Friday, October 23, 2009

Reverse Trick or Treat: Green or Just Mean?

I’ve tried writing this post for two weeks. The subject turns one of the happiest times of my year into a depressing stress ball of emotions. I’m talking about Reverse Trick or Treat.

Here’s the deal. A kid comes up to your house, takes the candy you give them. They give you a flyer about how Fair Trade chocolate makes sure that cocoa farmers sell their crops to chocolate companies for a fair market price, it isn’t grown with forced labor, is sustainably grown and how you should be giving it out instead of whatever you are giving out. Sometimes they give you a piece of Fair Trade chocolate.

Some folks think that coming into a stranger’s house or doorstep and automatically judging them and assuming that they are jerks because they are not giving out or obviously caring about Fair Trade chocolate is a perfectly OK way to spread the word.

I don’t.

Why don’t they focus on encouraging people to GIVE OUT Fair Trade chocolate at their own homes instead? That’s less antagonistic and could sell a lot more Fair Trade chocolate which is the goal or if it isn't it should be, supply and demand and all.

I’d also like to see them work harder at getting more Fair Trade chocolate for sale in regular grocery stores especially the fun size/Halloween type candy. The only type of Fair Trade chocolate I can buy locally are full size bars of chocolate. Even though I love them and I want to support the cause, I can’t just blow the entire month’s grocery budget on buying full size Fair Trade chocolate bars to give out to the army of Trick or Treaters that knock on my door.

It kills me that there is an organization out there that thinks that I should and is encouraging children and their parents to judge me in my own home if I don’t.

Reverse Trick or Treat also assumes I don’t care when in fact, I do care. While I don’t blog about it much (and maybe I should) everything I bring into my home I think about. Hard. In fact, last year I agonized over the Halloween candy decision, got depressed, and gave myself a migraine trying to think of something that was also allergy free, vegetarian, plastic free, cruelty free, low waste, organic, local, and isn’t a toddler choking hazard.

Reverse Trick or Treat assumes that I’m not aware the issue. Wrong again. I visited cocoa, coffee, and sugar farms in the Dominican Republic. I’ve seen with my own eyes how the “rich” family who owned the farm lives in a house with a dirt floor and has the luxury of a 13” TV hooked up to a car battery because they do not have electricity.

I can’t fault the cute little munchkin with the flyer on my porch or their parents for being the only one full of wrongful assumptions. In my research for this article, I found that when it comes to Fair Trade chocolate, the Fair Trade chocolate industry isn’t always fair to it's farmers. It’s not just the Fair Trade coca industry either. In some countries Fair Trade collectives do not pass the extra money they get from selling their coffee at the higher Fair Trade price back to the farmers in the collective which is what Fair Trade is supposed to be about.

 That’s right. I assumed that when I buy Fair Trade chocolate that someone is watching the watchers to ensure that Fair Trade stays that way. I was wrong.

This feels like a punch in the gut. Now I know how Dorothy felt when she pulled back the curtain and found that the Great and Powerful Oz wasn’t a wizard at all but just an old man.

This doesn't happen in every country or with every Fair Trade collective but it is apparent to me that the discussion about Fair Trade chocolate and how to make sure as a consumer that I’m buying something that is as Fairly Traded as the name implies is much larger than a doorstep conversation. And trust me, it’s a conversation I’ve had and it’s not very easy to verify either way.

So like a lot of questionable things, I’m going to try to limit my consumption. I’m not going to stop buying Fair Trade chocolate or Fair Trade goods altogether because there are many countries and collectives where the Fair Trade system works as it should. But I am going to be even more selective about Fair Trade items and start asking a lot more questions especially when it comes to chocolate because a Fair Trade chocolate farmer and workers being treated fairly varies widely depending upon the country.

Of course, as always, your mileage may vary.

What is your take on Reverse Trick or Treat? Green? Mean? Or otherwise?