Hearts and flowers aside, Valentine’s Day is a massive consumer event, second only to Christmas. Billions of cards are exchanged on this day, along with flowers, stuffed toys, jewellery and chocolates, so once again we are faced with the ethical dilemma of where to buy our gifts from.
If we choose to be conscious consumers and buy ethically sourced items, then let’s break down the origin story of one of the day’s most popular purchases – chocolate.
The farming of cocoa beans is a labour intensive practice and many producers continue to live in poverty. In the past, the industry was notorious for exploiting children in its workforce, but through education, there have been improvements and child labour is far less common, with the majority of farmers recognising the importance of their children attending school.
The process involved to turn cocoa beans into the luscious chocolate so many of us enjoy is a long one.
Chocolate in its most original forms starts on a cocoa tree. These trees grow pods that contain beans. When the cocoa pods are ready for harvesting, they are manually plucked from the tree and opened to extract the cocoa beans. The beans are placed together and covered with banana leaves to ferment for five to eight days and they change colour from green to brown during this process. The beans then need to be dried out in the sun. This takes about one week, before they are ready to be scooped up into sacks and shipped off to chocolate manufacturers.
The dried dark brown beans are then roasted, their husks removed and the beans ground to make a smooth liquid paste. Additional ingredients are added to the paste to add sweetness, creaminess and flavours and it is at this stage where we would recognise it as chocolate.
As ethical consumers, we want to know that every hand that’s touched what we consume has been fairly compensated. For this, there are a few hard-working Fairtrade certification bodies whose work is to protect the rights of those most vulnerable. Unfortunately, many larger corporations under pressure from slimming profits, have started their own voluntary certification processes. You can read more on this here. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if they included producers of the entire supply chain in the discussions. In a recent study, by Elizabeth A. Bennett, it was uncovered that two-thirds of voluntary certification schemes do not include producers. ‘At most, only 25% ensure producers have votes/seats and 18% gave producers veto power. Looks like there may be too much lost when voluntary systems do not bring traditionally marginalized voices to global economic governance.’
Did you know that many cocoa growers have never even tasted their end product? There’s a great YouTube video here showing their first reactions.
So perhaps next time you choose to treat your loved ones with chocolate, you might ask a few more questions of where it’s come from and triple check the certification logos on the packaging. This guide may will be helpful to find your favourite Fairtrade chocolate, and if chocolate is not their thing, then you may consider gifting some Fairtrade jewellery right here at Finders and Makers.
Valentine’s Day is about sharing the love, but make sure there’s love in the back story of your gift, as well as in its intentions.
Until next time,
Photo credits in order of appearance: Jezz Timms, istock, istock, Pablo Merchan-Montes, Taylor Kiser.
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