Let’s face it: everyone loves chocolate. But do you really know if your favorite chocolate brand is planet-friendly? In this article, we will explain how to choose a sustainable chocolate brand.
First of all, how is chocolate made?
It all starts with the cocoa tree, a very sensitive tree that only grows in the shade of other large plants. The Ivory Coast and Ghana are by far the two largest cocoa producers, accounting for over 60% of the world’s cocoa production.
Cocoa farmers have to separate the pod from the branch with a blade and then split the fruit with a machete. The cocoa beans then appear inside, coated with a white pulp. They are harvested and then stored in tubs or banana leaves to ferment for several days and develop the first aromas. To remove their moisture, the beans are then dried in the sun or on a hot air stream for about a week.
Most often, these beans are collected and sent by boat to chocolate factories in Europe. There they are crushed (to separate the cocoa bean from its shell and germ), roasted (heated) and ground. The result is a cocoa paste.
Finally, to obtain the chocolate we know, cocoa paste is mixed with cocoa butter, adding sugar and possibly milk powder.
What is the problem?
Firstly, today more than half of the cocoa farmers live below the poverty line.
Secondly, on the world market, the price of cocoa is very low. And even when it rises, it is not the farmers who benefit, but the chocolate manufacturers and distributors. According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), cocoa farmers receive on average only 11% of the price of a bar sold in supermarkets. For certain references of bars, this figure does not even exceed 4%. In this context of misery, UNICEF reports that more than two million children are currently working on cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s main cocoa-producing country.
Also, Côte d’Ivoire has lost 80% of its forests in sixty years and the cocoa harvest is a major contributor to this (Source: Eupedia.com). “There can be no mass marketing of cocoa without mass deforestation,” confirms François Ruf, an economist at the Centre for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for the Sustainable Development of Tropical and Mediterranean Regions.
Some producers clear forest plots to set up a plantation. This gives them high yields in the first few years, but this does not last if the cocoa trees are not protected from the sun by other large trees. So much so that there is almost no forest left in the main cocoa-producing country. In addition, to improve their yields, some farmers use chemicals that damage their health and pollute their environment.
What can I do?
Look for independent labels such as:
– Rainforest Alliance
– Fair for life
– World trade organization
- Buy organic
Organic cocoa beans are grown without pesticides, and have a lesser impact on the environment, soil, and farmers.
- Choose dark
Choose dark chocolate with 70%, 80% or even 90% cocoa. Darker means more cocoa, less sugar and milk. More cocoa means more money for cocoa farmers, who generally have very low wages and difficult working conditions.
Choose plant-based chocolate, look for dairy-free options with labels like: Vegan approved, Vegan Founded, Certified Vegan, European Vegetarian Union…
Avoid over-packaging, a third of an easter egg weight can be packaging.
Can I trust all labels?
On the other hand, you should be wary of labels created by companies, such as the Cocoa Plan for Nestlé, or Cocoa Life for Mondelez. These small labels, attached to the back of chocolate bars, promise an improvement in the living conditions of cocoa producers, without any specific commitment such as a guaranteed minimum price. Above all, they are not controlled by an external and independent body.
If you want to know more about chocolate I invite you to have a look at our article “Climate change could mean the end of chocolate“.