Welp, we are now one day away from Valentine’s Day (really hours at this point, but who’s counting) and if you still haven’t purchased a gift, chocolate is pretty much the easiest go-to there is. It’s easily accessible, it’s delicious, and let’s be honest, nothing says, “I love you,” quite like a giant heart shaped box of chocolates. Regrettably, the majority of the 58 million pounds of chocolate (yea, I know, that’s a sh*t-ton of chocolate) that will be purchased for Valentine’s Day have a less than appetizing backstory.
One problem that comes with most cheap chocolate is labor issues — the chocolate industry is notorious for paying their laborers low wages at best, and using forced child labor/slavery at worst. In fact, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 250 million child slaves working to produce many of our everyday purchases such as coffee and cocoa — not cool man. The working conditions are also pretty unsafe, as laborers are typically climbing trees with machetes to cut down the bean pods, being exposed to hazardous pesticides, etc., etc.
Another issue is the way in which a lot of cocoa is grown and cultivated. It is absolutely possible for cocoa beans to be cultivated under the shade of native canopy trees within landscapes similar to natural forest, however a lot of farmers are cutting down the forest in order to grow cocoa more rigorously. Some are also planting cocoa hybrids that require full-sun exposure and regular pesticide application. This ultimately leads to the destruction of the natural forest (along with wildlife habitats that exist there), and the pesticides produce chemical run-off that can contaminate local soil, streams and waterways.
So, what is a last-minute Valentine’s Day shopper and/or someone who just wants to eat a gosh-darned piece of chocolate to do? The biggest thing is resist most of that chocolate that is so readily available at most local supermarket (sorry). What you can do, though is look for single-origin, small company, artisanal chocolate. Also, make sure to check the labels:
- Fair Trade is a good option. Fair trade ensures producers sell chocolate at above market prices. That means that workers are paid fairly and also had safe and environmentally friendly working conditions.
- The Rainforest Alliance stamp is also a good label to look for. This label ensures that farmers are growing their cocoa in environmentally responsible ways which means they are protecting shade trees, planting native species, maintaining wildlife corridors, conserving natural resources and reducing pesticide use.
Below are some good options that may not be at every corner store, but they are still pretty darn easy to find:
Seattle based Theo Chocolate was the first organic, fair trade chocolate factories in the country. Theo’s founder, Joe Whinney, set out with the goal of making the world a better place, and lucky for him, he found a way to do it through his passion — bringing out the best of the cocoa bean. In 1994, while working in the tropics of Central America and Africa, and pioneering the supply of organic cocoa beans into the U.S., Whinney saw the injustices happening in the industry and for the next decade worked tirelessly to advocate for Fair Trade practices and organic farming the cocoa bean. Today the company produces small-batch chocolate with ingredients that have met optimal social and environmental standards — nothing is grown with pesticides, nothing is genetically modified, nothing is exposed to industrial solvents or food additives, and all cocoa beans come from grower-run cooperatives in Africa and South and Central America. Not to mention that their flavors are pretty freakin’ stellar.
Theo Chocolate can be found on their website, at several grocery retailers including Whole Foods and Gelsons, and even some Starbucks.
Certified B Corp, Alter Eco, is a food company that seeks global transformation through ethical relationships with small-scale farmers and an integral sustainability orientation at every point on the supply chain. Chocolate is just one of the things they make, but they work with their famers, not only to establish fair trade and organic practices in their farming, but also to replenish and reforest land. They pay their farmers a fair price to cover the cost of production and invest in their lives and futures. They even go above and beyond, paying Fair Trade Premium — farmers democratically decide how best to invest the Premium in projects that help the whole community and improve their quality of life. Everything Alter Eco produces is fair trade, organic, GMO-free, and carbon-neutral (added bonus: they are actually working to become a carbon-negative company). Their chocolate products, which include truffles (mmm…truffles), are crafted with pure coconut oil, no preservatives, no soy, no palm kernel oil and come in compostable packaging. Pretty sweet (literally).
Alter Eco chocolates and truffles can be found on their website, at several grocery retailers including Whole Foods, and I even found it at my local CVS.
Endangered Species Chocolate
Probably the most notable thing about Endangered Species Chocolate is that with every bar you are supporting conservation programs worldwide — Endangered Species Chocolate donates 10% of its net profits to organizations that support species conservation, habitat preservation and humanitarian efforts. But as an added bonus, Endangered Species Chocolate also sources their ingredients from sustainable and non-GMO farmers. The company has established relationships with cocoa famers in West Africa that are committed to high standards for quality and ethical trade. They also pay a social premium for their ingredients to ensure that farmers are supported and species protected.
Endangered Species Chocolate can be found at several grocery retailers like Whole Foods and Ralphs, as well as Target and CVS.
London based and B Corp certified, Divine Chocolate is the only fair trade chocolate company that is actually partially owned by its cocoa famers. Kuapa Kokoo, a cooperative of over 85,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana receives the largest share (44% to be exact) of Divine’s distributed profits, and also holds two seats on Divine Chocolates Board of Directors. This co-ownership has given the farmers more economic stability and increased their influence in the cocoa industry as whole. This alternative business model has also allowed for greater efficiency, increased savings, increased involvement of women, better environmental standards for cocoa production and records that are transparent, democratic and accountable. Just divine, if you ask me.
Divine Chocolate can be found online and at Whole Foods and Target.
Green & Black’s
Green & Black’s is a chocolate brand that was founded on sustainable and ethical sourcing principles because of their belief that great taste comes from the finest ingredients. Green in their name symbolizes their commitment to always sourcing ethical cocoa; Black was meant to stand for the high quality and delicious intensity of their chocolate. The company’s signature line includes chocolates made from cocoa beans that were ethically sourced from Cocoa Life — the company’s program that invests in sustainable cocoa farming. The bars have no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, as Green & Black’s searches high and low for all ingredients –which ensures that they’re not only meeting stringent standards of fair trade and sustainability, but also finding a perfect balance to ensure each bar is flavor packed and delicious
Green & Black’s can be found on their website and at Whole Foods, Walgreens, Walmart and Wegmans, among other places.
When you purchase from sweetriot, you are supporting a women-owned company making all-natural, healthy, fair trade chocolate treats and snacks in a socially responsible way. The certified B Corp sources their cocoa exclusively in Latin America, which supports a better life for farming families through fair prices and direct trade. And in addition to premium, high quality ingredients, they also use recyclable and reusable packaging that features original artwork by emerging artists.
Sweetriot is pretty readily available and can be found at Wholefoods, Safeway, Sprouts, Wegmans and Bristol Farms. They also have their Monthly Riot Club, in case you wanted to give (or receive) a monthly shipment of dark chocolately goodness.