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Ethical Food & Drink – Chocolate

People in the Western world seem much more interested than they used to be in where their favourite foods come from and how they are grown. They need to be, because the processes behind the trading of the most important commodities, such as cocoa, can be very ugly indeed. Major concerns include the use of child labour and exposure of workers to dangerous pesticides such as lindane. As ever, one solution for the need of ethical chocolate is to buy fair trade.

Child la‍‍‍bo‍‍‍ur

Thanks to press investigations and television documentaries, the issue of child labour in cocoa farming has been revealed as a serious p‍‍‍roblem in several countries. One survey carried out by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria found that the majority of children working on cocoa farms were under 14, and that approximately one-third of school-age children living in cocoa-producing households had never been to school.

    The chocolate industry has developed a Global Industry Protocol (also known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol), and initially promised a method of certifying that cocoa had been grown ‘under appropriate labour conditions’. The Protocol also aimed to eliminate the worst forms of child labour on cocoa farms in West Africa. Unfortunately, although some progress has been made, states that the industry is not doing enough to address labour and associated issues, and consequently the commitments of the Protocol have not been met. Illegal labour may still be prevalent on many farms.

    In normal times, Ivory Coast produces nearly half of the world’s cocoa, but, according to a report published in the Earth Island Jo‍‍‍urnal, it is hard to ensure that Ivory Coast cocoa is ‘slavery free’. The country’s cocoa industry has a history of human rights problems. For example, in 2002 most of the foreign workers in the cocoa plantations were driven away by thugs encouraged by the ruling party. Mars and Nestlé have tended to buy large amounts of cocoa from Ivory Coast, whereas Cadbury’s has said that it buys 90 per cent of its cocoa from Ghana, which is a signatory to a tough code of conduct against trafficking of child workers.

    Fair tr‍‍‍ade

    Buying fair trade chocolate is currently the best way to avoid support for child labour and commodity traders. There are now a large number of brands selling Fairtrade certified chocolate, including Divine, Green & Black’s, Plamil, Traidcraft and Seed & Bean.

    In what was seen as a major milestone, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk range in Britain and Ireland became entirely Fairtrade in 2009.  However, in November 2016 Cadbury’s announced it was pulling out of Fairtrade in favour of its own “sustainability programme” Cocoa Life. This raises a number of concerns – not least that their chocolate will not meet the same standards as the Fairtrade mark, as it has not been independently certified.

    One of the biggest shake-ups in the chocolate industry was the controversial take over of fair trade and organic chocolate brand Green & Black’s by Cadbury in May 2005, which later became part of Mondelēz International (formerly known as Kraft Foods).  Cadbury promised to run Green & Black’s as a stand-alone business and despite Green & Black’s efforts to maintain its ethical roots, changes are beginning to appear – the brand, known for its products with the word ‘organic’ printed boldly below their logo, has begun using non-organic chocolate for the first time since it was founded in 1991.  This applies to its new range of chocolate for the US market.

    In the Ethical Chocolate section, a top ethical rating is awarded to companies only if the majority of their chocolate brands are certified Fairtrade. Companies with only some Fairtrade lines receive a middle ethical rating. Companies with no Fairtrade certified products receive a bottom ethical rating. NB:all research by the Ethical Company Organisation is a reflection of the activities of the Company Group.  So for example, although all of Green & Black’s chocolate (within the UK) is certified as Fairtrade, the majority of Mondelēz’s chocolate (the company group behind Green and Black’s) is not Fairtrade. Therefore Green & Black’s only receives a middle rating in the table below.

    Tricky issues

    One major concern about the cocoa industry is how many chemical fertilisers and pesticides the farmers use. The best protection for the cocoa trees is for farmers to do mix planting, which also enables them to provide their own food, as well as using the income from cocoa to pay for health care, education and other costs. Divine Chocolate highlights how prone cocoa is to diseases. Therefore, in order not to threaten the livelihoods of the farmers and also the Ghanaian economy, the cooperative which owns Divine has chosen for the time being not to be organic.

    The pesticide lindane has been banned from agricultural and horticultural use in the EU, on the grounds that it is a hormone disrupter linked to health problems such as breast cancer. It is still used on cocoa plantations, exposing the workers to potential health risks. Chocolate companies say they have no way of knowing whether their cocoa is sprayed with lindane, as they don’t buy direct from the growers. They should be encouraged to do their own tests. To be sure you are eating chocolate which has not be sprayed with pesticides, choose organically certified chocolate from Seed & Bean ( – they offer a wide range of organic and fair trade chocolate and come out at the top of our Ethical Rankings.

    Key Research

    Below you will find links to the key sections of our ethical research in Food & Drink:

    We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): The Organic Seed & Bean Co., Traidcraft, Plamil, Divine, Chococo, Thorton’s, Lindt, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder Egg, Ritter Sport, Dairy Milk, Green & Black’s, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Kitkat, Galaxy, Mars Bar

    Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.

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