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Fair Trade: Making an Ethical Choice

Editor Message: Fair Trade had grown since the article was originally written. Fairtrade products are now sold in 120 countries. Retail sales for fair-trade products reached €4.9B (US$6.4B), a 12% increase from 2010, which had a 27% increase from 2009. The UK was the biggest supporter, with sales of €1.5B (US$1.9B) followed by the US with sales of €1.0B (US$1.3B). [Source: Fairtrade International 2012 report]

Satisfying the sweet tooth of the American consumer's chocolate craving demands a price. In one year we devour 3.3 billion pounds of chocolate and spend $13 billion while doing it. In 2001 The International Labor Organization reported that cocoa growers on the Ivory Coast are participating in child slave labor in order to produce their cocoa yields. The Ivory Coast is responsible for 43% of the world's cocoa supply, and West Africa in general generates 67% of the total output of world cocoa.

The European Fair Trade Association reports that cocoa farmers get barely 5% of the profit from chocolate, where as the trading organizations and the chocolate industry rake in 70% of the profits. With world cocoa prices so low, farmers keep their own children out of school to help with the workload. To further reduce their labor costs, farmers can easily get involved with the trafficking of children. Since poverty is widespread in this region, families sell their children for $50-$100 to cocoa farmers hoping they will make some money on their own. Instead the children are forced into inhumane working conditions while earning virtually nothing.1

Can utilizing Fair Trade practices help create a viable solution to the poverty that pushes farmers into participating in child slave labor? Let's look at how the innovative approach of fair trade marketing can assist the small-scale cocoa operations and put the sweet taste back into our chocolate!

Background of Fairtrade

Max Havelaar launched fair trade in the late 1980's. Havelaar created the first Fairtrade consumer label with coffee from Mexico. Fair trade standards include: fair prices for farmers and decent working conditions for employees; direct trade, thereby bypassing the middle person; farmer has access to capital; promotes gender equity - women are paid for their work and empowered within their organizations; and fair trade promotes sustainable agricultural practices, including restrictions on the use of agrochemicals. Read in detail about these practices on the websites listed in the reference section.

Unlike free trade, fair trade is intended to provide fair exchanges with farmers and artisans. Fair trade offers farmers better lifestyles because producers are paid enough to have health care, education for their children and sustainable production methods.

From a humble beginning, today, fair trade has grown to 19 organizations worldwide, including Fairtrade Foundation that runs the international standard setting and monitoring body called the FLO or Fairtrade Labeling Organization International. These 19 members called National Initiatives offer a third-party guarantee that the fair trade products we consumers purchase are produced under FLO standards. TransFair USA, one of the nineteen members of FLO, is the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the USA.

Ninety percent of the cocoa is grown on family farms of 12 acres or less. Since cocoa continues to be an unstable commodity with swings in the price, implementing an equitable marketing system can stabilize the small farmer's situation.

Financing the Fair Trade System

According to the website even though still party financed externally, the majority of the costs are covered by the licensure fees charged by the National Initiatives for carrying the Fairtrade label.

In addition, higher retail prices for fair trade products contribute to the development of producer organizations.

A Fair Trade Cooperative in Action

CONACADO is a group of 9,000 small cocoa farmers. Earning the fair trade premium has made a difference in the members' lives. In addition, CONACADO provides members with technical assistance and training, interest-free loans, export assistance, and funding for development projects by applying for funds from international donors. See 'Produce Profiles' on

Fair Trade Certified Food Products

  • Coffee: Since the first fair trade coffee was labeled in 1989, the demand for it has grown even in the midst of a declining coffee market.

  • Tea: FLO International works with 61 FLO certified tea producers. Tea sources are found in Africa and Asia.

  • Rice: There are 10 certified FLO rice producers - half of them are organic sources of rice.

  • Fruit: FLO works with bananas, pineapple, avocado, mango, citrus fruit and deciduous fruit i.e. grapes, apples etc.

  • Juices: There are 21 juice producers. The juices are usually blended in Europe by importers.

  • Cocoa: Currently 11 producer organizations are certified with FLO International.

  • Honey & Sugar: Honey producers typically export their product by themselves. The sugar is either sold separately or used in other fair trade products.

  • Wine: FLO works with 6 wine producers.

How Can the Consumer Make a Difference?

  • Vote with your purchases. Buy fair trade products as often as possible - most supermarkets do offer them. If the market you shop at doesn't offer fair trade choices request the option. Inform yourself regarding supplier sources.

  • Search the IFAT (The International Fair Trade Association) website for registered fair trade organizations that sell food and other goods such as: furniture, jewelry, clothing and other home furnishing needs.

  • Celebrate World Fair Trade Day on the second Saturday of May. Visit the website for details:

  • Look for fair trade campaigns to support. See the IFAT web site below Participate in Fair Trade Towns. The movement began in the UK and is supported by the Fair Trade Foundation. See in the 'Get Involved' section for more information.

Fair Trade in the USA and Europe currently accounts for only .01% of all global trade. Even though this seems like a meager percentage, the fair trade movement is creating a momentum for new social and economic standards. Fair traders believe that if the big players would adopt this system of trade, which is based on respect for the worker and the environment, current conditions could be reversed. Because more of each dollar spent on a fair trade item returns to the farmer, the farmer is empowered.

The demand for the fair trade products can be increased to a new level by consumer demand. When we pay into a system that pays back, we contribute to conditions that decrease child labor and increase sustainability and equitability.

1. Africa: The Dark Side Of Chocolate, Kate McMahon,, October 28, 05.

By Camey Jenson


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