The true cost of food is generally hidden from the consumer in the exploitation of farm workers and small-plot growers. These are the people striving to make a life through the hard work of growing our food. Rarely do we see them or hear of their circumstances.
The farmers of cocoa and coffee typically own < 5 acres of land and have little negotiating leverage in a global market. Without a collective voice, the farmers and their families may be impoverished for generations. The fair trade movement sets out to empower producers at the local level by paying them fair wages for their labor, strengthening their local living conditions, and giving them a stronger voice in the market. This is accomplished through producer cooperatives who receive training so they are able to deal directly with market buyers and demand a living wage. To certify as a Fair Trade cooperative, portions of the farmers’ revenue must be reinvested into the community. The cooperative directs these investment funds to more training, purchasing equipment, building schools, and healthcare programs.
The international Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) is a widely recognized Fair Trade certifying organization. They send representatives to the farms and ensure that the farmers adhere to the procedures outlined in the Fair Trade standards. FLO, or one of its 19 National Initiatives, also audits the handling and distribution channels for the product to ensure that the Fair Trade prices have been paid. After successful completion of the process, the product is certified and Fair Trade can be included in the product description.