Tips for Choosing and Consuming Ethical Chocolate

Most of us have grown up loving those chocolate treats, home-made cakes, and store-bought goodies, always perceiving them as something special and unique. We’ve even had pacts growing up, the people who loved Mars bars as opposed to the Snickers lovers, or perhaps the ones who could never go for the shelf product over their mom’s famous chocolate cheesecake. As we’ve grown older, chocolate has become a “guilty pleasure”, with few people understanding the extent to which it actually deserves this description. 

Chocolate production is based on, for the most part, child slavery, unethical cocoa trade, unfair wages even with adult workers, and staggering unsustainability every step of the way. It’s the sad reality behind that sweet, sweet wrapper, and it deserves to be dealt with once and for all. As much as you love chocolate, if you’ve been willing to face the music of plastic water bottles and fast fashion, the cruel industry behind chocolate production calls for the same transparency. And that is precisely why all of us need to choose sustainable, ethical brands of chocolate.

Saying no to child labor and unfair wages

The darkest secret behind major corporations in the business of making chocolate is that they turn a blind eye or encourage child labor. The majority of cocoa comes from poor regions in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, where research has shown that 45% of agricultural households take part in child labor, and 43% do so in hazardous conditions. That equates to millions of children working in inhuman conditions and forced to work to begin with.

The underlying poverty pushes families to engage in this kind of labor, while adult workers are underpaid, as well. The bottom line is: you need to support brands that pay fair wages to their cocoa farmers and enable the kind of economic growth that roots out child labor. Fair prices mean that you might need to get used to chocolate that costs more than it does now for most brands, but look at it from the perspective of values you’re actively supporting in doing so.

Check the brand’s label and promise

Before we move onto the common terms used on labels when they meet specific governmental and industry standards, let’s tackle the transparency of any brand that produces chocolate. Instead of just checking the caloric values, make sure to learn about the core purpose and promise of the brand in question and how ethical production and sustainability weave into the business.

For example, you’ll find chocolates with supplements that are made to be vegan, and from cocoa that is conscientiously traded and grown in biodynamic conditions. Look at how the supplement portion of the chocolate bar is added, too – from family-owned businesses with strong community ties and scientific recognition for their effectiveness. Aim for brands whose integrity is based upon mutual growth, not pure profit, and whose practices are transparent, so that you can learn more about them in a single search. 

Terms to understand 

People with high levels of awareness and dedication to healthy eating know that nutrition is one of the core pillars of our wellbeing. That said, more people are switching to organic foods, produce, and ingredients, in order to eat healthier, and thus improve their quality of life. Organic, however, doesn’t always mean fair-trade in the chocolate business. 

Why? Because “organic” is a term related to the strict processing and growth guidelines of raw material such as cocoa. While it may mean that the cocoa is produced with less synthetic fertilizer (or none at all) and without GMOs, this eco-friendly approach might have a negative social or economic impact on the cocoa farmers and their livelihoods. That is why a single buzzword on a wrapper doesn’t absolve the maker of the responsibility. It’s merely one piece of the puzzle. 

Instead, aim for brands that have labels that are more descriptive such as “bean to bar”, referring to the direct relationships these brands develop with cocoa farmers and their sourcing strategies. The shorter the journey between the bean and the bar, the stricter the control of the quality, wages, and workers involved in the process.


Although the production of chocolate will take years, if not decades to be “cleaned up” from all the shady practices mentioned here, let alone the ones we’re not privy to, your choice does make a difference. When you make mindful shopping decisions and buy from brands that support greater sustainability and fairness all around, you take away some of the power other, unfair brands have. Remember, chocolate can only be as delicious as the process needed for its making – so be wise the next time you’re about to give in to your sweet tooth. 


Peter Minkoff

Peter is a lifestyle writer living between Europe and Australia. Follow Peter on Twitter for more tips.

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