Sustainable Ethical Chocolate 2022

organic fairtrade vegan chocolate

I really wish I didn’t love chocolate quite as much as I do. It’s an imported, energy-intensive, non-essential food item tarnished with child labour and deforestation, but God damn it, it’s tasty.

To assuage my guilt at eating this elixir of deliciousness I’m committed to limiting my consumption to the most sustainable, ethical chocolate I can afford. I’m also hoping that by spending a bit more on each chocolate bar I’ll be better at limiting  how much I eat!

So what’s do we need to think about when we’re looking for sustainable ethical chocolate?

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Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

Usually I start with organic when I’m looking at food items, but this is a tricky one when it comes to the main ingredient in chocolate, cocao. A lot of cocao is grown in economically-challenged areas that simply don’t have the money or mental bandwidth to go through the certification process. Some certified organic cacao is starting is available on the market but it’s not mainstream, yet

A few companies I’ve researched state that, even without certification, a lot of the cacao they source is grown ‘naturally’. This may well be true and it’s up to you to decide if that’s enough for you.

It’s worth bearing in mind that when it comes to organic certification the product has to be certified separate to the ingredients to have an organic label on it. This is because being organic is more than just about the ingredients, it’s about the process, the traceability, etc. So even if a bar of chocolate is made of 100% certified organic ingredients it cannot call use the organic logo.

I have come across companies that intentionally / unintentionally confuse the issue by talking about their organic ingredients they use in such a way as to be unclear as to whether their product is also certified as organic. Others are straight up and simply explain that going through the certification process for their product is too time-consuming and expensive for them.

By the by products sold in Ireland have be 95% organic to be certified as such but if more than 70% of their ingredients are organic they cite the percentage of organic ingredients in the product, i.e. 75% organic. (Source: Food Safety Authority of Ireland).

There are numerous organic certifications out there including;

It’s no surprise that there is a lot of exploitation in the making of a desirable product like chocolate. The Fairtrade label was set up to help cacao farmers get a reasonable price for their produce. Fairtrade guarantees a minimum price for their cocoa to protect against market volatilities. Fairtrade believes that farmers are stronger when they join forces, so Fairtrade farmers must be united in a cooperative.

There are independent certification scheme other than Fairtrade; including Fair for Life, the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ (although UTZ has now been absorbed into the Rainforest Alliance brand). Rainforest Alliance places strong emphasis on conservation of the environment and farmers receive a variable premium on top of the market price. They work with cooperatives, as well as independent farmers.

Certifications are third party checks on an external set of standards, a kind of compliance check on sustainability for companies. Some argue that these certifications schemes are too onerous for farmers and the benefits too low, causing some brands to set up their own ‘fairtrade’ schemes like Mondelez’s Cocoa Life and Nestle’s Cocoa Plan. These schemes may be better or worse than fairtrade in supporting farmers and their communities, but we just don’t know. Without an independent third party to rubber stamp standards and processes it’s impossible to verify a company’s claims.

Unfortunately child slavery is an issue in cocoa production globally with big brands doing very little to stamp it out. In 2015, a study conducted at Tulane University found that the number of children working in the Côte d’Ivoire cocoa industry had actually increased 51% since 2009. More details and numbers are available from Slave Free Chocolate and a 2017 report from the Global Slavery Index. (Source: Green Stars Project)

The advice of the organisation Slave Free Chocolate is to seek chocolate brands that are Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance certified or brands that have a clear anti-slavery policy.

Palm Oil
I’ve written I’ve a specific article on the tricky task of avoiding palm oil.

Going by the ingredient list in the products I’ve research it seems the best way to circumvent this sticky issue is to stick to chocolate that get’s it’s fat from cacao butter or doesn’t have any fat added at all, as tends to be the case with high-percentage cocoa chocolate bars.

So hopefully I’ve wetted your appetite for some delicious sustainable ethical chocolate by now. If so, here are some wonderful makers to consider with Irish brands first as always!

Chocolatey Clare is an Irish brand of dairy and gluten-free chocolate made with organic and vegan ingredients.

