We're getting close to Halloween and many people will buy stacks of their favorite treats, whether it is candied corn or chocolate. We're putting chocolate in the hot seat today; have you ever thought about whether or not the chocolate you buy is (both socially and environmentally) sustainable? When you choose your chocolate wisely you'll not only satisfy your sweet tooth, but you can also help prevent a host of social, environmental, and economic problems.
Why are conventional chocolate-growing practices harmful?
Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate bars, is grown in many places in the world, such as the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. A recent Mighty Earth report showed that "many of Ivory Coast’s national parks and protected areas have been entirely or almost entirely cleared of forest and replaced with cocoa growing operations." According to their analysis, "291,254 acres of protected areas were cleared between 2001 and 2014... approximately one quarter of that deforestation was connected to the chocolate industry." It goes without saying that this widespread clear cutting is decimating local wildlife populations, and it's not just happening in Africa; the Amazon rainforest is also shouldering a large load. In addition to forest clearcutting, cocoa production is also many times associated with worker exploitation and the widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
How can we fight back with our consumer dollar?
We're both huge chocolate lovers (Gina often says that if a bar of chocolate can't fix the problem, then nothing can), but we definitely don't want to contribute to the widespread deforestation and worker exploitation that is associated with much of today's chocolate industry. Below are a few certifications that we look for when purchasing chocolate (you'll notice that they overlap with certifications for coffee as well, which we talked about on Day #1 of the challenge).
Fair Trade Certified
One way to make a wise and sustainable chocolate purchase is to choose Fair Trade Certified products. This certification ensures that farmers and businesses “adhere to strict labor, environmental, and ethics standards that prohibit slavery and child labor and ensure cocoa growers receive a steady income, regardless of volatile market prices.” We all want to prevent unjust social practices and we certainly don’t want people working to make our chocolate, who are not being paid a fair wage.
Not only are you empowering people and communities by buying Fair Trade Certified chocolate, but you're also helping the environment. Their “standards work to keep the planet healthy for generations to come by prohibiting the most harmful chemicals and taking measures to protect natural resources.”
Rainforest Alliance Certification
Another certification to look out for is the Rainforest Alliance Certification which “is awarded to farms, forests, and businesses that meet rigorous environmental and social standards.”
And then of course is the USDA Organic label that we're all familiar with. We dedicated an entire blog on the USDA Organic certification, and even though we mostly focused on produce, this label definitely applies to chocolate products as well. Seeing the USDA Organic label on a chocolate bar ensures that the ingredients were grown in a way that supports biodiversity and enhances soil health by using only approved substances and organic farming methods.
A few eco-friendly chocolate suggestions for this Halloween
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list and please let us know if you have any other good alternatives, here are some eco-friendly chocolate options you can feel good about giving to trick-or-treaters this Halloween.
Equal Exchange Organic Milk Chocolate Minis. Everything that Equal Exchange sells is fairly traded, and from what we can tell all their chocolate is certified USDA Organic as well.
Lake Champlain Organic Dark Chocolate Toffee & Almond Crunch Squares. These are both Organic and Fair Trade.
Organic OCHO Halloween Variety Pack. Organic and Fair trade. Fun fact, the brand name OCHO means "organic chocolate."
Another great resource is the Natural Candy Store. They have great filters and allow you to shop by categories like organic, vegan, fair-trade, non-gmo, etc.