Photo courtesy Ben Block: Exchange students from India, Indonesia, Mozambique, and Switzerland joined trick-or-treaters in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to deliver Fair Trade chocolate.
by Ben Block on November 2, 2009
Dressed in masks and outfits reminiscent of the film The Matrix, a group of foreign exchange students celebrated their first Halloween in proper fashion on Saturday in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
But the classmates turned the U.S. tradition on its head. In addition to accepting candy, the students handed back their own Fair Trade-certified, organic dark chocolate.
“Farmers are paid more with Fair Trade, so they don’t have to live in poverty and their children can get an education,” explained Gaurav Noronha, a 15-year-old student from Mumbai, India, to a perplexed neighbor. “The farmers from whom this company gets the cocoa, they are paid fairly. Usually farmers are not paid well enough.”
Noronha and his classmates were participating in “reverse trick-or-treating,” an effort to raise awareness about the prevalence of child labor on cocoa farms in West Africa.
The San Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange began the campaign two years ago to put increased grassroots pressure on international companies that purchase cocoa. The non-profit delivered about 260,000 information packets this year, each containing a sample of Fair Trade-certified chocolate, to parents, school groups, and religious organizations that participated across the United States and Canada.
“We’re hoping this will create a landslide of interest among chocolate companies,” said Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, coordinator of the reverse trick-or-treating campaign. “There is an outrageous number of children who are suffering from horrible back pain and other ergonomic neck issues between the ages of 5 and 18 just so we can have chocolate.”
The reverse trick-or-treating campaign also generates free advertising for the growing Fair Trade movement. In the cocoa industry, Fair Trade standards guarantee that farmers receive a premium of $150 on top of market prices for each ton of cocoa they produce, as long as they meet specified labor standards. For example, field workers must not be younger than 15 years of age unless their education is not jeopardized and they do not perform particularly hazardous tasks, such as wielding a machete or applying pesticides. The program reasons that higher-paid farmers are less likely to rely on child labor.
In the United States, Fair Trade chocolate has grown in popularity but the market is relatively small compared to that in Europe. About 1,745 tons of the chocolate was imported into the country last year, nearly double the total from 2007. Worldwide, 10,299 tons of Fair Trade-certified cocoa was sold in 2008, according to Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International.
“We’re just trying to make people aware that there are other options out there, and important issues need to be considered,” said Michael Zelmer, communications director for TransFair Canada, a Fair Trade certification body that promotes the reverse trick-or-treating campaign in Canada.
The world’s largest chocolate manufacturers agreed in 2001 to ensure that their products are not grown and processed on farms where the “worst forms of child labor,” such as trafficking children and compulsory labor, persist. Such incidents are on the decline, yet nearly 2 million children still work on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, often without pay, according to the Payson Center for International Development at Tulane University, which the U.S. Department of Labor tasked to monitor progress on the 2001 agreement.
The governments of the two West African countries, where about 75 percent of the world’s cocoa is grown, have since established child-labor monitoring systems. The governments are also partnering with the international law enforcement body INTERPOL to arrest farmers who are known to use child labor. A June sting operation freed 54 children who were trafficked to southeast Côte d’Ivoire from seven different African nations.
In addition, the chocolate industry is participating in various certification schemes that strive to reduce child labor. Companies such as Mars, Nestlé, and Cargill are cooperating with UTZ CERTIFIED, a program that sets social criteria similar to Fair Trade, based on International Labour Organization conventions.
Rather than provide farmers with a premium, many companies that have partnered with UTZ support separate programs that train cocoa farmers on advanced production methods and proper labor conditions.
“One of the concerns we’ve seen is that some of the activities children are involved in are inappropriate to their age: carrying heavy loads, using machetes on farms,” said Bill Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation, a developer of several industry-supported training sessions in cocoa-growing regions of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Americas. “Through farmer field schools, we explain to parents why activities are dangerous to young people.”
Cadbury’s aligned this year with Fair Trade for its chocolate products in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
“These certifications are a major step forward because finally most of these companies recognize the need to take responsibility for labor standards in the cocoa supply chain. It itself is a victory,” said Tim Newman, campaign director at the International Labor Rights Forum. “The next step is to provide consumers with information about what these programs actually mean…. Some standards are stronger than others in enforcing worker rights.”
Despite the progress of these programs, Tulane University’s Payson Center said in a 2009 report that any certification system is unlikely to eliminate child labor completely.
“The ability to verify a 100-percent free [worst-forms of child labor] environment is doubtful,” the report said. “More realistic objectives should be established by the countries.”
For the foreign exchange students, who are participanting in a U.S. State Department youth leadership program, the campaign was an introduction to Fair Trade. Most of them visited neighbors who were unfamiliar with the program as well.
“Many were not aware what Fair Trade is, but many are eager to find out,” said Fabian Bollinger, a student from Schaffausen, Switzerland.
Jody Axinn, a liaison for the American Field Service/Youth Exchange and Study Program (AFS/YES), chose to engage the students in the reverse trick-or-treating campaign in hopes that the students would raise awareness of Fair Trade in their home countries of India, Indonesia, Mozambique, and Switzerland.
“They come from countries that would benefit if Fair Trade was more widely spread,” Axinn said. “If they bring the idea back to their country, and it’s more widely spread on the producer side, it’d help.”
Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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