For some reason fair trade has always been the ugly step-sister of the glamorous organic movement. My Man and I have noticed that people are a lot more likely to care about the environment than human rights. It seems so backwards, but I think it’s precisely because we are humans ourselves. We can maintain an emotional distance from clear-cuts and pesticides, but millions of people, even children, across the globe working in slave-like conditions in order to provide us our high standard of living? It’s uncomfortable.
The purpose of fair trade is pretty self-explanatory: a fair wage to farmers and honest economic support of their communities. We all know dark things go on behind closed doors, but it’s important to note that the luxury items in our world– coffee, tea and chocolate in particular– come from countries with especially heavy doors.
Perhaps the most egregious human rights violations occur in the chocolate industry. It’s not even just like slavery, there are ongoing cases of actual child slavery, particularly along the Ivory Coast. Perhaps again because this hits so close to our hearts, it has really not made news much at all. Many otherwise informed people have never heard of chocolate slavery. While coffee is the commonly thought of fair-trade item, chocolate is my number one.
Prepared chocolate products are practically impossible to find fair trade, apart from those $4 chocolate bars that no one can afford, so I generally make my own chocolatey goodness when the craving hits. You can usually make your own treats with ethical ingredients for about the same price as buying the decent quality pre-prepared version. (The caveat is the looming pile of dishes left at the end of a day of DIY food for a family of four. Yikes.)
If you can’t find fair trade cocoa powder or chocolate chips locally, here’s a decent price on bulk mail-order from Sweet Earth Chocolates. Their cocoa powder is $11/lb and the dark choc chips are $9/lb. Of course, the shipping is what gets you. See if you can’t go in on a big order with friends.
As part of my food month, I recently looked into buying fair trade coffee direct from the farmer online. My Man and I traveled in Central America several years ago and I was remembering a man in Guatemala who was trying to set up a website for selling the local farmers’ coffee. I guess I had some hopes I would find him. Of course, I didn’t. But I did find Coffee CSA, a 100% farmer owned cooperative which sends you 2 or 5 lbs monthly in a subscription. You can choose your farmer (literally, they have photographs and geographical locations); sign up for a “coffee tour” and get a different single origin coffee each month; or choose a roast type. I signed up for a monthly delivery of 2 lbs of French roast. Including shipping it works out to almost $16/lb. Ouch. I had been paying $13/lb for Whole Foods’ fair trade, which already seemed steep. But coffee shouldn’t be so cheap in the first place– I have to keep reminding myself of that. Even at $32/month, plus about as much more for the organic half-and-half, that’s still only $2/day! That’s 50 cents per cup! And, pivotally important for coffee snobs like me, their roaster does a good job– it’s a delicious cup.
If you are a tea drinker, Arbor Tea is a nice family run company I’ve ordered from before with decent prices for loose leaf. For general sourcing, Fair Trade USA just launched a Finder App on Faceb**k, to help locate local stores which carry fair trade products.
Lastly, I have a very wordy post brewing on how and even whether to afford such noble pursuits as fair trade, organic, sustainable, ethically produced, etc, etc. [post script: here's the link to that post, Priorities, Compromise and the Privilege of Doing Good] Meanwhile– understand that I ain’t no saint, and have bought many, many a carton of industry chocolate ice cream, as well as gleeful coffees out on the town. It’s a minefield these days. We do what we can.