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San Churro, gluttony and my fair trade chocolate question

San Churro, if you don’t know, make the best hot chocolate in the world. The Azteca is full of chili and very thick hot chocolate goodness. A few weeks ago after a session of indulgence, my friend asked me how my drinking chocolate fit into my chocolate slavery morals when it comes to eating chocolate? I hadn’t thought about it. But drinking it, or even cooking with cocoa – it’s all part of the same problem.

So… another letter, and another reply:

Dear Juliet,

Firstly, let me thank you for your enquiry and your concern for cocoa growers is most definitely noted. I want to assure you that we are very aware of the issues in producing cocoa around the world and we are working to bring in Fair Trade certified chocolate from Spain.

I think it is important that I clarify at the outset that we are not actually manufacturers of chocolate but rather importers. We source our chocolate from a boutique manufacturer in mainland Spain. We have been lobbying them to produce a Fair Trade line of chocolate for some time now but, because of their size, and the requirements of certification, it hasn’t been economically viable for them. Unfortunately, Fair Trade is not really as high profile issue in Spain as it is here and the UK. What we have been assured by them though is that they have visited the growers at the farms they purchase their cocoa from and made sure that the working conditions are of a Fair Trade standard.

I know this may sound a little hollow, and if it were coming from a larger company I would be more sceptical, but our CEO has met with the directors personally and they are genuine people and have their heart in the right place. We are endeavouring to get a Fair Trade bar on to our shelves to give people the choice, but there is literally no one in Spain offering this product. We sell ourselves as a Spanish chocolate option, so it’s a big decision for us to get our chocolate from sources outside Spain.

Having met with both Susan Mizrahi, the Head of Human Trafficking for World Vision, and Cameron Neil from Fair Trade Australia we have discussed this issue in great depth. They also understand the difficulty involved in producing this product at a commercially viable price at a standard that is acceptable for our consumer. With Cadbury finally committing to Fair Trade (on Dairy Milk bars), this will undoubtedly draw more attention to the cause and increase the availability of the Fair Trade bean for everyone. With Cadbury becoming part of Kraft foods, Kraft has now become the world’s largest purchaser of cocoa product.

As I touched on before, there is also the issue in finding any suppliers making a product that is of a high enough quality to sell in our shops. Our chocolate is a high grade couverture, the same as used in many top restaurants around the world, and to date we haven’t actually tasted anything Fair Trade that stands up to this. There is a major risk, that if we put an inferior product on our shelves, we would actually put people off the idea of Fair Trade altogether. Fair Trade has been fighting public perception about their quality since its inception and I’m very conscious of doing anything that may harm the brand. Once again, greater availability should also see more quality producers and a rise in standards of product.

Whilst we are actively working behind the scenes to get  these changes through, what I am excited to say is that we will shortly be launching Fair Trade coffee in all our stores. We are aiming to have it rolled out by October/November so all our coffee will be 100% certified Fair Trade. Unlike many other companies that offer it only as an option or not at all, it will be our only choice. Whilst we are a chocolate shop, coffee actually makes up a significant part of our product mix, so I hope you see this as a step in the right direction. We are, as far as we know, the only chain that will be serving solely Fair Trade coffee in our stores.

We are comfortable with our suppliers assurance of their line of supply, and whilst certification would be fantastic, it’s simply not viable immediately with the additional costs and limitation it puts on their production ability. We will continue to lobby and raise awareness of the need for Fair Trade and over the coming months you should start to see some Fair Trade options on our shelves.

Once again, thank you for your email, it’s nice to know that there are consumers that think about what they buy. The more of you we have, the easier it becomes to make change happen.

Best Regards,


PHONE 03 9641 6888  |  FAX 03 9640 0244

(Note: I have permission to publish this letter)

The whole fair trade situation really is difficult and complex.

I can’t stand that humans beings are treated so badly for something that I enjoy so much, but I am also aware of how limiting our system is… all we can do is try. I am happy to know the efforts companies like San Churro are making toward fair trade and the cessation of slavery. I think Kylie is right – the more people that become aware of the issues, the easier it will be for real change to occur.

The guilt I’ll feel next time I drink an Azteca will be more to do with the gluttony (there is A LOT of chocolate in one glass) than the slavery behind the beans. I trust the intentions of this company so I will continue to enjoy the luxury I have access to, without guilt but still with continuing concern. And I will continue to work within my means toward the structural changes in our system that may actually address the roots of the problem. As with all endeavors I think it’s important to keep motivated, to encourage one another, to share information, and to enjoy the process as we move (albeit slowly) to a better, fairer world.

