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Chocolate with a heart

Fair Trade Certified chocolate aims to be as humane as it is delicious.

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Enthusiasm for chocolate with a heart may be growing, but it remains to be seen if demand for fairly traded sweets is having an impact on the $13 billion a year that Americans spend on cocoa products.

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There's still more to be done, says Debra Music, vice president of sales and marketing at Theo Chocolate in Seattle. "Fair Trade chocolate is getting onto people's radar screen," she says, "but so far, it's mostly in urban areas and in southern California, where the green movement is burgeoning."

To help spread the word, Theo Chocolate – the first factory to produce organic, Fair Trade chocolate in the US – offers tours seven days a week. Many of the people who take the tour, says Ms. Music, don't realize that their favorite treat comes from an actual agricultural crop, the cocoa bean, nor do they know where it comes from – cacao trees grown in Central and South America, West Africa, and the Dominican Republic. Even fewer consumers are aware that the cocoa harvest sometimes occurs under awful labor conditions for little or no pay.

Perhaps the most troubling practice in the chocolate industry is that of forced child labor, which is generally believed to be most prevalent in West Africa, the source of 70 percent of the world's cocoa, and particularly in the Ivory Coast. In the Fair Trade system, child labor and forced labor are strictly forbidden.

It's an issue that deeply concerns Rodney North, a spokesman from Equal Exchange, based in Massachusetts, which partners with cooperatives of cocoa farmers around the world, especially in the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Peru.

"The child labor problem in West Africa was brought to light in 2002," says Mr. North, "Since then, there's been only glacial progress." But he is the first to admit that as disturbing as the working conditions can be around the production of cocoa, consumers remain reluctant to spend as much as $5 more for a Fair Trade Certified chocolate bar than for a regular candy bar just for the purpose of improving human lives.

Bottom line: It also has to taste good.

Or as North puts it: "Everyone has their reason for buying Fair Trade Certified chocolate. Some people tell us they buy our Panama Bar [extra dark chocolate] just for its great taste. The product can carry a message, but it's hard for a message to carry the product." 3 cups strawberries, whole with stems

Strawberries dipped in fairly traded chocolate

3 cups strawberries, whole with stems

1 bar Fair Trade Certified dark chocolate, broken into pieces

1 bar Fair Trade Certified milk chocolate, broken into pieces

1 bar Fair Trade Certified white chocolate, broken into pieces.

Melt the chocolate bars in separate small bowls placed over saucepans of gently simmering water. Take care that the chocolate does not get too hot. Remove from heat.

Carefully wash strawberries, pat them dry, and place them in a bowl. Doing one strawberry at a time and holding it by its stem, dip 1 cup of the strawberries into the dark chocolate, 1 cup into the milk chocolate, and 1 cup into the white chocolate.

Place chocolate-dipped fruit onto sheets of parchment paper to cool and set. Keep fruit in a cool place until ready to serve.

Serves 6 to 8.