Posted on 10 Comments

The Faces Behind the Chocolate in our Easter Baskets

Easter is fast approaching, and if you’re filling any Easter baskets this year, chances are you are including some chocolate candy.  My favorite Easter treat has always been Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs.  That is, until this year when I learned about the exploitation of children and slaves which make it possible for us to have reasonably priced chocolates readily available to us.

Previously, my knowledge of chocolate making was limited to what I had learned on a few trips through Chocolate World at Hershey Park.  That fun and informative ride doesn’t really tell the full story. Allow me to share with you a few facts about chocolate that you may not learn at Chocolate World.

Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, especially the Ivory Coast. The prices for cocoa, however, are set by big businesses rather than the farmers who grow the cocoa.  Because these big businesses want to buy their cocoa at low prices to maximize their profits, cocoa farmers cut costs wherever they can in the harvesting of their cocoa beans because they want to increase their profits, too.

How do these cocoa farmers keep their costs low?  One of the easiest ways to lower costs is to spend less on labor. Sadly, this mean that many people who work on these cocoa farms are not paid a fair wage.  Some of the work is done by slave workers, and thousands of those slaves are children, many as young as nine years old.

Much information is available online about the use of children and slaves in cocoa harvesting, but little is being done about the problem.  Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to know what to do.  A boycott of chocolate sounds like the best way to react, yet a total boycott would drive cocoa prices even lower with even less money going to the farmers.

For now, the best means we have of speaking out against child labor in the cocoa industry is to demand and to buy fair trade chocolates.  Unfortunately, fair trade chocolates are more expensive than other chocolates, and they are not as readily available as other chocolates.  That would change though if we all refused to buy chocolate that is not labeled “fair trade”.

If you’re not sure what to do, here are a few suggestions:

1) Ask for fair trade chocolates in the grocery stores where you shop.

2) Call or write to chocolate companies asking them to buy fair trade cocoa

3) Learn more by doing some online research about slave labor in the chocolate    business

4) Raise awareness by discussing these deplorable practices with others.

5) Keep buying chocolate, but buy fair trade chocolate.

I am just now waking up to the idea that the choices that I make have far-reaching consequences, not just for me, but for many other people, too.  I want to make the most responsible choices that I can make, speaking out with my words and with my dollars on behalf of every person represented by the faces behind the products that I buy.

My commitment to buy only fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolates is just the beginning of this journey for me.

Make mine Fair Trade!
Were you already aware of the plight of many who harvest cocoa beans?  What are you willing to do to ensure justice for those who are being exploited?
Posted on 6 Comments

What Is Fair Trade?

Perhaps you’ve seen this Fair Trade Certified symbol on some products in a local or online store.  Do you know what it means? 

Until last weekend, I didn’t pay much attention to this whole idea of fair trade products.  The only fair trade product that I was aware of was coffee, and the only thing I really understood about fair trade coffee was that it’s more expensive than regular coffee.  Sad, I know.  I was the proverbial ostrich with my head firmly planted in the sand.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I recently attended a workshop entitled Radical Justice for Today.  At that workshop I learned about the importance of fair trade practices.  I pledged never again to bury my head in the sand as a consumer.  My spending choices speak volumes, and I want to be sure that what my spending choices say is in harmony with my Christian values.

That is why today, I want to explain a little about fair trade in case there are others who are not aware of what it means.  Here are three very important benefits of fair trade products:

1.  Guaranteed minimum price which, though they vary by companies, reward the farmers’ hard work by giving them a decent living wage after covering the cost of production. (Many times this minimum price is DOUBLE the amount that farmers are typically paid by the buyers for the large corporations that bring us most of our food choices in our supermarkets.) 

2.  Fair treatment of workers include safe working conditions, no child laborers, freedom to organize, and having a say in the workings of the farm co-operative where they work.   

3.  Environmentally sustainable practices  protect the farm land and the quality of the food that is produced on it.

Sadly, these benefits are not readily extended to most farmers of exported products.  Child labor, slave labor, extremely low wages, exposure to harmful pesticides and dangerous working conditions are more the norm than the exception. 

The realization that each time I chose to buy an imported product (coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, sugar, etc.) that did not bear this Fair Trade Certified symbol, I was giving our money to businesses who exploit other human beings to increase their profits was enough to make me feel sick inside.   

I’ve recently done a lot more reading on this subject of fair trade, and I encourage you to learn more about it, too.  It is not a perfect system, but for now, this fair trade symbol is our best assurance that the people who grow and harvest the products we want are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. 

I encourage you to do some investigating concerning the products you are buying.  Is everyone who had a part in your purchase being treated in a fair and humane manner?  If not, it’s time we put our money to work to bring about the changes we want to see in the world.

(The above information about fair trade was gleaned from the book Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices which I would highly recommend.)

I would love to hear about your thoughts on Fair Trade!