Nibbling on chocolate satisfies our need for comfort, distraction and perks throughout the day. Chocolate lovers always keep a bar within arm’s reach in case a sudden craving arises. Made from the dried and fermented seeds of the cacao tree, cocoa is the primary ingredient of chocolate. Its potent flavor comes with numerous health benefits from stress-relief to antioxidants. But chocolate has a dark underbelly.
When we buy chocolate from brands like Hershey, Nestle, and Mars, which account for 35 percent of all chocolate on the market, we support some really bad practices. Chocolate production depends on child slave labor. As many as 2.1 million child laborers work in West Africa, where half of the world’s chocolate is produced. These children are often forced to work.
Chocolate also contains ingredients grown on clear cut rainforest lands. Rainforests in West Africa are cut down to make room for cacao plants. Large cacao plantations also rely heavily on environmentally harmful pesticides and fertilizers. The second source of rainforestation deforestation in chocolate is its use of palm oil as an ingredient. Palm oil crops are a major deforestation driver in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
The best way to confront these global issues is to educate ourselves and change our habits. Ethical chocolate producers combat these problems in a variety of ways.
Chocolate Bar Labels
There are a few issues with labels on chocolate bars. For one, It’s really expensive for companies to certify their businesses, so some companies follow sustainable practices, but can’t afford the label. Next, the standards required for these labels are not always as high as you’d expect. The Fairtrade Foundation used to require 50 percent of a product’s ingredients to meet Fairtrade standards, but they lowered this ratio to 20 percent in 2011. So, while they’re helpful, labels don’t always give the full picture of a chocolate bar.
Another trend for ethical chocolate producers is to manufacture the chocolate from “bean-to-bar.” This means the same company that makes the chocolate grows the beans and markets the product.
Bean-to-bar chocolate’s entire supply chain, from the farm to the consumer, has one responsible brand. This cuts out the many middlemen involved in chocolate production. Having a complicated supply chain reduces a company’s transparency with regard to labor practices.
Another common claim chocolate makers use to express a similar concept is “direct trade.” Again, this means fewer middlemen. The only issue with these labels is that there are no standardizations to verify these claims.
Vegan chocolates promise animal and cruelty-free chocolate. However, just because a chocolate’s ingredients are vegan doesn’t mean it eliminates the other harmful practices listed above. It’s best to do some research to understand a brand’s overall approach to chocolate production.
Palm Oil-free Chocolates
For the sake of biodiversity conservation and animal production in rainforests, it’s important to buy chocolates that don’t use palm oil as an ingredient.
5 Top Ethical Chocolate Bar Brands
Organic, fair trade, bean-to-bar, non-GMO
One of the original bean-to-bar concept chocolate companies and the first Fair Trade chocolate factory in the U.S. Theo was founded in Seattle in 2006 and it has developed partnerships to improve the chocolate industry and the lives of its workers. Theo works with organizations like the Eastern Congo Initiative, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the World Bicycle Relief.
Vegan options, palm oil-free, organic
Locally owned in Ecuador, Pacari works directly with farmers to raise their standard of living. They use organic and biodynamic farming and they have a high reputation for their commitment to social and environmental responsibility.
Vegan options, palm oil-free, bean-to-bar
Madécasse produces all of its chocolate in Madagascar and employs and supports 200 people to improve their livelihoods through training and fair wages. This is a huge achievement because only one percent of the world’s chocolate is produced in Africa. That low percentage sounds even more shocking when you learn that seventy percent of the world’s cocoa is grown in Africa.
Shawn Askinosie started his Missouri-based company to create bean-to-bar chocolate that focused on improving the lives of the community where they source their chocolate beans through profit-sharing and other local development activities. The company has been named one of Forbes’ “Best Small Companies in America.”
Organic, non-GMO, Rainforest Alliance certified
A familiar ethical chocolate brand, Dagoba focuses on preserving the biodiverse regions where it sources its cacao by supporting farmers that use sustainable farming practices.
Many more chocolate companies have an ethical mission, so choose wisely next time you indulge in a tasty bar of chocolate. Happy snacking!
Want to know more about the beverages that pair best with chocolate? Read our post on coffee production next. Then follow it up with this review of the best vegan wines.