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Putting Some Sweet Back into Chocolate

Chocolate…how I love this dark, sweet delight, but lately I have been considering re-writing my relationship to it. It’s not just that I can’t get local chocolate, though that does bother me. It is that the more I read the more that I learn about the social, economical, and environmental injustices that are wrapped up in cocoa production, and I feel the need to really consider my choices. Here are a few brief glances of what I mean (links to complete articles included):

The next time you bite into a bar of chocolate, consider that taste as a link to some of the world's most endangered forests—and to the millions of farmers who live near them. Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao, a small rainforest tree native to the Americas. Produced around the world, it is grown mainly on lands that have lost their original forest cover, sometimes to the cocoa itself. Today, all of the world's major cocoa areas are “biodiversity hotspots”—regions that are unusually rich in biodiversity, but which are also highly threatened.

While chocolate is sweet for us, it can be heartbreaking for the hundreds of thousands of child laborers that pick the cocoa that goes into some of our favorite treats. In 2001, the U.S. State Department, the International Labor Organization and others reported child slavery on many cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, source of 43% of the world’s cocoa. Subsequent research by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture revealed some 284,000 children between the ages of 9 and 12 working in hazardous conditions on West African cocoa farms. Of these children, it was reported that some 12,000 child cocoa workers that had participated in the study were likely to have arrived in their situation as a result of child trafficking.

In addition the multi- billion dollar chocolate industry is heavily consolidated, with just two firms -- Hershey's and M&M/Mars – who control two-thirds of the US chocolate candy market. These global corporations have the power and the ability to reform problems in the supply chain, but refuse to take responsibility for their impact (it would lower their profits). Despite growing demands from conscious groups, Mars, Inc. has refused to offer farmers a Fair Trade alternative. In June of 2002, more than 200 organizations signed a letter to M&M/Mars supporting Global Exchange's Campaign demands, asking the company to address the injustices in the cocoa fields by starting to offer Fair Trade chocolate. Despite this, and an outpouring of subsequent requests for Fair Trade-- M&M/Mars refuses to consider changes.

In light of all this, what is a conscious chocolate lover to do? Here are some actions I support:

- I can do some reading. I can learn about chocolate, where it comes from and how it impacts people and the planet. Can negative impact be reduced or balanced if I support local distributors? What are my options and what are my informed choices?

- When buying chocolate, I can look for a brand with high cocoa content (more cocoa means higher quality and—at least potentially—more farm income). I can also look for chocolate that carries a “fair trade” label or the mark of a similar socially responsible producer, and that is organic.

- I can encourage my favorite stores or supermarkets to carry chocolate brands that are certified as being fair trade, organic, or slavery-free.

- I can boycott Hershey's and M&M/Mars and can let them know why I am boycotting them (bye-bye peanut M&M’s!). I can discuss my choice with my loved ones so that they too can consider their relationship with chocolate.

I can take action through Global Exchange. Global Exchange and TransfairUSA are excellent online resources for supporting and locating fair trade chocolate and other products.

- I can visit Anti-Slavery International and the Child Labor Coalition who both publish information on forced child labor issues on cocoa farms in Africa.

- I can visit The Fair Trade Federation a resource for information on buying fair-trade certified cocoa products.

- I can support The Rainforest Alliancewhich has a sustainable agriculture certification program that includes cocoa farms.

- I can support Equal Exchange, a distributor of fair-trade certified cocoa products in the U.S.

In addition to these efforts, I thought I would include a list here (for those that are interested) of some chocolate options that are (not perfect, but) more sustainable .

Equal Exchange: Organic fairly-traded gourmet chocolate bars that are a delicious treat that supports small-scale farmers and their families. Equal Exchange is based in West Bridgewater, MA and has been nominated for a 2007 Veggie Award for their vegan chocolates.

Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates: Organic, fair-trade chocolate. Based in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Ithaca Fine Chocolates: Creators of “Art Bars”: Inspired enjoyment from the first US chocolate company to offer Fair Trade Certified chocolates. Art Bars are certified organic, Fair Trade Certified, Swiss chocolate bars that feature an art reproduction on a collectible card inside the wrapper. 10% of profits support art education. Based in Ithaca, NY

Dean’s Beans: 100% organic and fair trade hot cocoa and baking cocoa, also kosher. Based in Orange, MA 01364

Divine Chocolate: Divine is the fair trade chocolate company co-owned by the cocoa farmers cooperative Kuapa Kokoo, who not only receive a fair price for their cocoa but also share in the company's profit. Based in London, England.

