The Fair Trade Living blog is about my search for an ethical alternative to all purchases within my life. It’s not always easy, and at this time of year I tend to get a bee in my Easter bonnet.
I want to be able to buy ethical Easter eggs for my friends and family, I want them to be pretty, come in a range of sizes and shapes, and flavours. Is that too much to ask?
Apparently not, but if I want to buy them at mainstream shops it’s a bit of a mission. There isn’t enough information at stores for customers to know what we’re really buying, and it takes a lot of research to understand the various ethical labels out there.
Today, on my Annual Easter Egg Hunt, I went to a large supermarket in the middle of Sydney and could find only one (One!) type of Fair Trade certified Easter egg. It was a Chocolatier egg in a box, and while it was a good size and nicely packaged, it was the only option. I don’t know about you, but I feel bad getting everyone exactly the same gift.
Ever the optimist, I thought I could get some variety into my shopping basket, so I went to a nearby Haigh’s chocolate shop. I couldn’t see any Fair Trade signs, so decided to ask if they had a Fair Trade range. A helpful staff member advised me that Haigh's subscribed to another ethical accreditation, UTZ, which ensured ethically sourced cocoa. As I’d never researched UTZ before, I felt that it deserved a little investigation.
UTZ is a dutch non-profit which runs a sustainability certification program. It’s reported to be the largest program for sustainable farming of coffee and cocoa in the world. According to their website, UTZ requirements include good agricultural practices and farming management, safe and healthy working conditions, abolition of child labor and protection of the environment.
For a program most Australians haven’t heard anything about, it’s big business: they claim that the UTZ Certified label is featured on more than 10,000 different product packages in over 116 countries, making it the largest program for sustainable farming of coffee and cocoa in the world. It also boasts the support of some large charities including Solidaridad and Oxfam Novib.
So what is the difference between UTZ and the better known Fair Trade certification? Well, it appears that UTZ standards are not quite as high as Fair Trade. Notable criticisms include the fact that UTZ Certified doesn’t specify a minimum price, meaning farmers are subject to market volatility. They are also allowed to use pesticides, although they must use them safely. Labour laws are aligned with those of the local country, which can mean ongoing poverty where the local minimum wage is too low.
However, Fair Trade is not without its detractors, and some say in food production it can create problems with quality because Fair Trade does guarantee minimum prices (or ‘fair’ prices) to farmers. It also appears to be the case, according to independent impact reports, that UTZ has improved farming practices and income for producers. UTZ has also encouraged some big multinational companies to come on board, meaning the impact of their work is enhanced. They also ban illegal practices such as slavery and child labour, which are still problematic in agriculture.
I suppose the choice between Fair Trade, UTZ and other ethical labels comes down to the grey areas of how each functions, and a personal decision as to whether these policies align with your own. Personally, it heartens me to know that more options are becoming available, and that large and small companies are starting to take notice. Where I can’t find a Fair Trade product I like, other certifications like UTZ or Rainforest Alliance (known more for coffee in Australia) are more ethical options than most.
As a side note, even Woolworths is getting in on the act, using UTZ certified cocoa in some of their Select brand products. However the percentage of ethical and non-ethical cocoa isn’t terribly clear to me, nor is the origin and quality of the other ingredients used, and as someone who likes clearly presented information this concerns me.
If you want an easy guide to finding ethically made chocolate that’s available in mainstream and specialist stores in Australia, World Vision have a handy guide here. For range and fun flavours I recommend the Oxfam shop if you have one close-by, or Alter Eco chocolate if you can track it down.
This Easter I’ll be buying Fair Trade where possible as that’s the standard I want to support, but I will be keeping an eye on other brands making an effort to be more ethical, and I may even pop back into Haigh's for a closer look…
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