If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I think it’s fair to say that you probably question many of your purchases.
We’ve learned to be suspicious of the BPA in sippy cups, the lead in the cot paint, and the fire retardant in our baby’s car seat. We look into the origins of everything from toys to vegetables to clothes, conscious of things like pesticides and sweatshop labour practices.
But when you’ve got a bar of chocolate in your hand, do you stop to think about where it came from? While it gives you pleasure, did it cause someone else misery?
Unfortunately, chocolate has a bloody history. And it’s still a problem today. A 2010 study found that about 1.8 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 were working on cocoa plantations in Ghana and in Côte d’Ivoire.
About 40% of children weren’t enrolled in schools. And only 5% of the Ivorian children were paid for their work. In addition, UNICEF reports that about 35,000 Ivorian children working on cocoa plantations were victims of human trafficking.
In her 2006 book Bitter Chocolate, award winning author Carol Off describes the physical and psychological suffering of these child slaves.
“The farmers… were working the young people almost to death. The boys had little to eat, slept in bunk-houses that were locked during the night, and were frequently beaten. They had horrible sores on their backs and shoulders…”
According to Off, children are made to do hazardous work leading to inevitable accidents. They’re regularly exposed to pesticides, and are fed only bananas and corn paste, the cheapest food available.
These human rights violations have long been made public. Yet many of the word’s major chocolate manufacturers can’t guarantee that their production does not involve slave labour. These include huge corporations like Hershey, Nestlé, ADM, and Cargill.
Part of the problem, Off says, is that chocolate is considered a universal luxury. Because it’s inexpensive and easily available, consumers take it for granted. So people fail to pressure ‘Big Chocolate’ into making sure that they use fair labour practices.
So what’s the solution?
How about fairtrade chocolate?
Fairtrade chocolate is made from cocoa bought from farmers at a fair price. Fairtrade is a growing social movement. It aims to help producers improve working conditions and get better terms of trade. It’s mainly focused in developing countries in Africa and South America.
When you buy a product with the Fairtrade mark, you help small farmers and producers work in decent conditions, strengthen their businesses, and support their communities.
That’s not to say that there are no issues with Fairtrade, either. There are concerns that Fairtrade certification for coffee leads to uneven economic advantages for farmers and lower quality for consumers. It’s probably safe to say that there are similar issues with chocolate. But that’s not enough reason to ignore Fairtrade and continue to buy chocolate produced with slave labour.
Fairtrade chocolate certification and brands
There are a few different organisations that certify Fairtrade. These include Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, Fairtrade USA, the Fairtrade Labeling Organization, UTZ Certified, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, the Max Havelaar Foundation, and the RainForest Alliance.
There are several fair trade chocolate brands available in Australia. These include Cadbury, San Churro, Alter Eco, and Green and Black’s. Also look out for other fairtrade brands in health stores and online, too. There’s eatingEVOLVED, Evolla, Loving Earth, and SRSLY Chocolate.
Look for labels like ‘direct trade’ and ‘bean to bar’. These labels tell you that the company that made your chocolate bar has a direct relationship with their suppliers. It can also tell you that the company that makes the chocolate sources the cocoa beans themselves.
Some premium chocolate companies, like Lindt, choose to implement their own traceability and sustainability standards. This way, they ensure that they have the best cocoa beans, and deal directly with farmers.
Organic and Non-GMO labelling is important, too. But you don’t know whether the growers got a fair price for their crop, or whether fair labour practices were observed.
Is Fairtrade chocolate important to you? What will you be choosing this Easter?