Do you know where your chocolate bar really comes from?

A chocolate tasting and talk hosted by UCC Fairtrade Group takes place tomorrow
Do you know where your chocolate bar really comes from?
Alison Roberts of Clonakilty Chocolate, with Kuapa Women in New Koforidua-Ghana. Photo: Cindy Kingston

FAIRTRADE Fortnight, which started yesterday, aims to help consumers make considered choices when shopping.

A chocolate tasting and talk by the UCC Fairtrade Group tomorrow, Wednesday, February 26, will look at our options when buying the sweet treat, and how our choices can have a huge impact on the lives of farmers who grow cocoa plants.

The event takes place from 6-8pm, at the Boole Library, UCC.

Allison Roberts, chocolate maker and founder of Exploding Tree, a Fairtrade, bean-to-bar producer, will give the tasting.

She said: “For me, Fairtrade is essential when it comes to purchasing and working with cocoa products, especially if the origins are African. 70% of the chocolate we consume originates in West Africa — Ghana and the Ivory Coast — and since these were colonised by Europeans then developed as cocoa plantations to take advantage of cheap (and slave) labour, I am drawn to work within those countries to help make a positive impact and shine a light on the continued abuses there.

“We are still a long way from seeing even the very basic needs met for cocoa farmers in these countries. Most are overworked, underpaid and do not have access to water, toilets or education.”

Allison Roberts, chocolate maker and founder of Exploding Tree
Allison Roberts, chocolate maker and founder of Exploding Tree

Roberts is concerned that while chocolatiers in Ireland buy a chocolate base from Europe to work with, they can be uninformed about origin or trade ethics.

Farmers in Ghana cannot trade directly, for instance, as governments and large corporations control the ports. Uniting in co-operatives means they can start to trade on fairer terms, and access European markets themselves. Fairtrade has enabled this.

Roberts adds: “I’ve seen first hand the differences in community development and infrastructure in a Fairtrade cocoa farming communities and non-Fairtrade, and again it comes down to the basics of running water, sanitation, education. These are all developed as a result of the Fairtrade premium, and other industries and projects then follow on.

“The organisation also checks and inspects farms, so I don’t have to be thinking about going over there to see what the standards are.”

Established in 1992, Fairtrade International is a non-profit association promoting fairer conditions for trade around the world. The idea is to bring together small scale farmers and workers to set standards in the quality of produce while setting fair prices.

The organisation now has 1.7 million farmers and workers, 1,599 producer organisations in 75 countries and territories under an umbrella with buyers of foods we consume every day including tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, honey, bananas and spices.

“It’s a work in progress”, says Fairtrade Ireland Executive Director Peter Gaynor. “We campaign to bring awareness to people’s purchasing decisions, to introduce them to labels on bananas, sugar, honey, nuts, spices, as well as the more obvious tea, coffee and chocolate.”

There are 50 Fairtrade towns in Ireland, 2,000 worldwide.

“Sometimes it’s just our Fairtrade Fortnight that motivates people to focus on their purchase decisions at that time," says Peter. 

“What we want from our UCC session is to get engagement from students and lecturers, not just have Fairtrade as a tick box exercise for occasional ethical consumption.”

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