Archive - December 2012

How Zach Fair Traded His Bar Mitzvah

Zach Reading from the Torah

I just got off the phone from a most inspiring conversation with Zach Colton-Max who celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in October in South Orange, New Jersey.  I know Zach and his family because they ordered kippot for his Bar Mitzvah – from recycled soda cans made by Fair Trade artisans in South Africa.  But the real story began in the summer of 2011….

Zach attends Camp Naaleh in New York, sponsored by Habonim Dror.  While the camp offers most of the usual summer camp activities (sports, crafts, hiking, Shabbat, etc.), they also focus on a particular social justice issue each summer.  That summer session focused on the issue of unpaid labor – children and adults who work hard, and often in unsafe conditions, to make the products that we depend on.  As a group, the campers decided with staff that they wanted the camp to find a new purveyor of t-shirts for them, made in a way that honored the workers.

Zach found himself deeply moved by the issue of child labor in all forms, from factories to prostitution.  “I’ve always had the opportunity to live my life and do what I want, but so many kids have different lives.  I know that if I was in their place and they knew about me, they would help me.  It’s only right that I help them.”

Through his research, Zach heard about Free the Children, a nonprofit started by a 15 year old which is committed to freeing children and their families from the grip of poverty.  He was inspired to make this the centerpiece of his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.  In his Torah drash he says “I find that child labor is the most heart-breaking issue in the world right now.  It upsets me personally, because kids like me and my brother and friends, kids are being forced to work – to help their parents economically, because they have to in order to survive.  The working conditions are horrible – they work in sweatshops and dangerous situations.  That isn’t even the worst part.  These kids are caught in a horrible destructive cycle that traps them in a life with no hope of a better future.”  Zach wore a kippa made by Fair Trade artisans and gave one as a present to all of the children who attended his Bar Mitzvah.  The kippot were distributed in gift bags that said “Zach Sack – Choose fair.  Children belong in schools, not factories and farms.”  These cloth bags were also used for the hotel gift bags and were filled with Fair Trade chocolate, dried fruit and other goodies.

Zach’s message was also on display during the Bar Mitzvah luncheon.  Different size glass vessels were filled with products that are harvested, picked, produced or manufactured by children under the age of fifteen.  They included coffee, blueberries, cocoa, sugar cane, rice, and soccer balls.  There was also a note explaining the centerpieces and suggesting that every guest should read labels and choose Fair Trade the next time they went shopping, as well as thanking Fair Trade Judaica for our support.

Zach is following his passion and pursuing this issue past his Bar Mitzvah.  Along with two other students from his synagogue, they are organizing a soccer tournament to raise the issue of child labor used in the production of soccer balls.  They are putting together an educational campaign, as well as talking with the park and recreation department and other local leaders to adopt a policy of only purchasing Fair Trade soccer balls, which are certified to be free of child labor.

Zach has noticed that his friends are now beginning to research where the products they buy come from –  “If even one person starts buying Fair Trade, it will be tremendous and help a lot.”  My guess is that Zach’s efforts will inspire some big changes, both in his home town and in the world.

Celebrate October Fair Trade Month

Fair trade monthOctober is Fair Trade Month, a great time to learn more about the positive impact of Fair Trade on farmers and artisans, and to make a stronger commitment to integrating Fair Trade into our daily lives.

I was inspired by this article by Jackie DeCarlo of Catholic Relief Services, who has been a fair trade advocate for a long time, and hope it will inspire you as well!

Sweeten Your Rosh Hashanah with Fair Trade Honey

Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, an auspicious time to reflect on how our actions truly express our values. Choosing Fair Trade products, when they are available, is one powerful way to act on what is important to us. This year, by choosing Fair Trade honey, we can also sweeten the lives of the bee keepers who make it.

Here’s my guest blog published by Hazon’s “The Jew and Carrot” column in The Jewish Daily Forward.

The Brawl Over Fair Trade Coffee

As many of you already know, Fair Trade USA withdrew its membership from The international Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) last fall, creating one of the biggest controversies in the fair trade movement historically.  Since then:

  • FLO has been meeting with a broad range of fair trade constituents to set up a new certifying body for products distributed through the U.S., and Fair Trade Canada has been assuming that responsibility in the interim
  • Fair Trade USA launched its own program, “Fair for All’, which expands to include certification of coffee grown on plantations and estates (vs. cooperatives)
  • Small farm producers have garnered forces to establish their own label
  • Some Fair Trade businsses have switched certification systems

The controversy continues to heat up! Here’s a comprehensive review that was recently published in “The Nation.”

