Valentine's chocolates bittersweet for cocoa farmers
February 7, 2007
Before you buy that heart-shaped box of chocolates this Valentine's Day, consider where they came from.
The origin of most of the chocolate candy we consume is in West Africa. There, many small family farmers raise and harvest cocoa beans and reap a barebones living selling to middlemen and their corporate customers who profit richly. Child labor is also common despite some efforts to ban the practice.
Indulging in luscious chocolates doesn't have to be a guilty pleasure, though -- unless you're counting calories. This year, you can buy Fair Trade Certified chocolates that were made by companies that support fair profits, fair treatment and farmer cooperatives in West Africa and other nations where cocoa beans are grown. You can have your candy and eat it, too, while promoting a more just and equitable system of cocoa farming and production.
"When people think of fair trade, they think of coffee, but fair trade chocolate is growing," says Nichole Chettero of TransFair, a U.S.-based organization that certifies goods as being produced or grown under the basic principles of fair trade.
For cocoa products, that means farmers receive a guaranteed fair price for their harvest, even when the crop may be poor. That's set at $1,600 per metric ton of cocoa beans, which includes a $150 premium that stays with the cooperatives while the balance goes to farmers.
Fair trade policies link farmer-owned cooperatives directly to bean buyers, cutting out the middlemen. And they provide access to affordable credit. Fair Trade Certified chocolate also means that no child labor or unfair labor practices went into producing the cocoa.
While fair trade cocoa products are still a tiny fraction of all cocoa and chocolate imported into the country, they were up by 110 percent in 2006 over the previous year. And close to 90 percent of those fair trade imports were certified organic, as well, says Chettero.
Lutheran World Relief, a Baltimore development group, is banking on the growing popularity of Fair Trade Certified chocolates. It just became an investor in Divine Chocolate, a for-profit company that uses only fair trade cocoa beans from farmers of the 47,000-member cocoa cooperative, Kuapa Kokoo, in Ghana.
"Our hope is to set an example of what ethical business can look like, and let consumers know it doesn't have to be cutthroat and profit-driven -- not at the expense of farmers in Ghana," says Kattie Somerfeld, Lutheran World Relief's fair trade coordinator.
For Valentine's Day, the organization is promoting special Divine Chocolate gift boxes and baskets.
Global Exchange, another purveyor of Fair Trade Certified products, has a "Cupid Loves Fair Trade Chocolate" campaign that offers gourmet chocolates for those with a taste for social responsibility.
Now what could be a sweeter way to say "I love you"?
Annette Fuentes is an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University graduate school of journalism. She frequently writes on education and health care. She can be reached at email@example.com.