By Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN, Founder of The Well Essentials
Chocolate is one of the most beloved sweet treats enjoyed in countless countries around the world, but unfortunately, it has a long history of unethical labor practices that exploit millions of cacao farmers and laborers. Luckily, consumers can have a significant effect on improving the ethics of the chocolate industry simply by choosing to invest in companies that put people and the planet first.
Where Does Chocolate Come From?
While many people enjoy chocolate on a weekly (or daily) basis, most people aren’t aware of where their chocolate originates from or even how it’s made.
Before chocolate ever becomes the decadent dark, milk or white variety you purchase in stores or from farmers' markets, it begins as a simple seed that comes from the cacao fruit tree. Today, while most of the world’s chocolate is grown in West Africa, South America and Central America, it is believed to have originated in Latin America where the Mayan people highly valued the fruit and viewed it as "food of the gods."
Over time, cacao traveled to Europe, where it began to expand in popularity and was mixed with sugar, milk and honey to more closely resemble the chocolate you know and love today. However, as popularity for chocolate evolved into a massive global industry, the ethical labor and environmental issues also grew as millions of people began to rely on cacao for their livelihood and were exploited in the process.
Due to the nature of the global chocolate market, most cacao farmers don’t have a clear understanding of the world market, prices or access, which leaves them dependent on manufacturers and importers. These manufacturers then purchase cacao directly from the cacao farmers, enabling them to easily exploit the farmers for low prices.
What is Fair Trade Chocolate?
Fairtrade certification aims to address and improve the ethical labor issues associated with the current global chocolate industry. Through Fairtrade certification, cacao is harvested, purchased and manufactured from producers who follow a certified process that was originally designed to improve the sustainability of cacao farming, and create a livable wage and set of ethical standards for cacao farmers and their families.
How Can You Make a Difference?
With the demand for ethical and Fairtrade certified chocolate rising, there is huge potential for consumers to become involved in eliminating ethical labor issues in the chocolate industry, and help create a healthy and profitable future for cacao farmers and their families. Beyond setting minimum wage and public health standards, Fairtrade certified chocolate also helps support education and financial management for men and women working in the chocolate industry globally.
As a consumer, this means that the more you choose to take a closer look at the cacao and chocolate you are consuming, the more the industry as a whole will see the economic demand and incentive for creating ethical supply chains and Fairtrade certified chocolate that consumers are willing to purchase and support.
The best place to begin is by researching companies that choose to invest in Fairtrade certified cacao, and put the health and well-being of farmers and their families first. You can do this by looking for the “Fairtrade certified” label on different chocolate and cacao products that you buy for baking or snacking.
Additionally, if you are really committed to supporting ethical chocolate, then it is always a good idea to research the brands you choose to support and look for information about their sustainability and social impact. Most companies today that are committed to improving our global food system are transparent about their sourcing practices and standards.
Interested in learning more about how we're committed to creating a brighter future for our cacao growers and a superior source for cacao? Read "The Bitterness of Chocolate" by Max Darcey, Navitas Organics Director of Sustainability & Quality.