Posts Tagged ‘Fair Trade chocolate’

Opinions were fast and furious last week reacting to Nestle’s decision to source their Kit Kat bars (sold in the UK and Ireland) from Fair Trade certified producers. Below, Nick Reid (Sales Department) adds his voice to the discussion.

On December 7th, Nestle SA, the world’s largest food company, announced it will convert their entire line of “four-fingered” Kit Kat bars in the UK and Ireland to Fair Trade-certified chocolate. The news was released with the support of the Fairtrade Foundation, the UK certifier of Fair Trade, and the Arch-Bishop of York. British Kits Kats (not to be confused with their American counterparts, which are licensed to Hershey’s) are the second best-selling chocolate bar in the UK, and will increase its Fair Trade chocolate sales by £43 million. The announcement has been viewed with skepticism due to Nestle’s corporate notoriety; including several lawsuits filed against the company as recently as 2007 accusing Nestle of allowing human rights abuses and child slavery/trafficking on cocoa plantations in West Africa.

My gut reaction to Nestle’s announcement on Monday was largely indignation and skepticism- Nestle being one of the least socially-responsible corporations in the world. Given that the International Labor Rights Forum voted Nestle in the Top 5 “5 Worst Companies for the Right to Associate” on their “Working for Scrooge 2008” list; the corporation’s commitment to empowering small farmers and building a just, alternative economic model seems laughable. I’m not alone; the news has caused quite a controversy, with many Fair Trade organizations and social activists lambasting the initiative and lining up in opposition… But, I find the foaming, rabid ideologue in me giving way to a more practical, worldly view; I have to say I’m not as critical as some.

I can’t say I share the optimism of the Fairtrade Foundation (the UK certifying agency, similar to Transfair in the US) who calls it “a huge step towards tipping the balance of trade in favour of disadvantaged cocoa producers.” (Fairtrade Foundation PR). The deal will affect a tiny percentage of the world’s cacao production; and just one of Nestle’s hundreds of products- “a tiny step…” might be more appropriate… But neither am I as pessimistic as Joe Turner, who wrote “A Black Day For Fair Trade“, on his civil society finance blog. Although I agree with almost everything he writes (and I recommend his article), I cannot disregard the positive impact the “conversion” will have for the 6,000 farmers of the Kavokiva Cooperative in Cote D’Ivoire, and I can’t imagine the Fairtrade seal on Kit Kat’s “devalues all those smaller (Fair Trade) brands…”

Henry Wallop summed it best in his article in the Telegraph when he wrote, “The announcement has been welcomed… helping the company to secure a public relations coup, after being dogged by bad publicity dating back to the late 1970s…” Nestle’s interest in Fair Trade is, clearly, a profit-driven marketing ploy. And I have no doubt they’re currently busting a union somewhere, squeezing whatever poor company provides Kit Kat’s “cream-filled wafers”, and cooking up some toxic ink to cut costs on Kit Kat packaging… Despite their motivation, Nestle embracing Fair Trade has the potential to impact millions of farmers and consumers for the better.

I will leave an analysis of all the ways this is ruining Fair Trade to Joe Turner, and I do encourage everyone to read his article. I would like to offer my own list;