Or… am I (like someone commented on another of my chocolate blog entries) being too relaxed about this issue?

Love to hear your thoughts…

Photo: my beautiful mum relaxing with my gluttonous dog Bella.

Nestle’s reply.

Of the emails I sent, Nestle was the first to reply. I didn’t realised that they purchase 11% of the global supply of cocoa-that’s massive! Read their correspondence for yourself below if you wish. While I haven’t heard of UTZ certification, I have to say at least they replied, and the site clearly tells me one thing: CORPORATIONS DO HEAR US.

Of course, their care for the consumer comes only relative to the care for the shareholders – who in order to get profit require that the good be sold, but at least the message gets through even if just in part. Yet the question I have to ask is: how do I know that initiatives like this are more than a green-washing-like show. That is, how do I know it’s not all talk? I guess I can’t.

Since my last post my friend also recommended this ABC Four Corners article, that says even Fair Trade products are often not fairtrade – not because the company is being dishonest, but because the farmers and farm owners cheat the system.

So now I reface the dilemma I faced a couple of years ago when I first saw the full-length documentary on chocolate slavery: can I still enjoy my chocolate if I know it is most likely connected to the physical slavery of africans? No. No I can’t.

I’m not the only one facing dilemmas. The discussion board shows other’s opinions on the matter:


“The argument about the use of Fair Trade logos with Coffee and Cocoa trade has been going on for some years now, yet the status quo appears to remain static. In fact, I am surprised that it is taken the ABC this long to show the BBC’s Panarama exposé story on the inertia (or lack thereof) of “Fair Trade”, the organisation and their expoitive and cynical licencing of it’s trademark logo, whose motto should read, ïf you pay us more money, you will feel good”and be seen to be be doing something”. I have listened to both BBC World Service and other radio programmes who have covered the subject of child slavery and Fair Trade over the years and nothing has effectively changed. In fact I have an old VHS tape of a documentary presented by the British comedian, Alexei Sayle that was done some 20 years ago on this subject. I would be prepared to pay more for my coffee & chocolate, but only when I have confidence that the end producer receives those gains, and honours the agreements to produce the raw product fairly, including the cessation of child slave labour… I will remain patient and hopefully optimistic, but sadly, I fear that it may not happen during my remaining lifetime. I have long eshewed the practice of dropping bars of chocolate into my shopping trolley, and I suspect that unless consumers act with their conscience and act accordingly, the confectionary manufacturers will continue to look the other way, rather than act assertively, and will always put up the defence of “meeting their customers’ demands in the marketplace” or that other lame excuse ïf we don’t do it, our competitor’s will)… sad but true.”

And another comment:

My partner and I are feeling very frustrated at the lack of ‘bigger picture’ information provided in the chocolate story.

Whilst there was mention of poverty and even the admission of women who had no choice but to see their sons sold, the reporter didn’t do what was necessary in this story and detail the reality of these people’s existence.

We don’t accept that it’s ok for kids to be used in child labour but in many cases these kids have no better option in life. There isn’t a social security system in these countries – some will either work or starve to death. This side of the story was not detailed and these root issues are the real problem – not so much the actual kids or the people who’re bringing the kids to the farms.

In regards to Fair Trade, yes some truths were revealed however what about the issues around Fair Trade – like that only the richer farmers have the ability to get the fair trade certification and thus the cycle of poverty is exasperated – the rich get richer and the poor poorer.

I feel rather angry overall that this story was presented very much through Western eyes with Western standards. Asking the working kids ‘do you go to school’ as if that is our standard of whether something is ok or not. There are many millions of children in the world who do not have the privilege of attending school and this is a result of poverty. There needs to be an appreciation of the reality of the situation and that attending school for many is simply not an option, regardless of work.

It sucks… and it’s really difficult to evaluate. And like all forms of horrible structural violence, one feels hopeless in knowing what to do. One more comment from the ABC message board:

I fear there’s little anyone can do about child labour while corrupt governments hold sway in Ghana and Ivory Coast. What can we in Australia do to stop poverty in Africa? All strength to organisations like Fair Trade. Does anyone have any more ideas on what we can do from here in our comfortable country?

Hmmm Aldi has chocolate with single origin beans – Ecuador doesn’t use slave trade, does it?


