Fair-trade Chocolate- what it is & why it matters

Why Fair Trade Matters in Chocolate

Easter is right around the corner.  Did you know Easter trumps Valentine’s Day in chocolate consumption by well over double?  Only Halloween sales sell top chocolate over Easter. These classic bunny and egg-shaped treats are popping up in stores across the nation.

Over $2.6 billion dollars will be spent on candy this Easter season in the US alone.  Children around the world will wake up Easter morning to find chocolate in their Easter basket.  Unfortunately, there’s a sad side to this favorite treat that does not capture the spirit of the Easter season at all.

Chocolate statistics-

a pile of chocolate pieces

  • The US only accounts for 15% of the world’s chocolate consumption.  Most of the chocolate in the world is consumed in Europe- especially in Northern countries.

  • A large majority of chocolate is grown in Africa, yet only approximately 3% of the world’s chocolate is consumed there.

  • Cocoa grows within 20 degrees of the equator

  • Cocoa is actually a seed which goes through a multi-step process to become chocolate

  • Almost 2 million tons of chocolate are produced along the Ivory Coast- where child slave labor is a common practice

  • There are over 5 million cocoa farmers in the world

  • It takes 400 cocoa beans to produce 1 lb of chocolate

  • The chocolate industry makes over $100 billion per year

Slave Labor, Child Employment, Unfair Wages & the Dark Side of Chocolate

Awareness of fair, ethical, and safe labor practices is growing.  We often think of fair trade coffee or clothing. People are often surprised to find out chocolate has a dark side of production and growth.  (And it’s not delicious dark chocolate!)

Chocolate is actually grown, harvested, and processed quite similarly to coffee.  Regions, where coffee grows, are often regions chocolate is grown. While fair trade standards for coffee are becoming well known, chocolate has been overlooked.  Unsafe working conditions, low pay, and long hours are often part of the chocolate industry. Our sweet treats are coming at a high cost to those who have manufactured them.

roasted cocoa beans

  • An estimated 40% of chocolate is slave-grown

    • Accurate statistics could not be found indicating how much chocolate was manufactured under slavery conditions

  • At least 2 million children are working in slave-labor conditions in the chocolate industry

    • This number is likely drastically higher, over 29 million children are working in slavery conditions around the world

  • Child trafficking is rampant among cocoa farming

  • The average cocoa farmer makes between 50-81 cents per day

    • The global industry for extreme poverty is $1.90 per day

Chocolate’s Environmental Impact

The slave labor involved in chocolate isn’t the only concern.  Thousands of acres of land have been completely ravaged by unsustainable cocoa farming. There is also a massive environmental impact of transporting all the ingredients for chocolate around the world.  Plus many chocolate manufacturing plants don’t practice sustainable manufacturing. This accounts for massive amounts of pollution and waste worldwide.

Like coffee, cocoa does best when it is shade grown.  As you’re shopping for chocolate, you may see “shade grown” or organic on the label.  These are certifications that mean not only the yummiest product for you- but the best conditions for the environment as well!  Cocoa is a finkiy plant which only grows under very specific circumstances.

What Can We Do?

No, you don’t have to give up chocolate for good.  Growing awareness and international pressure on chocolate companies is creating positive change.  As with all things, the best option is to vote with your dollar. Look for fair trade certified chocolates when you shop.  Do a little bit of extra leg work and try to find chocolates that are manufactured with sustainable practices as well.

“Farm to bar” type chocolates are becoming more commonplace as well.  These are almost always fair trade chocolate. The chocolate company is involved in every step along the process.  They’re certifying growing and harvesting conditions, and manufacturing the cocoa themselves. Sometimes the cocoa will pass through several different hands before coming to yours as chocolate.  A “farm to bar” will all be done with only one company involved.

Vote with your dollar by not supporting companies with slave grown chocolate.  Spread the word to your family and friends as well. Take it a step further and let your voice be heard by contacting chocolate manufactures.  As the demand for fair trade chocolate rises, so will the pressure on companies to produce it.

Watch Your Sourcing

Green America provides a fantastic Chocolate Scorecard that rates chocolate based on their labor practices.  It’s even in a handy chart-form you can print and take to the store!



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