Good Chocolate

‘The only way to ensure that money is going into a farmer’s pocket is to buy directly from farmers.’

‘The only way to ensure that money is going into a farmer’s pocket is to buy directly from farmers.’ Illustration: Rita Liu/The Guardian

We have been avid readers on the topic of chocolate for almost as long as we have been sharing articles on this platform:

The sweet spot: is ethical and affordable chocolate possible?

It is possible to pay farmers a premium while selling single-origin chocolate at a cheaper price – but it means companies have to transform the way it’s made

Is it possible to make an ethical chocolate bar that’s also affordable? Tim McCollum, the founder of the bean-to-bar chocolate brand Beyond Good, says the answer is yes – but you have to transform the way it’s made. Continue reading

Organikos & Fair Trade

3720.jpg

Fairtrade tea producers in Malawi. Photograph: Chris Terry/Fairtrade

We are weeks away from launching two shops that will carry a dozen varieties of Organikos coffee, a fair trade selection among them. Fair trade coffee has been selling well to the people who visit Costa Rica and want to support its sustainable development. We will also offer an organic coffee, which sales data show to be approximately twice as popular as fair trade among these same visitors. We are committed to these two forms of certification for reasons that should be clear from the eight years and thousands of posts on this platform.

But we also believe that all our coffee selections should be chosen by us using ethical criteria, and that the people buying these coffees care more and more about these criteria precisely because those certification programs have had an impact. The Guardian on occasion publishes an article like this one by Samanth Subramanian, who has an eye for important puzzles, that challenges our assumptions in very useful ways:

Is fair trade finished?

Fairtrade changed the way we shop. But major companies have started to abandon it and set up their own in-house imitations – threatening the very idea of fair trade.

4928 (2).jpg

UK supermarket with Fairtrade bananas. Photograph: Sean Spencer/Alamy

It wasn’t very long ago that a banana was just a banana – just a curved, yellow fruit. All you knew, if you bought a bunch in 1986, was that they cost around 97p per kilo. You weren’t told if they were organic or pesticide-free. You didn’t know if they came from Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic. And you certainly weren’t invited to worry about the farmers who grew them – or if their children went to school, or whether their villages had clinics. You just picked up your bananas and walked to the next aisle for your coffee or tea or chocolate, none the wiser about where they came from either, or about the people who farmed them.

2880

Fairtrade cocoa farmers in Ghana, Africa. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

Back then, the countries that grew these commodities and many others were still known as the Third World, and the habit of not caring about their farming conditions was a legacy of their colonial past. For centuries, trade propelled the colonial project, and exploitation was its very purpose. The farmers of Asia, Africa and South America were forced to raise the crops that the empire’s companies wanted, to work the crops in abject conditions, and to part with them at ruinously low prices. In the last century, the empires melted away but the trade remained lopsided – with the imbalance now rationalised by the market, which deemed it “efficient” to pay farmers as little as possible. In the 1970s, a Ghanaian cocoa farmer often received less than 10 cents out of every dollar his beans earned on the commodities market; as a proportion of the retail price of a chocolate bar, his take was smaller still. Child labour was common. The chocolate companies prospered and their customers shopped well; the farmers stayed poor.

4724

Human tea bags protest outside Sainsbury’s AGM. Photograph: Andy Aitchison / Oxfam

Then, in the late 1980s, you began to hear more about these farmers, encountering their stories on television or in newspapers or even on the labels of the packages you bought. The reasons were manifold. Environmental awareness was on the rise. The prices of some commodities were crashing, placing agricultural incomes in even more acute peril than usual. There had already been small groups pushing for more equitable trade: “little do-good shops scattered in cities around Europe, selling products … bought at fair prices directly from small producers abroad”, as one pioneer described it. By the early 1990s, these disparate initiatives began to coalesce into a larger international struggle to radically reform our relationship with what we bought. Trade had long been unfair by design, but now there was a growing movement to make consumers care about that unfairness, and even to help rectify it. Continue reading

Are Certifications Doing Enough?

gettyimages-1036297224_custom-8e4a3818628f60728b6d922749c32445dba0fe0f-s1200-c85

Cocoa producers of the Yakasse-Attobrou Agricultural Cooperative gather cocoa pods in a certified Fair Trade-label cocoa plantation in Adzope, Ivory Coast. Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

Our friends who generally oppose regulations and other efforts to protect people and the environment, saying that these protections inhibit growth and innovation and often fail to achieve the protections they are supposed to create, may sometimes have a point. But from our perspective, they too often point in the wrong direction. Constant monitoring to evaluate the efficacy of these protections is a point we might agree on, assuming we are not ideologically driven on either side of this topic.  With every big step forward towards greater sustainability, it is important to pause and consider the impact. Among other things, we must ask whether we are doing enough:

Fair Trade Helps Farmers, But Not Their Hired Workers

It’s a disturbing question that haunts many shoppers with good intentions: What am I actually accomplishing by buying coffee or chocolate with the Fair Trade label? Does the extra money that I pay actually benefit the people who harvested those beans?

Researchers have been curious, too. They’ve found that, in fact, small farmers in Latin America and Africa do benefit from the minimum price that Fair Trade guarantees and the extra money it delivers to farmer cooperatives. Researchers have documented higher wages, greater participation in community decisions, and even greater gender equity. Continue reading

REMOC: Behind the Seams

This one was actually made by Ana's daughter Meli - it must be a family tradition!

I don’t know what I was expecting when Ana Teresa invited me to take a look at her studio. On the one hand, I’d seen the quality of the products on the shelves in REMOC, and thus knew that the craftswomen were not amateurs; but I also knew that many of them didn’t have high incomes or hours to invest in their business – one of the challenges of the trade, for them, is that they are making a living while maintaining a home for their families and fulfilling their duties as a wife and mother. So, despite knowing that the work they produce is ‘serious’, I was still impressed when Ana ushered me through a door I’d thought led to a garage, and I found myself in a real, fully equipped artisan’s workshop. Continue reading

A Model for Success: The Story of Amani Ya Juu

A friend of mine told me about a shop outside the center city of Nairobi that I had to check out. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a shop-a-holic, so I took a taxi over to Amani Ya Juu. To my delight, Amani Ya Juu is so much more than a store; it is a reconciliation project, a gathering center for marginalized woman, a place of hard work, and an entrepreneurial dream realized. Amani started in a garage with three eager refugee women, two from South Sudan and one from Mozambique. They used their stitching skills to develop a training program and a “fair trade” business. At Amani, fair trade means the women are paid not only a living wage, but enough to send their children to school, and provide for adequate housing and basic healthcare needs.  They also value local culture, traditions, and procure materials locally. Now fifteen years later, Amani Ya Juu exports to the US, staffs over seventy marginalized women, and  proves to be a self-sustaining and profitable project.

From the exterior, the shop looks like an adorable guest house with a quaint outdoor garden café to its right.  Upon stepping into the shop, I’m greeted by a woman in the back sewing a mushroom pattern on a canvas pillow. She welcomed me and asked if I’d like a tour of the production center. Continue reading