Have you ever wondered what our life would be like without chocolate? It is hard to imagine such a scenario when you consider how many of today’s products either consist of or contain the beloved food. For Ireland, this would mean an especially great deal. After all, according to Fairtrade figures, Irish people are the third-largest chocolate consumers in the World. Only surpassed by Austria and Switzerland, the average person in Ireland ate about 17 pounds of chocolate in 2017.
While chocolate is generally associated with feeling good, there is a side to it that speaks a different truth. The difficulties that many cocoa farmers have to face to produce our chocolate have been repeatedly called out over the last few decades. Hazardous working conditions, exploitation and oppression, a lack of health care and even child labour define the daily lives of thousands of workers and their families. Even though many people are aware of the problem, it often seems difficult to actually do something about it as an individual.
Fairtrade Fortnight, a campaign organised by the Fairtrade Foundation, aims to raise awareness of the conditions in which many people in developing countries work to produce our food. For two weeks each year, hundreds of individuals, companies, and groups across Ireland come together to tell others about farmers’ and workers’ stories. In doing so, they want to demonstrate the positive impact of Fairtrade and hope to encourage people to buy more goods made to Fairtrade standards. This year’s Fairtrade Fortnight’s focus is on – as you might have guessed – chocolate. Particular attention will be paid to the women farmers who supply companies with cocoa, seeing that women often make only little profit from the food they grow compared to men.
The campaign takes place from February 24th to March 8th and features a large number of guest speakers, such as Arjen Boekhold and Nicola Matthews from the Netherlands. Their chocolate company Tony’s Chocolonely pursues the mission to make chocolate completely slave-free and create fair conditions for all cocoa farmers. At the event’s opening night in Dublin, Boekhold spoke amongst other things about inequality in the chocolate industry, pointing out the power of the few multinational companies. “How can we talk about a fair economy or a free economy where you can negotiate prices? We have, one the one hand, two and a half million farmers and they have to negotiate with only two companies” Boekhold explained. The chocolate bar also has a unique design. Divided into parts of different sizes rather than even squares, the composition is meant to reflect the inequality between those who produce the chocolate and those who eventually profit from it. Boekhold stated his belief in Fairtrade saying, “I think Fairtrade is one of the few initiatives which really try to strengthen the position of farmers and make cooperatives work […] At this moment, around 6 to 7% of all cocoa worldwide is sold under Fairtrade terms. So that is a minority. But you see an impact, you see change.”
Allison Roberts, founder of the chocolate company Exploding Tree and one of the three bean-to-bar chocolate producers in Ireland, is a speaker at Fairtrade Fortnight as well. Located in Cork, her company handcrafts chocolate bars with 100% Fairtrade cocoa and coconut sugar bought directly from farming cooperatives like Kuapa Kokoo in Ghana. Running only a small company, Roberts says she feels freer to experiment with her chocolate and likes to create new flavours that don’t necessarily speak to the mainstream: Salt & Seaweed, Goats’ Milk, Dark Orange or 100% Cocoa are just some of them. And did you know that her company produces the only artisan milk chocolate bar made with Irish milk?
It’s encouraging to see that progress has already been made. According to Fairtrade International, cocoa was the fastest-growing Fairtrade product category in 2017 with revenue rising by 57% in volume, and growth still continuing in 2018. But what is it that makes Fairtrade products so special? Why are they different from others and how does the label work?
Fairtrade can be described as a trading partnership with the objective to promote greater justice in international trade. It serves as a certification scheme that ensures socially and economically fair production standards for goods from developing countries, such as chocolate, coffee, tea, cotton, fruits, sugar and also gold. Since these products are high in demand and consumed all around the world, a key mission is to make their production as sustainable as possible. International fair trade networks like Fairtrade International or World Fair Trade Organization have defined standards regarding workers’ rights, fair labour practices and environmental responsibility that organisations are required to follow in order to be labelled ‘Fairtrade’.
First of all, farmers and workers must be paid a minimum price for their products, which guarantees them a stable income. FLOCERT, the audit and certification body for Fairtrade standards, regularly checks that this is implemented. In such a way, workers are given a safety net as they are protected from exploitation and can use income to save money for the future. Fairtrade farmers and workers also receive the Fairtrade Premium, an additional sum of money that goes to a communal fund of their choice. This fund helps workers improve their social, economic or environmental conditions through investment in things like better infrastructure, their children’s education or drinking water supplies. Another important aspect of Fairtrade is sustainable production, which involves farms and plantations avoiding pesticides and fungicides since these often cause great damage to people, wildlife and natural resources. If it’s impossible to circumvent toxicants, their usage has to be reduced to a minimum and resources like soil and water need to be kept clean. Additionally, all employees who might get in contact with the substances are required to wear protective clothing. But that’s not everything that Fairtrade is invested in. Other important issues that are being dealt with include child labour, climate change and gender inequality.
All in all, buying Fairtrade chocolate may not be the solution to every problem in the trading industry but it’s a good place to start and it proves that it’s not hard to make a positive impact, even if it’s small. As one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, Ireland has the chance to go ahead and make sure that Fairtrade products will be even more widespread and consumed in the future.
Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash
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