If you were out on Church Street this past Saturday, you were likely to have run into a mass of college students enthusiastically spreading the word about fair trade. This was a part of a partnership with the PJC and professor Faith Yacubia’s social justice class at Champlain College as a part of our fair trade education program.

The focus of Saturday’s event was to raise awareness about conventional trade and its lengthy supply chain and fair trade as an alternative movement. During the many conversations that took place, we discovered that while many love chocolate, thinking deeper about where it comes from is often an afterthought or not even a thought at all. This is the problem with an economy that puts more emphasis on access and availability than on accountability and fairness. This is why cocoa farmers in West Africa — where 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from — only see 3-6% of the final profit, making around two dollars a day. (Jobanputra)

In order to convey this stark message, students from Champlain College engaged passer-bys in a short game to expose the realities of the supply chain. For doing so folks received a free hot chocolate supplied by Lake Champlain Chocolates (LCC). As of 2013, LCC earned a Fair for Life Certification, which is a third party certification system that ensures from the farmers to the final product, ethics and rights are never compromised. The fact that LCC wasn’t always a chocolatier that used fair trade cocoa shows that change and transformation is possible. Combining consumer demand with a company that cares about quality not just for the final product, but for the hands that are harvesting, is an attainable recipe for change.

Currently, less than five percent of cocoa is certified fair trade (Jobanputra). So what does the mean for the 95% of cocoa that isn’t certified? Unfair wages, human trafficking, child labor, and environmental degradation. The reality of the cocoa industry is only a handful of companies are in control. These large companies are extremely far away from the cocoa growers and farmers. This makes it easy for brands like Hershey’s and Nestle to throw up their hands and claim ‘not my responsibility!’ What fair trade aims to do is to not only take back this responsibility, but prove that it is possible to have a market that works based on fair and equitable principles.

The energetic group of around 20 students were able to get this message out to the public — arguably one of the most important agents of change in the supply chain. With education, reading, and conversing, we work to create a more aware and responsible community. Good work Champlain College!

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Jobanputra, K. (2013). Cocoa Production in West Africa: Environmental Impacts, Worst forms of Child Labor, Price and Certification.

By: Alex Rose