Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Raising the bar - why fair trade organic chocolate is good for you and the planet

Chocolate certified fair trade and organic has environmental and social benefits.
I love good chocolate, intensely-flavoured dark bars in particular. I keep the cupboard stocked with what my kids call “Mommy chocolate” and dole it out a couple of squares at a time. I buy 70 percent or higher cocoa content and consider it a health food as much as I do a treat since there is a lot about dark chocolate that is good for you, and a little bit goes a long way.

I do wonder about what makes chocolate “good.” There is a social and environmental cost to cocoa bean farming and those effects are worsening as the world’s appetite for chocolate continues to grow. According to Mars Chocolate, the demand for cocoa will outstrip global supply (by one million tons) by 2012. Canadians eat, on average, 5.5 kg of chocolate per person each year (Source: Fair Trade Canada).

One of the great things about chocolate is that it grows well under the shady canopy of trees in rainforests. But to increase production many cocoa producers are cutting down large swaths of rain forest to cultivate larger farms, devastating local biodiversity and using farming practices that harm the land. Pesticide use increases, more water is required to cultivate the plants and there is increased soil erosion.

Another challenge with cocoa cultivation is the labour practices. It is known that slave labour exists on cocoa plantations in Africa, child labour is common and paid workers are often given unfair wages, even by local standards.

Fortunately it’s easy to find chocolate that is ethically and sustainably produced. Recognized certification programs are well established in the chocolate world and “good” chocolate is well labeled.


If you’d like to clean up your chocolate habit look for the following certification labels:

  • Rainforest Alliance certified. It’s a standard of environmental, social and economic sustainability. (Water, soil and wildlife habitat are conserved, workers are treated well, and communities receive social benefits like healthcare and education.
  • Fair Trade certified – farmers receive a fair price for their cocoa, they work under fair labor conditions (no forced labour or child labour), there are community development initiatives, and environmental sustainability is promoted.
  • Certified Organic – the cocoa is grown according to standards that promote environmental sustainability and conserve biodiversity.

All of the big chocolate companies (including The Hershey Company, Mars Chocolate, and Lindt-Ghirardelli and Nestle are involved in sustainability initiative to varying degrees so there is some progress outside of the certification labels. (Mars Chocolate has a goal of sourcing 100% of its cocoa from certified sources by 2020. About 20 percent of its cocoa is currently certified.)

But most chocolate available today, be it bars, baked goods or other confections, comes from cocoa that is not ethically or sustainably cultivated.  

If you’d like to force change with your pocketbook the Environmental Resource Centre recommends that we all: “Go dark and read the label.” Look for these brands (among others): Just Us, Green & Black, and Endangered Species.

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