If you’re a chocolate lover, you should be aware that not all chocolates are alike. And we’re not talking about cocoa content. Some chocolates are “greener” than others — greener because more chocolate manufacturers are finally facing a number of critical social and environmental issues that have long stigmatized the cocoa industry. But first, a little background into the cocoa industry’s darker side.
The Cocoa Industry’s Darker Side
Since most cocoa is grown by small family farmers in remote tropical regions, they’re often forced to sell their harvest to middlemen for a fraction of its value. Many cocoa workers live in poverty and barely earn enough to live on. Some cocoa farms use forced child labor, often the case in Western Africa where much of the world’s chocolate comes from. Another thing to consider is that cocoa plants are very susceptible to diseases and pests. To save their crop, many farmers often use highly toxic pesticides, including lindane, which poses both health and environmental risks. Finally, new cocoa varieties have been introduced that grow in full sun, which upsets the balance of a region’s eco-system and biodiversity.
What Consumers Should Look For
So what should you do? For starters, choose chocolate with the right eco-labels. Chocolates labeled USDA Certified Organic, for example, originate from farmers who use renewable resources and conserve soil and water to support the environment. Crops grown under this label are not exposed to synthetic fertilizers or the most persistent pesticides, and they’re produced without genetic engineering or ionizing radiation. They’re also processed and handled separately from conventional cocoa.
Another label to look for is Fair Trade Certified. It’s your assurance that farmers and workers are getting a fair price for their crop, that they can sell directly to buyers, not middlemen, and that the cocoa crops are grown using soil and water conservation measures that restrict the use of agrochemicals. The Fair Trade label does have some caveats. Gaining a “fair trade” certification can be too costly for some small growers to afford. Many different organizations are allowed to certify items as “fair trade,” each with their own process and level of oversight. What’s more, the difficulty in policing farming practices has allowed some items marked as “fair trade” to contain cocoa that was produced using slave and child labor or under unsafe working conditions with inadequate or no pay.
Lastly, there’s the Rainforest Alliance label. A chocolate bearing this logo means that it originated from crops that were grown using integrated pest management systems that curtail the use of agrochemicals. It also means that the crops were grown using water, soil and wildlife habitat conservation measures, and that farm laborers were offered salaries and benefits that rose to the legal minimums in their countries.
So if you enjoy the endorphin rush of a great tasting chocolate bar, you can now get additional satisfaction just by reading the label. Enjoy.