05.Fair trade and organic chocolate
Why choose fair trade chocolate?
As well as the health problems associated with conventional cocoa farming, workers are also subject to the vagaries of the international commodities markets and fluctuating prices of cocoa. Indentured or slave labour and child labour are also not uncommon.
Awareness of these conditions in developing countries is rapidly growing and fair trade-certified products are becoming more popular and readily available in supermarkets, health food stores and ethical products traders.
The aim of fair trade is to give farmers and workers in developing countries a fair go by paying the producers a fair price for their work. It involves a labelling system that guarantees that certain fair trading standards are met at every stage of production, and ensures that part of the profits generated from a price premium will go back to the farmers and their communities.
There are several certification schemes that have fair trade or social responsibility components, and all have different requirements — some more stringent than others. There are also companies, particularly small ones, that claim to operate according to fair trade principles, but don’t obtain certification because they say costs of infrastructure and auditing would create too great a financial burden on producers and consequently buyers.
Organic farming has social benefits too
- Fair trade chocolate is almost always organic, including all those in our test. However, organic chocolates, while not always certified fair trade, also tend to be grown in a way that benefits farmers and their communities.
- Small organic chocolate companies work closely with cocoa farmers. By investing their resources to ensure future yield requirements will be met, they’re providing something of a guarantee to communities that future yields will be purchased and at a certain price.
- Buyers pay a premium for organic cocoa. While per hectare yields are lower for organic growers, costs for pesticides and fertilisers may be lower.
- Growers benefit from better physical health due to reduced exposure to agricultural chemicals
- Sustainable farming methods and healthier ecosystems ensure the long-term viability of the enterprise and therefore earnings.
- Finally, many organic certifiers require that labour conditions are fair.
Pesticides in farming
A few years ago, campaigners in the UK called for a lindane-free Easter. Lindane is a carcinogenic pesticide which can also cause damage to the immune system and nervous system while causing hormone disruption, behavioural changes and birth defects. Until recently, it was widely used on cocoa plantations in West Africa, and tests on chocolate in the UK found traces of the chemical in most samples tested.
However, it’s worse for cocoa farmers, who are exposed to far greater amounts of poisonous pesticides when mixing and applying them. They also come into contact with them through accidental spills, inhaled spray drift and drips from drenched leaves, while ground run-off affects drinking water. Cocoa farmers aren’t always properly trained or equipped to use these chemicals safely, and many are illiterate and unable to read directions.
Apart from pesticides’ effects on people in and around plantations, many are also highly toxic to fish, amphibians and beneficial insects such as bees — its use impacts on the surrounding ecosystems and other agriculture.
Some farmers grow cocoa using organic farming methods, which eliminates the use of toxic synthetic pesticides. It also ensures the enterprise is sustainable in the long-term, thanks to improved soil fertility and prevention of erosion. At present less than 1% of world cocoa production is organic.
Reduced pesticide content mandated
A new EU regulation on pesticide use came into force on September 1 2008. The regulations set out the maximum permissible levels of pesticide residues in cocoa, and effectively bans the use of certain pesticides, including lindane, diuron, malathion and DDT, on cocoa plantations. These and several others on the list have long been banned or severely restricted for agricultural use in many developed countries, but are still used in developing countries.
Pesticides considered benign to chocolate consumers are still permitted, provided they meet the residue guidelines. That’s great for consumer confidence and given that much of the chocolate sold in Australia comes from cocoa beans processed in Europe, that covers us.
But some of those still permitted for use can be pretty nasty for cocoa farmers and the environment. And who is to say that the chemicals still approved for use won’t prove problematic in the long term? Many argue that the only safe option is to buy organic — for the sake of the farmers, if not yourself.