Firetree: The Gender Dimension of Cocoa Production

By Christina Tsangaris

Gender inequality affects people and places the world over, from the corridors of power in London to the cocoa farms of developing countries, where women involved in the production of cocoa normally receive a lower-income than men, with many earning less than the minimum wage. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 202 years to close the global economic gender pay gap at our current rate of progress, and two centuries is far too long to wait.

With over 85 years of experience shared between them, Firetree founders, David Zulman, Martyn O’Dare and Aidan Bishop, were conscious of this disparity when they set out to make their super-premium, single-estate chocolate in 2017. In creating Firetree, the founders aimed to not only produce a first-class tasting chocolate with the best flavours on the market, but also to ensure that all farmers, regardless of gender, are paid a significant premium of up to two to three times the market rate.

“We recognise that we are sourcing the finest cocoa and we believe that what we pay should reflect that. In doing so, we hope to benefit the communities we work with. By empowering all farmers in this way, women also have an opportunity to have control over their income and can reinvest in their families and farms, therefore ensuring the sustainability of the cocoa-growing communities.” - says Firetree Managing Director, David Zulman.


Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than on Makira Island in the Solomon Islands, where one farm in Firetree’s collection stands out for championing women’s role in the cocoa industry. Owned and run by Lucy Kazimwane, this farm inverses the usual patriarchal hierarchies associated with cocoa production. Not only does Lucy own the land herself, but she also exclusively hires women to help produce the cocoa — enlisting the help of men only when needed for occasional heavy lifting work.

Lucy is also able to support other women on smaller neighbouring farms by purchasing their cocoa for a fair price, as they lack their own cocoa fermentation facilities. Without Lucy, these women would otherwise have to go to the island’s cocoa buyers who have the power to intimidate or undercut them. The impact of Lucy’s success is also helping to empower generations to come; with the profit she has made from her farming, she has been able to send her daughter to university in Australia and, plans to send her youngest there too.

While most cocoa farming takes place in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, Firetree sources its cocoa beans from small island estates, such as Makira Island, in the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ and Madagascar. By taking this small-scale, single-estate approach, Firetree can check that the correct employment conditions and labour standards are consistently met for all those involved. As part of this aim, Firetree’s director of operations, Martyn O’Dare goes directly to the farmers and their workers in order to carry out a social, ethical and environmental audit before partnering with a farm.

In the case of family-run farms, Firetree aims to meet with the whole family, particularly the wives and sisters who may be working on the farms, to be able to get a feel of their involvement. Martyn says that, “by having this commitment to female empowerment embedded in our company’s culture, we hope to assist in eliminating gender inequality — an issue which concerns all those who form a part of the cocoa production and consumption chain.”

By Christina Tsangaris