elizabethfriend.jpgFair Trade Chocolate:
More Than a Tasty Novelty
By: Elizabeth Friend, Contributing Writer

Weaver Street Market has recently added some great new chocolate bars to our shelves, so it seemed like a good time to revisit the concept of Fair Trade chocolate and examine how something as small as a candy bar can make such a difference in the day-to-day lives of cocoa growers. More than a tasty novelty, Fair Trade chocolate represents social and economic progress in an industry traditionally marked by poverty, deprivation and inhuman working conditions. We are proud to add Alter Eco Chocolate to our ever-expanding line of fair-traded products that combine good taste with good sense. Alter Eco Organic Dark Velvet Chocolate blends rich cocoa with a touch of milk for a mellifluous melody of chocolate, while the Alter Eco Milk Moka Chocolate combines smooth milk chocolate and South American coffee beans (also fairly traded) to create a complex and sophisticated flavor.

Why is Fair Trade so important? Put simply, Fair Trade is about ensuring that farmers are paid a reasonable price for their cocoa beans. Prior to the introduction of Fair Trade practices, farmers wanting to sell their crops were at the mercy of brokers and middlemen. Because the farmers had no way to negotiate with chocolate companies for a fair price, these middlemen would arbitrarily drive the price of cocoa beans down, then turn around and sell the beans to chocolate makers at a substantial profit. Unfortunately, none of this profit ever reached the farmers or their communities. Sometimes the price was too low to recoup the cost of growing the crop in the first place.

Fair Trade is different. It cuts out the brokers and middlemen, helping farmers export their crops directly to the chocolate producers. Gone is the economic disparity between bean growers and chocolate makers, the secret price gouging, and the tacit approval of unscrupulous practices like child and slave labor.  Instead, the process is transparent: you can trace the path from bean to bar.

Fair Trade buyers work with cooperatively run farms to guarantee a yearly yield of high-quality cocoa beans that are used to make some of the best chocolate available. Chocolate makers promise to pay farmers enough money per pound to support the cost of production, regardless of the global market. Often, buyers pay a premium for organic, shade-grown or specialty beans. In exchange, growers agree to international monitoring by independent organizations to ensure that no child or slave labor is utilized, and that farming practices are ecologically sound and sustainable.

Unlike traditional chocolate, where the link between grower and consumer is uncertain, the positive impact of Fair Trade on farming communities is clear. On each Alter Eco label the cocoa-producing cooperative is listed by name, so you can identify the origin of the chocolate. Alter Eco Organic Dark Velvet Chocolate is made using cocoa from the El Ceibo Cooperative, a conglomeration of 800 producers in the Bolivian Amazon who work to promote organic farming while ensuring educational opportunities and ample health care for the area’s 16,600 residents. Alter Eco Milk Moka Chocolate comes from the Kuaka Kokoo Cooperative in Ghana. Established in 1993, this co-op has 49,000 members. Fair Trade pricing has helped build four local schools, found a credit union, and provide new scales and machinery that allow the co-op to be self-sufficient.

It may seem like a small thing, but purchasing Fair Trade products is one of the easiest ways you can help build thriving sustainable communities all around the world.

Regardless of whether you’re buying it for its decadent flavor or its remarkable social rewards, it’s hard to resist the charms of Fair Trade chocolate.