Cocoa beans are brought to the purchasing station in Assin Akonfudi, Ghana. Via the frog blog UK.

Words by Sofia Strandberg and Jennifer Bryant

It’s Fair Trade Fortnight! For the next two weeks, the Fair Trade Association Australia NZ will be drawing more attention to the plight of the world’s producers of coffee, tea, cocoa, nuts, fruit, flowers, soccer balls…  the list goes on. So what does Fairtrade actually mean? And is it always all that it’s hyped up to be? We start by taking a look at how Australia’s most popular fairtrade item, chocolate, is produced, conventionally and under the Fairtrade label…

Where is the world’s cocoa produced?

In 2010, the world consumed a whopping 3.6 million tonnes of cocoa. Almost all of it is produced in Africa (60% is produced in West Africa’s Ghana and The Republic of Cote d’Ivoire), South America, Asia and Oceania. Most of it (64%) is consumed by the so called ‘West’ (that’s us). And with world cravings for this delicious antioxidant set to continue to rise, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the logic of free trade – supply and demand and all that – would have things sorted in favour of those who are able to grow this precious bean, with cocoa trade contributing to increased revenue and development in countries that badly need it. Think again.

What does Fairtrade actually mean?

The world’s conventional chocolate trade (along with so many other products such as tea and coffee) hides great injustices. It is a trade that, over centuries, has been allowed to discriminate against the poorest and weakest producers of the world and is responsible for unfathomable human rights abuses and poverty, as well as environmental degradation.

In 2005, the ILO (International Labour Organization) reported that 200,000 children were working in the cocoa industry in the Cote d’Ivoire – the world’s largest producer of cocoa. And despite public outcry, this trend is not diminishing: human trafficking for cocoa labour is still rife in the entire West African region, and large numbers of children, women and men continue to work in slave-like conditions. In addition to this, deforestation and heavy use of pesticides on conventional cocoa farms are causing major problems for the environment and workers alike.

Left: Slash and burn methods threaten African forests. Via the watchers. Right: Child labour on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire.
Photo by International Labor Rights Forum.

Although not all cocoa is produced under these circumstances, the structure of the cocoa trade makes it impossible to guarantee your chocolate bar doesn’t include this extra bitter aspect. That is, unless you choose Fairtrade labelled products.

Fairtrade addresses the deeply ingrained injustices of conventional trade and is the logo to look for if you want chocolate that has been produced in a humane way (and who doesn’t?). Fairtrade, which has been around since the 90s, ensures that farmers are paid a fair price for their product, that worker rights are maintained, and that high environmental standards are upheld. Whilst Fairtrade is not strictly organic, the Fairtrade criteria require sustainable farming techniques and offer higher prices for organic products. Premiums are also often used to train producers in organic and sustainable techniques, like composting and integrating recycled materials.

Fairtrade also helps ensure communities are given a fair go by guaranteeing that the cost of sustainable production is always covered, no matter what the current market price is. Through a Fairtrade agreement, the community receives an extra premium to fund projects in the community. In Huiwani, Papa New Guinea, for example, the premium has been used to build a local school.

The Controversy

Clearly, we’re better off choosing Fairtrade. But (and there’s always a but), with increasing consumer demand for Fairtrade, and with corporate giants such as Cadbury, Nestle and Starbucks jumping on the Fairtrade bandwagon, should we worry that the label will be diluted or rendered meaningless?

Some critics say we should, arguing that Fairtrade moves by big business are mere tokenism – an attempt to gain positive PR from the so called ‘halo’ effect, where good feelings around one product reflect well on the entire brand. It also creates an uneven playing field amongst manufacturers, as companies like Cadbury are able to absorb costly Fairtrade premiums by subsidising with profits from non-Fairtrade products, which in turn undercuts smaller producers. In the end, this could leave the Fairtrade scheme with lower standards and less leveraging power.

On the other hand, Fairtrade products represent a powerful means to reduce poverty and encourage sustainable development through consumption. And with less than five percent of the world’s cocoa being ethically certified, we’ve got a long way to go, making any type of Fairtrade, corporate or not, an excellent vote for a better future.

What you can do

If you want to know how your favourite chocolatey treat rates, check out World Vision’s chocolate scorecard.

If you want to learn more about the Fairtrade movement, check out the Australian Fairtrade Association’s website which includes a product finder.

And for you lucky Melbourne peeps, why not reserve a place at the free Fairtrade chocolate tasting evening aimed at raising awareness about Fairtrade chocolate. And did we mention the chocolate tasting…

Did you know…

In 2010, a staggering $87 million worth of Fairtrade chocolate was sold in Australia alone, and chocolate has overtaken coffee as Australia’s number one selling Fairtrade product. In the same year, Cadbury announced a 10-year, $90million commitment to sourcing Fairtrade cocoa for their Dairy Milk bars from Ghana, a deal that will double Fairtrade chocolate sales within Australia. At the same time, “because of the nature of its supply chain”, Cadbury finds it difficult to separate Fairtrade cocoa, leaving no guarantee that your Dairy Milk bar is 100% Fairtrade.