Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Buy our chocolate! Save the world!

Image by Salina Hainzl. For illustrative purposes only; I have no idea what brand these blocks are.
But they're making me long for one of Willy Wonka's reach-through-the-screen-and-grab-it contrivances.

Have you seen the posters accompanying the display shelves for a certain Big Brand of chocolate lately?

A grinning, headscarfed woman with a basket, surrounded by a field of green plants. Below that, a sparkling blurb on how Big Brand's signature chocolate product is now Fair Trade certified.

"By buying [Big Brand's Big Chocolate Product] you can help guarantee a better deal for Third World Producers," gushes the copy. Evidently, they want to get across that the money you spend on this one chocolate product that has the Fair Trade mark on it will go towards helping Nature Girl and her family, and we all love the thought of helping others, don't we?

Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of the poster before it got covered with the Next Big Thing in pillar advertising so I can't quote it verbatim. But I remember that it mentioned better schooling, housing and living conditions.

Of course, the Fair Trade certification applies only to this one product, which is essentially plain milk chocolate bars. Do you see the double-speak in action here? If they manage to convince me that purchasing their plain milk chocolate has an altruistic benefit, then they've also succeeded in convincing me that all of their other products do not offer a better deal to Third World producers, because not a single one of those other products -- which, by the way, probably sell much better than plain old boring milk chocolate -- has the Fair Trade seal.

Dear Big Brand, you cannot draw my attention to the poor working and living conditions of cocoa plantation workers one moment and then, in the next, expect me to become magically unaware of them when looking at your other chocolate products.

The Fair Trade movement has been accused of selling out to big money and making it too easy for major manufacturers to exploit loopholes in the production line, so that in the end they're still turning a huge profit buying large amounts of non-Fair Trade raw material -- but get to enjoy the public kudos of electing a Fair Trade "poster product" to proudly bear the movement's stamp.

With advertising campaigns like this one out there, it isn't hard to see why such accusations exist.

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