Some Fair Trade Chocolate Might Not be Fairly Traded

When you buy a fair trade chocolate bar, it’s usually safe to assume that it’s made with fair trade cocoa beans. However, according to Bill Keeling, md of London-based chocolate producer Prestat, and quoted in FoodManufacture.co.uk, not all fair trade chocolate is truly made from fair trade ingredients.

Here’s how it works, at least in the UK. Keeling said that most cocoa, fair trade or otherwise, is bought by the government under what’s called a “mass balance transaction.” This means that the cocoa that’s in that fair trade candy bar might not be trade at all, simply because all the cocoa is blended together.

This seemed a bit confusing to me, so I went over to The FairTrade Foundation’s UK site to take a look for myself. Here’s how they explain “mass transactions.”

Fairtrade-certified ingredients can be bought only from independently audited and certified Fairtrade farmers. They receive at least the Fairtrade minimum price and/or (as relevant in accordance with the standards), a premium, which is used to invest in community development.
Where possible, the Fairtrade system seeks to ensure full physical traceability on certified products. However, ingredients like cocoa, tea, juice and sugar can come from many different farms and countries and often have to be mixed together, Fairtrade with non-Fairtrade, for transport and production. Unless volumes are very small or extremely large, it is often impractical or too expensive to keep them completely separate.

To make sure that Fairtrade-certified farmers receive the correct price and premiums for all relevant ingredients, the amounts used in products carrying the Mark are carefully monitored by the Fairtrade system. This ensures that the volume of finished products that carry the Mark directly relates to the equivalent volume of Fairtrade-certified ingredients traders have bought. The farmers receive full Fairtrade benefits for every product sold carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark.

So, Keeling is correct. In the UK, when you buy a fair trade item like coffee or cocoa, it truly might not be fair trade at all. The farmer’s still get compensated fairly, of course, but the actual product you’re consuming might actually be coming from a traditional farm.

While I understand the logic behind mass transactions, it seems as if governments should be trying harder to keep fair trade items, and non fairly traded items, separate. Because the truth it that is IS misleading for consumers. And when they discover that the product they purchased might not really be fairly traded, this leaves a stain on the entire industry since most consumers won’t bother to do the research into the logic of mass transactions.

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