The Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer, providing about 43 percent of the world's cocoa. According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, there were about 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions in 2002. U.S. cocoa manufactures such as Hershey's have claimed that they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations because they do not own them.
If children are working on cocoa farms, this means that their families live in dire poverty. These children are working instead of going to school. Because they cannot be educated, the cycle of poverty in their families will continue.
This is an unsustainable life-cycle, trapping cocoa harvesters at the bottom of the ranks. However, this problem has been identified, and today there is an ongoing movement called "Fair Trade" to help solve it.
A Fair Trade certification on chocolate helps to ensure the consumer that the cocoa in his or her chocolate has been harvested by an of-age farmer who is typically a member of a small farming collective. This farmer receives basic rights, living wages and fair working hours. This means his children are not working in the fields and that he earns enough to send them to school.
Fair Trade-certified chocolate makes up only 1 percent of the $13 billion U.S. chocolate market. In addition to being the month of Halloween, October is also Fair Trade Month. This month, human rights organizations around the globe are promoting Fair Trade products to increase awareness of these human rights issues and to promote businesses that do the right thing.
As consumers in the First World, we need to realize that we can influence standard business practices. Our dollars support markets such as these, and we can use them wisely to vote for companies that practice human rights and sustainability.
What can you do?
As you may already know, certified Fair Trade chocolate is a tad bit more expensive than non-certified chocolate.
I know we are college students. Most of us would rather drop big bucks on a snazzy Halloween costume this month than on pounds of slave-free chocolate. However, as I mentioned earlier, you can vote with your dollar. This means you can choose when you buy Fair Trade.
In my apartment, we bake chocolate chip cookies every week and about half the time, we use Fair Trade semi-sweet chocolate chips. A bag of SunSpire Fair Trade Organic Chocolate Chips for baking runs about $5.50 in Ward's Supermarket or Mother Earth.
If you are craving a chocolate bar, Divine brand Fair Tradecertified chocolate is also sold at Ward's and Mother Earth. It runs about $4 a bar. My roommates really dig the white chocolate with strawberries flavor.
Chocolate is not the only thing that can be Fair Trade-certified. Coffee and tea are also popular items that have the same human rights issues attached to them.
I brew my own coffee in the morning and use Greenwise Publix organic, Fair Trade-certified coffee. This can be found in any Publix in Gainesville and runs at only $6 a bag.
Look for the Fair Trade logo (a half-black, half-white person outline holding a basket) on these products to ensure that they are Fair Trade.
Each time you purchase a Fair Trade product, you are supporting a business that does the right thing and a new blossoming movement toward making ethical businesses practices a standard. When you have a chocolate treat, try to go the extra mile to purchase Fair Trade.