The Need For Fair Trade Certified Chocolate: A Brief History

Guest Blogger: Christopher Angell of Angell Organic Candy Bars, San Diego, CA

10/06/2011 - 4:42 PM

Guest blogger Christopher Angell, of Angell Organic Candy Bars, shares his research about the chocolate industry and explains why purchasing products made with Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate is so important for farmers, consumers and the earth.

When I'm in stores doing demos or at events where interacting with customers, people often remark on all of the seals and logos on our packaging and literature.  And it's true, when you compare food packaging today with that of 10 years ago there's a noticeable proliferation of product claims and third-party certifications. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need these certifications because we would be able to count on companies to be transparent about their sourcing and manufacturing processes, and trust them to make responsible decisions. In a perfect world, governments would apply consistent regulations to protect our natural resources, and would work to protect the human rights of the workers and farmers who harvest these resources.  Sadly, as we have learned in our research on the history of the chocolate industry, both governments and the industry have disappointing records in these regards.

There have been labor issues on cocoa farms for as long as chocolate has existed in Western culture, including everything from coercive employment arrangements and dangerous working conditions, to outright slavery and child trafficking.  Periodically, a particularly zealous journalist or activist will succeed in bringing these issues to the public eye with enough momentum that the large chocolate companies are forced to respond.  Unfortunately, their responses tend to do more for their public image than they do to address the underlying problems.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, the English press began publishing articles exposing slavery on the cocoa farms which supplied the bulk of the country's chocolate manufacturers.  Ultimately, this led most of those manufacturers to boycott the farms specifically referenced in the media, (though it took over 2 decades for them to do so).

In 2001, a series of articles were published in the United States by Sudarsan Raghavan, Sumana Chaterjee, and the Knight Ridder news agency. They included numerous interviews with victims of child trafficking, that again brought the issue of forced labor in cocoa production to the public’s attention.

Horrified  by what he read, United States Congressman Eliot Engel decided to take on the issue. He eventually joined forces with Senator Tom Harkin to enact a “slave-free” label for chocolate modeled after the “dolphin safe” tuna campaign, which had been successfully implemented not long before.  Despite the fact that the United States has had laws against importing goods produced using slave labor, there was resistance to the proposal by the cocoa industry.  With the help of high-powered lobbyists (including Bob Dole), the mandatory labeling proposal was watered down to a voluntary system. Under this sytem chocolate producers pledged that by July 1, 2005, they would use “credible, mutually-acceptable, voluntary, industry-wide standards of public certification consistent with applicable federal law, that ensure cocoa beans and their derivative products have been produced without the worst forms of child labor.”  Over 6 years after that deadline, little, if any progress has been made.

It is widely agreed that the simplest solution to the labor problems in the cocoa industry is to ensure that farmers make enough money to pay their workers a decent wage.  Cocoa farming is hard work, and most farmers can barely make ends meet.  Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa comes from farms where workers are paid a price for their crop that allows them to pay their workers fairly, and ensures that children in those communities are able to go to school.  Inspections make sure that there is no forced labor on these farms. 

For further info, read the Fair Trade USA blog - Fair Trade Response to Slavery.


Christopher Angell is the co-founder of Angell Organic Candy Bars in San Diego, California. Angell Organic Candy Bars draw on the rich tradition of American candy bars, while carefully examining every step of production with an eye towards implementing more ethical, responsible practices. Designed to be a candy bar without compromise,  Angell Bars are made using the highest quality, certified organic ingredients and premium organic and Fair Trade chocolates.  

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10/06/2011 - 4:42 PM
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