The Journey Towards Fair Trade Kosher for Passover Chocolate
I am having the (metaphorical) experience of spending 40 years crossing the desert, just like our ancestors. The journey of having Fair Trade and Kosher for Passover chocolate produced is taking a lot longer and is much more complicated than I ever imagined. Manna appears regularly in the form of amazing people whom I am lucky to meet, so I am being fed along the way! Here’s the unfolding story…
In October 2010, I was first introduced to the issue of child labor in the cocoa fields of West Africa when I watched the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate” at the Fair Trade Federation conference. I was so affected by the stark reality that I couldn’t move or speak for 10 minutes after watching the movie. On the spot, I was inspired to suggest that we broaden Fair Trade Judaica’s mission from focusing on Judaica products to building a Fair Trade movement in the Jewish community; one of the key principles of the Fair Trade movement is prohibiting child labor in product development/production. Our Advisory Board strongly supported that idea.
We received a small grant from Equal Exchange and quickly put together educational materials. Fair Trade Judaica hosted six DVD screenings/discussions around the country and distributed the educational materials through other organizations before Passover 2011. And the issue began to be talked about online and at Seders throughout country. While there are many delicious Fair Trade and Kosher chocolate products none of them are Kosher for Passover. During that campaign we realized the irony of not having Fair Trade and Kosher for Passover chocolate. While there are other environmental and social certification programs, Fair Trade is recognized as the strongest in terms of monitoring and accountability about child labor.
Why is Chocolate Such a Kosher for Passover Issue?
Chocolate poses a unique issue for Passover kashrut – most chocolate products contain lecithin as an emulsifier, and lecithin is usually obtained from soybeans, part of the “kitniyot” (legumes) category, whose consumption is prohibited during Passover in the Ashkenazi community. This is not as much an issue in Sephardi/Mizrahi communities. The companies that don’t use lecithin need to add additional cocoa for the right consistency, which raises the price of the final chocolate product. (Who ever figured I’d learn so much about chocolate????).
The Issues We’re Facing
Over the past year or so, we have spent at least 100 hours researching and speaking with about a dozen Fair Trade companies about their interest in producing a Kosher for Passover chocolate product, and with a few Kosher manufacturers/certifiers about sourcing Fair Trade cocoa. Most have said that they’re not interested; their reasons include:
– They don’t think the market is big enough and therefore no profit will be made. This led us to distribute our Fair Trade Kosher for Passover Petition in 2012 () which over 1,000 of you have signed to show that there is such a market!).
– There is concern that the potential extra cost of using Fair Trade cocoa would make their products uncompetitive. Fair Trade chocolate is usually of a much higher quality than other chocolate, which accounts for part of price differential (not just the Fair Trade certification process)
– There is concern about the cost of the Kosher for Passover certification process which can run several thousand dollars, a big expense for a small company
– They are not interested in manufacturing contract products, e.g. a specific product that wouldn’t become part of their yearlong inventory
– It’s just “too complicated”
– It requires 12-18 months to design/produce/market new products and the companies have other priorities
– Several Fair Trade manufacturers expressed concern about having the Kosher certifying staff in their kitchens for the entire production period and causing disruption
The Good News
On the Dayenu side of the journey, we are in conversation with a wonderful Fair Trade company who is conducting serious research to make this happen. However,adding a Kosher for Passover certification will require major changes involving several different steps and players. They are proceeding as quickly as possible, and we hope will be successful.
In the spring of 2012 we began a discussion with a matzah company about sourcing Fair Trade cocoa for its chocolate covered matzah.; Given the complexity of their supply chain they need to order the raw materials by early summer for the following Passover season. There just wasn’t time to get it done for 2013. We have been doing research since that time and have identified one confirmed and another potential source of Fair Trade cocoa. They are seriously looking at the competitive price issues, as matzah companies compete for shelf space, so even a few cents’ difference in price could make a difference!
In our conversations over the past year and a half, many Fair Trade chocolate companies told us that they have decided to explore Kosher certification, which would offer a wider selection of products, and perhaps provide another partner for us to work with.
What YOU Can do to Help us Bring Fair Trade Kosher for Passover Chocolate Closer to Reality!
1. Sign our Petition to show manufacturers the deep desire and market in our community for these products
2. Get involved as a volunteer with us to move this effort forward
3. Read this Haggadah supplement at your Passover Seder
4. Download a photo of cocoa beans on your Seder plate and talk about the issue; it’s free!
5. Make a donation to support our work and receive a “Virtual Fair Trade Kosher for Passover” chocolate bar for your Seder plate
6. Learn more about the issue
7. Host a screening of “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD and educate others
8. Contact us with connections you have to a Fair Trade chocolate company or a Kosher chocolate manufacturer
9. Let us know if you’d be willing to work with us on a crowd-sourcing fundraising effort to help cover the initial cost of Kosher for Passover certification