Quattro Club

Tainted Chocolate Ads: A Sign of Progress or A Hint of Racism?

A YouTube video was posted on February showing two men shouting at each other went viral not just because of the brawl itself but due to its deeper, more controversial implication.

The said video shows the scuffle that happened at a supermarket in the Casalpusterlengo town in Italy while in lock down due to COVID-19 pandemic.

As the virus cases continue to soar, Asians in Italy and in other countries encounter different kinds of discrimination. Another incident happened to a Filipino who was hospitalized after being attacked by a group of young men who thought he was Chinese.

Asians are not only the nationalities who face discrimination during this crisis. The protests opposing police violence and systemic racism happening all over the world features the connection between two pandemics – racism and COVID-19.

Some have forgotten that New York City was ground zero for COVID-19 as people go out and make their voice heard over George Floyd’s death. New York City shared data showing that the majority of deaths caused by COVID-19 in the city consists of Hispanic and black people.

According to research, people of colour are more affected by COVID-19 due to structural inequalities. As what some claim, we are now living in a racism pandemic.

Looking back, our history tells us that pandemics in the past have displayed existing inequality and the incidents happening today is no different.

For one, America has a long history of slavery even in the chocolate industry.

The Dark Chocolate Ad

Zàini is just one of the many chocolate brands that utilize women in colour in their advertisements. The success of the company won’t be possible without its history of strong women. A woman led Zàini for almost 20 years until it became a household name across Italy. Though it was destroyed during the Second World war, it was able to pick up the pieces and fast forward to present day, the company continues to care about women with the help of The New Woman of Cocoa project, which supports the farmers of cocoa in the Ivory Coast.

This is the main reason why the branding of Zàini chocolate products display women of colour – to honor women who made a huge impact to their chocolate business.

But labels of chocolates depicting faces of women in colour may present two issues; constructive change and propaganda.

The Bittersweet History of Chocolate

The history of the chocolate industry will always be connected with the history of slave labor in Africa. Between ten to fifteen million slaves were taken against their will from Africa to do hard work in different plantations and farms that manufactured sugar, cotton and cacao in Europe, America and the Caribbean. Aside from the disturbing number of slaves that were ordered into labor, many slaves perished in the process while being transported in the Atlantic.

The connection between purchasing black slaves and chocolate production has been retained and intensified by the modern schemes of chocolate advertisement and consumption. Though in the history of slavery in relation to chocolates have been erased and somewhat hidden in different ways, this history has formed the chocolate consumption in very distinct ways.

This can be clearly seen in advertisements and product design of a handful different chocolate brands. Chocolate companies influence their consumers base on their marketing strategies. For instance, they influence children to buy their products by using the power of advertisements on social media, packaging and television.

And their ads are not limited to using children. Some chocolate brands use people of colour in their advertisement to represent ‘pure blackness’ of their chocolate but in reality, it depicts the product which was made available by using slave labor in the past and many chocolate companies still use pictures of black people to complement their luxury status.

When you see chocolate labels featuring women of colour, do you think of ‘women empowerment’ or do you somehow feel that it carries a hidden link between chocolate and race as well as issues about free trade, capitalism and forced labor?

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