One of the things that kept showing up on my radar when I started exploring the world of chocolate (and hot chocolate) was the phrase "Fair Trade Certified". One of the chocolate vendors' sites even had a short blurb on it about how fair trade certified chocolate ensured that small cacao farmers earned a fair price for their product. That was enough for me initially, but the more I saw the phrase and logo, the more I wanted to know the details behind them. So, I decided to do a little digging.
The first site that you should visit for more information on the "Fair Trade Certified" (FTC) mark is that of Transfair USA. Transfair USA is the only independent certifier of fair trade products in the US. What does that mean? Transfair USA works with importers and manufacturers in the US to audit their business practices, their supply chain, etc to ensure that fair trade practices are being used all the way from the producer (cacao farmers or farmer cooperatives) to the organizations involved in importing and distributing the ingredients and final product.
Benefits of Fair Trade Certification
The certification for fair trade covers social, economic and environmental aspects of the global supply chain:
- Farmers and farm cooperatives get a fair price for their product.
- Decent living and working conditions are mandated for workers
- Slave labor is not allowed on farms and organizations involved with fair trade. Also, child labor laws have to be followed
- There is no middleman -- the producer is directly connected to the importer or manufacturer.
- The farmers have better access to capital as well as credit when needed.
- Farms must use sustainable agricultural practices
How does this affect you?
Chocolate, in our society, is a luxury item. This is not a staple like cacao tended to be for the Mayans and the Aztecs. It is not an integral part of survival for us, nor is it, in any way, shape or form, a necessity (though some of you might dispute that). You are spending discretionary money to buy chocolate and cocoa. Also, chocolate is usually associated with celebrations and a sense of happiness and well-being (and there's a chemical reason for that, but that is another blog entry). Now, how does it feel to know that it is very likely that the cacao in your chocolate was farmed and gathered through slave labor or substandard working conditions? Puts a little damper on the celebrations? Great! So, modify your purchasing habits just a little and try and buy FTC chocolate when you can. Baby steps. Baby steps.
Now, some of you are very likely to be thinking that 1. I'm preachy, and 2. FTC chocolate is bound to be more expensive. Well, the former is intentional and the latter is not necessarily so. Take the case of hot chocolate for example. My favorite hot chocolate is Dagoba hot chocolate (actually, the Dagoba Xocolatl). It costs approximately $8.50 for a can of the mix. A can of Xocolatl has 12 servings. Hence my per serving cost is about $0.71. Now consider a box of the mix from Vosges Haut Chocolate. specifically, the Vosges Aztec Elixir. It comes in a box that contains approximately 11 servings and costs $22.00. that comes to $2 per serving. Dagoba chocolate is not only FTC but also organic, while the costlier Vosges does not claim to be either.
So, FTC cacao is not only good for the producers, but also goes down easier, and it's not necessarily more expensive! In addition, it's better for the environment.
If that doesn't convince you, you hard-hearted facsimile of a human being, consider the purely selfish motivation: Subsistence economics and non-sustainable agricultural practices are going to result in less cacao farmers and less cacao. This would mean less chocolate and more expensive chocolate in the future. And none of us want this, right?
Well, where are these fabled FTC chocolates?
Well, you can always look at my FTC & Organic Chocolate Vendor List, which is something I'm going to maintain. You can also try http://www.transfairusa.org and http://www.ccof.org for Fair Trade Certified and Organic Certified chocolate products respectively.
Same Bat Channel
This was only a superficial introduction to FTC products, but, in an upcoming blog entry, I'll try to talk more about the underlying criteria for such certification and who decides on the criteria.