Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and social implications of their shopping habits. Those concerned about the well-being of the producers behind the various consumer products they plunk in their shopping are seeking ways to verify the claims made by organizations touting their products as better for the planet and healthier for indigenous communities.
Fair trade chocolate and organic cacao products are two popular consumer choices for those who are looking for eco-friendly sweets, regardless of the occasion. In their quest to find the perfect, eco-friendly chocolates, many turn to those items that are produced by farmers belonging to cooperatives and fair trade organizations.
What is a Fair Trade or Organic Chocolate Cooperative?
But what is a fair trade organization, and how do organic chocolate cooperatives really function? Educating yourself about how these organizational structures work is a great way to become even more engaged in the efforts to make trade fair around the world and will help you make more informed decisions. So here are some basic tenants any fair trade or organic cooperative should exhibit:
Access to credit: Giving a producer the chance to establish themselves within the local and global company so that they can become self-sustaining is key to getting a community to become independent. Cooperatives therefore often make fair and equitable credit available to poor farmers and producers to get them started.
Guaranteed pricing: In the free trade world economy, prices fluctuate frequently and quickly depending on supply and demand as well as other market systems. This can leave the small-scale farmer without recourse should their commodity’s price suddenly drop. Without choices, these producers are often forced to sell their products at below-cost prices, leaving them with little for their efforts and without hope. A fair trade cooperative will protect these producers by guaranteeing them a set price for their wares.
Direct trade: Providing guaranteed pricing is often accomplished through direct trade which helps producers to sell their products directly to a co-op that then distributes the product to stores and fair trade organizations.
Education: Many cooperatives provide ongoing education and encouragement to keep farmers and producers on the sustainable track. Helping these individuals choose eco-friendly, life-affirming systems will keep them engaged and passionate about protecting their local environment.
Safe labor conditions: Those participating in a collective or cooperative are required to implement safe working conditions for all laborers and are required to pay employees (including themselves!) a fair wage for their time. In addition, child labor laws are strictly enforced.
Community development projects: In many cases, fair trade workers are given a “social premium” that they are to use for supporting social and environmental projects in their community. This could include anything from planting trees to establishing a community well to setting up a public health facility. These projects help to break the poverty cycle and ensure a thriving, sustainably-run community.
Cultural preservation: In many cases, the goods being grown or made by local producers are connected with cultural traditions in the community. Cooperatives will help to preserve these cultural traditions by encouraging and educating the local people about the value of these practices.
Economic empowerment: In addition to all of these benefits, many collectives and cooperatives give their members an equal say in decisions effecting the organization. This gives marginalized communities input into how their local economy works.
4 Fair Trade and Organic Cacao Farm Cooperatives
So that’s how cooperatives and collectives work. To give you a down-to-earth picture of how these systems function in actuality, here are a few organic and fair trade cacao cooperative case studies.
Grenada Chocolate Company Ltd, founded in 1999, is a start-to-finish organic cocoa farmers’ and chocolate-makers’ cooperative that produces high-quality organic dark chocolate. Situated in Grenada on over 150 acres of organic cacao farming land, this cooperative grows their own cacao pods and then processes them in their own fermentry which is just one mile from the chocolate factory. They also use their own biodynamically-grown vanilla beans to flavor the chocolate. The cacao farmer team and the chocolate-making team both profit equally from the cooperative’s success.
Equal Exchange’s worker-owned cooperative is located in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, but the cacao farms partners are located all over the world. Every member of the cooperative is given one vote, the right to serve as leader, the right to information, and the right to speak their minds. Additionally, in order to maintain their Fair Trade cacao certification, farmer organizations must meet demanding criteria for community investment, minimal environmental impact, and democratic operations.
TransFair USA helps to maintain hundreds of cooperatives in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Their Fair Trade Cocoa Co-Op in Kuapa Kokoo, Ghana is helping to liberalize the cocoa market in that country. Made up of village societies that elect committees and representatives at a regional level, all members are part of the National Union. This cooperative has grown since its founding in 1993 and today owns 45 percent of Divine Chocolate Ltd. and 33 percent of Divine Chocolate USA Inc., which are two popular chocolate companies in the UK and the US. Together, co-op members have established four schools, purchased equipment so that cacao farms can become independent, and orchestrated a credit and banking service for members.
Global Exchange’s Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA) Cooperative in Belize has 126 members and exists in one of the poorest districts of the country. Through the cooperative, farmers now have access to technical workshops on production, pest control, and shade management, as well as a weekly local radio program that helps them know when to plant and how to establish nurseries. They also have long-term contracts that give them a fair price for their cacao.
It is clear that these cooperatives are giving cacao farmers new opportunities, a stronger economic footing, solutions for preserving their own land, and a fair price for their efforts. All of these benefits will help to strengthen their communities and give these producers hope for the future.