  • Certified Organic – Their products aren’t, but 99.9% of ingredients are certified as organic.
  • Certified Fairtrade – No, but they buy their ingredients from Rainforest Foods who say they source their ingredients in an ethical manner directly from farmers, and support the UK based environmental charity Rainforest Concern.
  • Certified Vegan – Their products aren’t, but all ingredients are certified as organic.
  • Allergens – Gluten & dairy free
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Palm-oil free – There is no mention of this but their ingredient supplier purchases protected areas of rainforest with every sale through the UK based environmental charity Rainforest Concern.
  • Packaging – Their packaging is fully compostable. The inner wrappers are made from a plant-based compostable film and outer boxes are made from FSC-certified board printed with vegetable-based ink using wind-powered printing machines!
  • Availability – Supervalu, The Butlers Pantry and many zero waste stores. See this map for stockists

Irish brand Bean and Goose source their cocao from UK based Original Beans (see below), which they combine with ingredients from their own farm and other Irish food suppliers.

  • Certified Organic – The company used certified organic ingredients but the brand isn’t itself certified as organic.
  • Certified Fairtrade – No, see information on Original Beans below for more info
  • Certified Vegan – No, although some products are vegan friendly.
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Palm-oil free – Yes
  • Packaging – Their mailing bags for online orders are biodegradable and the rest of their packaging is recyclable or compostable.
  • Availability – Ardkeen, Waterford. Industry, D2.

Cork Based Exploding Tree offer chocolate with a minimal carbon footprint. They’re so focused on their carbon footprint they don’t own a car and don’t fly when overland/ferry is an option. All their deliveries are by bicycle or post and they have a bio-digester for any food waste. They’re also involved in community projects.

  • Certified Organic – No
  • Certified Fairtrade – Yes
  • Certified Vegan – No, although some of their products are suitable for vegans.
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Palm-oil free – Yes
  • Packaging – Their new range of bars has an outer sleeve made from post-agricultural waste and an inner sleeve made compostable plant-based cellulose, and their boxes are made from post-consumer recycled card.
  • Availability – Nourish, Eurospars, Centras and a host of other retailers.

Magic Mayan is a family run chocolate making company in Clare. It has a range of 12 organic, raw, bean to bar chocolate bars, 3 55% Chocolate Bars, confectionary and hot chocolate. All of which are vegan and gluten free. The company believes in keeping as many ingredients as local as possible and so uses seaweed harvested from the shores of Co. Clare and sea salt from Achill Island. Their website doesn’t mention packaging so I’ve emailed them for some info on it. Their products are widely available around Ireland

  • Certified Fairtrade – No
  • Certified Organic – It’s unclear. They’ve been emailed for clarification.
  • Certified Vegan – It’s unclear. They’ve been emailed for clarification.
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Palm-oil free – It’s unclear. They’ve been emailed for clarification.
  • Availability – Online and from a range of stores nationwide

Equal Exchange in a worker-owned Scottish cooperative formed in 1979 to push for better prices for coffee farmers in Africa. They’ve now expanded to a range of goods including chocolate.

  • Certified Fairtrade – Yes
  • Certified Organic – Yes, by the Soil Association or the Organic Food Federation
  • Certified Vegan – No
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Palm-oil free – They have two bars that are palm-oil free
  • Availability – Nourish stores and other eco etailers.

Divine chocolate is a B corporation based in the UK and, according to them, the only Fairtrade company co-owned by farmers. The company also has two representatives from the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers’ Union, a co-operative of 100,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana, on their board.

  • Certified Organic – Some of their products are certified organic, but farmers in the main area they support aren’t currently able to farm organically.
  • Certified Fairtrade – They state that all of their ingredients are Fairtrade, where ever possible, and the ones that aren’t just aren’t available from a Fairtrade supply route.
  • Certified Vegan – Their dark chocolate is dairy free, but can’t be labelled as such due to possible cross contamination from milk products in the factory.
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Palm Oil-free – Yes
  • Kosher / Halal – Some products are certified as kosher, and some as Halal
  • Packaging – They review their packaging annually to reduce it’s environmental impact. They currently use FSC certified carboard and removed cellophane wrappers where possible. They use biodegradable film on their organic range.
  • Availability – Sold in Holland & Barrett Stores and from online e-tailers.

Ombar in the UK makes chocolate from unroasted cocao, which they say retains more health benefits than roasted cocao. Also some of their products have vegan live cultures added, which they say helps with gut health. Their products are free from preservatives and use unrefined coconut sugar instead of cane sugar. They only source from cooperatives owned by farmers growing a variety of crops, never large monoculture plantations.