6 Reasons (Even Though I’m Underwhelmed) This Isn’t All Bad.


  1. It’s not plantations. Unlike the majority of certified products, Fair Trade certification of cacao (and coffee) is only available to small-farmer cooperatives like Kavokiva or CONACADO (our primary supplier, a Dominican cooperative), not plantations or agri-business. Access to markets for small farmers has been at the core of the Fair Trade movement since the beginning; when farmers around the globe were forced to compete with colonial or neo-colonial plantations and commercial “firms” to export their products. Fair Trade provided much-needed business and stable prices to farmers when others (like Nestle) would not. That hasn’t changed.
  2. Who buys Kit Kats, anyway? Not to make light of this situation, but I think I’ve had, maybe, one Kit Kat in the past five years. I seriously doubt there are many Brits who have been settling for a Divine chocolate bar because of their commitment to Fair Trade, just waiting, impatiently for Kit Kits to finally get that certification. I think it more likely there are hundreds of thousands of people who regularly eat Kit Kats, that have either heard little or nothing about Fair Trade, but will continue to eat them regardless (the price of the bars will not change, according to Nestle, which does make me question the specifics of the deal). Who’s to say they won’t see the seal and be inspired to learn more. I seriously doubt the move will alienate many consumers- the committed ones will find “better” alternatives.
  3. A little confusion is not a bad thing/Fair Trade is not a panacea. One of the greatest challenges to fair traders has been the need to educate consumers. It has certainly been one of our primary concerns at Equal Exchange; this blog itself the product of our (one-person) “Education and Campaigns” department. If nothing else, inviting a notorious, morally-bankrupt, multinational corporation into the fold is sure to raise a few eyebrows. The fact is, Fair Trade is not the answer to all of the world’s problems, and all Fair Trade is not equal. If nothing else, this is further evidence for the need (and hopefully powerful motivation) for consumers to ask questions and make informed decisions about the products we all consume. The same can be said for the organic industry, where corporate agri-business is now deeply-entrenched; and the “Local” movement, which lacks a national standard or certification…
  4. Any certification is better than none. That’s a bold statement (I don’t always believe it myself), but, moving forward there is a standard to which we can hold Nestle, and a commitment to some degree of transparency. We may have some concerns about the certification and auditing processes, but compared to no standards and no auditing in the past, I have to assume this is a step in the right direction for a corporation like Nestle. It provides a baseline for the way Nestle works with some of its farmers.
  5. You can never go back. As Joe Turner points out, the commodity price for cacao is so high at the moment, that Nestle really won’t be paying much more… but one of the primary goals of Fair Trade is to provide stability to farmers (minimum price) separate from the commodity market. Of course, the cost of raw cacao could plummet and Nestle could decide it really isn’t worth certifying their four-fingered, British Kit Kats anymore, but it is significantly more difficult to greenwash that transition. I may believe getting certified is a marketing ploy, but it does require Nestle to use the language of social and economic justice… it’s hard to abandon that language with any dignity.
  6. Consumers can encourage forward momentum. It’s much easier for consumers to push Nestle to certify the rest of its lines- if Nestle really does believe in “Creating Shared Value” and “helping cacao farmers, their families and their communities”… why are just the Kit Kats in the UK Fair Trade-certified? Why not in the US? (American Kit Kats are actually a Hershey product) Why not all Nestle products? And it’s useful in encouraging other chocolate companies to make the same move, or better yet, out-do Nestle and raise the ante a little bit.


In the end, my greatest concern for the Fair Trade movement is that Nestle’s involvement (and lack of real commitment to change) will only further emphasize the perceived importance of “price” and “seals”, to the detriment of people and relationships. Fair Trade is about empowering people and communities, not “helping farmers” in a philanthropic or patriarchal sense. It’s about putting a face on the products we consume, connecting consumers to producers… and in doing so, building an alternative economic system that values people, solidarity and justice.

Nestle does not represent progressive change; the company will continue to do as little as possible just to become certified. While it may benefit from the work the movement has accomplished, what does Nestle understand about farmers, solidarity or justice? Regardless of what Nestle does or doesn’t do, this action won’t change what Equal Exchange has set out to accomplish, or the importance of our message. I have faith that true Fair Trade organizations will continue pushing the movement forward; telling the story, putting farmers first, and setting the bar even higher.

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One of the unique things about Equal Exchange is that the foundation of our work is based on relationships. It’s both how we do our work and why we do our work. The means and the ends, you could say.

Whitney Knight of Brattleboro Food Coop & Abel Fernandez of CONACADO

Whitney Knight of Brattleboro Food Coop & Abel Fernandez of CONACADO

Relationships with our farmer partners, for sure. But we also carry out our work in the U.S. through our relationships with a network of food co-ops, congregations, cafes, universities, investors, teachers, community activists, and so-on and so-on. Because we are a mission-based company – a hybrid really of non-profit, profit, and worker-owned co-operative – our partners, allies and other supporters also carry out much of the educational and promotional work we need to do if we are ever to see meaningful change. Our mission is both broad and deep and we couldn’t achieve our goals without this network of engaged, active and enthusiastic supporters.

Last evening, as I was flying back to Boston after Labor Day weekend, I began going through some emails and came across one from Pfeif, an Equal Exchange sales representatives who works with natural food stores in the mid-west. Pfeif was forwarding an article written by Tanja Hoagland, Editor of the Ozark Star, the Ozark Natural Food Cooperative’s monthly newsletter (page 7). The article, about the chocolate industry, the issue of child slavery that still exists on many cacao plantations and the difference that Fair Trade chocolate can make, really inspired me. It was not just that it was interesting, well-researched and well-written, but it made me appreciate yet again, how much of a movement we have created together with our partners… all of them.

I thought others following these issues might want to read Tanja’s article. My apologies, since it was published in May!

But that’s what happens when movements are created. We get our inspiration from our partners – the farmers we work with and the networks of allies in the U.S. who help us carry out the work. The movement grows and we don’t even know the half of what’s being done to inform, educate and grow awareness of these important issues. Hopefully, as all of our mutual efforts continue, we also deepen our learning, ask better questions, have greater impact, and continue to move our work forward.


Thanks Tanja for writing such a great article and spreading the word! And thanks to Pfeif, EE Sales Representative for the work she’s doing out there in the food co-op world.


