Consumers today have become increasingly aware of how the food they eat is sourced, produced, and distributed. Consider your time at the grocery store. Have you ever found yourself asking questions like:
- Where did that apple come from?
- Was it grown with pesticides?
- Indoor or outdoor?
- What about that beef?
- Does it have artificial hormones?
Each of these considerations are commonplace in the daily lives of shoppers as they browse their way through local markets or online food distribution companies. But have you ever wondered where your chocolate is coming from? Is it grown and harvested sustainably? Does your purchase support the people who produced the product? These issues are exactly why fair trade chocolate is so important to cocoa suppliers and, in turn, consumers.
In The Industry
So what is fair trade chocolate? In a broad sense, fair trade chocolate is the practice of creating sustainable cocoa farming business practices by providing minimum price per product as well as fairtrade premiums to farmers in exchange for reinvestment into a sustainable community and environment.
Did you know that the cocoa industry struggles with poverty, deforestation, gender inequality, child labor, and forced labor? This is due to unregulated pay, unethical business practices, and unsustainable labor practices. The practice of fairtrade has stepped in to combat these glaring issues in the industry and directly contradict them! You might be wondering how these concerns can and have been addressed, as well as the overall advantages of fair trade chocolate. Don’t worry, we will break it down for you.
Fairtrade Minimum Price
First, how can fair trade make an impact on such a widespread, deep-rooted issue? It comes down to money flow. Let’s start with the product price from farmer to distributor.
When a cocoa farmer is not paid fairly for their product, they can’t afford to harvest it properly. Not only does this impact the labor force, but also the crop itself. Using manual labor tools such as machetes can damage the cocoa tree and cause infection in the plant. This frequently then leads to deforestation and even more lost profits and expenses for the farmers.
Another problem that is in direct correlation to how much the farmers are paid for their cocoa is the wages they are able to pay their labor force. When the farmer isn’t paid fairly, they simply can not afford to pay fair prices to their workers. Far too often, any profits made on the product have to go directly back into managing dying crops rather than keeping on a fairly-paid workforce.
Now we are seeing how this one unregulated price can impact the entire industry and lead to the issues discussed above. This is the first thing that fair trade addresses. Through strategic partnerships, cocoa farmers can sell to distributors through the fair trade system. In turn, they are guaranteed a “Fairtrade Minimum Price” per product regardless of market price fluctuations. In addition, organic farming comes with a higher minimum price to incentivize farmers to produce more sustainable, healthy products for consumers and the environment.
This one small change impacts farmers in a lot of big ways. They can increase operational costs due to higher profits. Farmers are able to afford more efficient and sustainable equipment for harvesting the cocoa. Employees are paid fair wages and, therefore, want to work in the industry, which then goes on to reduce unethical and unsustainable labor force practices. Farmers increase personal disposable income which helps drive the economy and businesses in the area. More disposable income for the farmers and their employees even goes a step further, to improve productivity which leads to a better harvest, continuing the cycle.
Already, you can see how fairtrade shows great promise in supporting not only the industry but also its people.
Now that farmers have the tools to maintain a profitable business with quality products and labor practices, how do they ensure sustainable, organic products that will not harm the environment? That’s where Fairtrade Premium comes in. By participating in fair trade, farmers are not only guaranteed fair pay, but also an investment into their sustainability. Separate from their product pay, farmers receive a premium that is meant to be invested into sustainable practices for their farm. This can be anything from operating expenses and crop care to community engagement and more.
By providing additional funding to these businesses with a designated purpose, the entire industry begins to make fair, healthy choices for their employees, consumers, and the environment. Beyond that, with more disposable income, farmers are more likely to invest personally in things like education, healthcare, and food which stimulates local economies.
In developing countries, fair trade is even more important due to the focus on climate change. Through the Fairtrade Climate Credit, farmers in developing countries are granted double Fairtrade Premium with a focus on climate change to assist in the additional set-up costs needed to implement sustainable, carbon-neutral business practices and operations that they would not otherwise have access to.
So what does that mean for you? Sustainable farming improves the quality of work for the farmers, laborers, and increases business quality. This means an overall better quality product for consumers. By buying fairtrade chocolate, consumers know exactly what they are eating, where it came from, and that it was produced ethically.
Bean To Bar
“Bean to Bar” is the practice of providing an ethical and qualitative approach to the whole production process between producer and consumer. So what does it mean to have fair trade chocolate from bean to bar? Doesn’t fair trade, by definition, mean the product as a whole is sustainable and fair? Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case. Fairtrade is determined on a business-to-business basis. This means that while the chocolate manufacturer uses fairtrade to source their cocoa beans, they may not use fair trade practices with suppliers who they get other products needed to create the end chocolate bar, which leads to a huge disconnect in the industry.
Companies that ensure fair trade policies through every step in the supply chain ensure that their products are 100% sustainable and ethical. Not only does this support ethical businesses partnering in the industry, but it also improves the overall quality of the product. How? It grants manufacturers full control over every step in the supply chain and the production process leading to the best quality ingredients, and as an end result, the best quality chocolate.