Bringing Meaning to Bar/Bat Mitzvahs

We are pleased to feature this guest blog by Rabbi Deborah Silver, serving Adat Ari El in Valley Village, California.

We live in a world made up of stories.

When we’re young, we don’t really notice that even the objects around us have stories.  We can probably all remember how, as children, we desperately wanted a particular cereal,  toy, or computer game.  We might also remember how it felt not to get what we wanted.  But we probably didn’t ask ourselves about the story of that product – where it came from, how it was manufactured, how it made the journey from its place of origin to our living rooms.

It’s a sad fact of life that the ceremonies that mark the way stations of our lives have also been commercialized.  At the time of Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the worry about decorations, centerpieces and invitation design can all but subsume the moment at which a young person takes their first steps into being counted as a member of the greater Jewish community.  And while the gifts and money are exciting, Bar and Bat Mitzvah is a wonderful opportunity to remind the young person concerned that they have a heart and a conscience, and that everything has a story.

To become responsible for the mitzvot – which is the true heart of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah rite – means asking questions.  What is the story of this object, and how am I part of that story?  Where does this object come from?  Do I really need it at all?  Can I recycle it once I have had my use of it?  In purchasing it, am I making the right choice?

In the spirit of reminding our young people of the goodness of their own hearts at this special moment in their lives, we give them the gift of a kippah that comes with a story.  For this latest cycle, we have chosen to give them kippot made by Mayan Hands, together with a letter explaining the origins of the kippah and the community from which it came.

By doing this, we hope to remind them that they are part of a greater whole, a whole in which choices matter, stories matter, and in which they themselves can be agents for fairness, compassion and change.

Fair Trade Judaica at the Fair

What could be better?  A gorgeous day with beautiful blue skies, great music and dancing, lots (and I means lots!) of friendly people, delicious food, and … an entire booth of fair trade made Judaica products!  The kippot made from recycled soda cans in South Africa definitely brought out the  most smiles and giggles!  Thanks so much to Sue Bachman and Sandy Curtis for their fantastic help and great photos.  Here are a few photos to share the fun.

  • Banners
  • Grogger Time
  • Looking Around
  • Many Kippot
  • Soda Can Kippot
  • Table View
  • Young Couple

Fair Trade S’more Summer

Summer solstice is today and I’m already dreaming of my first s’more of the season!

One of my favorite memories as a child was practicing how to make the absolutely perfect s’more (marshmallow gooey but not burned, and getting it onto the graham cracker before it fell off) using a Hershey chocolate bar. But since I learned about forced child labor in the chocolate industry, it doesn’t sound very delicious anymore. Tens of thousands of children work in cocoa fields, exposed to hazardous conditions where they spray pesticides without protective gear, use sharp tools, and sustain injuries.

The GOOD news: There are lots of fair trade Kosher chocolates to choose from, and child labor is prohibited in Fair Trade certification.

There are several new Fair Trade Kosher chocolates that we’ve learned about this past year, including Tcho (an artisanal chocolate maker in San Francisco, new milk chocolate mini’s from Equal Exchange, and, finally, a real Fair Trade chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s (Belgian bars in dark or milk chocolate with the IMO “Fair for Life” certification).

Hershey’s is the only chocolate company in the U.S. which is not using any fair trade cocoa beans in its products. Join Fair Trade Judaica and the Jewish community in encouraging Hershey’s to support fair trade and child labor-free chooclate.

I’m looking forward to enjoying my first delicious Fair Trade s’more this weekend!



