Background on Chocolate
Chocolate is a sweet treat enjoyed by many people around the world. On top of chocolate’s sweet flavor, it’s known to offer mood enhancing benefits. These benefits led the Aztecs, Olemcs, and Mayans to believe chocolate possessed mystical and spiritual powers upon their discovery of it about 4,000 years ago(1). Early chocolate was originally consumed as a bitter drink reserved only for royals and elites and would be unrecognizable to chocolate lovers today. Chocolate is now common, easily accessible, affordable, and available in many different forms(1). The average American consumes around 12 pounds of chocolate per year in the form of baked goods, candy bars, beverages, or pure chocolate making it a staple of society(1).
The chocolate is made through a labor intensive process starting with Theobroma cacao, more commonly called the cacao tree. The bright yellow fruits on the tree contain cacao beans. Farm workers harvest these pods and remove these beans which will eventually become cocoa. Once the beans are separated from the pod, they are hand cleaned and begin a 2-9 day fermentation process. The fermented beans then dried and are no longer considered cacao. This process creates cocoa,the main ingredient we recognize in the chocolate we consume(1).
The fruit of a cacao tree with exposed beans. The beans become cocoa after they are cleaned, fermented, and dried. (14)
The Chocolate Industry in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire
Western Africa plays a large role in the global chocolate industry. This is mainly due to the cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which are the top two producers of cocoa worldwide(2). Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest supplier, producing 1.3 million tons or 32% of the world’s total supply in 2013. Ghana is next producing around 18% of the world supply(3).
In addition to being known for high cocoa production, West Africa is known for high prevalence of unfair labor practices as well. Many farms in this region have been known to underpay laborers, employ children, and even practice slavery(4). A 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that over 2 million children were participating in dangerous labor on cocoa farms in West Africa(5). Some children begin working young in order to help their family, some are sold by family members, and others are kidnapped. Many of these children are aged 12-16, but children as young as 5 have been reported working on cacao farms(4).
This is no secret, but many large chocolate companies deny human rights violations take place in the making of their products and the issue is largely ignored by the American public. Hershey, Mars, and Nestle are three of the world’s largest chocolate producers. All three refuse to guarantee their chocolate is produced without child labor(5). This is partially because they are unable to trace their cocoa back to the farms that grew it. In 2019, The
Washington Post reported that Mars could trace only 24% of its cocoa to the farms in which it was grown, Nestle could trace 49%, and Hershey could trace less than half(5). These industry giants frequently make claims that they are working on a solution, but the data shows otherwise. The chocolate industry collects over $100 billion in sales annually, but has only spent a little over $150 million over the last two decades to address this problem(5). Much of the chocolate consumed in the United States is likely produced with the help of under or unpaid children, but there are ways to consciously combat this issue in personal consumption.
This photo shows a young boy working on a West African cocoa farm. (15)
Fair Trade and its Limitations
One way to learn more about the manner of production for any given chocolate company is to look for the Fair Trade seal. According to Fair Trade USA, a seal means “you can be sure it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. We work closely on the ground with producers and certify transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities,”(7). For example, it is possible that a conventional chocolate brand and a fair trade certified brand purchase their chocolate from the same farm on fair trade terms. However, a difference is that the fair trade certified brand does the same for its other inputs, for example sugar, while a conventional brand would not(6). Buying an input in fair trade terms means purchasing the inputs at a minimum price. This creates a minimum wage for farmers, which pays farmers more fairly and helps reduce families’ need for children to work to supplement their wages(8). A fair trade certification does come with some limitations. It can be difficult to keep perfect tabs on all fair trade certified farms. There have been a few instances of fair trade certified West African farms being shut down due to discoveries of illegal child labor or slavery. In 2009 and 2011 several of these farms were shut down, including some backed by the Rainforest Alliance(4). While no similar instances have happened recently, it is impossible to fully ensure completely ethical practices without completely cutting chocolate out of your diet. This is because Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance inspectors are only required to visit about 10% of their farms to rigorously enforce child labor rule(5).However, a complete end to chocolate consumption may be unrealistic for some in today’s society. Reducing chocolate consumption and taking steps to vet chocolate companies are very important. Fair trade is a great place to start, but independent research is a great supplement as well when choosing where to buy your chocolate. Below I have included some tips and tricks to help you choose where your next chocolate bar will come from.
This is the Fair Trade label which can be found on any certified products. (16)
What Can You Do?
It is important to be conscious about the origin of the chocolate you consume. Below I have compiled some tips and tricks for purchasing ethically-sourced chocolate so you can curb your cravings without supporting unfair labor practices.
- If it is made by one of the big three, skip it. Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle have refused to ensure their chocolate is ethically sourced.
- Be extra cautious when buying candy bars with a recognizable name. There is a good chance it was manufactured by Hershey, Mars, or Nestle. Check the manufacturing label extra closely. Some examples of these candy bars to avoid are:
- Crunch, KitKat, Tollhouse, Cailler (Nestle)
- Kisses, Mr. Goodbar, Reese’s(Hersheys)
- Snickers, M&Ms, Twix, Dove, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers (Mars)
- Organic does not mean a chocolate is ethically produced.
- Buying a single origin bar can ensure the manufacturer is keeping tabs on the cocoa producers.
- Purchasing chocolate grown in Latin and South America greatly reduces the chances child labor was involved in the production.
- If you want to purchase chocolate sourced from Africa, avoid Ghana and Ivory Coast if possible.
After searching many online lists of ethically sourced chocolate, I have compiled a list of what brands seem to be the best and some helpful information about each. All three of these brands are fair-trade certified and offer vegan options. This is not a comprehensive list.
Description:Theo Chocolate is a Seattle based chocolate company that offers kosher and gluten free options. They are dedicated to ethical sourcing and transparency. They stand with Slave Free Chocolate and have easily accessible information about where they source their cocoa, including impact reports.
Average Price: $3.99/bar
Where to Find: Publix, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, other smaller grocery stores, online
Fun Flavors: In addition to common chocolate bar flavors, Theos offers many unique flavors including Root Beer Barrel, Bread & Chocolate, and Cinnamon Horchata.
Website: Theo Chocolate Website
Description: AlterEco is committed to human rights and sustainability. All ingredients are ethically sourced and organic. AlterEco also strives to be sustainable through the use of agroforestry practices, rainforest restoration, and compostable packaging.
Average Price: $3.99/bar
Where to Find: Sprouts, Whole Foods, Fresh Market, other smaller grocery stores, online
Fun Flavors: In addition to common chocolate bar flavors, AlterEco offers many unique flavors including Brown Butter, Burnt Caramel, and Salt & Malt.
Website: AlterEco Website
Description: Endangered Species is dedicated to ethical sourcing, getting all of their chocolate from known sustainable farms in Africa. They donate 10% of their profits annually to conservation based charities.
Average Price: $3.29/bar
Where to Find: Publix, Whole Foods,Walmart, CVS, other smaller grocery stores, online
Fun Fact: In addition to common chocolate bar flavors, Theos offers many unique flavors including Forest Mint, Luscious Blueberries and Dark Chocolate, and Caramel Spiced Apple and Dark Chocolate.
Website: Endangered Species Website
Sources for Ethical Chocolate List Creation: