Fair Trade & Chocolate

Prior to President Obama’s visit to Ghana, Divine Chocolate, a fair trade chocolate brand co-owned by Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Cooperative in Ghana, invited him to visit and see fair trade in action.

With a fifteen year record as a democratic farmer organization of 45,000 members, Kuapa demonstrates how a more equitable trading system can work and is an excellent example of cocoa farmers organized democratically to participate in shaping their own futures. It stands as a powerful example for other African producers, for industry initiatives and for policy makers.

While Obama didn’t make it to Kuapa, I was pleased that his speech to the Ghana parliament addressed two key ingredients for shaping a policy of fair and sustainable trade.

“Partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility”

Because 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, the fates of chocolate brands and cocoa growers are linked. A sustainable trade system must include a commitment to true partnership. Today the discussions about terms of trade – whether at the level of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) or discussions with government and industry regarding issues of child labor and the cocoa sector — are conducted largely without democratic representation of cocoa farmers. Companies and policy makers interested in fair trade must insist on a fair say for cocoa farmers inside institutions that impact their lives.

“Africa’s future is up to Africans.”

A system of fair trade encourages farmers to decide for themselves how to invest in their future. Right now there is an incredible opportunity to build the capacity of cocoa farmers to become players in the global market. For example, the Gates Foundation has funded a $40 million Cocoa Livelihoods Program in West Africa. A measure of its success should be how well cocoa farmers are prepared to become equal participants in shaping the terms of trade, not merely how well does it prepare farmers to produce better cocoa.

But forging a system of fair trade isn’t simply up to Africa or the Obama administration. It requires the participation of individuals like you and me as well. It demands that we let companies and politicians know that paying fair prices is the minimum that should be done. It requires that we value empowerment of African producers and we measure companies and policy makers against their efforts on this front. To learn more about these issues and how you can get involved, go to: www.allafrica.com and www.africaaction.org.

-Erin Gorman, CEO of Divine Chocolate