Defining exactly what “Fair Trade” means isn’t easy, but the idea certainly sounds good. FINE starts their definition as “Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade…”. The idea is pretty simple – make sure small farmers and workers in poor countries don’t get screwed and that they’ve got enough money to give themselves some kind of pathway out of poverty. There are a number of organizations offering fair trade certifications based on a variety of principals but most, with the notable exception of Transfair USA, have agreed upon a set of standards that can earn a product the International Fairtrade Certification Mark.
Enter the legendary Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar (rarely seen in the US, but immensely popular in the UK and elsewhere) which, using Ghanan chocolate, will be fair trade certified later this year. The move will triple the amount of chocolate from Ghana that is currently fair trade certified and guarantee a minimum price for the company’s purchases regardless of what happens in the market.
Is it a heroic feat for fair trade? A PR stunt? or just good business?
Depending on how picky you want to get, you could make a solid argument for all three. If you really wanted to get picky you might ask about the myriad other ingredients that go into the bar and the thousands of other products (many of them utter junk food) that Cadbury isn’t talking about.
But let’s look at the big picture: Chocolate, and other tropical crops such as bananas and coffee have long been the mainstay of many an impoverished economy. The people who scrape by harvesting it have had little or no chance of educating themselves out of poverty as market forces far beyond their power play havoc with their earnings. Giving folks an agreement which puts at least some sort of guarantee into their lives could potentially make a huge difference. Fair trade advocates have long argued this, and for a company the size of Cadbury to make a commitment to them is a huge accomplishment for their cause, and probably good business for Cadbury – after all, most people would love to feel good about where their chocolate is coming from.
Impressively, Cadbury has launched a typepad blog specifically on the subject of Dairy Milk going fair trade. They address many of the questions I allude to above and seem to be working with a pretty authentic voice. Comments are moderated, however, but even so, I think it’s a pretty evolved approach open communication which is historically quite challenging for large companies. The blog is here.