“Fair Trade isn’t just about coffee and cacao, it’s about everything.”
– David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer, Dr. Bronner’s
Chocolate. From candy bars to cake to edible fountains, this beloved food translates to “food of the Gods” in Greek for good reason. Every year in the United States, people consume approximately 2.8 billion pounds (over 11 pounds per person!) of chocolate. It is undeniable that chocolate is one of our favorite foods, but how often do you think about the ethics and people who produced this delectable treat?
One reason for astronomical consumption of unethically-made chocolate comes down to price point. When deciding between a candy bar that costs less than a dollar and one more than twice as expensive with an unfamiliar certification on the wrapper, the choice might seem obvious. However, a low price tag comes with hidden consequences. Though you might not know it, conventional candy bars contribute to poverty, gender inequality, exploited labor, and deforestation. On the other hand, Fair Trade chocolate bars support ethical production and provide better livelihoods to the farmers who grow and harvest ingredients.
We hear a lot about the importance of voting with your dollar, but how much does each purchase actually matter? A lot! Every purchase has the potential to help create a more socially, economically, environmentally just planet. That’s why certifications like Fair Trade are so important, giving consumers a way to align purchases with their values. But what does “Fair Trade” actually mean? It’s more than fair payments for farmers; it’s a vision for an economy that prioritizes people and planet.
A product on the shelf offers little information in terms of ingredient origins, processes required to extract resources, or overall impact of production. When shopping in store or online, have you ever stopped to think about how a product was made, who made it, and under what conditions? If all of those stories were presented at the point of purchase, we would have a more complete understanding of origins, impact, cause and effect, and thus be better equipped to make informed choices. The mission of today’s partner, Fair World Project, is to educate and advocate for a just global economy where people are treated fairly and with dignity, the environment is respected and nourished, and commerce fosters sustainable livelihoods and communities in a global society based on cooperation and solidarity.
Behind chocolate, coffee, and many other conventionally made commodities are harsh conditions and exploited workers. The vast majority of cocoa farmers in West Africa, where the majority of the world’s cocoa is grown, live on less than $1 per day. Workers experience harsh conditions like extreme heat, physical burden, and exposure to dangerous pesticides when in the fields. A serious shift in demand for ethical products is vital for a just future.
A great burden perpetually falls upon people working in production globally, only worsened by the pandemic. Many lost their jobs or were denied fair wages. Others weren’t provided with adequate protective equipment to shield against both harmful pesticide exposure and the virus, which compounded health risks. The pandemic has exacerbated injustices behind an overwhelming amount of what we buy and made it abundantly clear that now is the time for better, more equitable production of the goods we rely on every single day.
Some Fair Trade labels also enforce a Fair Trade Minimum Price to ensure prices never dip too low. This is critical, as the prices of many crops are completely divorced from what it costs a farmer to grow them. The Fair Trade Premium is an additional sum paid on top of the minimum price that goes into a communal fund. Farmer organizations democratically decide how to use those funds to invest in their communities.
In addition to supporting the livelihoods of farmers and their communities, many Fair Trade standards steward the environment by encouraging farmers to improve soil and water quality, avoid harmful chemicals, manage waste responsibly, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect biodiversity — also recognizing how support of small-scale farmers has a positive impact on the planet. Environmental standards for Fair Trade include soil and water preservation and prohibit the use of GMOs.
Because you often can’t meet the people who make the products you buy, third-party certifications and Fair Trade labels help guide you to match your purchases with your values. Labels such as Fair for Life, Fairtrade International, World Fair Trade Organization, and Fair Trade Federation verify that a product is made following certain standards. While the specifics vary, all include provisions for fair and transparent prices for farmers, better wages for workers, and premiums to support sustainable production and community development.
Some companies follow these standards for just a few ingredients, while others embody the principles across all practices. The latter may be part of membership organizations like the Fair Trade Federation or World Fair Trade Organization. Companies like today’s partner, Dr. Bronner’s, have made powerful, proactive, proven commitments to support the organizing efforts of smallholder farmers around the world and build and expand fair supply chains. Rather than viewing production as a piecemeal operation, Dr. Bronner’s looks at systems holistically and asks how an item — from soap to coconut oil to chocolate and more — can be made and sold to benefit everyone involved.
Next time you reach for a bar of chocolate, bag of coffee, box of tea, bunch of bananas, bulk quinoa, or any of the ten of thousands of fair trade items available across all categories, take a moment to select one with a Fair Trade certification. Together, we can grow the Fair Trade market and sustainable practices to support humanity and our shared environment, one purchase at a time.
Chocolate is just one example of an item that has influenced this movement. Alongside a wide array of food and beverages, clothing, home goods, and art can also be Fair Trade certified. Fair Trade handicrafts support artisans by providing them with greater profit from their wares and a way to make a living. Exploitation is common for artisans, especially in countries dependent on tourism.
- Research one product (aside from chocolate!) to discover the differences between Fair Trade and conventional processes. For some ideas, start here.
- Research the product name and where most production occurs
- Research consequences of buying this product without a Fair Trade certification
- Research positive impacts of buying it with a Fair Trade certification
The goods you use, food you eat, and clothing you wear are almost always grown, produced, packaged, and transported by people you’ve never met in places you’ve never been — or perhaps even heard of. You may have a great relationship with your favorite coffee shop, but what about the farmers who harvest the beans?
It’s time to assess your own life and purchasing habits. Individual actions add up to massive collective impact, so let’s take a look at your potential for personal contribution to the Fair Trade movement in any number of forms.
- Watch this video from Fair World Project, which highlights the importance of supporting Fair Trade and mission-driven businesses.
- Browse Fair Trade Campaigns’ Myths and FAQs
- Research Fair Trade 101 Guide to gain better understanding.
- Get familiar with the many types of Fair Trade labels and how they rank, so you know what to keep an eye out for.
- Research Fair Trade versions of items you purchase regularly. This can be food, skincare, home goods, or anything else. Assemble a list, comparing each conventional product and Fair Trade equivalent. Note attributes like price difference, where the item was produced, and who produced the product.
As you have learned, conventional chocolate alone contributes to poverty, gender inequality, exploited labor, and deforestation. A more sustainable, ethical, readily available choice is Fair Trade chocolate… like the Magic All-One Chocolate bars we daydream about! Our choices as consumers can hold corporations accountable for their practices, while also uplifting the Fair Trade movement.
- First, listen to this podcast from Fair World Project to learn the truth behind the chocolate industry.
- Read about Dr. Bronner’s journey to ethical chocolate and watch this video to learn about the people, values, and story.
- See how YOU can apply these values to your own consumption
- Create a campaign where you can promote yourself to help people understand what it means to purchase Fair Trade chocolate, how it impacts people and planet, and why consumers should support such practices. It can be simply educating people before they buy, or giving people fair trade chocolate to encourage them to try it out!