I love chocolate. I started out, like any novice, not caring too much about the format it came in, but decades of experience has refined my palette. I like it dark and spicy. I don’t want nuts, fruit, wafers, creamy centers or even caramel interfering. I just want it in its purest form…and with a little chili. However, I also want to know that my personal indulgences are not contributing to child labor, or the social, economic and environmental strife of the communities growing the cacao. That is why I specifically seek out certified Fair Trade chocolate products.
A bitter history: why choosing Fair Trade chocolate is important
Chocolate is made from the beans of cacao trees (no that’s not a typo – the full name is Theobroma cacao). These plants were native to Mexico, and tropical areas of Central and South America.
Humans and cacao have a long history together. People have been cultivating the plant for over 3,000 years. It is intertwined in the ceremonies, rituals and culture of most indigenous populations where it is found.
In the 15th century, Christopher Columbus brought cacao beans back to Spain. Just over a century later, the rest of Europe discovered the pleasures of cocoa drinks and demand exploded.
To keep up with demand, cacao was introduced into the Caribbean as well as mainland Africa. Slaves were used to work the crops.
Today, child labor in the cocoa industry remains an enormous issue, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, where the majority of cocoa is produced. In 2000 and 2001, there was significant press on the issue, which suggested not only evidence of slave-like working conditions, but also child trafficking. In 2001, a voluntary agreement was signed by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association and the World Cocoa Foundation to take actions to address the worst forms of child labor.
Fair Trade certification does not allow child labor.
Fair Trade certification helps communities
Today, west Africa produces about two thirds of the world’s cocoa. So how does Fair Trade certification help these producers?
- It ensures they get a minimum and fair price for their product.
- The higher cost of Fair Trade products helps to establish a fund, which is invested back into the communities to enhance their social, economic, and environmental circumstances.
- It establishes minimum criteria for production as well as progressive criteria that encourage improvement; this rules out any child or slave labor in the production process.
In 1993, some cocoa farmers in Ghana got organized and they established the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative. They began to trade their own cocoa, rather than working through agents. Their organization grew based on a reputation of Fair Trade and honesty. In 1997, they set up a chocolate company with the help of a number of other financial partners.
Divine Chocolate was the result. It is 45% owned by farmers, so not only is the chocolate certified Fair Trade, a good portion of the profit is going back to this cooperative. It is truly a feel good story in the world of Fair Trade chocolate. The following video shows how Fair Trade has changed the lives of these farmers.
Where can I get certified Fair Trade chocolate?
Fair Trade USA, the leading certification body in the US, has a list of Fair Trade certified cocoa products that you can look out for. Some examples include:
- Dagoba organic fair trade certified cocoa powder or chocolate drops;
- Alter Eco Fair Trade organic dark chocolate;
- Green & Black’s products – but my personal favourite is Maya Gold;
- and of course if you want to support the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative, you can always look for Divine products.
Chocolate is truly a treat, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of the environment or the social and economic conditions of others. So, if you are going to indulge, please consider looking for certified Fair Trade chocolate products.