The British chocolate firm, Green & Black’s, announced in March of 2011 that it had fulfilled its pledge to go entirely organic and fair trade as of the end of that year.
This made the company, actually now somewhat unhappily a small part of the Cadbury’s and Kraft empire, the world’s largest retailer of fair trade chocolate. It also continued the legacy of its founders in supporting producers in developing countries since they made a commitment to cocoa growers in Belize in 1994.
As is true of other fair trade products, the original Maya Gold brand of Green & Black’s chocolate bars (with a hint of orange flavouring) contributed to financial stability, children’s education and adult training and an overall better quality of life in global southern producer co-operative communities. In recent years, the company has been buying cocoa beans from co-operatives in the Dominican Republic, committing $500,000 per year to local initiatives to support farm families in a country where remittances from nationals living abroad is the greatest contributor to gross domestic product.
It is thought that the first producers of cocoa beans were the Olmec "Indians" of South America, who domesticated the crop some 3,500 years ago. Mayans then mixed chilies and cocoa beans into an unsweetened drink with hot water about 3,000 years ago. From there, cocoa/chocolate spread to other tribes and was usually drunk by wealthier classes, was taxed when people made money from its production and was popular even though it was bitter.
On one of his voyages to the New World, Christopher Columbus encountered cocoa beans being used as currency.
Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez remarks in his journals in the 1520s that he didn’t like the taste of cocoa but thought it was literally a way to "grow money." He brought the beans back to Spain and his countrymen mixed cocoa into a drink with sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and cinnamon.
Demand went up for this more modern version of hot chocolate and the first real shipment of beans arrived in 1585. Even today, indigenous Latin American and Caribbean people prefer to drink chocolate rather than eat it.
From 1657 to 1674, the British developed a taste for chocolate, opened cocoa bars (like our coffee shops today) and ultimately figured out how to manufacture solid chocolate used in rolls, cakes and confections. Chocolate factories opened around Europe beginning in 1800 and by 1850, Joseph Fry & Son and the Cadbury Brothers were displaying the first modern chocolate bars. In 1860, the British medical journal, The Lancet, investigated the adulteration of chocolate by manufacturers to save money: adding brick dust to chocolate powder!
The first chocolate brownie recipes appeared in the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue in 1897, while Canadian Arthur Ganong marketed the first small, cheap bar in 1910. It was not until 1991 and 1994 that Green & Black’s was the first chocolate company to go fully organic and then fair trade, respectively.
While Green & Black’s has taken the plunge and Cadbury’s has taken a step with its Dairy Milk bars, many multinational giants, such as Nestle, World’s Finest and Hershey, continue to drag their feet.
Campaigns are underway, particularly in the U.S. and Europe to pressure these companies to adopt fair trade principles and particularly to avoid (or ban) the use of child labour on plantations who supply them.
The argument that these companies often respond with, is that parts of West Africa, where 80 per cent of the world’s cocoa is produced — particularly Ivory Coast — are basically a war zone these days, and companies can’t be expected to know the details of how cocoa is produced, even if they have the best of intentions. There are worse human rights abuses taking place there than child labour, says one official, as more than 200,000 children and youth in the Ivory Coast are homeless.
The rejoinder from opposition groups is that government and rebel armies and cocoa producers and companies are using the war to enrich themselves.
For Halloween this year, fair trade groups across Canada are promoting chocolate that doesn’t contribute to child trafficking and slavery. The Canadian Fair Trade Network (cftn.ca) and Fair Trade Canada (fairtrade.ca) are working with suppliers to make chocolate bars available at a reduced cost via local NGOs and campuses.
In Manitoba, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on accessing fair trade chocolate at cost for Halloween.
Green & Black’s is harder to find, but has been seen at stores such as London Drugs, Great Canadian Superstore and Shoppers Drug Mart.
» Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations active in our province.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 1, 2012