Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Fair Trade & Food of the Gods -- by Kathy Hyzy

Kathy Hyzy is a member of Multnomah Monthly Meeting in Portland, Oregon, and a regular participant in Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Physical and Spiritual Growth (aka Meeting for Chocolate.) She edits Western Friend, where she posted this article on 26 Apr 2010.

At the Quakers Uniting in Publications (QUIP) conference this past weekend, the topic of chocolate came up in conversation, as it often seems to do when I am around. A Friend requested a copy of this article, which I wrote back in 2008. I thought others might also find it useful- enjoy!
As some Friends can attest, one of the most pleasurable ways to connect with Quaker history is by nibbling on a bit of chocolate. Known as Theobroma cacao to botanists, the history of this “food of the gods” is closely intertwined with that of the Society of Friends. However, finding chocolate that honors our Quaker heritage along with Quaker values such as equality and integrity can be challenging in modern times. Industrious Friends and Chocolate Friends’ interest in chocolate has its roots in England’s Industrial Age. Although chocolate had been brought from the New World perhaps as early as the mid-1500’s, it remained a beverage of the elite until the Industrial Revolution.

Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer
The Frys, a Quaker family, changed all this in two ways: with the use of a steam engine to grind the beans (previously work done by mortar and pestle), and in 1847, the invention of the chocolate bar. No longer merely a beverage, chocolate took off, and the Royal Navy enlisted J.S. Fry & Sons in the effort to sober up their soldiers, replacing daily grog rations with chocolate bars. Other Quakers throughout history also advocated chocolate as a substitute for alcohol as part of the temperance movement. Best known in the U.S. for the Eastertime Cadbury Egg, Cadbury’s remains one of the world’s best-recognized names in chocolate.

John Cadbury, a Quaker from Birmingham, started his chocolate empire as a modest shop in 1824. At the time, chocolate was just beginning to gain in popularity with the masses, and the Cadburys managed to tap into the market with great success: by 1853, Cadbury’s became Queen Victoria’s personal supplier.

To support this success, the Cadburys built Bournville (see pictures), a model factory town outside of Birmingham. The “factory in a garden” featured sturdy housing, gardens for workers, reading and dining halls, quarters for pensioners, and educational programs for workers and their families. After several years of service, workers received a savings account. Cadbury’s was also the first company to adopt the 5-1/2 day workweek. By 1919, 7,500 workers lived in Bourneville. Modern-day Quakers may recognize Bourneville as the site of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, located in the Cadbury’s former family home.

Hershey PA Gardens
Other Quaker chocolatiers such as Fry, Rowntree, and even Milton Hershey in Pennsylvania, went on to build similarly appointed factory towns and to provide for the well-being of their workers.

The Dark Side of Chocolate

Although the factories where cacao beans were processed into cocoa and chocolate bars were humane, Friends have had a much harder time addressing the inequalities found on cacao plantations. Native to the South American tropics, cacao trees will only grow within ten degrees of the Equator, preferably as part of a tropical forest understory. This means that the vast majority of cacao is grown in countries with poor human rights records. Over 40% of today’s cacao comes from the Ivory Coast and Ghana, two African nations well-known for child slavery and worker abuses. Other cacao producers include Indonesia and numerous South American countries.

In some circumstances, Quakers were able to make a difference on cacao plantations. After witnessing firsthand the near-slavery of laborers in Portugese West Africa, the Frys boycotted West African cacao until conditions improved. Despite this good example, the Cadburys are known to have turned a blind eye to the forced labor, death rates as high as 20% per year, and other horrors occurring in the same region—the source of over half their cacao beans. It wasn’t until 1909, after the story broke in English newspapers, that the Cadburys boycotted West African cacao.

Guilt-Free Confections

modern child slavery, from The Walrus Said
Sadly, West Africa’s legacy of slavery and worker abuse remains alive and well today, as does its predominance of the world cacao market. A 2002 study of four West African cacao-producing countries by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture estimates that 284,000 children work on cacao plantations. Many of these children work twelve-hour days, receive little or no schooling, and regularly apply pesticides, wield machetes, and undertake other dangerous labor. As many as 12,000 of these children may be slaves, sold into service by parents from surrounding countries. Cacao workers have also suffered from years of depressed cacao prices, often earning less per pound than the cost of production. Though prices have risen in recent years, global markets continue to be unstable and unfair.

However, fair trade certified chocolates are a way to eat sweets without a heavy heart. Fair trade certification provides a variety of benefits, including a reasonable minimum per pound rate and environmental standards for farming practices. Worker ownership is encouraged, and child labor and forced labor are banned. Although organic standards differ depending on the certifier (USDA, Oregon Tilth, and Organic Trade Association are just a few), they often include some elements relating to fair labor—so in a pinch, if fair trade chocolate is unavailable, reach for organic. And don’t forget to thank our Quaker forebears for their chocolaty contributions to our physical and spiritual well-being!

Global Exchange
Equiterre (Canada)
Sophie & Michael Coe, The True History of Chocolate, Thames and Hudson 2nd ed. 2007.
Lowell J. Satre, Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business, Ohio U Press 2005.

Much like coffee, fair trade chocolate is rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S. Although more expensive than other chocolates, the small premium buys a great deal of peace of mind. The following is a partial list of nationally marketed fair-trade chocolates; seek them out at your local co-op or natural foods store.

  • Dagoba Chocolate
  • Equal Exchange Endangered Species Chocolate
  • Green & Black’s Divine Chocolate
  • Global Exchange
  • Theo Chocolates

1 comment:

Janet Ursel said...

Nice to see somebody else commenting on this. :o) I've been buying fair trade chocolate and rediscovering my love of caramel when I absolutely must have candy.