Child Laboring in Cocoa Fields

Fair Trade Judaica is excited to bring you this guest blog by Jesse Noily, 12 years old of Oakland, CA.  He was introduced to our “Bean of Affliction: Chocolate, Child Labor, and Choosing Fair Trade” campaign at a friend’s Passover Seder.  He decided to focus on this issue for a year-end report at school.  After watching “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD and visiting a local fair trade chocolate company, he wrote this report and made a video (Coming soon!).  If you’d like to watch or show the DVD, here’s a link to it and our screening guide:



By Jesse Noily
The Story of My Search

            Chocolate. There is something so wonderful about it. Something so magically innocent about the milky, sweet Hershey’s bar. Or so I thought a couple weeks ago, when I first started this project. I hadn’t thought at all about where my chocolate came from. I had greedily eaten my heart out every Halloween, and on Valentine’s Day I nibbled away all the pink Reese’s and mini Nestle Crunch’s that had stuffed my valentine bag. And on my own valentines, I had carelessly put small Hershey’s bars, classic milk chocolate and dark with almonds, Krackel and Mr. Goodbar. But if I had known then what I know now I would have hated myself. I remember the day when I was first introduced to the idea of slaves making chocolate. It was Pesach (a Jewish holiday celebrating freedom), and we were celebrating with a Seder (traditional feast) at our friend’s house.

            Now our friends are not…traditional Jews and so at the end of Seder, when the adults are supposed to give the kids a gift, they gave me two packages of some obscure chocolate. One was made by a company called TCHO the other by Alter Eco. They then explained (more to my parents then to me) that most chocolate made by big corporations like Hershey’s and Nestle are non fair-trade, meaning that the people who harvest the cacao are slaves, kidnapped from their families and forced to work. I ate the chocolate, liked it, and forgot about it for about a year. But when we were assigned to write a report on s social justice topic, it immediately sprang back to mind. I love chocolate and it angered me that people were actually smuggling children, forcing them to work, paying them from less than minimum wage to nothing, and if they don’t work, or if they ask for more pay, they could be severely beaten or worse. It angered me how all these companies had covered up these facts so well. But mostly it angered me that all this time I had eaten away at these inglorious goodies the whole twelve years I’ve been in this world, and have been clueless as to where the actual chocolate came from.

            I started my search with my friend Nico. For our extension activity we wanted to do a movie together, so it would make sense to write about the same topic. When we first started researching, I thought it was going pretty easy. There were a lot of websites that had really useful information. A LOT of websites. But then suddenly it became obvious that all these websites and articles were saying pretty much the same thing. For a while I had the idea that wasn’t a lot to say about slavery in chocolate making. Then I realized I was only hitting the surface of my research. I went to the databases, and found some very interesting articles on kids protesting non fair-trade chocolate and boycotting Hershey’s and Nestle, and me and Nico watched a documentary called “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” about two documentarians who went undercover to a cacao plantation. Then I realized that this report was going to be a lot of fun.

 What I Learned

             For what I learned, I’d like to start with talk about how the whole chocolate making process works.  First I’ll start with non-fair trade. What trafficking literally means is trading and smuggling something stolen. In this case, the stolen goods are children. Children are lured away by the traffickers. They are offered money or a new bike, and when the children come close enough to collect their prize, they are grabbed by the traffickers and forced onto their motorbikes. In some cases, the traffickers circle a group of children with their motorbikes, fighting over who gets the best child. When the children are on the motorbikes, the traffickers drive them along a secret dirt road to the Ivory Coast, where all the major cacao plantations are. The kids are sold to the trafficker gets out of there with his money. The child is then forced to work, usually getting paid nothing, and just fed a few scraps to keep them going. What the child does is go around all the trees to find cacao pods (big, ovalish, smooth, long gourd like buds) and cut them off the cacao trees (Mistrati). You may ask why they can’t just have a machine do all this work. Well, the reason why they can is because of the way the pods grow on the tree. They just pop out from the branches and trunk like a person with odd growths sticking out all over their body. So anyway these kids walk around with huge machetes all day, cutting off the pods and putting them in a huge pile. All day, everyday, no breaks, no rest. The cacao pods are then opened up by other workers. When you open a cacao pod, what comes out is this white, larva-ish, marshmallow-like goo pods. In side these liquidy shells are the cacao beans. The cacao beans, after being taken out of their pods, are then shipped to all the major companies, who then roast them, turn them into cocoa butter and cocoa mass. Then those two ingredients are mixed with vanilla, sugar, soy lecithin and milk to create an ordinary Hershey’s milk chocolate bar (For a Crunch bar just add rice crisps).

