Fair trade: buying by heart

Follow our city’s lead—look for the label

Sue Hilderbrand is director of the Chico Peace & Justice Center. She also teaches political science at Butte College and co-hosts The Point Is radio show at 9 a.m. Saturday mornings on KZFR/90.1 FM.

City ceremony
Mayor Ann Schwab will inaugurate Chico as a “Fair Trade Town” with a ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 14) at City Hall.

Valentine’s Day is the day we express our love for each other by giving, among other things, chocolate. It is, therefore, ironic that most of the cocoa beans needed to make chocolate products are harvested by children living under abhorrent conditions, thousands even living as slaves.

For example, 70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa—40 percent from the Ivory Coast. The U.S. State Department estimates that between 100,000 and 200,000 children in that country “work under the worst forms of child labor. More than 15,000 are estimated to be victims of human trafficking and enslavement.” These children are forced to live in squalor and beaten severely if they try to escape.

“Unforced” child labor is a misnomer since oftentimes these children work because their parents receive less than a living wage. Imagine, however, if parents were guaranteed a fair wage for a hard day’s work; their children could go to school, not to the field.

The major chocolate corporations are taking little responsibility for this situation, arguing that this is business and morality should be left at the door. These companies reap profits of more than $60 billion annually from a system using child labor.

With the United States being the largest consumer of chocolate in the world, it is within our power to put morality back into the industry by buying Fair Trade Certified chocolate (and many other products meeting certain standards). As described by the nonprofit organization TransFair USA, “Fair Trade certification enables consumers to vote for a better world with their dollars, simply by looking for the Fair Trade Certified label on the products they buy.”

So, what does the FTC label mean? It means that democratically organized farmer and producer groups receive a guaranteed minimum fair price. It guarantees fair labor conditions (freedom of association, safe working conditions). It guarantees products are purchased by direct trade with producers (which lowers costs by eliminating the “middleman"). A guarantee of environmental sustainability strictly prohibits harmful agrochemicals. The label also guarantees other common-sense requirements to ensure guilt-free purchases.

It is no coincidence that this Valentine’s Day marks Chico’s official designation as a “Fair Trade Town.” The Chico Fair Trade Town Coalition has worked for more than a year to satisfy various requirements. This designation means that Chico has enough local businesses (based on population) offering Fair Trade Certified products and enough conscientious consumers to support them right here in our community.

So, as you shop for your sweetie, please consider the producers in your purchases. Many local stores offer fair trade chocolates, flowers, coffee, etc. Just look for the label. Happy Valentine’s Day.