Do you know where your chocolate comes from?
The truth is, the chocolate industry pays its farmers, quite literally, in pennies. A woman cultivating cacao in West Africa, where the majority of chocolate now grows, can expect to earn 30 cents per day for her crop. Male farmers fare a little better, averaging almost $1. To put these numbers in perspective, the World Bank draws the international poverty line at $1.90, meaning cacao farms operate under severe hardship by even the lowest of standards.
In the top two cocoa-growing countries alone (Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana), well over two million minors contribute to cacao production. More than half a million of these young laborers are under the age of eleven, and almost 95% toil under exceptionally hazardous conditions: chemical pesticides, backbreaking loads, dangerous tools, exhausting hours, and nighttime shifts. Some children work for their families, but countless more are illegally trafficked, abused, and enslaved in the name of affordable chocolate, a situation that has worsened in recent years.
In an effort to grow their operations and earn more, farmers also expand their cacao farms into the rainforest, including protected national parks. Côte d’Ivoire, cacao’s global epicenter, has lost 80% of its forests to cocoa production in the past 60 years. Nearly half of that loss occurred in the last few years alone. Farmers also over-rely on pesticides and fertilizers. They use levels far beyond what’s considered safe for human and environmental health.
The Big Problem
The complex process of making chocolate is one of the biggest hurdles to reforming the process itself. By the time cocoa has been fermented, roasted, crushed, and blended to become chocolate, the origins can get lost. This widespread lack of transparency in chocolate’s global supply chain makes it difficult to enforce higher standards. Making matters more complicated, no company wants to admit that their actions, or inactions, cause human rights abuses.
The Fair Trade Road to Solutions
“Fair trade” broadly implies that producers are compensated with higher prices. Third-party compliance mechanisms, like certifications, are some of the more reliable steps toward ensuring fairer compensation and ethical practices. The most reputable fair trade certifiers, Fairtrade America and Fair Trade USA, set economic, social, and environmental standards for cocoa and other poorly regulated supply chains, like sugar. Although fair trade premium prices have historically been criticized for falling short of the goal of lifting cocoa farmers out of poverty, the organizations are now working alongside West African governments to ensure farmers’ incomes reach livable levels.
Knowing What to Look For
Fairtrade America’s Standards support small producer organizations and agricultural workers in the Global South. The black logo means all of a product’s Fairtrade-eligible ingredients are certified Fairtrade. The white logo means that only specified ingredients are certified Fairtrade.
Fair Trade USA
Fair Trade USA became an independent organization so they could expand fair trade certification to workers on larger farms, farmers that aren’t part of organized cooperatives, and farmers in the Global North.
Some chocolate companies have opted to trade directly with cacao farmers and cooperatives. This way, they can bypass traders that may underpay their suppliers or fail to trace the sources of their raw ingredients. Instead of certifications, chocolate companies often publish their own transparency reports and identify their farmer partners and their pay rates.
Hive’s Partners & Standards
Our chocolate brand partners often pay above fair trade premiums or source directly from cacao cooperatives. Even for products that contain only small amounts of chocolate. And we partner with chocolate companies, like Tony’s Chocolonely, that tirelessly work to improve the livelihoods of farmers and laborers in West Africa.
When we find a chocolate brand we love, there are a few questions we ask before bringing them onto our site and stamping them with the Hive Five seal of approval:
- Is the chocolate Direct/Fair Trade certified?
- Does it meet non-GMO and RSPO (palm oil) standards?
- Is it certified organic or regeneratively sourced?
- Is it made domestically?
- Is the packaging recyclable?
- Does it contribute at all to issues like deforestation, child labor, or poverty in farming communities?
- Alter Eco sources their Fair Trade-certified cocoa, coconut, cane sugar, and vanilla from 24,300 farmers in 8 cooperatives around the world, paying cacao farmers an additional 33% more than the Fair Trade premium. They assist cooperatives with food security, biodiversity, and gender equality.
- Tony’s Chocolonely exists to make 100% slave-free chocolate the norm. They purchase cocoa beans directly from Fairtrade-certified cooperatives in Ivory Coast and Ghana. Not only does Tony’s pay producers an extra premium above the Fairtrade price, they also commit to working with farmers for a minimum of five years to ensure the long-term success and good practices of their partner farms.
- Taza created the chocolate industry's first third-party certified Direct Trade cacao sourcing program. They pay their organic farmers well above the market price for their cocoa. As part of their direct trade sourcing principles, they also visit their cooperative partners in Ghana, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic at least once a year.
- Unreal uses exclusively Fair Trade-certified cocoa and sugar, as well as RSPO-certified palm oil, for their chocolate candies.
- TCHO is an award-winning brand based out of California that goes beyond just purchasing cacao from origins; most of their suppliers are small-scale family farmers that they've partnered with through long-standing relationships, educational opportunities, and financial assistance.
- Theo Chocolate is the first organic, fair trade certified chocolate maker in North America, and they believe that organic ingredients are better for people and the planet. Everything they make and sell meets the highest organic and fair-trade standards.
- Beyond Good has zero middlemen between cocoa farmers and chocolate makers, and that means 100% transparency and farmers make 6x the industry’s standard pay.
- Dr. Bronner's uses 80% post-consumer recycled (PCR) wrappers for all of their chocolates. They also partner with fair trade and organic projects all over the world, and build personal relationships with organic farmers and producers to create equitable supply chains.
- Candid makes cacao-based snacks are ethically sourced, sustainably grown, and made without the emulsifiers and refined sugars that are often used in chocolates. They also use the whole cacao pod, including leftover pulp, in their snacks, setting new standards for upcycled food.
- Vego makes entirely vegan chocolate products that are crafted with only organic, Fair Trade Certified ingredients.
- Equal Exchange’s cocoa is sourced from Fair Trade, organic smallholder farmer co-operatives in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Peru, and their sugar is fairly traded from a co-op in Paraguay. The business is also one of the largest democratic worker-owned cooperatives in the U.S., giving all of its members an equal stake in the business.
- Cocoa Santé uses an Equal Partner Direct Buying Program to purchase their ingredients directly from the farm cooperatives in the Dominican Republic and South America.
Want to discover more good-for-planet chocolate brands? Check out our full collection here.