Dairy Milk might be as bad for the waistline as it always was, but the recent announcement from Cadbury means that it might no longer tug at our ethical conscience. But what exactly does it mean to have gone Fairtrade, and what difference will it make?

Cadbury has announced that, from this summer, its Dairy Milk bar will be made with fairly-traded chocolate. And later this year, its hot chocolate drink will also be Fairtrade.

In doing so, Cadbury became the first mass-market brand to go Fairtrade in the UK. Industry experts are expecting this to put the squeeze on other big chocolate firms, such as Nestle, which has long resisted the call to turn Fairtrade.

What does this announcement really mean? What difference will it make for cocoa farmers in Africa? And why does it matter where a 47p bar of chocolate is made? It’s the answer to the last question that defines all the others.

The bitter taste of chocolate

According to the UN some 284,000 children in West Africa are either trafficked into cocoa plantations or are working in enforced conditions. It believes that as many as 36,000 trafficked children could be working as slaves in Africa’s cocoa plantations.

One child – who can’t be named because of the danger to him – was 11 years old when he was sold to a cocoa plantation in the Ivory Coast. “I tried to escape,” he says, “but I could not. They caught me and tied me to a papaya tree and they beat me and broke my arm. They beat me because I asked about food. “I used to have horrible dreams that they were beating me and about other things: the hard work, my family…I still have these dreams today.”

He’s not alone. Hassan, now a teenager, has been rescued from a cocoa farm and tells a similar story. “If anyone said anything about salary, they would beat them,” he says. “They would take us to a place and show us graves. They told us if we ran away they would catch us and kill us and bury us there. The boy who arrived with me, they beat him to death.”

Traders lured both boys into working in the Ivory Coast as they sought employment in their home towns. They were looking for work because their families weren’t earning enough to keep them. They whisked them over the border between Mali and the Ivory Coast between checkpoints. Though they’ve both now escaped, they still live in hiding with their families for fear of reprisals from the traffickers.

This type of situation isn’t meant to exist in the Ivory Coast – or in other African countries – the nation’s own laws ban children under the age of 16 from working. And in the last eight years, there’s been an international campaign by the chocolate industry, governments and human rights organisations to eradicate the problem.

Yet today, children are still working in cocoa plantations. They can harvest the pods using machetes; open them with hammers; or administer dangerous pesticides. Fairtrade campaigners have sought to combat this. And, while there is no 100 per cent guarantee that buying Fairtrade chocolate will mean that no child has been trafficked into a cocoa plantation, it’s as close as you can get.

The Fairtrade alternative

Fairtrade farmers work as a cooperative and get paid a slightly higher price for their beans than others. They get the market rate that is currently at a 26-year high, plus a one-off fee of $150 per tonne paid – and shared by – the collective. Manufacturers claim that this makes trafficking less likely as farmers have enough money to live on and to pay wages.

Cadbury will be working with 40,000 Fairtrade cocoa growers in Ghana and hoping to bring some of the country’s 700,000 other cocoa farmers into the scheme.

Alex Cole, Cadbury’s global corporate affairs director, says that the scheme, which is costing £45 million over 10 years, will “increase democracy” and “help prevent trafficking” in cocoa plantations.

William Cadbury set up the plantations in Ghana 100 years ago in a bid to improve practices that were happening elsewhere. So, Cole says, there “was more that united us with Fairtrade than divided us. This is part of our Quaker history.”

Plus, of course, it’s good business sense. The Fairtrade market is small – at around one per cent of sales – but growing fast. UK sales were up 43 per cent last year. All Fairtrade sales (everything from bananas to t-shirts) totalled £700 million in 2007. Sales of Cadbury’s DairyMilk are worth £200 million, adding more than a third to the sector in a stroke.

This is just the start. Cadbury hopes to expand its Fairtrade involvement, possibly launching Fairtrade products in Australia and Canada.

“The aspiration is to make it bigger,” says Cole. “We can do that by taking it to other Cadbury’s brands in the UK and Ireland or we can take it to other markets. “What’s exciting is that until now Fairtrade has sold products. You buy the product because it is Fairtrade. What’s interesting about this is that we are taking a brand that people always buy and saying, ‘This is Fairtrade’. It’s going to be in every corner shop in the UK, not on a special shelf. Everybody can have it. Ninety per cent of the population eats Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.”

Christians and chocolate

Churches and Christian-based groups such as Stop The Traffik have long campaigned for major chocolate companies such as Cadbury to move to Fairtrade production. In November 2006 this magazine ran a major feature highlighting the link between modern-day slavery and chocolate. The feature underlined how readers could use their buying power by choosing Fairtrade chocolate. It also compared anti-slavery campaigns from the past with modern-day attempts to reduce child trafficking and highlighted the role of prayer in past and present campaigns. So it is no surprise that there has been a very positive response to Cadbury’s announcement from Christian groups. Many of them claim that it was their lobbying that led to the change. Not so, says Cadbury’s.

