How to Find Ethical Chocolate (and why you should find it)
Ethical chocolate can be hard to find. There are labels you can look for, such as "fair trade" or "direct trade," but they only tell us a little bit, and the process of obtaining those labels can be expensive for chocolate makers, not to mention that brands that are careful about where their cocoa comes from aren't available in every supermarket and drugstore. You could say that ethical chocolate is a lot like ethical meat: To make the right choice, it's best to know and trust the producer.
Why is there a need for ethical chocolate?
What most people know about chocolate is that child labor is widely used on the Ivory Coast in Africa, where most of the world's Theobroma cacao is grown and comes from. A good rule would be to not buy big brands whose origins are not transparent - but that would include almost any chocolate item that is in line at the grocery checkout, unless that grocery is a fancier store.
Most chocolate has an opaque origin and is made using low-paid or slave labor because, in the United States and Europe at least, we have come to think of chocolate as something mundane that is not worth considering - just a snack or a treat you can buy anywhere. But that view leaves labor and land open to exploitation and has led to less biodiversity in cocoa, making the crop susceptible to disease and extinction.
Chocolate has become ubiquitous in many parts of the world, despite the fact that it is a product that requires care, both as a crop and in the form of confectionery. The first step toward making more ethical choices regarding chocolate is to treat it as something unique and indulgent - it has become a cliché to say it, but consider it like a special bottle of wine.
That doesn't mean a lifetime of super dark chocolate without "inclusions" - what the craft industry calls the nuts or puffed rice we're used to finding mixed into bars on the shelves. Take Tony's Chocoloney, a Dutch company that recently launched an initiative called "Sweet Solution" bars. Their bars are full of swirls and bits and are wrapped in brightly colored paper that reminds the buyer of classic chocolate candies, but are made with transparently sourced cocoa.
The company, whose goal is to make chocolate "100% slave-free," launched these to draw attention to the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which was established in 2001 by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel to eliminate child slavery from the cocoa trade, and decided on protocols in 2010. This was a groundbreaking decision involving chocolate producers in the U.S. and Europe to change conditions on the Ivory Coast and in Ghana to support education and other welfare initiatives.
But according to an October 2020 report by NORC of the University of Chicago, "the number of children involved in hazardous child labor in cocoa production in the cocoa-producing regions of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana increased by 13 percentage points over a 10-year period (from 2008-09 to 2018-19). The increase coincides with a 62 percent growth in cocoa production in the two countries."
What it means is that the more the chocolate industry grows, the more dangerous child labor becomes, and it becomes increasingly important to consider your bars and chocolates with more consideration.
How do I find ethical chocolate
Fortunately, there are chocolates for every taste and budget. The aforementioned Tony's Chocoloney has its "5 Sourcing Principles," which include using 100% traceable cocoa beans, establishing long-term direct trade partnerships, and focusing on cocoa quality and productivity to optimize cocoa yields. The bars are modeled with accessible flavors that appeal to even children, such as a milk chocolate bar with 32% cocoa, as well as bars with wafers, nougat, caramel and pop candies.
For those looking for more complicated flavors, Raaka Chocolate, based in Red Hook, Brooklyn, makes their bars and baking discs with cocoa purchased directly from growers, and publishes the price they pay on their website. Cru Chocolate, in Sacramento, California, focuses on drinking chocolate and works with cooperative growers in Guatemala and Honduras. For vegan truffles and other chocolate products, Lagusta's Luscious in New Paltz, New York, sources its chocolate from Republica de Cacao, based in Ecuador.
While the world of chocolate can seem large and daunting, the principles of finding a maker you feel good about supporting are simple: Look for those who are transparent about where their cocoa comes from and ask some questions if those answers aren't easy to find. Ethical chocolate tastes better, on every level, and it's worth it.
Was this article helpful?23 Posted by: 👨 Cynthia D. Daniel