A Sweeter Choice

Fairtrade Chocolate

The conventional chocolate trade often means that small-scale cocoa farmers receive untenably low prices for their beans, depressing the economies of communities dependent on the cocoa trade. In these circumstances, people will resort to desperate measures to survive. In some parts of West Africa, for example, a terrible epidemic of child labour driven by poverty is still fuelling the production of cocoa today. But consumers on the other side of the world can do much to help. There is no need to feel guilty about having an afternoon sugar fix with Fairtrade Certified chocolate now readily available.

Harsh Conditions on the Cocoa Plantation

With disposable incomes rising in China and India, more people are now enjoying chocolate than ever before. Global market research and consulting company MarketsandMarkets predicts that by the year 2016, the chocolate industry will be worth a whopping $98.3 billion. With consumers viewing chocolate as an ‘affordable luxury,’ it has become a part of popular culture and plays a key role in celebrating holidays from Valentines Day to Halloween. What would Easter be, especially to children, without a backyard hunt for chocolate eggs in shiny foil wrappers? The bitter irony of the situation is that there are numerous children working on West African cocoa plantations who have never even tasted chocolate.

The production of chocolate starts with the farming of cacao trees prized for their beans. Cacao trees originate from the Amazon basin and need a tropical climate to grow. Approximately two thirds of the world’s cocoa is farmed in four countries located in West Africa, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Boys come to work on West African cocoa plantations in different capacities – but all end up bearing the scars of their labour.

The work done by child labourers on West African cocoa plantations is incredibly dangerous and often leads to serious injuries. The beginning of a twelve-hour workday starts at six am. As the sun rises, labourers climb cacao trees and cut off the pods using machetes. They pack the pods into large sacks that are then dragged or carried through the plantation to be processed. Labourers risk corporal punishment if they struggle to lift a sack or work too slowly. To prevent pest infestations, labourers must also mix and apply pesticides to the cacao pods, frequently without any personal protective equipment.

Extracting the cocoa beans can also be dangerous work. Common practice is to hold a single pod in one hand and strike it with a machete, leading to potential major lacerations or even the loss of a finger. The cracked pods are then pried open using the tip of the machete blade. While the physical conditions of cocoa harvesting are extremely severe, the social conditions faced by child labourers can perpetuate poverty and isolation. They do not attend school, have no access to healthcare and often never see their families.

Creating Fair Farming Practices

Over a decade ago, many western consumers were horrified to learn that children were being exploited to farm cocoa beans that went into the products for sale in supermarket confectionery aisles. Outraged consumers began putting pressure on chocolate industry giants to change the way they do business and since that time, prominent market players like Cadbury, Mars and Nestlé have been making some major steps forward and continue to raise the bar.

It is important to remember that not all conventionally traded chocolate is farmed under the harsh conditions described above. Nonetheless, ensuring chocolate bears Fairtrade Certification is a simple way for consumers to know at a glance that more of their money will go directly to harvesters and support fair labour practices.

Consumers who buy Fairtrade Certified chocolate will be familiar with the iconic Fairtrade Mark. The trademark is one of the most recognised social and development labels in the world. Australians pride themselves on giving everyone a ‘fair go’ and this is what non-profit organisation Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand aims to do. Since 2005, this ethical organisation also known as Fairtrade ANZ has been working to build and promote Fairtrade Certification, and develop the market here in Australia by supporting small-scale producers, workers and their communities throughout the world.

Fairtrade ANZ

Representing a partnership between producers, NGOs, consumers and businesses big and small, Fairtrade ANZ’s certification gives assurance to consumers that ingredients have been sourced against the Fairtrade Standards. “Fairtrade labelling,” says the organisation, “is an international system of standards for producers and terms of trade for their goods that ensure the world’s most marginalised farmers, workers and their families in 63 developing countries are adequately protected and can build a more sustainable future. Over 6 million people in these countries are benefiting from increasing sales of Fairtrade Certified products in more than 20 consumer markets across Europe, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.”

In Australia and New Zealand a range of products in addition to chocolate currently carry the FAIRTRADE Mark. Coffee, tea, bananas, rice, quinoa, sugar and nuts are among many of the Fairtrade Certified ingredients available to Australian consumers. “Meanwhile Fairtrade cotton is being used in t-shirts, hoodies, fashion, bags and even shoes while Fairtrade soccer, rugby and Aussie rules balls are kicking goals on sporting grounds all round the country.”

Over the last five years, Fairtrade ANZ has grown at an impressive rate of over 50 per cent on average with increasing support for its campaigns, social media pages and products. Last year, consumers brought over 42 million Fairtrade Certified products, spending more than $191 million to give the world’s poorest farmers a better deal. Not surprisingly, Fairtrade Certified chocolate was the most popular product, accounting for 62 per cent of all sales, followed by coffee at 31 per cent.

Nobody wants their sweet tooth to contribute to poverty and injustice on the other side of the world and buying Fairtrade Certified chocolate gives consumers a clear alternative. There is still a long way to go before the conditions on West African plantations become fair and equitable work environments, though significant progress has been made due in part to consumer activism. Until then, Fairtrade Certified chocolate takes the guilt out of enjoying what should be one of life’s simple pleasures.

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December 19, 2018, 5:30 PM AEDT