Here’s to a greener and more just food system, democratic workplaces, and stronger connections between producers and activists!


You can learn more about Fair Trade chocolate on this blog and on our website. To read the Annual Report article, Modern Slavery and Cocoa Farms, that Tanja mentions, click here.  For more information about child slavery and the chocolate industry, go to the International Labor Organization’s website.  Learn about our reverse trick-or-treating campaign here.

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The following post was written by Dary Goodrich, Chocolate Products Manager


For years at Equal Exchange we’ve been trying to call attention to the problem of forced child labor in the chocolate industry (see “Modern Slavery on Cocoa Farms” Equal Exchange 2006 Annual Report, “Reverse Trick-or-Treating” Equal Exchange 2007 Annual Report, “V-Days Dark Side” Special 2008 Chocolate Issue of What’s Brewing). Even working in this industry and knowing quite a lot about this issue, it is difficult to conceive of the fact that child slave labor still exists in today’s world. For many of us, it is so far outside of the realm of possibility in our own lives that we can’t fathom its existence.

Sadly, an August 3rd press release from Interpol revealed just how alive and real forced child labor is on cacao farms in West Africa. On June 18th and 19th, Interpol ran the first operation of its kind to free children working illegally on cacao and palm farms in the Ivory Coast. 54 children were rescued and the press release describes the conditions in which the children were working:

“The children had been bought by plantation owners needing cheap labour to harvest the cocoa and palm plantations. They were discovered working under extreme conditions, forced to carry massive loads seriously jeopardizing their health.  Aged between 11 and 16, children told investigators they would regularly work 12 hours a day and receive no salary or education. Girls were usually purchased as house maids and would work a seven-day week all year round, often in addition to their duties in the plantations.”

How can this be acceptable? How can an industry that knows this exists continue to allow it to happen? Especially an industry that turns around and profits by selling cocoa and chocolate to children in Europe and North America.   The industry has been pressured since 2001 to tackle the issue and has repeatedly pledged to root out the problem.  First they promised to stomp out forced labor by 2005, and in 2005 they said it would take just two more years.  Yet here is proof that it has not only failed to curb child slavery, but, in fact, the press release states that there is an “increasing trend in child trafficking and exploitation in this south eastern part of Côte D’Ivoire.”

After years of foot dragging, many of the large chocolate companies have finally started working on “sustainable” sourcing practices that are meant to address the issue of the worst forms of child labor. However, this is planned to take years: the practices may not cover 100% of a companies’ products, nor in most cases will they address the root cause of the issue. The fact is that most of the proposed solutions do not discuss the need to increase prices to farmers and if farmers in this traditional system cannot make enough money to survive they are forced to find the cheapest labor possible, which in this case are innocent children.

We know that there are other ways of doing business; clearly the Fair Trade model which emphasizes higher prices, pre-harvest credit, environmental sustainability and direct relationships with small-scale farmer co-operatives, is a far more ethical and sustainable business model. People, not profits, are at the heart of our businesses and we know that makes a real difference.

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ee-choc-bars-wcase1At this morning’s staff meeting, we were told that Bethany from Ten Thousand Villages in Goshen, Indiana included the following poem with her weekly order:





Chocolate, O, chocolate

How do I love thee?

Let me count the ways…

In fondue, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, in espresso drinks, beside espresso drinks, melted in a lovely mole, infused with mint, orange, packed with almonds, dark, milk, big pieces, little pieces, melty pieces, and many, many more.

All except “white chocolate”, which of course isn’t chocolate at all. Ooo – and chocolate with crystallized ginger – that’s a new favorite. And last, but not least, chocolate ice cream, or, as my sister calls it, “ice cream” – because what’s the point, really, she says, if there’s no chocolate in it?


Thanks Bethany for adding this spark to our staff meeting… we couldn’t agree with you more!


And for those of you who don’t know Ten Thousand Villages, what are you waiting for?! They’ve been leaders in the Fair Trade movement since the close of World War II and allies of Equal Exchange since our founding. Last year, was the 15th anniversary since they began purchasing our coffee… I think the first coffee they bought was Café Salvador.  Lilla Woodham celebrated the occasion by accompanying them on one of their educational delegations to visit Las Colinas, one of our farmer partner co-operatives in El Salvador. (more…)

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The following article, by Rodney North, Public Relations Manager and Susan Sklar, Interfaith Program Manager, first appeared on April 2nd on the Jew and the Carrot blog.




On Passover every Jew is obligated to imagine that he or she had once been a slave in the land of Egypt. We try to envision the experience of our ancestors: the sadness of their lives under brutal day-to-day work conditions.  It’s unfortunate that in order for Jews (and others) to imagine slavery, we only need to look at slave labor conditions for cocoa workers in West Africa today, where 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown for the chocolate candy that many of us enjoy eating.  (more…)

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