A Primer on Ethical Chocolate

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In a perfect world, we would only eat clementines, drink crystal-clear water, and munch on raw almonds at work. Of course, the real world presents situations that challenge that paradigm: three o’clock chocolate cravings and coworkers with candy bowls on their desks that brim with leftover Easter or Halloween chocolates. And studies have shown that dark chocolate is practically a health food, right? Still, there’s a larger conversation to have about this beloved treat, and that conversation concerns the ethics of the chocolate we choose.

A little background: in 2012, 70 percent of the world’s cocoa was produced in West Africa. But according to various sources, child slavery and unethical child labor has benefited the cocoa industry in West Africa by keeping production prices low.

The U.S. chocolate market has generated billions of dollars in revenue in recent years. Back in 2001, Congress attempted to pass a “slave-free” chocolate labeling law, but chocolate companies lobbied to stop it. While large chocolate companies are making some steps toward increasing the percentage of fair trade cocoa they use, consumers have the power to make educated decisions about what candy and chocolate they buy, which can improve the lives of the people growing and harvesting the raw materials. Here are four basic tips:

1. Look for the Fair Trade label. The goal of Fair Trade certification is to ensure the farmer is being paid fair wages.The fair trade designation may vary by location, but there are certain standards for all Fair Trade–certified chocolate. Be sure to read labels! Fair trade certification can be expensive, and some companies, such as Endangered Species, have chosen to forgo certification in order to focus on putting more money in the pockets of farmers. The Fair Trade certification program isn’t perfect, but it is a move in the right direction.

2. Expect to pay more. Higher-end chocolate is often produced “bean-to-bar,” meaning the company has more control over where the cocoa beans are coming from and production prices are higher.

3. Get informed and share your knowledge. Knowledge of the ethical issues surrounding chocolate drives buying decisions. Stay up-to-date on chocolate news; discuss it with friends and coworkers. Chocolate companies that ignore unethical practices will feel the impact of your buying power.

4. Stock something else in the chocolate jar. Whether it’s your private snack-drawer stash or the office candy bowl, look for alternatives to the kinds of inexpensive big-brand chocolates that may take advantage of exploitative labor practices. What if your office skipped the problematic candy bowl full of mini chocolate bars and offered something else instead? We’ve heard that a nice fruit bowl can be extremely welcoming!

Dana Lester has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.


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