  • Certified Organic – Yes, by the Organic Food Federation
  • Certified Fairtrade – Yes, by Fair for Life. They also state that they pay more than the fair trade recommended price for their cacao.
  • Certified Vegan – Yes, by the vegan society.
  • Allergens – Gluten, dairy and soya free
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Packaging – Their button bags are compostable and the paper outer wrapper of their bars is recyclable and compostable.
  • Availability – Hopsack in Dublin 6, Evergreen in Galway, Nature Choice in Enniskillen and Goodness in Belfast. Check out this map for more info

Original Beans in the UK source rare cocao to make additive-free chocolate.  In 2019 they funded two conservation projects for endangered species and they support projects that protect 8 biodiversity areas. For every bar that’s sold a tree is planted through their own own tree planting project, Climate Forests, which they also use to offset the company’s carbon emissions. The say that the delivery of their cocao beans to wholesalers is carbon negative and that the milk they use comes from Swiss cows that are farmed more sustainably than at mainstream dairy farms.

  • Certified Organic – Some carry the EU organic mark, but others use cacao beans that aren’t certified as organic even though, according to the company they’re grown ‘naturally’
  • Certified Fairtrade – The company say that fairtrade certification does not meet their criteria and instead they pay farmers a multi-year fixed purchase price that is 1.84 times that of the Fairtrade price. One of their cocao beans, sourced from the wild is certified by Fairwild.
  • Certified Vegan – No, although they say that their dark chocolate range is vegan
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Palm Oil-free – Yes
  • Packaging – Their retail packaging is 100% plastic-free and claims to be approximately 82% less than that of other chocolate companies. The bars are wrapped home compostable food foil and FSC certified card. Their smaller bar formats and Chef’s Buttons are made from 100% biodegradable packaging.
  • Availability – Hopsack, D6 and Nourish stores and online eco etailers.

Seed and Bean makes chocolate bars in a small factory in England and have been voted the most ethical chocolate producer in England from 2013-2019. They say they lost this title in 2020 due to leaving the Vegan Association.

  • Certified Organic – Yes, by the The Soil Association and the EU
  • Certified Fairtrade – 16 of their 22 bars are Fairtrade certified
  • Certified Vegan – No, although they say that their dark chocolate bars are vegan
  • 100% Natural – Yes
  • Palm Oil-free – The website doesn’t say anything about this but the bar I bought has a palm-oil free logo on it. I’ve emailed then to ask and will update once I hear back.
  • Packaging – The inner foil wrapper is compostable, and the outer paper wrapper is compostable and recyclable.
  • Availability – Nourish stores, Hopsack in D6 and other eco etailers.

Tony’s Chocolonely is a Dutch brand of chocolate, founded by Teun (Tony in English) van de Keuken, a journalist, on a mission to make chocolate slavery-free. They buy their cocoa from West Africa, as this is where the social problems are most pronounced and they offset the company’s carbon emissions through Justdiggit

  • Certified Organic – one of the cooperatives they source from is organic, but the others aren’t
  • Certified Fairtrade – No, see their 5 Sourcing Principles for more information on their ethics.
  • Certified Vegan – No, although they say their 70% extra dark chocolate bar is suitable for vegans but isn’t certified as vegan.
  • Packaging –  Their wrappers are uncoated, recycled, sustainably sourced (certified by FSC and EU Ecolabel) paper. Their foil contains as much recycled material as possible and is as thin as possible.
  • Availability – Supervalu, Spars and Londis stores along with some independents. See store locator map for more

Vivani is a German brand making chocolate in a factory that uses renewable energy. The company also offsets their CO2 emissions through Project to-go and supports children’s charities in Haiti.

