Let's talk about ethical chocolate....
Hello, co-founder Claire here with some food for thought for you:
Some of you may have seen the distressing Dispatches programme on Channel 4 last night showing children working on cocoa farms in Ghana where Cadbury buy their beans from. Sadly, child slavery is still an issue in West Africa and despite this being a long term problem for the chocolate industry, it is taking a long time to be solved.
West Africa accounts for c80% of world cocoa production but they are producing ‘bulk’ cocoa of low quality. The poor regional infrastructure, inefficient farming practice (farms being split into smaller & smaller holdings down the generations) and a hugely long supply chain rife with corruption means that overall, cocoa is a crop that keeps farmers poor and in a cycle that they can’t escape, resulting in the horrific practices that can still be found today as exposed by Dispatches. The average age of a cocoa famer in Ghana is over 60 – that says it all, young people don’t want to farm cocoa, why would they?
In the 20 years that we have been in the industry, we have seen some sustainability programmes emerge which work alongside fairtrade to focus on improving the effectiveness of cocoa farming to improve its sustainability & the long term livelihoods of farmers in West Africa but it is very much a journey and there is a long way to go. As several experts have said to me, there is no such thing as slave-free chocolate coming out of West Africa.
By the way, we source our signature single origin chocolate from countries producing higher quality fine cocoas including; Madagascar, Ecuador & Colombia, all with short supply chains and some which is produced in country of origin which significantly raises the value of their trade, but that is another story which you can read here, but back to this one.
Cadbury have a massive role to play as they are owned by one of the world’s largest multinationals, Kraft, and they could and must do more to fix this problem. However, it sadly appears from the Dispatches programme that they are still playing lip service to ethics. At the very least they could increase the price they pay for their West African cocoa beans and pass the cost if necessary to consumers – we must break the cycle of thinking of chocolate as a cheap food and educate consumers!
Just think about that for a moment – how can a chocolate bar containing cocoa grown in a tropical region that take a minimum of 6 months to ripen, is harvested, fermented & dried by hand by the farmers, before being shipped to the west for processing & packaging, be so cheap? If you work backwards, you can see that the amount for the farmer is going to be tiny.
Further, you don’t have to look very far to see that Cadbury are not really ethical in any sense of the word as the ingredients label tells you all you need to know. If you see a chocolate bar that contains palm oil as well as cocoa butter (the fat part of a cocoa bean), you know that the manufacturer is CUTTING COSTS as palm oil is a cheap fat.
As you would no doubt expect, we don't work with any chocolate that contains palm oil. There is no place for palm oil in chocolate - end of.
What’s more, by adding palm oil, 'big chocolate' (as Cadbury are not the only culprit here) is also adding to the problems faced in tropical rainforest regions, especially Indonesia, where palm oil plantations are destroying virgin rainforest, wildlife habitats , ecosystems and contributing to climate change (which is why we support SOS, the Sumatra Orangutan Society as we try to do our tiny bit to fix some of the issues caused by our multinational peers)…do I need to say more?
Well actually I do, as the presence of palm oil is a clue to another ingredient you will find too much of in these products – SUGAR. Sugar is cheap & sugar is addictive and ‘big chocolate’ products with palm oil in will also be high in sugar. So that chocolate fix you think you are getting after eating a bar of this stuff? Sorry, it’s a sugar fix!
As you can tell, I am passionate about this and about educating people to stop and at least read the back label of a chocolate bar. Despite what emotional attachment you may have to a long standing brand, the label can tell you a lot about what you are about to purchase.
My basic top tip is that if it includes palm oil in the ingredients (& they have to state palm oil, they cant hide behind 'vegetable fats' anymore), then put it back on the shelf and walk away. Look for chocolate that contains a higher % of cocoa in it (as it's pretty much a straight swap, the more cocoa, the less sugar) and obviously, no palm oil.
Look out for milk chocolates that contain at least 30% cocoa. This will not be the case for any 'big chocolate' brands - you will be lucky to see any milk chocolate containing more than 25% cocoa, but will be the case for premium chocolates. In fact, to make the point about how different fine chocolate is to 'big chocolate', our signature milk chocolate contains a much higher 45% cocoa & our 'Mega Milk' contains 65% cocoa which is more than some dark chocolates!
When it comes to dark chocolate, don't get me started on how shocking a certain classic dark chocolate brand is in terms of how little cocoa there is vs sugar....take a look for yourselves next time you are in a supermarket. The % of cocoa is declared as cocoa solids, and as there is no milk in dark chocolate, the balance, there or there abouts (given it also contains palm oil) is sugar - prepared to be shocked!
Look out for dark chocolate containing at least 60-65% cocoa solids. There are a lot around 70% which has become an industry norm, but dont judge them all on that criteria - our 72% from Ecuador will taste softer on your palette than other 70%s as dark chocolate is like wine - there are so many different flavour profiles to discover and enjoy.
I hope my summary today has helped you further understand some of the issues with 'big chocolate' which frustrate us in the fine chocolate world trying to do the right thing in sourcing ethically and our careful use of ingredients. Not all chocolate is like 'big chocolate' though, you just have to work a bit harder to find us. Reading the back of labels is a good start to reject anything that is low in cocoa & contains palm oil - please spread the word!