Fair Trade? Fair Question...
Fair Trade Certification
FT certification is a wonderful tool for the modern consumer, (see: TransFair, for example), and Fair Trade certified chocolate certainly is available at Bittersweet, although not in the numbers some would like. Why is that? Well, FT certifying bodies generally will only work with groups (collectives & cooperatives), and most folks don't realize that the cost for these certification processes can be a significant burden. If you're a small family cacao grower (the global average size of a cacao plantation is less than 5 hectares, so the vast majority of growers are small and independent), you're simply not likely to have the organizational or financial means to bring in and work with a certifying body. Some of the best, most sought-after cacao in the world (i.e. some of the highest-priced raw material there is) doesn't come from cooperatives, but from small family farms that will probably never participate in the FT process. Does this mean that trade with those growers is inherently unfair? Certainly not. The short answer: non-Fair Trade certified simply isn't the same as unfair trade.
For some more information on FT certified cooperatives in the world of cacao, check out these in Ghana and the Dominican Republic for reference.
Use Your Consumer Power Wisely
So buying FT chocolate is terrific, but the variety in the marketplace at this time isn't that great. What do you do if you still want your consumer power to support the positive side of the chocolate industry? Well, in our opinion, you should shop at Bittersweet :-) This may seem self-serving, but it's a real answer: The vast majority of the problems with social and ecological equity in the world of cacao production occur in the areas of West Africa that provide 90% or so of world cacao to the mass market confection industry. This is the cacao that is rushed to market in order to support hand-to-mouth, unsustainable agricultural practices in places like Cote d'Ivoire, where the cacao market is a race to the bottom and low price is the final and only factor. (See this report for more information on cacao production in West Africa.)
The chocolate producers we use and market at Bittersweet compete for the top 8-10% of the world's so-called 'flavor cacaos', and the growers of those select crops are often achieving 3-4 times the global commodity price for cacao, thereby providing themselves and their families with a sustainable living. These growers also often have multi-year contracts with chocolatiers, and get the benefit of those companies' expertise and assistance in areas like organic growing practices, sustainable agriculture, fermentation, crop health and the like. For an interesting (and contentious) discussion on this topic, check out this thread at 70%.com. (Full disclosure: one of the Bittersweet team is a participant in that online discussion...)
All of us at Bittersweet want chocolate that we can enjoy thoroughly, and that means knowing that it was produced in a dignified and quality way, from grower all the way to chocolatier. We wouldn't have it any other way. Please don't hesitate to keep the questions coming!