Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Q & A: Reader Mail

Okay, maybe not mail per se, but the other day, Muir posted a comment on my chocolate giveaway post and asked me the following question:
"I also really like the Chocolove certified organic 73% cocoa (http://www.chocolove.com/organic73.htm), but they aren't fair trade, though they seem to have a legitimate explanation: http://www.chocolove.com/faq_child_labor.htm. Your thoughts?"
This is a question that has come up in my own mind several times over the last month in regards to various companies and industries (not just Chocolove) as I have been delving deeper and deeper into the issues around fair trade, so I thought I'd take a moment to open the topic up for discussion.

I recognize that there are a variety of reasons why companies choose to opt out of the formal fair trade designation (perhaps a subject deserving of its own post), and I definitely believe that it's possible to conduct a business ethically without the label. But doing so does inevitably make the situation more complex and confusing for your customers (both existing and potential). The fair trade label means that there is at least some degree of third party involvement - someone with no personal investment in your company's profits who has verified that the ethical practices you claim have some basis in reality. The label also simplifies things for shoppers, since most of us don't have the time and/or inclination to go researching the ethical stance of every individual producer whose products we consider buying.

I have some degree of personal investment in this issue because I am a jewelry designer who uses exclusively ethical/fair trade stones and recycled metals in my work. However, in my case, since fair trade is a relatively new concept in the jewelry/gemstone world, there isn't a formal association I can join or certification I can apply for at this point. So I am kind of in the same boat as Chocolove seems to be (though I am a much smaller business of course!) - from what I can read on the Chocolove site, they seem to care sincerely about these issues, and do what they can from their little corner of the industry to bring about positive change for farmers.

I can't speak for Chocolove, but for my own business, the best I can do is to (a) make the most ethical sourcing decisions possible (even when that means losing sales due to being unable to source some types of stones), and (b) be totally and completely transparent with my customers by passing along every bit of information I have about my sourcing, so that they can make decisions they feel good about.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Do any of you have direct experience with the difficulties involved with the formal fair trade certification process? How do you feel about companies that claim to be ethical but don't have the label?

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