If you are like most people, you love chocolate. Yet, did you know that some chocolates are much greener than others? The cocoa industry has long been stigmatized for its less-than-environmental farming methods and unfair labor practices. But now it’s easier than ever to buy chocolate made from cocoa that is grown sustainably and harvested humanely. Here’s what you need to know to satisfy both your sweet tooth and your conscience.
Chocolate in Brief
Humankind has been enjoying the taste of chocolate for nearly 3000 years. The first-known instance of chocolate consumption was in pre-Columbian Honduras, in approximately 1100 BC. Cacao beans were brought to the Old World in the 1500s, where it was popular first as a drink and then as a solid bar. Though cacao beans are native to Central and South America, Spaniards began to cultivate them on plantations in West Africa. Today, two-thirds of all cacao production takes place in West Africa with most of it centered on the Ivory Coast.
The Ivory Coast is a troubled region that is being rocked by post-electoral violence. Most of the cacao farmers in the region work small plots and sell their products to middlemen at a fraction of the market rate. These farms are often worked by the entire farmer’s family, including school-age children. Large cacao plantations also employ child laborers, often through coerced means such as slavery or human trafficking. Working conditions are deplorable and mortality rates are high.
In addition to the human cost of cacao farming in the Ivory Coast, there is also an environmental cost. Many small farmers do not have the skills or resources to farm cacao in a sustainable manner. They chop down old-growth forests to farm cacao in direct sunlight, a cheaper and easier method. They may also use chemical fertilizers and pesticides that can create toxic run-off and contaminate local groundwater.
As a consumer, there are steps you can take to clean up the chocolate industry and make it safe for workers and the environment alike. The next time you go to the store to purchase your favorite sweet treat, look for an organic, fair-trade or Rainforest Alliance sticker on the package.
In the United States, organic certification is given by the USDA. For food to be certified organic it has to be chemical-free. This not only means that chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not used to grow that particular crop, but also that the soil has been free from chemicals for at least three years. Organic farms are better regulated as well, and therefore it is less likely that child labor would go unnoticed. Dagoba Chocolate and Life by Chocolates are just two of the many organic chocolate companies found online.
Fair-trade chocolate has a Fair Trade Certified Mark to ensure that it meets certain standards, which include safe working conditions, a fair price for goods that cuts out the middleman, community-oriented companies that reinvest profits locally and environmental standards aimed at sustainability. Fair Trade USA provides a more comprehensive overview of what constitutes fair trade. However, if you see a fair-trade label on your chocolate, you can buy it knowing that your purchase is helping to provide a farmer with a sustainable livelihood. You can find many fair-trade products at Whole Foods. Equal Exchange is a popular brand for fair-trade chocolate.
Rainforest Alliance Chocolate
The Rainforest Alliance takes a holistic approach to rainforest conservation. They believe that the best way to preserve forests is to convince individuals and corporations that it is profitable to do so. That means that if you look for Rainforest Alliance certification on your next bar of chocolate, you will be getting a product that was farmed in a sustainable manner by a farmer getting a fair price for his work. Much Rainforest Alliance-certified chocolate is shade-grown. There are varieties of cacao plants that can grow in the lower layers of old-growth rainforests. By farming cacao this way, rainforests are not only preserved but often reclaimed from areas that had been lost to destructive farming practices. Whole Foods and PCC Natural Markets carry this certification. Blommer, a North American chocolate wholesaler, also purchases Rainforest Alliance chocolate.
Every Little Bit Counts
If you love chocolate, and you are dedicated to being green and socially conscious, you’ll be able to satisfy all of these cravings in one fell swoop. Just get in the habit of reading chocolate labels and buying only those products bearing organic, fair-trade and Rainforest Alliance-certified labels. By voting with your wallet, you can help to ensure that safe labor and environmental practices are used to grow and manufacture this popular treat. You’ll be glad you did—and so will thousands of cocoa workers, your tongue and the Earth. Making a difference never tasted so good.
Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet by Carol Off
Fair-Trade Chocolate: Consider the Soil Behind the Foil
• Dagoba Organic Chocolate
• Endangered-Species Chocolate
• Theo Classic Organic Dark Chocolate Bars
• Gaia Organic Fair-Trade Chocolate
• Alpsnack Fair-Trade Dark Chocolate and Hemp Nuts