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Fair Trade Chocolate: What’s the Big Deal?

You’ve passed by fair trade chocolate at the fancy grocery store (you know: the one you only go to when you’re throwing a dinner party). You even considered giving a nibble.  Who doesn’t like being responsible and feeling a bit self-righteous?  But as we stress with our chocolate reviews: don’t judge a chocolate bar by its wrapper.   So, is fair trade chocolate the real deal?

What is Fair Trade?

There’s no universal definition of fair trade: different countries play by different rules, so to speak.  Basically, fair trade means that producers of certain products in developing countries aren’t exploited or paid a low wage in exchange for their work.  Fairtrade Labeling Organization International is a group of 20 organizations around the world that monitor and certify fair trade products.  TransFair USA, a member of this organization, is the only third party certifier of fair trade products in the United States.  They ensure that products weren’t produced by child labor and that farmers were paid fair and above-market wages for their work.  TransFair USA certifies certain grocery products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, coca, spices, honey, sugar, vanilla flowers, etc.  If you want to vote for human rights with your dollar, your first step is to look for a TransFair USA label to ensure your chocolate bar is indeed Fair Trade.

Why Does Fair Trade Matter?

80% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, a majority of which is centered in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  It’s estimated – using studies done by journalists and international organizations – that up to 6% of the work force in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast are enslaved child laborers.  That means approximately 12,000 children under the age of 15 were taken from their homes and sold into slavery.  30% of children under the age of 15 in this West African region are child laborers.  “Big Chocolate,” companies that produce chocolate in mass quantities like Nestle or Mars, buys cocoa produced by child and slave labor on international commodities exchanges.  The more chocolate they sell, the more they buy from these exchanges.  This causes the demand for cocoa supplies to go up.  Of course, such big companies maximize their profits by paying the cheapest amount possible for their cocoa.  In order to maximize their own profits, in turn, these cocoa suppliers lower their wages or eliminate them all together.  Children fall victim to an unfair trade economy and big chocolate companies make big money off of the ignorance of their consumers.

So if I Buy Fair Trade or Organic Chocolate, I’ll do My Part to Help Stop This?

Not quite.  Chocolate that is labeled organic just means it was not made with the use of pesticides.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fair trade chocolate.  Look for the TransFair USA label to ensure that the chocolate you’re buying is fair trade.  The more money that goes into fair trade chocolate, the more farmers in developing countries can gain an actual living wage.  Exploited and slave labor won’t end until the companies that sell chocolate get the message, and the most effective way to do that is to stop buying their products and purchase fair trade instead.

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