PCC Natural Markets (PCC), the nation's largest natural foods retail cooperative, is believed to be the first U.S. grocer to sell only chocolate made from ethically sourced cocoa.
PCC will sell housemade bakery items, chocolate bars, candy, cocoa powders and baking chocolate only from vendors that provide assurance that child slave labor is prohibited and follow International Labor Organization (ILO) Fundamental Conventions. These include strict prohibitions against child slave labor, as well as provisions about age, working conditions and fair wages for all workers. Restrictions against child labor and fair treatment of workers are defining tenets of the "fair trade" movement.
Child slave labor has been known to be a disturbing element in the chocolate industry since 1998, when UNICEF investigators found cacao farmers in Africa's Ivory Coast relied on labor from enslaved children—many from surrounding countries—to cultivate and harvest cacao beans. An estimated 69 percent of the world's cacao comes from West Africa.
Since then, other studies have reported more than 1.8 million children work in West Africa's cocoa industry. Many work in dangerous conditions, such as applying pesticides without protective clothing. Some are trafficked and sold off to provide labor.
"These practices in the supply chain are contrary to what PCC shoppers expect," says PCC's director of merchandising, Russ Ruby. "Our customers value food that is produced humanely and sustainably—from organic produce to grass-fed meat and fairly traded coffee—so it follows that they prefer to buy fairly traded chocolate."
PCC required its chocolate vendors to fill out questionnaires and sign affidavits ensuring their chocolate adheres to the new standard. PCC discontinued the few brands that did not comply.
Now, all chocolate sold at PCC is fairly traded. All brands are certified either by an independent third party, or signed PCC's affidavit ensuring they meet the standard.
"It may surprise some that brands meeting the fair labor standard, in many cases, are priced lower than chocolates that do not prohibit child slave labor. Meeting fair labor standards does not necessarily increase the price people pay and we still have more than 50 brands that comply," says Ruby. "We're really pleased that doing good things also is good business."
About PCC Natural Markets (PCC): Headquartered in Seattle, Wash., PCC Natural Markets is a certified organic retail cooperative with annual sales of nearly $180 million and an active membership of more than 49,000 households. PCC operates nine stores in the Seward Park, View Ridge, Greenlake, West Seattle, Fremont, Kirkland, Redmond, Edmonds and Issaquah neighborhoods.