            Now I’ll tell you the same process but with a fair trade company. For some companies, like TCHO, the CEOs actually go meet the people who make their chocolate. They make sure that their living is healthy, that they’re given enough to eat, and that all the worker are NOT slaves, and there are no children working either. They call this “going beyond fair trade.” The true definition of “fair trade” is that the trade is carried on legally and all the workers are paid a fair amount.  You see, its not like all the big companies have their own separate plantations. Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars all buy their chocolate from the International Chocolate Company and the ICC buys their chocolate from all the small, unknown plantations that usually have child slaves working for them. But not TCHO. TCHO is making a point of making sure that the plantations where they buy their cacao from are fair trade. After being fermented at the plantation, it is then transported to their headquarters in San Francisco, where it is made into chocolate bars. That’s fair-trade. It is so simple.

            Equal Exchange is a fair trade company that sells bananas, coffee, and of course, chocolate. To avoid trafficking, Equal Exchange actually buys from no plantations in Africa, where all the trafficking is (Evans). This may sound ridiculous to you, but the truth is that cacao trees are actually native to South America, but they can grow between twenty and thirty degrees of latitude from the Equator.  You may be asking why all the companies don’t use fair-trade chocolate. I think the main reason is it’s just easier. There’s no international company for fair trade chocolate! The only way to sell fair trade chocolate is to make your own chocolate. Either that or use a different fair trade company’s chocolate, which is illegal. Another thing is it’s cheaper. The small plantations sell their cocoa beans to the ICC (International Chocolate Company) for maybe a dollar a pound. That makes it possible for the ICC to sell the beans to the companies for very little. Compare that to making several plantations of your own. Can you imagine how much that would cost? All this makes me admire fair trade companies even more. They could have saved a lot more money if they weren’t fair trade, but they decided to be instead. That decision is based on totally moral value.


             This project was a lot of fun. As I was doing it, I felt a lot more like an investigator/rebel/detective than a school child doing a report. I had proof and statistics. I had interviews and phone calls. I was a reporter! I demanded the truth! I was determined to find the truth. It sounds cheesy, I know, but when there’s injustice in the world you have to be a little bit cheesy. You have to know the truth and fight against it. When I started to learn about the injustice that was happened to make the chocolate that I’ve loved my whole life, I started to snarl whenever I saw a Hershey’s bar. Whenever we went to whole foods I’d by a bar or two of TCHO or Alter Eco or Equal Exchange. I found out how much better they tasted compared to a sugar loaded Nestle bar. I told people about what I was doing, and I hope they changed their habits as well. I emailed the International Chocolate Company, saying that I wondered if they knew who actually harvested their chocolate. They never emailed back, but I really hope they read it, and maybe someone there would go to Africa and actually see what’s going on there.

Work Cited

“Interview With TCHO.” Interview by Jesse Lev Felder-Noily and Nico Ruben Inchausti. Print.

The Dark Side of Chocolate: Child Trafficking and Illegal Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry. Dir. Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Roberto Romano. Danish Broadcasting Corporation, 2010. DVD.

Crossdale, Akilah. “TCHO Factory Presentation.” TCHO Factory Tour. TCHO Factory, San Francisco. 7 May 2012. Lecture

Evans, Kelsie, Equal Exchange. “Questions About Fair Trade Chocolate.” Message to the author. 4 May 2012. E-mail.

BIG News in the U.S. Fair Trade World!

Life in the U.S. Fair Trade movement has been in flux since Fair Trade U.S.A. (formerly TransFair) decided to withdraw from Fairtrade International, the global umbrella certifying organization (see our blog).

Following several months of conversations with fair trade businesses, consumers, producers, and other key stakeholders, Fairtrade International has decided to create a legal presence in the U.S. by early April to facilitate use of the international FAIRTRADE Mark in the market here. They will establishing a consultative panel including a variety of fair trade stakeholders, to ensure an appropriate structure, good governance, accountability, and a strong voice for Fair Trade in the U.S. Their vision is to create a “powerful, collaborative diverse coalition that is united in its belief in producer development and empowerment.”

During 2012-13, while this model is being established, FLO member organization Fairtrade Canada will continue to assist companies who would like to remain part of the global Fairtrade system.

Fairtrade International recognizes “that there are many different approaches to Fair Trade. The global Fairtrade system will compete respectfully with FTUSA, to ensure that our cumulative efforts will continue to strengthen producers’ position in international trade and improve livelihoods.”

