Transparency and Fair Trade

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Forced labor, and the associated corrupt abuse of capitalist colonialism, has been an enduring issue for the cocoa industry since the chocolate has been consumed by European masses, and while the lucid facts of that reality might not be apparent or appreciated by the vast majority of consumers, there are companies that endeavor to advocate change in their practices and  their commercial structuring so their profits are equally and fairly distributed to farmers and those who have been historically disenfranchised by the industry. However, advertisements, like the one above, do a disservice to the community as a whole by cashing in on some cheap “wholistic” or “healthy” image without educating the consumer or elucidating the true benefit of their product in their marketing material. Who is being benefited by the hypothetical sale of the chocolate, what is the true context of the product’s mission, or just how would this product make a tangible difference to the farmers? Vague marketing initiatives that don’t elucidate or clearly delineate the intent, or motivation, of Fair Trade do little to effectively communicate the ideological underpinnings of what needs to be communicated to the masses if a true difference is going to be made. This vague variety of advertisement is even worse than the kind that banks on some kind of guilt, guilt without facts, that essentially builds the consumer up like their sale makes them a savior of some kind.
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However, even this type of advertisement for Fair Trade rarely brings clarity on the inner workings, or at the very least the true, lasting benefits, of the industry being supported. Now, obviously, in this kind of graphic image, there is only so much that can be done, but that makes it even more essential to focus on the right thing if an advertisement is limited to certain 2 dimensional, single frame limitations. Rather than focusing on the aesthetic experience of the food, or giving some kind of vague “it’s a green label, so it’s better” product messaging, it is better to show where the product comes from and show, tangibly how the product will help to its part to fix a broken system. Yet it is important to not give the consumer false consumer empowerment by focusing on a vague, “you’ve saved this person’s life” kind of message, because that type of embedded marketing focus perpetuates a obfuscation of the reality of how products are produced and where exactly cons

umer money is being allocated. Again, this can be difficult to communicate in a graphical advertisement, but it is always essential to know what not to do if one is going to positively make a better effort.

The illusion of transparency is another danger is Free Trade marketing material and companies that seek to associate themselves with free trade movements. For example, under Fair Trade USA’s current labeling system, and this is especially a danger for milk chocolate brands, these companies can use the Fair Trade Certification logo while only having to utilize ingredients that will give the Certification which is only a percentage — “32%” (1) for most milk chocolate —

of the whole product. According to, “a brand that buys cheap sugar through an exploitative supply chain… will get to use the same fair trade seal as brands like Equal Exchange and Alter Eco who use 70-100% fair trade ingredients”. This proves that merely showing the Fair Trade certification logo on a product does not often represent the whole, accurate story — and it actively can be considered false advertising. The majority of individuals who would care to buy Free Trade Certified products, at least from an ideological perspective, would be appalled to know that money from their sale is directed to support potentially dangerous industries that could contain child-labour and colonialist oppression.

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This hypothetical ad that I’ve conjured up shows the true background of where the product comes from without compromising or focusing on the wrong ideas. Its prime attributes are that its single focus is to show, transparently the journey of the funds and what they actually go to, rather than some vague picture of some man or woman eating chocolate, or some destitute farmer.

(1) Lawson, Cathy. “Fair Trade USA New Labeling Policy for Multi-Ingredient Products Is Harmful to the Fair Trade Movement.” Accessed April 09, 2016.


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