There’s an old advert for KitKat from 2001 where intimacy-starved daleks patrol a high street, exterminating the British opposition to public displays of affection by insisting everyone “give us a cuddle”, later chanting “peace and love” behind a clapping conga line of Hare Krishna monks.
The idea was that famous faces from the UK — including the Doctor Who supervillains and equally nefarious then-Manchester United captain Roy Keane — would “have a break” from their public personas to refresh a brand campaign that stretches all the way back to 1957.
It’s a shame, then, when you see old stereotypes revert to type. The truth is that daleks will always want to destroy the universe, Keane will always be a little bit grumpy, and KitKat — owned by those frequently-criticised bad boys of the food and drink industry, Nestlé — has stayed true to form with a move that could hurt the lives of thousands of Black farmers.
Global Citizen reported in June that KitKat decided to end its partnership with the Fairtrade Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that protects the livelihood of producers in developing countries. We wrote about how it was yet another example of white decision-making that would go on to harm Black African lives — a continuation of the West’s colonial legacy.
As Black History Month begins in the UK on Oct. 1, we’re launching a new campaign to do what we can to stop the past from playing out once more — to get people talking about a furtive exchange of power happening right before our eyes that could strip Black communities of their agency even further.
The typical cocoa farmer in West Africa lives below the extreme poverty line, earning on average 74p per day, according to Fairtrade — only a few pence more than the price of a KitKat. But the decision to ditch Fairtrade means that almost £2 million will be lost in premiums for cocoa and sugar farmers every year.
And its impact will almost certainly be much wider: Fairtrade premiums don’t just help workers, they invest in communities too. Previously, the stipend has funded projects like schools, public kitchens, and women’s empowerment programmes. Critically, it is the local community who decides where money is invested — putting power in their hands to determine what is best for their own needs.
At its absolute core, that is what all this comes down to: power. The kind of power that’s always been hard for marginalised Black communities to find. The kind of power that’s easy for international corporations to take back whenever they feel like it.
Somewhat ironically, the idea behind the KitKat brand came from an employee who, as the world was imagining what everything would look like after the Second World War, argued that it should be “a chocolate bar that a man could take to work.”
But now it’s a chocolate bar that isn’t working for Black farmers. So much so that over the last few months, farmers have raised big concerns about the shift, and over 300,000 people have signed petitions calling on KitKat to keep its cocoa and sugar Fairtrade.
The reality is that some of the poorest Black communities will lose out most. “Stopping the relationship with Fairtrade is to silence our voices,” said Atse Ossey Francis, Chairman of the Ivorian Fair Trade Network, in a powerful message to Nestlé. The multinational company promised to “think, talk, and act” on racial inequality in July. So what happened?
“This represents a huge step backwards — shifting power back to executives in boardrooms at Nestlé and away from some of the world’s poorest people, despite Nestlé promising to ‘get real on race’ in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.” said Zoe Kelland, digital campaigns director at Global Citizen.
“It’s crucial that we send a powerful message to Nestlé and other big businesses that we’re watching," Kelland added. "We want to see you giving a fair deal to the world’s poorest farmers.”
Hi @SteAgoUK — you promised to ‘get real on race’ in response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. How does that fit with the decision to stop sourcing @FAIRTRADE cocoa for @KITKAT, which takes power away from Black farming communities worldwide? #IStandWithFarmers— DEBBIE DIAMOND💎♥️💕 (@DEBBIED69590597) October 1, 2020
Hi @SteAgoUK — you promised to ‘get real on race’ in response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. How does that fit with the decision to stop sourcing @FAIRTRADE cocoa for @KITKAT, which takes power away from Black farming communities worldwide? #IStandWithFarmers— wear your mask (@AxelMalingane) October 1, 2020
Hi @SteAgoUK — you promised to ‘get real on race’ in response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. How does that fit with the decision to stop sourcing @FAIRTRADE cocoa for @KITKAT, which takes power away from Black farming communities worldwide? #IStandWithFarmers— katcos (@katcos15) October 1, 2020
Nestlé, so far, has not listened. From October, the chocolate bars in shops will no longer bear the Fairtrade mark. But the fight isn’t over.
That’s why we’re joining other organisations like CAFOD, the National Union of Students (NUS), and Tearfund to urge Nestlé to reconsider — by calling on Global Citizens like you to send a strong message to KitKat and other big brands to get a fair deal for the world’s poorest farmers. Enough is enough.
The world is watching: if Nestlé and KitKat truly believe that Black Lives Matter, they will not abandon their commitment to Fairtrade.