Hi Juliet,

Thank you for sharing your concerns about the cocoa we purchase.

In Australia and New Zealand, Nestle has been working to ensure a reliable supply of independently certified cocoa from West Africa, in the quality and quantity we need to use in the manufacture of our chocolate.  We have now received the first shipments of UTZ certified cocoa into our factory at Campbellfield in Victoria and the first Kit Kat 4 Finger bars carrying the UTZ Certified label will be in store from later this year. UTZ Certified is a leading certification program similar to other programs such as Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade.

Please find attached some more detailed information about Nestle and the cocoa we purchase, and if you would like further information please visit our website

We thank you again for your contact.


Like you, we believe that cocoa must be grown responsibly and children must not be harmed. We purchase 11% of the global cocoa supply – a significant part of which is from West Africa. Therefore, we recognise that we must be exemplary in our actions supporting the cocoa industry.

Cocoa farmers in West Africa are battling aging, diseased plants and a lack of understanding of sustainable farming practices.  In Côte d’Ivoire in particular there has been a history of political instability and the communities are very poor. It is normal in this environment for children to assist on the family cocoa plantation, as is the case in many other cultures. What is not acceptable is when children are forced against their will, are working in unsafe conditions or are not receiving adequate education as a result

So to help address the key economic, social and environmental issues facing the cocoa farming communities we work with, we have developed The Cocoa Plan.

The Cocoa Plan brings together Nestlé’s activity to promote sustainable cocoa supply under one banner.  Over the next ten years we will invest globally AUD$113 million in the Plan.  This builds on the AUD$56 million invested in cocoa sustainability initiatives over the last 15 years.

The aim is to achieve higher quality and better supply of cocoa beans while making a positive difference in the lives of farmers, their families, communities and the cocoa industry.  Importantly this plan is being developed in partnership with local communities, government and NGO’s who understand what will make a difference in the long term.

Whilst the Cocoa Plan is principally focused on Côte d’Ivoire, it also covers other global cocoa sourcing regions as we have significant agricultural programmes in Ecuador and Venezuela and a developing program in Indonesia.   Below are some of our commitments:

Helping Farmers:

  • Financing Farmer Field School training (directly and as part of wider industry programmes) for improved cocoa farming practices and yields.

Nurturing a long term sustainable future – we have recently opened a Research and Development Centre in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, complementing our facility at Tours in France from where we can provide cocoa farmers with a million higher-yielding, stronger, cocoa trees each year from 2012.  Some details:

  • We are also training plant scientists in other cocoa producing countries, such as Ecuador and Indonesia in accelerated cocoa trees propagation
  • We work directly with cocoa cooperatives to help them and their farmers be more competitive and pay a premium for their higher quality cocoa
  • Providing higher yielding stronger cocoa trees has a direct effect on the quality, yield and sustainability of farmers’ crops, and in turn their income and quality of their life.

The Cocoa Journey

  • We’re reducing the complexity of the supply chain and speeding up the processing of raw cocoa beans from the farm to export by helping cooperatives directly

Better Social Conditions

  • As part of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), we want to help ensure that children in cocoa growing communities are not exploited and have access to education
  • Through partnerships such as with the Red Cross, we aim to deliver improvements in access to water and improved sanitation

Working with partners to improve social conditions and income

  • In order to encourage safe and sustainable agricultural practices, Nestlé is a founding member of UTZ Certified Cocoa which aims to develop a large scale cocoa certification system
  • We partner and assist government organisations such as the CNRA (Centre National Ivoirien de Recherche Agronomique), the partly state funded Ivorian Agricultural Research Centre that works on research in Côte d’Ivoire to improve the sustainability of cocoa farming

Our plan is clear with a “step by step” approach centred on our tree propagation programme, farmer assistance structure and the relationship with cooperatives.

In Australia and New Zealand, we have been working to ensure a reliable supply of independently certified cocoa from West Africa, in the quality and quantity we need to use in the manufacture of our chocolate.  We have now received the first shipments of UTZ certified cocoa into our factory in Victoria and the first Kit Kat 4 Finger bars carrying the UTZ Certified label will be in store later this year. UTZ Certified is a leading certification program similar to other programs such as Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade.

If you would like further information please visit our website


Africa. No time to be more creative. And there’s no chocolate in my house (not in protest (at least not yet in protest) but because I buy it, and I eat it within a night. I’m an addict. That’s why I’m so passionate about this topic).