Imagine this scenario: you’re looking through a magazine at the Doctor’s office one day and you see this ad –
And it makes you think, “Isn‘t that interesting… I know Ben and Jerry’s was bought by Unilever and ever since I’ve stopped buying their ice cream, but if they’re using Fair Trade ingredients maybe I will pick-up some on my way home – this decision makes me feel better about buying this delicious product again.”
If you identify with this thought process you might think of yourself as a socially conscious and ethical consumer. You wouldn’t be wrong to think this but you probably haven’t heard the intricacies of the Fair Trade debate or of any other alternatives to this often idealized one-stop solution.
Let’s start by digging deeper into the public relations information promoted by the Fair Trade Certified™ organization reflected in the Ben & Jerry’s advertisement.
To see how companies market their products as having a value added benefit to farmers, producers and consumers using these standards, check out this article on What is Fair Trade by Cocoa Couriers a specialty chocolate website that sells a variety of Fair Trade Chocolate from around the world.
But there are some draw backs to Fair Trade as Maricel Presilla explains: “the Fair Trade Federation price system is meant to ensure just compensation to cacao farmers in developing nations, but it doesn’t guarantee substantially higher income for any individual farmer… organic or Fair Trade cacao can be mediocre (or worse) in quality. Moreover, the certification programs involved in such campaigns introduce layers of bureaucracy between grower and consumer that can cut into a farm’s profits.”1
To delve deeper into the underside of Fair Trade, take a look at this Introduction of Ndongo Sylla’s The Fair Trade Scandal. In her book she explores the very messy world of International Trade Regulations by WTO, effects of neoliberal globalization, and the history of Fair Trade and its relations to new buzz words like sustainable. Here Sylla examines the business of poverty and how it relates to advertising:
“Fair Trade nevertheless seeks to change the world by extending the empire of commodities further. How can it do so? Poverty itself has become a commodity. Poverty is being labelled. Through this label, it is the idea and the approach that are being sold. The label gives poverty a visibility it did not have before. It gives it an identity. A seal is applied on commodities produced by the poor – in fact by a minority among the poor – so that consumers of the North can distinguish between the ‘Fair’ approach and others. In theory, this label guarantees that the higher price paid will be put to good use and benefit impoverished workers. But Fair Trade needs advertising in order to attract clients, as all sellers do. Marketing and awareness campaigns are necessary to promote its cause.”2
After reading, you might feel more educated on the subtleties regarding why Fair Trade was created and what issues it faces, while also feeling more confused than ever. So what’s the alternative, isn’t buying a Fair Trade product the lesser evil? Yes, and no: increasingly some companies and growers are realizing the pitfalls of Fair Trade certifications and addressing them with new trade models. Companies like Taza Chocolate are using the terminology ‘bean-to-bar’ and ‘Direct Trade’ to label these decisions. Here is what Taza has to say about their Direct Trade Certified Cacao:
Direct Trade Certified
Taza makes stone ground chocolate that is seriously good and fair for all. From farm to factory, we do things differently. We do things better. We are chocolate pioneers.
It starts with Taza Direct Trade. We said no to predatory middlemen and abusive labor practices. We created the chocolate industry’s first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program, to ensure quality and transparency for all. We have real, face-to-face relationships with growers who respect the environment and fair labor practices. They provide us with the best organic cacao, and we pay them prices significantly higher than Fair Trade. In fact, you can
see exactly what we pay them, in our groundbreaking Annual Cacao
Sourcing Transparency Reports.
Taza Direct Trade means more money for farmers, the best cacao for us, and seriously good chocolate for you.3
With this information about Direct Trade initiatives in mind, why don’t we see more advertisements that invite consumers to learn about this alternate business model and support companies that are implementing better trade practices and providing higher quality products? Would this advertisement catch your eye?
Did this advertisement I created make you think more than the Ben & Jerry’s ad regarding what you can do to educate yourself about direct trade models and get you interested in Askinoise, a company that the growers are advocating for?
If so, you might also consider:
- What are the benefits of having direct relations with the growers of my food?
- How can I support companies like Taza, Choba Choba and Askinosie who partner with and compensate their growers with ‘a stake in the outcome™‘ of their product?
- How can I go beyond advertisements and learn more about the products I buy and the impact of their claims?
By asking questions like these you have the power to unlock real change in the cacao supply chain and other commodities by supporting companies with solutions to: Tariff barriers, global indexing of the global North vs the global South perpetuated with unethical and disastrous results that feed binaries of exploiter/exploited and do little to change the economic models that feed this inequality.
To Askinosie Chocolate, answers to these issues looks like these reasons for Direct Trade from their website:
Because you get better chocolate
Because it’s better Farmernomics
Because we all get better communities
So, why do we practice Direct Trade? Very few chocolate makers do, after all, and almost none go to the lengths we do to be involved every step of the way. It’s certainly not cheaper, easier or simpler, and it definitely doesn’t carry less financial risk for us. We practice Direct Trade because we think it’s the right way and the best way.4
Choba Choba, another company moving beyond Fair Trade shares this video that explains how they have imagined change in the supply chain:
Additional Resources for Further Understanding Chocolate Trade Solutions:
- Yes! Magazine article, What’s Fairer than Fair Trade? Try Direct Trade With Cocoa Farmers
- NPR The Salt article, Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Makers Dare To Bare How It’s Done
- CocoaBarometer 2015 report and recommendations offered therein.
- NYT article, A Taste Test of Chocolate Bars Made From Scratch
Try some Direct Trade and Bean-to-Bar chocolate!
1 Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate. pp. 133.
2 Sylla, Ndongo Samba. “The Fair Trade Scandal.” Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich (Pluto (2014).