Good and Not so Good News about Hershey’s

Big news in the fair trade world! The good news is that Hershey’s has finally committed to third party monitoring; it has committed to purchasing Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa for its Bliss Chocolate products and will invest $10 million in education and its smart-phone CocoaLink project to teach West African farmers to be more efficient and increase their crop yields.

This is the first commitment that Hershey has made to using independent third-party certification to ensure that its cocoa is grown sustainably. But, increasing crop yields is not guaranteed to bring in sufficient income for a family to encourage its children to go to school instead of working in the fields.

This is great news, reflecting the positive impact that consumer advocacy can have on a company. Hershey heard from more than 100,000 consumers (including many Fair Trade Judaica participants), who expressed their concern about children being involved with harvesting cocoa for their products.

The not so good news has two parts:

– Rainforest Alliance certification focuses on how farms are managed, compared with fair trade standards, which are designed to tackle poverty and empower producers in the world’s poorest countries, giving them a guaranteed price for their products. Additionally, Fair Trade Certification monitors to assure that no child labor is used during production.

– When Hershey acquired the Dagoba chocolate product line in 2006, it maintained its Fair Trade Certification. Hershey has now decided to switch Dagoba’s certification to the Rainforest Alliance, eliminating the more stringent fair trade standards.

If you’d like to get involved, contact the Raise the Bar Hershey campaign!

A New Year and New Resolutions

Given that my New Year always begins on Rosh Hashanah, I don’t often pay a lot of attention to the December 31-January 1 transition, but this blog from Fair Trade Vancouver identifies simple things each of us can do to strengthen fair trade, and support the farmers and artisans. I’ve made a few edits so that the piece is applicable to those of us living outside of Vancouver. And, don’t forget to think “Fair Trade” when you’re buying Judaica products!

12 Fair Trade resolutions for the New Year
By Bryce, Fair Trade Vancouver on January 01, 2012

It’s that time of the year again where the crazy rush of the winter holidays winds down, and all of us get to reflect on how we can make the next year a better one. This year, why not make Fair Trade part of your New Year’s resolutions? To make things easier, the team at Fair Trade Vancouver have put together a list of 12 ways in which you can get more involved in supporting the Fair Trade Movement.

1. Decide to switch one product in your kitchen to 100% fair trade. It can be overwhelming to do it all, but by choosing among the many food options (bananas, sugar, coffee, chocolate, spices) you help to support improved labor and environmental practices around the world.

2. Advertise! Wear a button with the Fair Trade logo.

3. Start a conversation: carry a bunch of Fair Trade bananas down the street or on the bus and if people are looking, tell them why the bananas are special.

4. Ask for it! This doesn’t necessarily mean asking the establishments you attend to carry Fair Trade, but simply asking “do you have a Fair Trade option?” helps to get Fair Trade on people’s radars. It’s great to have Fair Trade at home, but sourcing Fair Trade at a restaurant, office, school, or community event can help build a movement.

5. Pass it on: take a couple of Fair Trade chocolate bars as a gift when you go to a friend’s for dinner.

6. Start another conversation: In the checkout line, make a comment to the cashier or the person behind you about how much you love the Fair Trade chocolate bar/other items you’re purchasing.

7. Potluck it: Re-create your favorite Fair Trade dessert and share it at a potluck with a list of ingredients (except for that secret one!)

8. Be an ambassador. Many people haven’t heard of Fair Trade or don’t really understand what it’s about. Be an ambassador among your friends. Ask questions together and be willing to look up answers.

9. Make the switch to reusable shopping bags made from Fair Trade cotton — support cotton farmers and the environment!

10. Continue to engage in online dialogue and advocacy. At the Africa Fair Trade Convention, there was a large cry out to have stronger connections between producers in the developing world and consumers in developed countries. African producers are starting to jump on the social media bandwagon and are ready to have conversations with consumers to further tighten the value chain. The more we ‘Vancouverites’ can spread and engage in real conversations online with producers the more we can hope to create ‘digital noise’ and spread the conversations across a larger network of consumers.

11. Gift it: for those upcoming birthdays, consider a Fair Trade item like a soccer ball, a cake made of Fair Trade ingredients, textiles.

12. Get involved. Attend (local) Fair Trade meetings. Make up a list of your questions and have coffee with someone. Teach yourself! Knowledge is power and you are in control.