Being aware of the realities of the chocolate industry and its sad use of child labor, I have sometimes found myself in an awkward position in the grocery store. Staring at the shelf holding the chocolate bars and cocoa powder my eyes have wandered back and forth from the fair trade chocolate and the regular brands. There is often a large price difference. I glance at my cart and mentally calculate the price of what I have already. Do I have enough money to buy the more expensive fair trade chocolate?
In this moment, I think about the child slave labor that too often happens at the chocolate plantations. I also know that some farmers don’t make enough to buy simple necessities for their families. Sometimes their children are out putting pesticides and other chemicals down on the farm without proper protective gear. Sometimes boys are held captive and not paid for backbreaking work and heartbreaking treatment. That, by the way, describes slavery. The state department estimates that 15,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been forced into slavery on cotton, coffee and chocolate plantations in recent years on the northern Ivory Coast.
I am just one consumer making one simple purchase. But while a single drop of rain may not water a desert, I would like to be part of a growing rainfall of concerned people trying to make better choices.
However, whenever you approach a topic like fair trade, you quickly realize the many different angles of the topic. Yet, the overarching principle of fair trade is simple, give a fair price to farmers. The chocolate industry makes a hefty profit. Fair trade tries to promote sharing some of that profit with the farmers. I can understand and appreciate that principle, even though the ins and outs of making that happen is often more complicated than at first glance.
For example, many experts do not necessarily promote boycotting companies, such as Hershey’s, which does not currently have good standards for buying slave-free chocolate. In fact, the company has been involved with labor abuse in the U.S.
But if enough people boycotted Hershey’s, it could have an even more devastating effect on poor farmers. Rather, we are encouraged to put pressure on companies to conform to better and fairer standards.
And of course, buying from and supporting companies who do sell fair trade chocolate is an excellent way to support slave-free, fairly priced chocolate. There is a lot of beautiful chocolate now available in the marketplace which is both fair trade and delicious.
For me, when I buy chocolate or cocoa powder, I generally try to buy a trusted, fair trade brand. I even cut back on our chocolate consumption so that I could buy the more expensive fair trade brands.
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