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ALIYA ZAIDI

Chocolate. It’s the universal guilty pleasure. But with the fair trade movement rapidly gaining ground in the last 10 years, it’s now easier than ever to eat the good stuff without feeling all that sinful. Aliya Zaidi looks at the case for buying fair trade chocolate, what it actually means and how it can fit in with Islamic principles of equality, fairness and justice for all.

So what is fair trade? Well, it’s primarily about achieving better trading conditions between companies in developed countries and producers in developing nations. Some of the goals of fair trade include getting a better price for exporters and giving workers access to decent working conditions. Fair trade promotes higher social and environmental standards, so often fair trade products are also organic.

Alleviating world poverty is the core reason for buying fair trade. Islam as a complete way of life promotes the importance of ethical business and justice in business transactions. At the time of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Mecca was the centre of commerce, and so there are many verses highlighting the Qur’anic stance on the latter day equivalent of corporate social responsibility:

“Give full measure and full weight in justice, and wrong not people in respect of their goods.” (Qur’an 11:85)

“Eat not up each other’s property by unfair and dishonest means.” (Qur’an 4:29)

fairtrade chocs

In the UK, when you buy products with the FairtradeTM mark, it means that the product has met certain ethical standards, and that a minimum price was paid for the ingredients. Globally, the World Fair Trade Organization logo is used for branding companies that show 100% commitment to fair trade in their business activities.

It would be nice to think that by buying chocolate with the FairtradeTM logo, it means that the farmer is paid a fair price, but in practice, it’s not always that simple. While FairtradeTM certification has undoubtedly raised awareness about achieving higher standards of living for farmers, there are still some issues that consumers should be aware of.

For example, farmers need to pay various fees in order to achieve FairtradeTM certification. The cost can be in the thousands, and not all farmers can afford to pay this.

Secondly, not all of the ingredients in a FairtradeTM labelled bar of chocolate have to be fairly traded. For example, Dairy Milk’s packaging says it’s made with “at least 70% FairtradeTM ingredients”. There are other processed ingredients added to the chocolate, such as vegetable fat and flavourings which cannot be FairtradeTM certified.

Furthermore, when cocoa is bought in bulk (to make mass-produced chocolate), it may get mixed up with other non-FairtradeTM cocoa beans. So how much of your FairtradeTM labelled bar of chocolate actually contains fairly traded cocoa, is a question mark.

Cocoa farmer, Ivory Coast

So what should you look for when you want to buy ethically produced chocolate? Well, you need to look for a short supply chain, where the chocolate maker buys beans directly from the farmer. This is called bean-to-bar chocolate. You might end up paying a premium, but you’re buying a better quality, more natural product, with few processed or added ingredients, which makes it a healthier bar of chocolate overall. And you have far greater reassurance that the farmer was paid a fair price for their goods.

Luxury chocolatier, Holly Caulfield of Chocoholly notes: “Every choice you make when buying chocolate will make a difference to our health and our environment. I always choose organic over fair trade because it contains no harmful pesticides and has not poisoned the environment. And the farmer gets paid more as well.”

So the next time you’re in the mood to savour that rich, velvety goodness, it’s worth remembering your choices can make a lot of difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. And given that ethically produced chocolate is usually healthier, less processed and just tastes awesome, everybody wins.