Social and Environmental Sourcing – Can any business source ethically?

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Environmental Sourcing - vegan businesses can source ethically

Social and environmental sustainability are at the core of ethical sourcing.

Sourcing ethically and sustainably has been at the core of my business, Choc Chick. I’ve always been aware of the inherent exploitation and at times slavery in the cocoa supply chain, so for me it was paramount that I knew exactly where our cacao came from. Ethical sourcing is essentially social sustainability where no one is exploited and everyone in the supply chain is paid fairly and work in safe conditions.

To really work ethically, environmental sustainability must also be key. Non exploitation includes people as well as our planet and for me these two go hand in hand. It makes sense to pay producers well so they can farm sustainably. It’s a win-win for everyone from farmers, processors, businesses, consumers and ultimately our planet.

So how can a small business like ours ensure their supply chain is ethical and sustainable?

Here are some of my recommendations:

Know your supply chain

a) Research country of origin

Whatever you source, locally or internationally, find out as much as you can about the origins. Where are your products made? What is the country of origin? I chose to source initially from Ecuador, partly because I knew they grew some of the finest cocoa in the world and because I am fluent in Spanish I knew I could speak directly with producers and processors and would be able to travel out there to check the supply chain myself.

b) Understand the environmental and social sustainability impact

Once you identify your supply chain, it’s also important to understand the environmental and social impact. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are a good guideline for what we should all be aiming to achieve by 2030[1]. You can easily do your own research online, from university research papers, to NGO’s and certification bodies. I initially contacted Anti-Slavery International[2] and discussed my concerns with them and was given research papers on where slavery is prevalent and some advice on what to look out for when sourcing products as well as the potential impacts on those working in my supply chain. I was also in touch with Rain Forest Alliance and Soil Association to understand the certification requirements we’d need to adhere to.

One of the reasons I chose cacao is that it is mainly grown sustainably, it’s not a monoculture like soya and palm oil and the plantations we work with also grow other crops such as bananas, mangos, oranges and coffee. It’s the most wonderful experience walking through a cocoa plantation surrounded by so many luscious crops and the beauty of the cocoa pod is that nothing goes to waste, once the pulp is taken out, the husk themselves are left on the ground to fertilise the soil and other crops. It’s such a colourful sight and the impact in terms of waste is minimal.

We’re also conscious of the carbon footprint the production of our cacao and chocolates can have. As such we source all the ingredients at source, our cacao and cacao butter are all produced locally, and our vegan chocolates are made with quinoa, plantain and raw cane sugar that are native to Ecuador. All our products are shipped over to the UK and we’ve never used air freight to ensure we minimise our carbon footprint.

c) Visit the producers and processors in your supply chain

I think it’s incredibly important to have as direct a link with your producers as possible. As we have a commitment to ethical sourcing, it’s really our responsibility to fully understand the processes involved in the production of our products and this has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my job. Every time I source a product, I ensure to visit the cooperatives, the farmers, the cocoa collection centres and the factories that process the cocoa. I know it can be expensive to travel each time and I’ve stayed in many budget hotels, but you don’t have to bear the full cost of visiting your suppliers. If you need to travel overseas, I’d recommend contacting the embassy of the country you want to source from. There are regular trade missions arranged by the embassies to meet local suppliers. They will often pay for your travel and accommodation, so it can be an affordable way to travel. As these trips are organised by the embassy with a specific itinerary, I normally stay a week longer and go and visit the suppliers I’ve met directly.

A great is example is the development of our vegan chocolate Quinoa Pops and Plantain Bites. I met representatives of the factory we now work with at a Pro Ecuador trade mission trip to Guayaquil. As the factory was in Quito, I took the time to travel up to Quito for the day, visited the factory and came up with the ideas for our new product range. I visited the factory again 6 months later to work on the recipes and was able to spend 5 days working with everyone and experiencing the working conditions for myself. When I decided to source from Peru, I met our new suppliers at a trade show in London. Within 3 months I’d arranged to travel out to them and visit their factory and farmers. It was an amazing adventure and I travelled up to altitudes of 3500m above sea level down to the Amazon basin at 628m above sea level!

d) Develop strong and enduring relationships with your supply chain

My trips to Ecuador and Peru over the years have been incredibly enriching and most enriching of all has been the connections and relationships I’ve developed. I’ve loved visiting and getting to know my suppliers. I’ve met their families and pets (dogs and chickens!), made cacao powder in the middle of a plantation from fermented and dried beans that we roasted on a pan over a fire and have developed genuine friendships. Being connected is such a privilege and I feel so fortunate to have made so many friends that have been such a fundamental part of my business.  It’s simply the best way to work. We communicate regularly with many friends on social media and it’s wonderful to have such a direct connection to them and their lives. Having these close connections means that my suppliers are invested in our success and we are invested in supporting them. When the devastating earthquake hit Ecuador in 2016, I was immediately in touch with some of my suppliers. We ordered 10 tons of cacao that would have spoiled due to the torrential rain and flooding and shipped it to the UK within a week of the event and were able to support our farmers financial with that purchase. I also travelled out to Ecuador in August 2016 to see the devastation for myself, meet with the farmers and see how else we can support them. It was a moving and humbling experience and I am grateful we were able to offer some help.

It is possible for any business to do this

I believe that when business is conducted respectfully and with care, we all benefit. It just takes awareness, asking questions and connection to source ethically, sustainably and responsibly. Any businesses can do this, even a small business like us.

Galia Orme is the founder and director of CHOC Chick. You can access her products, recipes and other information here.

You can shop for CHOC Chick products here.

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