tomé but Sophi is also excited about working with farmers in Sierra Leone that live on the edge of the Gola Rainforest to produce cocoa in a way that protects the land. “They’re working in incredibly difficult environments” so Sophi is keen to help encourage a supply chain that thrives.
Sophi’s final answer was, “Being famous for what a good business should look like.” As a Fairtrade brand that’s owned by farmers, is a certified B corp and has just launched a range of vegan, organic chocolate in compostable packaging, I’d say Divine is well on its way to achieving that goal.