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Fair Trade Chocolate from Bean to Bar

Thanks to fair trade regulations, children and villages that are part of the cocao industry benefit from a sweeter deal.

Following Fair Trade: Even the most locally minded eaters tend to consume some foods and beverages that only grow in distant regions—usually the hot and tropical ones—and many of those areas are also home to some of the world’s poorest populations. To ensure people at the origin of global supply chains receive just treatment, adequate pay, and access to health, education and a good quality of life, the Fair Trade standard was created. Fair Trade regulations often have positive environmental consequences, but at the root protects people—facilitating farming practices and trade relationships that empower farmers and their communities.

Raw cocao beans

After coffee, chocolate is likely the product most responsible for raising awareness of fair trade. With bars from companies like Green & Blacks, which is now owned by Kraft Foods, appearing almost as ubiquitously as an average Snickers, the fair trade label is a common sight at the checkout counter.


Most cacao found in chocolate products is grown in West Africa and Latin America. As with coffee, cacao is a product that requires several steps of processing before it is ready for consumption and sale—it must be dried, fermented, and almost always mixed with sweeteners and other ingredients. Some small scale cacao farmers conduct these processes themselves, but most sell their raw beans to the next link in the chain.

Child labor is a fairly common issue in the cacao industry, and fair trade regulations focus significant attention on supporting the need to teach children how to farm, while ensuring there’s no forced or dangerous labor, and that kids are still getting access to adequate school education, including safe transportation to and from school, and the books and uniforms they require.


In West Africa, cacao often holds a high market value but independent, small-scale farmers struggle to get a fair price for their raw product, and even face physical dangers when transporting their beans to processors. Having a cooperative that can protect and support the farmers is key to promoting fairness all the way to the beginning of the supply chain. Cooperatives often organize crop pickups, taking a truck from farm to farm and sparing growers the risk of being harmed or cheated.

Only licensed buyers can purchase cacoa from the farmer cooperatives. At the point of sale, fair trade standards stipulate that an elected recorder, who is also a farmer, be present to weigh the product and make sure the grower gets paid immediately, not issued an IOU or told to come back for payment, as frequently happens in the conventional system. The farmer must be paid a fair trade floor price or the market price, whichever is higher at the time of sale.

The cooperative also facilitates decisions around how fair trade premiums are spent. In West Africa, premiums sometimes go toward village improvements like a nearby water well, which allows young girls to attend school, instead of spending the day gathering water.

While fair trade chocolate makes up a tiny portion of the total chocolate market, it has found a niche with specialty and boutique chocolate makers. With the numerous mission-driven, socially-minded entrepreneurs digging into the cacao business, there are dozens of companies working to produce all kinds of organic, fair trade chocolate.

This post is in partnership with Ben & Jerry's

Image 1 from Fair Trade USA

Image 2 (cc) from Flickr user John Loo

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