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Fair Trade Chocolate: Sweet!

Child slavery is rampant in the chocolate industry. To protect children, farmers, and the environment, make your chocolate purchases fair trade.

One day last year, Scott Chesler, a humanities teacher in the New York City public school system, decided to eat a candy bar between classes and ended up getting an education.

Assiatou Diallo, a student at Scott’s school, asked him if he knew where his chocolate had come from.FT Chocolate

“She explained to me the current issue of child slave labor in the picking of cocoa beans,” says Scott. “I looked into it and found that she was right.”

Scott’s not alone in catching on to the problems of the chocolate industry. In March of 2003, the US State Department released a human rights report that found “approximately 109,000 child laborers work[ing] in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in [the Ivory Coast],” a country where “the law does
not prohibit trafficking in persons.”

With 43 percent of the world’s chocolate coming from the Ivory Coast (and an additional 27 percent coming from Nigeria and Cameroon, where child slave trafficking has also been
documented), it’s difficult to avoid buying chocolate tainted by child labor—or is it?

Instead of getting your chocolate fix by purchasing it from a mega-corporation that doesn’t take steps to keep child labor out of its supply chain, you can choose chocolate that supports farmers, is grown sustainably, and is guaranteed free from child labor. The solution is actually simple: buy fair trade.

Other Chocolate Woes

In addition to the very serious issue of child slavery, there are other social and environmental problems associated with mainstream chocolate.

They include:

IMPOVERISHED FARMERS: Even under conditions not involving child and slave labor, dramatic fluctuations in the global price of cocoa have kept many cocoa farmers in poverty.

Plus, cocoa is mainly grown by small farmers who go through exploitative middle merchants to sell their products to market.

“The farmers often live in isolated areas, and they don’t know what the world price for cocoa is,” says Charlotte Opal of TransFair USA, an independent fair trade certifying body. “They have to rely on what the middle merchants tell them, and those middle merchants often lie to their advantage. So even when market prices are up, farmers don’t necessarily benefit.”

In fact, the average cocoa farmer will generally earn only $30 to $100 a year, says Chris O’Brien, Green America’s managing director of business and investing programs and associate director of the Fair Trade Federation. This price is not enough to meet a farming family’s basic living needs.

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION: When farmers are in economic crisis, they’re often forced to maximize production, regardless of those methods’ effect on the environment. As a result, cocoa farmers may cut down the trees—which prevent soil erosion and provide critical wildlife habitat—on their land in order to use as much space as possible for growing cocoa plants. They may also attempt to increase yields by stepping up toxic pesticide use.

The Fair Trade Alternative

Fortunately, the market for fair trade chocolate bars and cocoa is booming, making them more available than ever before. In 2002, Equal Exchange brought the first organic, shade-grown, Fair Trade Certified™ hot cocoa mix to market, and several businesses soon followed suit.

When you shop, look for chocolate bearing the Fair Trade Certified™ label. This label appears on coffee, tea, and chocolate independently certified by TransFair USA. This nonprofit certifying agency travels to producer sites at least once per year to ensure that farmers receive a fair price for their goods and work in healthy and environmentally sustainable conditions. TransFair also ensures that the farms it certifies have no child slaves working their fields.

Also, farmers in the fair trade system are guaranteed the financial and educational support they need to not only meet their basic living needs, but to improve their communities, develop their businesses, and improve their economic positions.

Fair trade cocoa farmers work in cooperatives, such as the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative in Ghana, where workers farm organically and sustainably.

“Fair trade makes a big difference to us. With fair trade sales, we’ve been able to get villages potable water, sanitation facilities, and more money to invest in other activities,” says Appiah-Kubi Abraham, a Kuapa Kokoo farmer. The cooperative owns 33 percent of the Day Chocolate Company, producer of Fair Trade Certified™ Divine Chocolate.

While many small cocoa farmers in Ghana struggle to make ends meet, Kuapa Kokoo farmers earn at least $.80/pound for their cocoa under long-term fair trade contracts—enough to feed their families and improve their communities.

Buy Fair, Spread the Word

There are a number of steps you can take to increase demand for fair trade chocolate—and bring more farmers into the fair trade system.

Look for the Fair Trade Certified™ logo where you buy groceries—on chocolate candy bars, hot cocoa drink mixes, and baking cocoa. If your health food store or supermarket doesn’t carry fair trade chocolate, talk to the manager.

Take advantage of phone, catalog, and Internet mail order. For example, Ithaca Fine Chocolates, a fair trade wholesaler and retailer, offers “Art Bars” (chocolate bars featuring fine art reproductions on collectible cards inside the wrappers) online or by phone. A portion of each purchase goes to fund art education.

“I got into selling chocolate from the art angle, as a means of promoting artists and to fund art education,” says owner Erika Fowler-Decatur, “I couldn’t feel good about supporting my own causes at the expense of others, which is why I chose fair trade."

Other companies, like Dean’s Beans, sell fair trade hot chocolate mix (along with fair trade coffee and tea) online and by mail, and SERRV International, the US distributor of Divine chocolate, offers a range of products online and by mail-order catalog. (Click below for more fair trade chocolate resources.)

Finally, spread the word to others. Tell your friends and family about fair trade chocolate, host a tasting party, give fair trade chocolate as gifts, or hold a fair trade fundraiser for your organization or school. After Scott Chesler discovered fair trade chocolate, he replaced school bake sales with Divine Chocolate fundraisers.

“Fair trade chocolate is an ideal fundraising tool since it supports a noble cause, in addition to satisfying the sweet tooth,” says Scott, who included a flyer about fair trade in each bar the school sold. “Plus, people who might pass by a normal fundraiser are more likely to participate, because they feel like they are making a difference. You actually improve the world by eating sweets!”

--Andrew Korfhage


Fair Trade Chocolate Resources


More green-living articles from the Green American »

Article Summary

Make your chocolate purchases from fair trade companies.

Enjoy premium chocolate bars, hot cocoa, and baker's chocolate while protecting people and the planet.

Ensure no child laborers grew your chocolate, protect small farmers, and preserve the environment.

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