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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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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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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