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The Bitter and Sweet - What Fair Trade Means

NYSUT”S Summer Leadership Conference this past August included a workshop on Fair Trade. As mentioned in my previous article last June, I have embraced and will be highlighting social justice issues that NYSUT and many of our local unions are focusing on as well. Our profession is all about children, teaching our students to be contributing members of society and the leaders of tomorrow. As a union of professionals, we stand collectively together to strengthen our profession through collaboration, and when needed, by standing up for rights we believe in. In simple ways, we can choose to use our collective voices to stand up for injustices occurring to children and workers who are exploited around the world as well.

The “bitter” part of this is that we unknowingly support some of this exploitation by the chocolate we eat and the coffee we drink as it could be tainted with child labor and trafficking. The “sweet” is that we can make a difference!

This month marks the ten year anniversary of the Harkin-Engel Protocol; an agreement signed by the largest chocolate companies in the US which was supposed to eliminate abusive child labor and forced labor in their cocoa supply chain by 2005. That was supposed to be a “sweet” thing, however, a decade later; hundreds of thousands of children continue to work in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa, while others are victims of forced labor and traffic, all while we enjoy our chocolate bar, cocoa imports soar and large companies like Hershey have record profits. The pressure for companies to source child labor free chocolate is mounting. If you want to learn more, visit

A growing number of chocolate companies are adopting Fair Trade certification, which provides independent verification that their cocoa sourcing complies with international labor rights standards. Soon, we will make available fair trade coffee and chocolate products you can try and buy where you are assured the money is fairly distributed among the workers and children in villages benefit with schooling. For now, you can look for these labels on products you buy that support Fair Trade.

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