Speaking at a press conference in London in March, the founder of Stop The Traffik, and longtime Christianity columnist Steve Chalke said, “If you eat chocolate that’s not Fairtrade you are enjoying the product of trafficking, so you are supporting trafficking. This evil production machine can only continue to exist because people say, ‘I know, but I can’t be bothered.’ It’s not good enough to love your favourite chocolate bar more than someone’s freedom.”

Cherie Blair also attended the event. She said that people could tackle trafficking through thinking about what they bought.

“Stop the Traffik is not about despair, but it’s about anger and a determination to stop this scandal,” she said. “There are little things that we can all do in what we choose to buy.”

She advocated buying Fairtrade goods including chocolate, but added, “We all need to be asking the true price of the [High Street] goods that we are buying. We should be asking questions about how they were made and by whom.”

A challenge to Mars, Nestle, Hersheys...

Many in the Fairtrade scene have voiced their delight that such a major player as Cadbury has made such a change in its production.

The chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation, Harriet Lamb, described it as a breakthrough, setting a new standard for the mainstream chocolate industry. She said, “The Fairtrade Foundation set out an ambitious strategy last year to double its positive impact for producers by 2012. It is precisely this kind of big commitment by a major player that could make it possible to achieve these goals.”

Stop The Traffik’s Chalke said, “This is a very significant step in our campaign. We congratulate Cadbury on their commitment to justice and now look to their policy being adopted across their entire product range, as well as being followed by other manufacturers.

“We now call on Mars and other manufacturers to follow Cadbury’s lead and abandon their reliance on the use of cocoa produced through trafficked and exploitative forms of child labour.” Traidcraft described the move as having “the potential to introduce Fairtrade to a new and wider consumer audience.”

Its chief executive, Paul Chandler, said, “This is good news for Fairtrade cocoa farmers Kuapa Kokoo – suppliers of cocoa to Traidcraft and part owners of Divine Chocolate – who, through their hard work and in partnership with Divine, are well-placed to meet the demands of the growing market.

“The adoption of Fairtrade by the mainstream has been a goal of Traidcraft’s for a long time. We recognise that this increases competition, but we remain confident that consumers will continue to value and support the pioneering work of dedicated Fairtrade organisations.”

Christian Aid’s spokesperson, Tricia O’Rourke said, “We welcome Cadbury’s move on Fairtrade. It is a really major step in the Fairtrade movement and expanding the concept into everyday products that millions of people buy.”

However, she warned that it was likely to have an impact on the sales of smaller companies such as Divine, who have traditionally been the purveyor of Fairtrade chocolate.

The Government has also welcomed Cadbury’s announcement. Stephen Timms MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said, “It is a further strong vindication for all those volunteers in churches who have been sustaining the Fairtrade movement since its inception. It dramatically increases the share of the UK grocery market accounted for by Fairtrade. And it’s clear that Cadbury’s sees this commitment as firmly in its own commercial interests as well as in the interests of its suppliers in Africa.”

That’s certainly true. Cadbury buys nearly two-thirds of its cocoa from Ghana – viewed as the provider of the best quality cocoa beans in the world – for its UK products. Cocoa is as important to Ghana as Ghana is to Cadbury. The country is the world’s second largest cocoa exporter after the Ivory Coast.

But not everything in the Ghanaian garden is rosy. A study by Sussex University and the University of Ghana showed that the country’s average cocoa farm produced only 40 per cent of its potential output. Farmers didn’t know how to maintain their land and their trees efficiently and effectively.

This led to lower incomes, and that has led inexorably to the younger generation not wanting to be cocoa farmers any more. Without the cocoa beans, Cadbury couldn’t function. So, says Cadbury’s Alex Cole, it is in their own interest to pay the farmers more to keep them in the industry. “If we don’t have the beans then we can’t make the bars,” she says. “We were finding that the younger generation of farmers didn’t see cocoa as something they wanted to go into. For us, making sure that cocoa growing is a respected profession is very much in our interest.”

And now more than ever, it’s important that chocolate companies ensure they have enough cocoa. Because of the credit crunch, we are eating more chocolate, as a way of comforting ourselves. Chocolate sales are up 80 per cent on last year’s figures, according to Selfridges in London.

“I think this can be put down to people trying to cheer themselves up with everything that’s going on at the moment,” a Selfridge’s spokesperson said. “Chocolate is an affordable luxury. It doesn’t cost a huge amount and makes people feel better.”

Fairtrade campaigners are hoping that Cadbury’s move will make life feel better for children like Hassan, and not just for chocolate lovers in the UK.

How much chocolate do we eat?

Britons spend an estimated £2.23 billion on chocolate each year, enough to bail out a small bank. A recent survey by the research company Mintel showed that the value of chocolate sales rose by 10 per cent between 2005 and 2007. It had been at one per cent between 2003 and 2005. Luxury chocolates and dark chocolate appear to be the varieties of choice. Sales of luxury brands are booming, and sales of dark chocolate – which is thought to be more healthy – doubled between 2005 and 2007 to £85 million. It’s anticipated that chocolate sales in the UK will grow by 17 per cent in the next four years.