Fair Trade Cocoa: What Makes It “Fair Trade”?

Fair trade refers to an organized plan by buyers to help producers, particularly in developing countries, realize fair and more sustainable trading conditions. The concept has developed into a social movement with the goal of promoting greater equity for traditionally disadvantaged producers through international trading partnerships.

Fair Trade-certified cocoa comes from certified farmers’ cooperatives, organized to educate and improve their members economically. The practice promotes producers’ community health by paying the farmer a higher price or “living wage” for their labor. This certification is a guarantee to everyone as to how the cocoa beans used in making chocolate products were produced.

Currently, the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Costa Rica, are the only countries in the world where there are cocoa farmers’ cooperatives that are thusly certified. These products receive third-party certification by IMO, FairTradeUSA, or FairTrade America, for example. In the United States, the most commonly certified products are foods, including chocolate and cocoa.

Other products on the market that are not Fair Trade certified may also be “fairly traded” thanks to retailers, who practice recognized fair trade standards.

In sharp contrast to the practices of Fair Trade, for example, are many of the cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. There are over 600,000 cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. Large chocolate corporations purchase most of this country’s cocoa harvest. Too often, these corporations’ economic goal is not driven by a desire to improve the lives of the farmers whose products we enjoy. Today, the Ivory Coast is the source of 75% of America’s chocolate.

Most of the farmers working these farms labor under subsistence conditions. Even more surprisingly, The U.S. State Department estimates that over 12,000 child-slaves may work on large cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. Many have been kidnapped or sold by their parents to work from a very young age cutting cocoa pods from trees. In other countries of West Africa, children work with deadly chemicals, applying pesticides and fungicides to trees without wearing protective garments and without proper precautions to protect their health. Unfortunately, much of the cocoa used in the chocolate you purchase is grown and harvested under such conditions.

Fair Trade certification gives you the means to choose how you as the consumer participate in supporting the production of cocoa and chocolate products. As a consumer, you can help support the future of Fair Trade Initiatives by purchasing high-quality chocolate products made only from Fair Trade certified cocoa beans.

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