As of January 2015, all sugar, cocoa, vanilla, coffee and bananas are certified by Fairtrade International.
Back in 2005, America’s beloved ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s made a commitment to convert all its flavors to Fairtrade-certified ingredients by 2013 – the first such commitment by any ice cream company in the world. Ben & Jerry’s managed to attain 77 percent of that goal on time, and are now happy to announce that, as of January 2015, all pint, mini cup, and scoop shop flavors of both ice cream and frozen yogurt are made with Fairtrade sugar, cocoa, vanilla, coffee, and bananas.
It’s an unsurprising step for a company already deeply committed to ethical sourcing, but still a major one, especially considering that Ben & Jerry’s was purchased by Unilever in 2000. The acquisition was viewed controversially by the public, but apparently an agreement was made that the new parent company would not interfere with Ben & Jerry’s social mission. It appears that the agreement has held, to the great benefit of farmers in many parts of the world.
The essence of Fairtrade is a commitment to justice and to knowing that the people who grew and produced the ingredients we consume were paid a fair price for their work. In return, the farmers, who are supported and promoted by the global organization Fairtrade International, agree to use environmentally sound farming practices, implement fair working standards, and invest back in their own communities.
Ingredients such as sugar, cocoa, vanilla, coffee, and bananas all have long histories of injustice, from centuries of slavery on Caribbean plantations to corporate takeovers and abuses to pitifully low and unlivable wages. The prices that most consumers still pay in North American stores do not reflect fair prices and continue to perpetuate these historic injustices, making it more important than ever to seek out companies committed to sourcing these ingredients fairly.
Ben & Jerry’s buys its cocoa from cooperatives in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Its vanilla comes from a network of independent small farmers in Uganda. Coffee comes from a cooperative in Mexico – an impressive 300,000 pounds in the past five years! Bananas are sourced from Ecuador, where 300 small farmers grow them for a cooperative in El Oro province. Finally, sugar comes from Belize, a country whose burgeoning sugar market employs up to 85 percent of the rural population.
So why did founders Ben and Jerry choose to focus on Fairtrade certification, instead of organic ingredients or further philanthropy? In a 2010 interview with Leon Kaye, they explained that Fairtrade makes the most sense because “there is no limit to the amount of materials you buy, and once you go fair trade, a company will be hard pressed to reverse that commitment.”
Kudos to the company for accomplishing its long-term goal, although I hardly need another reason to indulge in those decadent pints of deliciousness!