Cocoa trees can grow up to 10 meters high, however, they have short roots. This makes them susceptible to infection and damage that can impact fruit production. When farmers use rough harvesting practices, the quality of the product can suffer. Through fair trade practices, farmers are able to implement more strict harvesting practices that protect the fruit and the delectable beans housed within.
In order to harvest the fruit, farmers carefully remove each pod from the tops of the trees and transport them in baskets to be processed. From there, the pods are split open and the beans are harvested. Throughout this process, there are several ways that fair trade contributions allow farmers to increase sustainability and, therefore, productivity.
Many sustainable practices are considered before even getting to the harvest. To begin with, cocoa plants need proper amounts of shade. By strategically planting shade trees, farmers can naturally increase plant productivity, reduce their carbon footprint, and support the local ecosystem.
Funds from fair trade can also be used to improve materials used throughout the production process. For example, harvesting with machetes can damage trees, especially at the top where the pods are harvested. By investing in better harvesting materials, farmers improve the quality of their products as well as the quality of their fields overall.
Fertilizer is another important consideration for these farmers. By providing plants with the right amount of nutrients at the right stage of development, the product itself increases in quality of taste and quantity of production. What better way to fertilize a tree than with the meat of their own fruits? During the harvest process, farmers can choose to save every piece of the product harvested. Remember when we said that the beans are taken from the cocoa fruit? Well, what happens to the fruit itself? Sustainable farmers reuse the fruit pod in various ways throughout the farm such as alternative fuels and fertilizers.
Planting new crops is yet another sustainable practice that can help farmers ensure the safety of their crops as well as improvements to the environment. By cycling through harvesting fields, farmers can give their crops rest years to rejuvenate through their natural cycle which leads to improved production rates in the following years. In addition, seedlings can produce at higher rates than older, well-harvested crops.
In order to become a fairtrade company, farmers have to first ensure that they meet the criteria to qualify. Fairtrade is focused on improving all aspects of production from soil to air to labor to fuels used in shipping. This means that farmers have to begin with sustainable environmental practices if they want to reap the rewards of the fairtrade system.
But what does that really mean? It means that they have to prove that they are environmentally friendly and responsible through soil and water quality, pest management, harmful chemicals usage, waste management, greenhouse gas emission reduction, and biodiversity. This ensures that all fairtrade products are produced sustainably and with climate change and the environment in mind, regardless of where they invest their premiums. In turn, this practice is what allows farmers to use their premiums for whatever purpose they desire to best serve their individual business.
Key areas of investment that farmers focus on with fair trade funds include tree planting, irrigation, crop diversification, and clean energy. Each of these contributes to slowing climate change which benefits both farmers and consumers on a large scale.
We have already reviewed some of the surface-level advantages of fair trade chocolate, but wait, there’s more!
By streamlining the process of connecting farmers to producers through a fair system, companies have developed strategic partnerships throughout the industry that allows these businesses to source large quantities of sustainable cocoa. This increases benefits to farmers, production rates for manufacturers, and quality products to consumers.
In addition to benefiting growing supplier companies, fair trade from bean to bar has a focus on small businesses as well. For companies that are considered to have small operations, fair trade allows them to demand living wages from their sales to ensure consistent, sustainable production of cocoa from any company in the industry.
The local and international spending of fair trade organizations benefits not only the industry but communities associated with the industry. Contributions improve global hunger, poverty levels, education for children, working conditions, healthcare, and community safety.
Climate change is also greatly impacted by unsustainable farming practices through deforestation. Fairtrade is fighting deforestation by improving production practices across all industries. Partnerships between business and environmental groups have led to initiatives that map deforestation and provide fair trade solutions to improve the environmental impact of farming and create a more sustainable future.
By The Numbers
According to the Fair Trade International organization, the impact of fair trade is instrumental in the industry today producing the following results in 2019:
- Fairtrade cocoa grows across 1,372,820 hectares of land.
- 1,800,000 farmers across all industries worked in fair trade.
- €190.6 million contributed in fair trade premiums to the top seven fair trade products globally including cocoa.
- 1,822 fair trade production organizations operating in the world.
- 75% of fair trade premiums are used to contribute to world hunger and poverty.
- 87% of fair trade chocolate is sourced from Africa.
So, you’ve asked “what is fair trade chocolate?” and now better understand the practice and process. You know how it impacts farmers, climate change, labor forces, and the economy. At this point, you may be wondering how you can get involved. It’s really very simple - buy fairtrade chocolate. Really, that is all it takes for consumers to do their part to contribute to bettering the world of chocolate and, well, the world. It may sound cliche, but it is true. Every purchase counts and makes a significant difference to the world and the chocolate industry. When a consumer purchases just one fair trade product they are not only contributing money to the cause, they are standing up for a belief. A belief in social, economic, and environmental justice.
Fairtrade is here to stay and is making itself known in all areas of food production. When we say we offer fair trade chocolate from bean to bar, that is really what we mean.