Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Fair Trade chocolate supports justice for farmers, workers world-wide

by Pam Vail, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 13, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

MacKenzie (right) is one of the cheerful tour guides at Theo Chocolate in Seattle. (IR photo courtesy of Pam Vail)

Chocolate. For some, an intense craving; for others, a guilty pleasure.

Sadly, there is a bitter side to the delightful sensation of a bite of chocolate. For many who work in the cocoa agricultural industry, this sweet indulgence is the source of suffering, hard labor and extreme poverty.

Today’s chocolate is produced from the seeds (referred to as beans) of the cacao tree. The cacao tree is very particular about rainfall and temperature and only grows in a limited band of rainforest just north or south of the equator, in some of the poorest areas of the world. The cocoa pods must be harvested by hand with machetes and each pod produces about 40 beans – enough to make a half-dozen or so chocolate bars.

Thousands of impoverished men, women and children work on cocoa plantations. Nearly 65 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown in the countries of West Africa, the scene of the most notorious labor abuses. For instance, child labor has plagued the cocoa industry for decades. In Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producing country, 200,000 children, most under the age of 14, work long hours at dangerous tasks such as spraying pesticides or using machetes. Most of the child workers are not able to attend school; some of the children have been trafficked from neighboring countries and are held captive on the cocoa plantations, where they often suffer physical abuse and receive no compensation for their work.

One alternative is Fair Trade chocolate, now becoming widely available throughout the United States.

Fair trade guarantees the cocoa farmers a living wage, encourages farmer control of production and marketing, ensures that all workers on the cocoa farms are treated fairly, and prohibits any forced or child labor. Fair Trade also guarantees that farming methods will be ecologically sustainable.

In 2003, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the U.S. bishops’ overseas development and emergency relief agency, formed a partnership with cocoa farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative, which represents thousands of farmers in Ghana. Divine Chocolate Company produces chocolate from the beans grown by the members of Kuapa Kokoo and CRS offers a fundraising program to Catholic schools and other organizations using Divine products. The “Raise Money Right” program increases the market for Fair Trade chocolate and also provides a great opportunity for education around the issues of child labor and making informed consumer choices that empower poor people.

Divine Chocolate can also be purchased through CRS’s Work of Human Hands Fair Trade Handicraft program and at some coffee stands, natural foods markets and specialty chocolate shops.

Seattle’s Theo Chocolate Company is the nation’s first “bean to bar” Fair Trade certified and organic chocolate company. Anyone who loves chocolate will certainly want to take the tour of the Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle. There are no chocolate waterfalls as in the famous Willy Wonka factory, but the process of creating chocolate is every bit as mysterious and magical as a children’s story.

Theo Chocolate buys their beans from small organic cocoa farmers in African and Latin American countries. Theo enjoys a direct relationship with the farmers and carefully crafts its artisan chocolate bars and confections without the usual cocktail of emulsifiers, flavor enhancers and preservatives found in most standard chocolate.

By choosing Fair Trade chocolate, consumers can give a lift to struggling farmers, workers, their families, and communities.

“Fair Trade helps to boost the morale of farmers and helps us financially. We are very proud of the cocoa that we grow; it is a bridge that brings people together,” says Helena Bempong of Kuapa Kokoo.

For more information about Fair Trade chocolate and the CRS “Raise Money Right” program, contact Scott Cooper, Parish Social Ministry Director at Catholic Charities: 509-358-4273.

(Vail is CRS consultant in the Diocese of Spokane.)


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