Fair trade hadn’t been invented in September 1991 when we launched Green & Black’s 70% cocoa solids – the first organic chocolate . Our biggest ethical dilemma was that it was made with the dreaded sugar. But it was organic, forest-friendly, sustainable and much lower in sugar than other chocolate. Ethically traded, it empowered Ewé tribal women in Togo – and, of crucial importance, it totally blew away your taste buds. “Guilt-free chocolate”, we called it.
Looking for further supplies, I contacted some old friends among the Maya in Belize and found that, after USAID had encouraged them all to plant cacao, they were facing ruin. Why? As soon as the aid workers had gone, Hershey’s buyer progressively reduced the price paid from $1.75 to 55¢ a pound. So we worked out a new deal for a new concept – Maya Gold - and made an offer to their cooperative, the TCGA. We offered: a five year rolling contract to grow cacao for Maya Gold paying $1.75 per pound, help to obtain organic certification, a $20,000 cash advance, and training in correct fermentation and quality control to ensure the best quality cacao.
British and UN aid experts advised the Maya strongly against going ahead with us and particularly against going organic, which they said would be a disaster. But the deal was agreed and signed. When I got back to the UK I met Mike Drury, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, who were looking for a first licensee. So we applied for Fairtrade certification. Mike and Bill Yates from Oxfam flew out to Belize to check it out and came back saying 'It's all you said - and more." We were the first product to be approved by the Fairtrade Foundation and Maya Gold was the first product to bear their mark.
Maya Gold and the Fairtrade Mark were launched together on March 7 1994 at the BBC Good Food Show at Olympia. BBC News sent a film crew to Belize and came back with footage of Maya villagers harvesting cacao, and of their kids munching on the very first bars of Maya Gold. The story was on the afternoon and evening television news and in the press. The Independent headlined it: ”Right On – And it Tastes Good Too.” Young Methodists did an Olympic style run for fair trade, carrying a torch in relays between various English towns, haranguing supermarkets and shops to stock this first Fairtrade product. The senior confectionery buyer at Tesco phoned up: “Here, what’s this product all these vicars are phoning me about? You better come in and see me.” Fairtrade was on the map, with a product that (nicely) encapsulated its ideals. Cafédirect and Clipper soon signed up and the Fairtrade market went bananas.
For the Maya, fair trade’s benefits aren’t just economic:
- Women’s rights. Controlling the post-harvest processing (fermentation and drying) women get some or all of the money earned from the crop, which they spend on education and nutrition.
- Secondary education has increased from 10% of the kids to more than 70%
- Migratory bird populations have increased due to increased forest cover and reduced pesticide residues.
- Every Maya village is sited on a river, which serves as bath and laundry. Pesticide-related skin diseases, rashes and blisters are a thing of the past.
- As a result of working together in a successful producer cooperative the Maya have become an organised political force and recently blocked a timber project that threatened 250,000 acres of rain forest.