The Case for Buying Ethical Chocolate this Christmas (and Beyond)

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Meet three brands against illegal deforestation.

Chocolate pieces stacked on top of each other

A few months ago, there was a report in The Guardian that would have left a harsh taste in the mouth of many a chocolate lover – as it did mine. It looks as though our insatiable hunger for the sweet stuff has led to the illegal deforestation of West Africa’s Ivory Coast. The damage is so bad that only 20 per cent of the rainforest in the area remains; and dirty cocoa has spread so far, it’s mixed in with the clean cocoa of the area that makes up 40 per cent of the world supply. You won’t have to look hard to find it. According to the report, the big brands “could all be tainted”.

When I read this, my heart felt heavy. Chocolate was now just one more thing to add to the list of items we need to consciously consume. And if we don’t? Environmental group Mighty Earth predicts the Ivory Coast will have no forest left to protect by 2030. So I’ve done a bit of digging to find three of the best ethical chocolate brands, so we can enjoy a treat without a guilty conscious.

The damage is so bad that only 20 per cent of the rainforest in the area remains; and dirty cocoa has spread so far, it’s mixed in with the clean cocoa of the area that makes up 40 per cent of the world supply.

1. Alter Eco

“The production of chocolate has long been marred with human rights abuse and environmental mismanagement, ranging from child labour to deforestation,” says Ilse Keijzer, founder of Alter Eco Pacific. “But today there’s a small minority of uncompromisingly responsible supply chain stakeholders in the industry – like Alter Eco – that are working tirelessly to pioneer a sustainable and ethical way to produce and source the cacao. “

In 2016, Alter Eco paid $54,000 in fairtrade premiums to cacao cooperatives, which was then invested in community programs, such as healthcare and education support. They have also planted over two million trees in a partnership with organisations ACOPAGRO and PUR Projet.

“When shoppers use their purchasing power to support Fairtrade Certified chocolate, they’re directly impacting the lives of another,” Ilse says. “And not only are they impacting that individual farmer who hand-harvested the cacao, they’re socially and economically benefiting that farmer’s family and community.”

Try: Dark Coconut Toffee. “Roasty-toasty Sri Lankan coconut and Paraguayan cane sugar are sprinkled with French sea salt to form a uniquely nourishing, supremely satisfying crunch,” Ilse says. “Dunked in our velvety Peruvian dark milk chocolate, this lush tropical toffee delivers buttery, salty sweetness in every bite.”

2. Oxfam Fair Chocolate

One thing to be wary of when you look for ethical chocolates is that the label might not tell the whole story. Merrin Nancarrow from Oxfam Australia Trading explains: “A common way of sourcing cocoa is by a system called ‘mass balance’. Cocoa and sugar supply chains are extremely complex, and the mass balance system allows companies to label a chocolate block as ‘Fairtrade’ when only half of its ingredients might be Fairtrade, as it can be mixed with non-Fairtrade cocoa and sugar. With mixed commodity supplies, your chocolate block might not be what you think.”

Oxfam Fair Chocolate is produced by the co-operative ECOOKIM, located in Côte d’Ivoire. The manufacturer doesn’t use the mass balance system, according to Merrin, and all their cocoa is fully traceable. “ECOOKIM also works to eliminate child labour in cocoa plantations, provide healthcare provisions and offer other social benefits to the community,” Merrin says. “The move to this manufacturer has allowed us to assist with projects that align with Oxfam’s vision of a just world without poverty.”

Try: Dark chocolate. “This flavour is the most popular with our Oxfam supporters, and with 49 per cent cocoa, it has a smooth and creamy profile with a slight bitter taste to satisfy a broad range of chocolate lovers,” says Merrin.

3. Pana Chocolate

“At Pana Chocolate, we live by the motto ‘Love Your Insides. Love The Earth’. We want our chocolate to be good for you, but we also want to be kind to our earth and the people on it,” Prue Lester from Pana Chocolate says. “We choose to only work with direct, Fairtrade and sustainable sources for our ingredients and place great significance on our range of certifications to uphold the highest industry standards – which not all companies choose to do.”

Prue says all Pana Chocolate is handmade with certified organic ingredients sourced from their country of origin, including Peru, Bolivia, Dominican Republic and the Philippines. Profits go towards the planting of native trees. By the end of this year, they will have planted 50,000.

Try: Sour cherry and vanilla. “This flavour is a consistent standout,” Prue says. “Juicy and tart sour cherries are handcrafted with 60 per cent raw cacao and organic vanilla beans. People often don’t realise sour cherries are actually a different fruit to your conventional ‘sweet’ cherry and are loaded with important nutrients and antioxidants, and a delicious flavour.”

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