Fair Trade Chocolate

The Sweetest Treat

S. Alison Chabonais

Valentine’s Day almost qualifies as a national holiday. Love’s in the air and more than $1 billion in candy is flying off U.S. shelves, most of it women’s number one favorite–chocolate. But how much do we know about this sweet we treat ourselves to on a near-daily basis?

For instance, few may know that cocoa contains nearly twice the disease-fighting antioxidant value of red wine, and three times that of green tea. Chocolate improves blood flow and calms stress. No wonder it makes us feel good!

Yet there’s a dark side to this seductively rich indulgence. And we’re not talking calories, or the flavor of the bar.

Chocolate Farms

Sixty countries supply cocoa beans for the $60 billion annual retail chocolate business. But six, Africa’s Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil and Cameroon, account for more than 80 percent of production. And the Ivory Coast, where 43 percent of beans originate, relies on the servitude of more than 200,000 children, all of whom should be in school instead of pressed to labor under dangerous conditions. Making matters worse, impoverished farmers and environmental degradation are common occurrences.

Test of a Good Chocolate Bar
■ Eat chocolate at room temperature. Don’t refrigerate.
■ Snap in half and watch for a clean break.
■ Inhale the aroma along the break. Fine chocolate smells like cocoa.
■ Taste a small piece at a time. Placed on the tongue, pressed against the roof of the mouth, it should begin to dissolve.
■ Chew and swallow. Enjoy the smooth feel. Good chocolate leaves no wax behind.
■ Appreciate the slightly fruity aftertaste.
■ Repeat to heart’s content.

As with other industries, politics and economics stack against the small farmers responsible for 90 percent of the world’s cocoa crop. Many times illiterate, without a truck, scale or phone of their own, they must depend on middlemen to determine price, weight, and how their crop gets to market. With traders and manufacturers typically claiming 92 to 94 percent of profits, Transfair USA estimates that most farmers earn just 1 cent for every candy bar we buy for 60 cents. Their annual income of $30 to $110 is insufficient to support a family. Pushing to maximize production, they struggle to survive by clearing forest and liberally using pesticides at great personal and planetary cost.

Thank goodness we’ve a solution at hand for this far-from-sweet situation. We can simply buy only chocolate that carries both “Fair Trade” and “Certified Organic” logos.

How Fair Trade Works

Since 2000, fair trade groups like TransFair USA have been working directly with cocoa farmers and local chocolate cooperatives, educating communities on sustainable agricultural practices, prohibiting child labor and paying growers a fair-market guaranteed price. They track each unit of product from local producers through importers, manufacturers and distributors.

For example, the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative in Ghana owns 33 percent of the Day Chocolate company, which produces Fair Trade Certified Divine Chocolate. These 35,000 farmers now earn at least 80 cents per pound of beans plus a share of retail sales profits. “Where other farmers get about $160 per metric ton of beans, fair-trade farmers selling through cooperatives typically are paid $225 to $300 per ton,” reports J. Ganes Consulting. The Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative has plowed profits back into the local community, supplying potable water, sanitation facilities and a new school.

Favorite Gourmet Chocolate Brands
Art Bars
IthacaFineChocolates.com
Dagoba Organic Chocolates
DagobaChocolate.com
Divine Bars
DivineChocolate.com
Ecco Bella
EccoBella.com
Equal Exchange
EqualExchange.com
Green & Black’s
GreenAndBlacks.com
Omanhene Cocoa Bean Co.
Omanhene.com
Rapunzel
Rapunzel.com
Shaman Chocolates
ShamanChocolates.comFor more, see FairTradeFederation.com

One source estimates that 50 people buying one bar of Fair Trade chocolate a week will help maintain an acre of lush native forest or jungle habitat. Such socially conscious consumers, though representing only one percent of sales, are applying their purchasing power to wake up giants like Nestle, Hershey Foods, Mars, Ghirardelli and Godiva, who are now aware of the need to curb industry abuses. “The bigger companies, such as Starbucks and Proctor & Gamble, feel obligated to make at least a token effort, which we regard as a huge success,” says Rodney North of Equal Exchange, the first firm to sponsor Fair Trade chocolate.

Best fair trade chocolate

A Fair Trade 70+ percent cocoa product costs about the same as designer chocolates, at $3 to $3.75 a bar. But oh, the rewards. A healthful one-inch square satisfies so completely that a single bar can last a week. That’s because its primary ingredient is cocoa, not refined sugar. Imagine the sales a high school band or charity candy drive could muster by sponsoring such a product.
Sources: www.CoopAmerica.org, www.Grist.org, www.USAToday.com, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, www.VegetarianTimes.com.

This article appears in the February 2007 issue of Natural Awakenings