  • Certified Organic – It appears so, but the certifier appear unclear. I’ve emailed them for clarification and will update with info if/when I get it.
  • Certified Fairtrade – No, but they say they produce in accordance with fairtrade standards.
  • Certified Vegan – No. Although some products are free from animal products they say there is a risk of cross contamination in the factory.
  • 100% Natural – This is not explicitly stated but judging by the ingredient list on each product webpage it does seem to be the case.
  • Palm-oil Free – No, some products use palm oil that’s certified as sustainable sourced by RSPO. Unfortunately this company only got a middle rating – along with Nestle – in the Ethical Consumers’ rating of palm-oil sourcing for chocolate
  • Kosher – Some products are certified as kosher
  • Packaging – The film around their chocolate is compostable and recyclable. The paper and cardboard packaging used for the chocolate bars is FSC® certified and printed using mineral oil-free inks.
  • Availability – Nourish stores and many eco etailers.

Vego is a German brand of vegan, fairtrade and organic chocolate that is widely available in Ireland. The company donates 10% of it’s profits to charity.

  • Certified Organic – Yes, by the EU
  • Certified Fairtrade – Yes.
  • Certified Vegan – I assume so, being a vegan brand, but it’s not stated on their website!
  • 100% Natural – There’s no mention of this on their website.
  • Palm-oil Free – Yes
  • Packaging – They say that the flow-wrap around their chocolate is compostable. Also the glass jar their spread comes in can be used as drinking glass.
  • Availability – Supervalu stores and health food stores nationwide

Chocolat Stella is a Swiss company making chocolate using electricity generated from renewable sources, some from solar panels on their warehouse roof, The company also uses a heat recovery pump for heating and cooling and offsets the carbon emissions of some of their products through My Climate.

  • Certified Organic – Most products and ingredients are certified organic by USDA organic, the EU, Demeter, Bio Swiss and Japan Organic.
  • Certified Fairtrade – Yes, and they also support a project to remove child labour from hazelnut production.
  • Certified Vegan – Some products are vegan, but no certification was visible. Interestingly some of their vegan products have a warning that they may contain milk or nuts!
  • 100% Natural – This is not explicitly stated but judging by the ingredient list on each product webpage it does seem to be the case.
  • Palm-oil free – Nothing is mentioned on their website. I’ve email to ask and will update if I get information on this.
  • Allergens – They offer lactose-free chocolate and chocolate made with no additional sugar.
  • Kosher / Halal – Some products are certified as kosher, and some as Halal
  • Packaging – Their  foil wrapper is 17 times thinner than the conventional aluminium foil and is certified as being compliant with ‘OK Compost Home’, American ASTM D6400 standard and the EN 13432 European, meaning it can be composted at home. The paper and card the use is FSC certified and printed with low-migration inks.
  • Availability – Nourish stores and other eco etailers.

Lidl’s Way to Go Range is by far the nicest budget fairtrade chocolate I’ve come across in recent times. It doesn’t tick half as many boxes as the brands above but it’s what my kids get so I wanted to look into it in this article

  • Certified Organic – No, and ingredients aren’t organic either.
  • Certified Fairtrade – Yes, and according to Lidl they also pay an additional ‘Lidl Premium’ on every tonne of cocao they buy.
  • Certified Vegan – No, although two of the products are labelled as vegan.
  • 100% Natural – I doubt it!
  • Palm-oil free – Nothing is mentioned on the website or packaging, although the bars we have doesn’t list it amongst the ingredients. That said they did rate amongst the worst companies for palm-oil in their chocolate by the Ethical Consumer, but that would have been across their entire range and not just these bars.
  • Packaging – Uncoated paper outer wrapper, which is recyclable and compostable a foil/ paper inner wrapper which is neither.
  • Availability – Available nationwide

So this Valentines you’ve absolutely no reason not to spread the love by buying the most sustainable ethical chocolate you can afford.

If you’d like to delve further into the world of Ethical chocolate read this article by Ethical Consumer

Till next week


PS – You might also like my article on Sexy Sustainable Lingerie and although I don’t have a specific article on ‘men’s’ underwear I do have brands listed in my article on Menswear

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

2 thoughts on “Sustainable Ethical Chocolate 2022

  1. Me and my wife go through a bar of dark choc each week. Looks like it’s time to switch to a new brand. Thanks so much for this post, with all the info you’ve put in it makes the job so much easier 😀

    Also I didn’t realise that there were so many variations of fair trade, organic and palm oil certifications.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re doing well at only one bar a week. I can manage to do that all by myself, much to my shame!

      Glad you liked the post. It does seem it’s a bit of a mind field in terms of certifications but good to see companies trying to be better.


      Liked by 1 person

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