I was in Ottawa this past weekend for The Justice Summit, which was a great event I will summarize more next week. My Ottawa stay spilled into Monday, and between meeting with an MP on Parliament Hill and getting to watch Question Period (in all its gory glory), I walked with my husband and a friend to the office of my favourite fair trade brand in the world – Camino – which is owned by the Ottawa-based La Siembra Co-operative. They were the first registered importers of Fairtrade Certified cocoa and sugar in North America! I was really excited.
About two years ago I made a decision not to purchase non-fair trade chocolate bars, and I still shed the occasional tear for my beloved Kit Kat. I was confronted with the fact that many around the world are being exploited or enslaved to make our chocolate, and that I wanted to support brands that pay fair wages and offer healthy livelihoods for my brothers and sisters in developing countries. I love the idea of reducing vulnerability and preventing situations of poverty in which families have to sell their daughters or take big risks just to survive. Since I made this decision, Camino chocolate has overtaken my taste buds, and I was delighted when Mélanie Broguet, the marketing and communications manager (and taste test panel member!) agreed to sit down with me for an interview. You guys are in for a real treat. Note: The text in pink is my own commentary!
Mélanie, what is it like to be on a tasting panel and what has been your favourite Camino taste test product so far?
There are 8 people on the tasting panel, and we are trained every 6 months. We’ve learned to speak the same language. For example, we learn to identify notes like red fruits, oak, and earth, which helps us develop recipes. After a day of taste testing we can’t taste anything anymore! Taste testing is important because it ensures quality control. Every harvest is a little bit different, so we have to make sure the taste is close enough in each batch to ensure consistency. I like dark chocolate, specifically the Panama 80% which is more fruity. The Dark 71% has a more complex taste to it. (At this point Mélanie brought in the Panama and the 71% and we got to experience this difference!)
If you could choose three items for a gift pack, what would they be?
The Panama 81% Extra Dark Chocolate bar, our Dark Hot Chocolate, and the Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Snack Bar. (I wanted to take a picture of these three items, but ended up eating the Panama chocolate bar before my camera got to it! Oops. I substituted one of their delicious Raspberry bars, another of my personal favourites!)
What inspired you to work here?
I’ve always been very passionate about the environment and social justice. I have a business background and realized that that there should be more to business than just trading and making money. My boyfriend at the time got a job here and I loved what La Siembra stood for. I liked that Camino works directly with farmers and fosters diversified, vibrant communities. I have been here since 2007.
Can you explain how fair trade works, and how Camino operates differently from big corporations?
Fair trade really focuses on community. Isolated, small scale farmers often do not know anything about selling their product, like what the price of beans would in the international market. In order to get fair trade certification, they have to come together as a co-operative. This gives them more opportunities for knowledge and accountability. Once they are registered with the Fair Trade International, Camino can work with them. Fair trade is about transparency, long term commitment, and knowing who you work with. (Camino sources ingredients for all their products from co-operatives of family farmers in 10 countries: Dominican Republic, Peru, Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Costa Rica and Brazil. There are over 35,000 of these family farmers!)
Camino is not only fair trade, but organic. These two go hand in hand. Our products are shade grown, meaning that less water is needed to produce a crop. We also help farmers diversify their crops, so if there is a year where one crop does poorly, they can still harvest others. Big corporations generally do not operate in this way, and usually require large amounts of water and pesticides to keep profits high.
Is there a story of transformation you’d be willing to share with us?
In Peru’s remote Montero area, people used to make a sugar called canchaca (block of sugar). It often ended up being used to make alcohol (aguagardiente) because it was so poorly processed, leading to alcoholism and violence in this rural town. When Camino began to work with the farmers in this community, things started to change. Now the region produces high quality brown sugar that has more nutrients, and can be sold internationally.
The number of producers in the CEPICAFE Co-op has grown to 6,663, and cheap sugar is no longer used to make alcohol. Violence has decreased. Kids see that their parents are earning a living wage from farming, and instead of heading to the cities to find work, the young generation is going to school and returning to their village with even more knowledge. (I LOVE this! Often youth are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking when they try to make ends meet in cities. Amazing how sugar can reduce vulnerability!). The product is packaged in Piura, about 3 hours away, so the whole process provides livelihoods for many families. This project started in 2003 and has been a success. Their crops have been diversified, so even though right now there is too much rain for a good sugar harvest, they still have other things to farm.
If you could share one last thing with Hope for the Sold readers, what would it be?
First, I would tell them to pay attention to who is behind the product. When a big corporation that is not fair trade has a fair trade product, it is good for awareness but what are their motives? Camino is about more than this, because our motives are about social justice, sustainable communities, and the environment, more than just about what looks profitable or trendy.
Also, I would say to support your local farmers, gardens and communities here. Increasingly the fair trade movement is focusing on local fair trade. When organic, fair trade items cannot be found at the local level (like cocoa beans since they don’t grow here), support farmers in other countries.
Wow. So cool. Mélanie sent us away with our arms full of Camino samples, which I am munching on as I write this.
Thank you so much Melanie for showing us that buying fair trade products can actually make a difference in the lives of others! For those of you who want to try some Camino chocolate bars, snack bars, juices, coffee, hot chocolate, baking products, or treats, you can find a store near you by typing in your city or postal code here. If you live in Canada, you can also order Camino products online at Well.ca, which offers FREE shipping for most Canadian locations.
Camino products make for great gifts – I even used Camino sugar and chocolate as game prizes at my bridal showers a few years back! Really, the possibilities are endless.
I encourage you to check out the Camino website, the Fairtrade Canada website, and VOTE NOW for Camino’s Chocolate as the best fair trade item in Fairtrade Canada’s contest! Finally, watch this video and register your first step!