What are the most eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical brands of chocolate?
Author: Maciamo Hay
In 2015, 3 million tonnes of cocoa beans were harvested to produce chocolate, and demand has been increasing by 2 to 5% each year. The global consumption of chocolate in 2019 reached 7.7 million metric tonnes (i.e. 7.7 billion kg - approximately 1 kg for each person in the world). Cocoa is produced in the evergreen rainforests between 10ºN and 10ºS of the Equator. The largest producing countries are Ivory Coast and Ghana, which supply two thirds of the world's cocoa, followed by Indonesia, Nigeria and Cameroon. Some 15 million hectares (150,000 km² or 58,000 sq. mi.) of land are used to grow cocoa beans - 50% more land than for coffee beans. That's five times the land area of a country like Belgium or the US state of Maryland, and larger than England. And that's just plantations. If we count the towns and villages that support the 5 to 6 millions farmers working in cocoa plantations the land area used doubles. Needless to say that cocoa cultivation has a huge ecological impact.
In 2017, Mighty Earth reported that many of Ivory Coast's national parks and protected areas have been entirely or almost entirely cleared of forest and replaced with (mostly illegal) cocoa growing operations. They found that 291,254 acres (1780 km²) of protected areas were cleared between 2001 and
2014, while during the same period, neighbouring Ghana lost 7,000 km² of forest, or about 10 percent of its entire tree cover. Chimpanzees, elephants, and other wildlife populations have been decimated by the conversion of forests in both countries to cocoa. In Ivory Coast, only 200-400 elephants remain from an original population of hundreds of thousands. Approximately one quarter of that deforestation was connected to the chocolate industry.
Considering all this, it is vital to ensure that cocoa plantations are sustainable and do not destroy tropical forests. Two labels are supposed to ensure this for big companies: UTZ and Rainforest Alliance. Another way to go is to choose chocolate made from shade-grown cocoa (cocoa grows naturally under the forest canopy), which promotes biodiversity, soil fertility, nutrient cycling, erosion control, water regulation, nitrogen fixing, crop pollination, and reduced weed growth. In West Africa, the chocolate industry has mostly relied on clearing forests and growing cocoa in full sun to boost short-run productivity. What's more, shade-grown cacao sequesters about 60 percent of the carbon of forests, while monoculture holds only about 30 percent, meaning that shade-grown cultures are better at mitigating global warming.
Is my chocolate healthy?
Cocoa and chocolate have been proven to have substantial health benefits. But that is for organic chocolate. The use of pesticides and glycophosphates (herbicides) is quite common in chocolate plantations and will undo any health benefit. Pesticides and herbicides have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkison's, Alzheimer's and ALS, to cancer, diabetes, endocrine disruption (such as infertility), and immune system disorders, among others. Organic certification is vital if you don't want to poison your body.
Do I want chocolate produced by slave labour and children?
Child labour and slavery unfortunately still exist in cocoa plantations in Africa. In 2001, Mars, Nestlé and Hershey, some of the world's largest chocolate manufacturers, pledged to eradicate child labour in cocoa plantations. Sadly, as of 2019 they haven't met their targets at all. According to a 2015 U.S. Labor Department report, more than 2 million children were engaged in dangerous labor in cocoa-growing regions and that child labour had actually increased in West Africa over the previous decade.
At present the best way to ensure that your chocolate does not exploit child labour and that local farmers are decently paid is to buy fair trade products. Not all of them are equal though as some companies fail to meet their own standards. I did the research for you and the following brands are all extremely well rated for sustainability, eco-friendliness and fair trade, and which are also certified organic. Sources consulted include Green America Scorecard 2019 report, Be Slavery Free Chocolate Guide 2020, Shop Ethical and Ethical Consumer.
The German discount supermarket chains Aldi and Lidl have both committed to use sustainable cocoa in 100% of their own-brand products.
To further reduce your ecological impact, choose chocolate makers located near you and ideally also cocoa grown in the closest continent to limit the carbon footprint of transportation. Europeans would ideally choose cocoa made in Africa or the Carribean (Haiti and the Dominican Republic make some of the best cocoa). North Americans would obviously select Latin American cocoa, if possible from Central America. People located in East Asia or Oceania should go for Asian cocoa. Indonesia is the biggest producer, but cocoa is also grown in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and India.
You can also purchase many European brands of organic and fairtrade chocolate on organic e-commerce websites such as Kazidomi (Bouga, Bovetti, Kaoka, Newtree, Rapunzel, Terra Etica, Vivani) or Real Foods (Divine, Equal Exchange, Green & Black's, Ombar, Plamil, Raw Halo, Seed & Bean, Tony's Chocolonely, Traidcraft, Vivani...), which both deliver to most European countries.