Cocoa is a ginormous global commodity. It is the third biggest agricultural export after coffee and sugar, a $70 billion industry.
However, from bean to bar, the many processes and people involved cause a disastrously confusing trail to keep on top of ethical practice.
The giant corporations are often cutting compassionate corners to maximise profit margins. So what to do about it? Do you purchase palm oil free, opt for organic or rigorously rule out products that refuse workers' rights?
Avoid big brands like Cadbury's, Mars, Daim, M&M's, Terry's, Toblerone, Guylian and supermarket brands. They are guilty of many environmental and human rights abuses.
If big chocolate companies spent 1% of their $86m marketing spend on Ivory Coast, they could support half its farmers
Worker's rights &
Western Africa exports 70-75% of the world's cocoa. On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, As a result, companies often resort to the use of child labor to keep their costs low.
Due to the under-current nature of trafficking - gathering data is very difficult, but the UN estimates that up to 1 million children work on chocolate plantations in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire - where up to 60% of export revenue depends on cocoa.
These children are aged on average between 12 - 16 and only a small percentage get to go to school, with many instead disappearing into the hands of human traffickers. Journalists have found children as young as 5 years old working - children then also vulnerable to brutal treatment and slavery.
Cocoa is prone to disease, which could wipe out crops and cost small farmers their livelihoods. The Divine Chocolate cooperative has chosen not to be organic, to assist their producers' economies, who may not be able to maintain certification.
However, the pesticide named lindane has been banned from use in the EU, as it is ahormone disrupter linked to breast cancer. However, it is still used on cocoa plantations, exposing the workers to potential health risks.
Chocolate companies often say they have no way of knowing whether their cocoa is sprayed with lindane, as they don’t buy direct from the growers. So deciding between fair working standardsand organic produce can be difficult. check out the Scoreboards below and mix it up between the good guys.
The Fairtrade brand does a lot of work to protect workers, create sustainable farming and stabilise prices so workers receive a fair deal.
Unfortunately, there is widespread criticism of Fairtrade - which is an imperfect model and in many ways mimics the short comings of the free market.
The Rainforest Certification is more geared toward ecosystem conservation and wildlife protection, but also audits companies for fair treatment and good working
conditions for workers.
The certification is gained after two years of application, and is audited every year.
Organic chocolate is produced with biodynamic and natural fertilisers, not harmful chemicals, which are health dangerous for cocoa workers. Some of these chemicals get into soils and waters damaging the environment, the rest gets eaten by us...
However, some companies like the ethical and altruistic Divine brand sold in Oxfam supports communities of cocoa farmers who have no choice but to produce cocoa, a crop prone to disease and pests. In order to support these farmers, Divine chooses not to be organic (though it is 100% fairly traded and traceable).
palm oil free
Palm Oil creates a gargantuan global industry, as its used in a massive proportion of our everyday products.
Because of this enormous demand, giant corporations are scrambling for cheap sources, so its production is often irresponsible and causes massive deforestation, devestating biodiversity loss and human slavery,
If you'd like to avoid responsibility for this industry, you can avoid it by looking for Palm Oil Free'.
(Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil)
The RSPO is looking to create sustainable palm oil markets. It has nearly 4,000 members.
However, like any organisation seeking membership and financial support from corporate giants, the model is unfortunately flawed.
Amnesty International examined the biggest brand's supply chains and found child and forced labour in all but one of these companies who are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
Though the idea of sustainable palm oil is important, as it's the most efficient oil crop worth $70 billion a year, the RSPO is not always a sure sign of ethics.
“Something is wrong when nine companies turning over a combined revenue of $325 billion in 2015 are unable to do something about the atrocious treatment of palm oil workers earning a pittance.”
The UK imports 90% of cocoa from Western Africa. So to avoid supporting child labour and human rights abuses, we are best ethically advised to avoid the big brands, and search for smaller outfits with more direct supply chains.
As well as the useful index from the Good Shopping Guide below, here is an epic, incredibly robust list of vegan, cruelty-free chocolate.