Bittersweet Chocolate

14 February 2018   |   Margot Conover, External Relations Manager

Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be complete without chocolate – the National Retail Federation confirms it, estimating that US consumers will spend $1.8 billion on candy this February 14th. But the story behind chocolate may leave a bad taste in your mouth.


This blog was originally published on the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs website. 

Small-holder farmers and farmworkers in the United States face overwhelming challenges through climate change, dangerous working conditions, child labor, and power imbalances. As unacceptable as conditions in the U.S. may be, the farmers in the Global South growing our cocoa face the same conditions, magnified ten-fold. Cocoa is not grown in the U.S., but by supporting fair trade, advocates and conscious consumers connected to domestic farmer and farmworker issues offer solidarity to the men and women impacted by the cocoa industry. That’s why Fairtrade America supports domestic farmworker advocacy organizations, like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Equitable Food Initiative, that use product labeling to verify that the people in the supply chain were treated fairly. Service delivery organizations like AFOP H&S also provide valuable support to farmworkers in dealing with job safety risks; Fairtrade America is proud to stand in solidarity with this work in the U.S. We all need to be in this together, or the power imbalances will never be resolved.

Take child labor in cocoa for example –

In West Africa, which supplies the overwhelming majority of the world’s cocoa, millions of children are at-risk or involved in child labor. It’s estimated that 2.12 million children, some as young as five years old, worked in the 2013-2014 harvest season in Ghana and Ivory Coast alone. Many of these children are also victims of forced labor and human trafficking, in the wake of human and natural disasters and poverty.

Child labor in agriculture is ubiquitous around the world, including the U.S ., where children aged 12 are permitted to do the work of an adult. The Department of Labor estimates that 71% of the 218 million children engaged in worst forms of child labor work in agriculture. Because of the sheer scale and universality of the problem, finding a solution demands a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including the farmers and workers themselves.

When companies use Fairtrade ingredients, small-scale farmers are better able to achieve dignified livelihoods that don’t force them to resort to exploitative child labor. In addition, Fairtrade works with communities to build awareness of the issue and protect children in their communities. Fairtrade’s innovative youth-inclusive, community-based approach to addressing child labor works with cocoa farming communities all over the world.

Anita Sheth, Fairtrade’s child and forced labor specialist explains the approach: “Fairtrade was the first international value chain labeling organization of its kind to call for and implement a systemwide, rights-based child protection policy and procedure for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor. Since 2009, we’ve used a rights-based approach based on internationally accepted human rights standards to strengthen the protection of girls and boys at risk of being, or already involved in child labor.

“Every allegation or alert triggers a rigorous assessment involving input and advice from the relevant child rights organizations or experts. If confirmed, a report is sent to the appropriate government agency to follow up. If we have any doubts about their willingness or ability to act, we’ll involve a reputable specialist NGO.” ( Learn more about Anita’s work here. )

Fairtrade empowers communities to reduce child labor and child trafficking. Click to learn more about how Fairtrade uses pricing and standards to empower communities to reduce child labor and child trafficking.

Cocoa is only one of many products where Fairtrade works with farmers to change the conditions that cause child labor. If this tickles your palate, you can learn more about how certification impacts the other ingredients in your favorite chocolate bars – like vanilla from Madagascar or sugar from Belize.

Consumers can make an impact

Fairtrade and the farmers we serve are working hard to address child labor and human trafficking, but consumer activists like you play an important role. You have the power to shape how farmers and workers are treated and to reduce exploitation of children both in the U.S. and around the world.

Human trafficking happens because of the basic principles of supply and demand. As a consumer, you can demand ethically-made products, and companies will listen. Through simple, everyday actions, like purchasing Fairtrade products you can help protect children, reduce poverty, and prevent trafficking.

Many of the values of the U.S. farmworker justice and local consumption movements are in line with those that drive Fairtrade, such as:

  • the desire to support small-scale family farming
  • the desire to support sustainable farming
  • the desire to avoid large corporate intermediaries
  • the desire to know who grew the food, a connectedness or transparency
  • the desire to buy directly, or at least more directly
  • the wish for more of the purchase price would reach the farmer
  • the wish for fair treatment and wages for farmworkers

Ultimately, our movements all share a similar vision – getting consumers and producers to think not just about what they produce/purchase, but how it comes to us.

Here’s how you can help:

To learn more about the connections between US and international agriculture and to take action to protect vulnerable children, follow these steps below:

  • Go to to understand your connection to modern-day slavery and write to your favorite brands to ask them for stronger policies against child and forced labor!
  • Share your knowledge! Host a screening of “The Dark Side of Chocolate” , a behind the scenes investigation of the international cocoa trade.
  • Celebrate Valentine’s Day by sharing Fairtrade certified chocolate with your loved ones, or enjoying a bar yourself!


We’re in this together

Fairtrade America partners with brands on the journey to certification and beyond. We can help with everything from finding a certified supply chain to marketing your newly certified product.

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