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Chocolate sellers aim to raise the bar

Ahead of World Chocolate Day (Saturday 7 July), Joe Osman told Philip Halcrow how fair trade company Traidcraft works with cocoa producers 

In Ivory Coast children have been traded to pick cocoa

AMONG the social media users who helped confect last year’s World Chocolate Day on 7 July was – alongside Jamie Oliver and Cookie Monster – the Office for National Statistics. Suggesting that people tend to celebrate cocoa beyond the annual hashtagged day, it tweeted that ‘households spend more on chocolate in a week than on tea and coffee combined’. But over recent decades some organisations and individuals have been trying to tackle unpalatable truths about money and what happens at various stages in the production of chocolate.

‘We rightly claim to have launched the first fair trade chocolate bar in the UK,’ says Joe Osman, sourcing director for Traidcraft, which develops and sells ethically traded food, drink, clothes and homeware from around the world. ‘The bar was conceived in the late 1980s but ended up here in 1991. Back in the Eighties we called what we were doing “alternative trade” rather than “fair trade”, but it was the same concept.’

Traidcraft was founded in 1979 by Richard Adams as a response to global economic problems. Joe says that Richard and the people he gathered round him were motivated by their Christian faith to tackle poverty and injustice.

‘Their aim was to work out a way of responding to the economic situation in developing countries where the cards were stacked against those who made or grew products. They saw that they needed to address the problem of traders and middle men. Primary producers did not have access to markets without trading through intermediaries.

‘Cocoa is a great example, and the same issues exist today. If you’re a cocoa producer, you can’t do much with a cocoa bean. Somebody has to make it into a product such as chocolate, so you may have to sell on your cocoa beans, and your options may be limited according to who has the ready cash or who is local.

‘In Ivory Coast cocoa beans are primarily grown on smallholder plots in remote areas.

Almost a whole industry has developed around the procurement of beans. The supply chain can be long and, when it is, the person at the beginning of the chain is the one who is most exploited.’

When a producer can sell their cocoa for a decent price, says Joe, it means they have an opportunity to succeed. ‘But what happens if you don’t sell at a price that allows you to develop your business, tend your plants, feed your family or pay for your kids to be educated?’

And he suggests that an inability to generate enough income may cause a farmer ‘to make choices that none of us like’.

He explains: ‘If you’re looking at the subject of chocolate, you come across the issues of child labour and modern slavery, which are prevalent in West Africa. It’s not a good situation, but it may partly be caused by unjust trading systems. If a producer can’t educate their children and can’t afford to pay someone else to pick and process their cocoa, they are going to use their children as underage workers. It may get worse than that – in Ivory Coast children have been traded to pick cocoa.

‘The big multinationals have tried to deal with the problem, but ultimately addressing it means paying more for cocoa beans.’

Joe says that multinationals have a great deal of control across the cocoa market.

‘At times, Traidcraft has tried to influence them to change the way trade happens. But it’s difficult, because their corporate strategy is about making money and satisfying shareholders. And sometimes ethical practices will make you less money.’

Traidcraft has looked for a different method of supporting producers.

‘The best way is to organise farmers into co-operatives,’ says Joe. ‘Together, they have more economic clout. They can employ their own management and combine their expertise so they can trade directly with us and similar organisations and reduce the length of the supply chain.

 ‘All the cocoa we use is through the Fairtrade certification system, which means farmers receive a minimum price and a Fairtrade premium.’

Joe has seen the difference fair trade can make. On a visit to Ghana he witnessed improvements to the infrastructure, such as the installation of street lighting and the building of a bridge to make it easier for people to travel.

He also reports that producers in Bolivia have been able to develop their own chocolate brands, which they sell locally.

Traidcraft sells not only chocolate packaged under its own name but also a specially developed Eat Your Hat range and products by Divine, which is jointly owned by a UK company and a co-operative of farmers in Ghana.

‘At Traidcraft, we are still using some of the producers that we used when we launched our first bar,’ says Joe. ‘And we are still rooted in the Christian tradition of seeking fairness for producers.’

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