Sunday, February 1, 2009

Making Responsible Food Choices, Part Two (aka, 'Oh No, Cocoa?')

(originally posted at McFarland Designs' blog)

Yep, that's right. This second installment in my four-part series* focuses on our beloved chocolate. But wait - before you cover your eyes and run screaming from the computer - calm down. Sit, relax, and read. Don't worry, I'll show you how you can enjoy this delicious confection with a clear conscience.

* In case you missed it, you might want to read part one first.

Consumers in the United States alone spend $13 billion per year on chocolate, an understandable indulgence given its luscious flavor and its unique power to calm many of us in times of crisis. :-) But what are the hidden costs of our love affair with chocolate? Let's take a closer look.

70% of the world's cocoa is supplied by West Africa, a country where poverty is widespread and child slavery and labor abuses are rampant. A major contributing factor to these horrible problems are the low prices farm workers are paid by companies like M&M/Mars, the largest chocolate company in the world.

West African cocoa plantation laborers are paid between $30 and $108 per year; these astonishingly low wages, combined with the lack of human-rights standards enforced by the large chocolate companies, has resulted in a huge exploitation and abuse problem for the most vulnerable workers - the children.

According to the US State Department, there are currently 284,000 children in abusive child-labor conditions in West Africa. Thousands of these children have been trafficked into the area and live in slavery.

What can you do to help? Well, the answer is the same as for bananas; money talks, so be sure that your hard-earned dollars are only being spent on fair trade certified cocoa and chocolate products.

(made right here in lil' old Humboldt County)

"The key to Fair-Trade-Certified cocoa is that it is grown by small farmers, enabling them to build a better future for their families," says Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, Fair Trade Campaign Director of Global Exchange. "The Fair Trade system gives [workers] the pride and dignity of being independent, sustaining their own farms. This is a quantum leap from being a worker on a plantation."

According to TransFair USA, Fair Trade Certification assures that the following responsible, sustainable business practices are in place:
  • Fair wages
  • Better labor conditions (safer conditions, no enforced child labor)
  • Direct trade, eliminating exploitative middlemen
  • Democratic and transparent organizations
  • Community development
  • Environmental sustainability
Beyond reflecting your ideals through your dollars, there are lots of other ways to get involved, and with Valentine's Day quickly approaching, this is the perfect time of year to educate friends and family about the importance of fair trade chocolate. And while you're at it, why don't you make sure that chocolate you're eating and gifting is vegan? After all, cows don't deserve to be slaves either!

Once again, the information in this post came from the Jan-Feb '09 issue of VegNews magazine (see Food, Inc., beginning on page 40).

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