We source our cacao exclusively from small-scale farmer co-ops in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Peru. The farmers own their land and control their livelihoods. As co-op members, together they choose how to invest Fair Trade premiums in their communities, such as installing wells for drinking water, a nursery for cacao plants, or a new school. For an industry traditionally rooted in exploitation – and a reliance on child slave labor – this is a big feat.
In 2000 and 2001, journalists documented the continued practice of forced child labor in the West African cocoa trade—source of 70% of the world's cocoa. Since the Ivory Coast in West Africa alone produces 40% of the world's cocoa, its beans are mixed into almost every brand of mass-produced chocolate. Yet, corporations of the global cocoa/chocolate trade - companies like Hershey's, Mars, Nestlé, Russell Stover, Cargill, and ADM - have done little to address this problem.
Most cocoa on the world market is bought "blind" through importers and brokers, but Equal Exchange's fairly traded cocoa is monitored - from the farmers to the store shelf - by independent, non-profit, certifying organizations that guarantee that the cocoa was produced and traded in a socially responsible manner, specifically that:
International Labor Organization Conventions 29, 105 and 138 on child labor and forced labor are adhered to.
the cocoa was bought directly from a democratically controlled co-operative of small scale farmers. This helps them gain more control of their livelihoods and ensures farmers a higher percentage of cocoa export revenues.