La Siembra Co-operative: Founded in 1999, produces Fair Trade Certified and certified organic Cocoa Camino products. Their mission is to offer high-quality Fair Trade Certified organic chocolate, cocoa and sugar products that improve the livelihoods of family farmers and the well-being of communities at home and abroad. A Canadian worker-owned co-op. Dark chocolate bars are available in the USA.

Theo Chocolate: Organic, fair trade premium chocolate. Based in Seattle, WA.

Yachana Gourmet: Based in Quito, Ecuador and distributed by One World Projects, Batavia, NY. The Fair Trade Federation recognizes Yachana Gourmet as a responsible operator and recognizes Yachana Jungle Chocolate as a Fair Trade chocolate. Yachana Gourmet's profits support community health, rain forest conservation and sustainable development programs of the Foundation for Integrated Education and Development (FUNEDESIN ). FUNEDESIN is a non-profit Foundation dedicated to finding sustainable solutions in the struggle between the ideals of rain forest preservation and the realities of life in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Dagoba has some delicious chocolate (their lavender blueberry bar used to make me squeal), and when I began this research I had every intention of listing them as a top choice. When you visit their web site, you can see that they practice what they call “full circle sustainability”, and seem very conscious of environmental and social impact. They use organic, non-GMO, non-irradiated ingredients. They buy a portion of their cacao from Fair Trade Certified Cooperatives, adhere to comparable standards across the board, and value their employees ensuring them health care, benefits and good wages. Sadly, upon doing further research I have discovered that Dagoba has a) been bought by Hershey and b) in 2006 issued a recall of chocolate due to unsafe levels of lead , which they had been distributing for over 6 months before the recall. I now have mixed feelings about Dagoba and am rethinking my support of them. I will be curious to see how or if they change under Hershey. Dagoba is based in Ashland, Oregon.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 21st, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)
Greetings from the UK
Hi Jennifer,

Great blog post, with some good research and links! I'm Tom from London in the UK, and I work for a campaigning and educational charity called Trading Visions, which was set up by Divine Chocolate.

I thought I'd just add to your great links list and let you know that Divine Chocolate also has a branch in the USA: www.divinechocolateusa.com

Like Divine Chocolate in the UK, it is more than just Fairtrade, the company is owned by the Kuapa Kokoo small-scale cocoa farmers' cooperative in Ghana. In the long run, this ownership model is actually more important than the Fairtrade certification, as the farmers in Ghana are now starting to receive their dividends as shareholders. Last month, Kuapa Kokoo cooperative received its first dividend payment from Divine of $94,000.

We have a "chocolate challenge manifesto" here in the UK for people to sign, which we are using to show governments and the chocolate industry that people want a fair deal for cocoa farmers: www.dubbleagents.org/community/missions/manifesto.php

Best wishes,

Tom Allen

Aug. 21st, 2007 03:21 pm (UTC)
Divine news
I visited www.divinechocolateusa.com (located in Washington, DC) and there is some great info there about Divine and its impact - as well as free recipes and purchasing information. Thank you for sharing this Tom.
Aug. 22nd, 2007 01:18 am (UTC)
What about Rainforest chocolate? (The stuff people bring to training a lot.)
Aug. 22nd, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC)
Rainforest Chocolate
Hey Ari -

I am not sure which brand Katie brings to training (and a general search on Rainforest Chocolates didn't bring up any new fair trade - organics that I could see). I have seen her bring Green & Blacks (which is organic and fabulous, but not fair-trade).

I think Katie has brought Endangered Species Chocolate (http://www.chocolatebar.com/index.asp), which I had forgotten and which I want to include here. This is chocolate that is organic and fair trade. In addition, Endangered Species Chocolate donates 10% of their net profits to help support species, habitat and humanity. They seem very active; fighting for change for animals, humans and the planet.
Aug. 22nd, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Rainforest Chocolate
You're right about the Endangered Species Chocolate. Good stuff!
Aug. 22nd, 2007 01:18 am (UTC)
Re: Divine news
Oh, and thanks for the info!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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