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Fair Trade assists cocoa kids

This Easter, be careful what chocolate you buy. As Julia Vogl points out, there is increasing concern about the extent to which the cocoa industry is relying on child labour.

Chocolate is everywhere with Easter fast approaching, and sales are rising. However, the issue of child labour in the cocoa industry is a cause for concern. Thankfully Cadbury, one of the most renowned confectionary companies in the world, has jumped on the fair trade bandwagon. And, it looks like other institutions are following suit.

In recent weeks, a number of international documentaries have focused on the negative repercussions of producing chocolate. A documentary premiering on Danish television last week investigated allegations of child labor and trafficking in the international cocoa industry. Therefore, media coverage enhanced the world’s overall knowledge of this continuing injustice.

According to the Fair Trade website, ‘126 million children work under the worst forms of child labour’ and ‘more that one million children are employed in the cocoa farming sector in west Africa alone’.

The Fair Trade website also states that ‘producer organisations must set up internal systems to identify and eliminate child labour within their own communities. Fair trade works with producer organisations to address issues on a progressive basis rather than simply de-certifying them as a first response to findings of non-conformities.’

What they mean is that their main aim is to assist in solving the initial problem rather that pushing farmers and producers into deeper poverty and desperation.

On March 10, La Trobe University announced its commitment to the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. La Trobe’s involvement will assist Fair Trade in their aim to provide ‘better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world’, as well as their aim to put a stop to child labour in the cocoa industry.

When a product or enterprise takes on the Fair Trade label, they are supporting products that have been certified by Fair Trade to provide producers with a better deal for their produce, and enables farmers and workers in third world countries a better chance at a prosperous life. But, what does this mean for the La Trobe community?

Joanna Watts, La Trobe’s manager in Foundation and Development services is in full support of the cause. ‘As someone who is personally passionate about Fair Trade, I see the status for La Trobe as a beacon to individuals and to business organisations to help bring communities out of poverty,’ she says. Watts has also recognised that La Trobe’s current main focus is organising a Fair Trade fortnight to be held in May.

‘We have a week of activities planned. All retailers who have Fair Trade products for sale are advertising this fact with the use of publicity boards, signage and posters,’ she says. ‘Now that we are registered as a Fair Trade University, our commitment doesn’t stop. We are obliged to promote and keep a committee going that meets twice a year.’

Watts also acknowledges that making a difference in people’s lives doesn’t have to involve a great deal of effort for many fortunate Australians. ‘There is always something that we can do to make a difference to help communities out of poverty, and it isn’t hard and doesn’t take much,’ she says.

A ceremony was held at La Trobe to announce the university’s venture with Fair Trade. Watts spoke at the ceremony, saying the event was a great chance for most of La Trobe’s customers and cafes to be involved with this cause. ‘[We] invited key stakeholders, who have supported our campaign, to the ceremony. I gave a welcome address to those attending which outline what Fair Trade is and why La Trobe felt it important to become a Fair Trade University,’ she said.

La Trobe’s Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson also spoke at the ceremony and Watts says that he is very supportive of the venture. ‘He is very committed to Fair Trade and the Fair Trade principles. He sees us leading the way for universities as well as other businesses to demonstrate responsibility in their commercial dealings.’

Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand Operations Manager Cameron Neil is watching Fair Trading grow and has congratulated La Trobe as they join RMIT and Macquarie Universities with the Fair Trade label.

‘This is just the start of our ongoing relationship with La Trobe,’  he said in a article on the Fair Trade Association web site. ‘We aim to promote Fair Trade and educate students, staff and the university’s local communities about the real impact the simple switch to buying Fair Trade-certified products can have.’

Julia Vogl is a second year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.

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