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A Sweet Deal: Fair Trade Chocolate

By Randy Rudolph
Results Canada
May 14, 2008

A farmer holds up a cocoa pod at the Fondoux Plantation in Soufriere, St Lucia. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)


Many Canadians consider chocolate bars to be a guilty pleasure. Peel back the foil wrapper, take a bite and savour the potent sweetness of chocolate. Breathe in the 400 distinct smells that emanate from the cocoa bean, chocolate's key ingredient. A rose, in contrast, has only 14.

But don't think about how the cocoa was grown, or that chocolate might taste bittersweet.

Cocoa is the key ingredient in chocolate production and is widely traded. While the production of cocoa provides a livelihood to 14 million people around the globe, the life of cocoa producers is not an easy one. Many live in absolute poverty.

Worldwide cocoa prices are currently volatile on the international market, largely due to speculation. As a result, in many cocoa-producing nations farmers are unable to secure loans for fear of default. If they do qualify, interest rates are often unbearably high.

Sadly, most cocoa producers are unable to earn a living wage and must send their children out to the fields in order to provide for their families. Worse, it is not only the children of cocoa workers who are engaged in this work. Child slavery is quite prevalent in cocoa production. There are an estimated 15,000 child slaves working on farms and plantations in Cote D'Ivoire alone.

Child labourers are forced to pick the cocoa pods, slice them open and scoop out the cocoa beans. These kids work long, hard days, often from six in the morning until six at night. Beatings by farm owners and managers are common.

"The beatings were a part of my life," then-14-year-old freed slave Aly Diabete told international reporters in 2001.

Child slavery is quite prevalent in cocoa production.

"Anytime they loaded you with bags (of cocoa) and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead, they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again," Diabete said.

Even though he toiled many long days in hot fields picking cocoa—400 pods are needed to make one pound of chocolate—Diabete only tasted the dark side of the industry.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The fair trade movement has revolutionized the relationship between producers and buyers by re-dignifying it. The movement seeks to ensure that the sale of products produced in the developing world actually benefits the people producing them.

To be certified, fair trade products such as cocoa and coffee must be purchased from democratically organized cooperatives where the workers have the right to unionize and are provided with fair wages and benefits. For a product to be certified as fairly trade, it must be produced using environmentally sustainable production methods and conform to labour conventions set out by the International Labour Organization.

The price paid for fair trade cocoa is based in part on the cost of production, not only the international market price. Basing the fair trade price on the cost of production better buffers the consumer from speculative price spikes.

The price differential has a profound impact on the lives of cocoa farmers, allowing them to feed their families, pay for basic medical care, and perhaps send their children to school. The price differential allows cooperatives to invest back into their communities.

Says Lucy, from the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana: "We rely on the money we get from cocoa for everything: for food, clothes, medicines, and school fees. Getting payment for our cocoa beans used to be very hit and miss. When we didn't get paid, we went without.

"Kuapa Kokoo pays all its farmers a fair price for their crop, in cash, and on time. I am very happy. Since I joined Fair Trade I can afford to send my children to school."

Canadians love chocolate. We are the eighth largest importer of cocoa globally, yet less than one percent of our chocolate is fair trade certified.

Buying fair trade makes good economic sense. A fairer and more sustainable deal for farmers and a responsible way to bite back at high commodity prices.

May 1-14 is recognized as "Fair Trade Weeks." Randy Rudolph is a volunteer with Results Canada, a grassroots citizens group advocating for basic human needs for the world's poorest.

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