Share the Love: Chocolate

How to show your affections to that special someone and the planet.

When you think of Valentine’s Day, one can’t help but think of chocolate. Sweet, delicious, and with a huge variety of flavors; it’s no wonder that almost everyone at every age has a favorite kind. But what about choosing a chocolate that’s not just good for your taste buds, but also good for the planet?

The Bitter Reality

One of the main issues around the chocolate industry is the treatment of farm workers and harvesters within the countries of cacao production. Most of the world’s cacao beans are farmed within West Africa, Latin America, and Asia, with the African continent producing around 70% of the raw goods needed for chocolate production.

Photo: Wall Street Journal

Within the 21st century, journalists around the world begun to put a spotlight on the issues of poverty and slavery within the industry. But, unfortunately, these editorial efforts have been increasingly thwarted, reported the Food Empowerment Project. For example, they stated that “[in] 2004, the Ivorian First Lady’s entourage allegedly kidnapped and killed a journalist reporting on government corruption in its profitable cocoa industry.”

What these journalists previously found out was, for one, the miniscule wages workers received — amounting to less than US$1 for a day’s work. Another aspect to these low wages were the use of child labour to keep the supply of cacao beans high and price of chocolate as low as possible. The Food Empowerment Project also reported that these journalists found many of these children were: 1) given false hope of good wages, 2) kidnapped, or even 3) trafficked and sold to the cacao farms. Many of these children, they report, never see their families again.

Read this impactful piece by the Food Empowerment Project here for more details about the raw truth about cacao harvesting.

Another big issue is the sustainability aspect of growing cacao. Production leads to major deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions as the tropical rainforest environments in which cacao trees thrive are often cut down to make room for the chocolate plant. This removes the “carbon sink” effect and biodiversity that naturally existed within areas like the Ivory Coast, reported The New Republic.

“All of this combines to make chocolate one of the worst foods one can eat in terms of greenhouse gas emissions — by some calculations, the single worst nonmeat food,” wrote the author Melody Schreiber.

Yet, while more and more international companies are pledging to do better — we still have a long way to go in terms of human rights and sustainable farming within the chocolate industry.

So what can we do from our side of the world? Learn how to read the labels and make the right choice when it comes to buying chocolate for yourself, and your loved one this Valentine’s Day!

Look for the Label

In this article by Asparagus Magazine, they stated that having third-party certifications, like the ones from Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, ensures that the chocolate that you’re buying was verified to meet and continually meet the standards set by those organizations.

Photo: Science Direct

For example, Fairtrade certification a company must be using suppliers that pay the Fairtrade Minimum Prices and Premiums and are open to audits. This, in turn, helps protect the workers working in the fields against unfair wages and market variability.

The Rainforest Alliance certification means that the company and sources keep the Sustainability Agricultural Standard, which enforces transparency and “consists of a wide range of good agricultural practices and rigorous social and environmental criteria”.

For those of you based in the USA: Brands like Lily’s, Tcho, Alter Eco, Green & Black, Chocolove and Simple Truth are all Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance certified. (I’ve seen most of these at Whole Foods, and even their own-brand 32% Cacao Madagascar Milk Chocolate is approved!)

Photo: Green & Black’s

For folks in the UK: Tescos’s own-brand chocolates, Tony’s Chocolonley, Divine, Willie’s Cacao, Green & Black’s (again), Malteasers, and even Greggs Hot Chocolate all use Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance certified suppliers. As if there was any more reason to love Greggs.

This article from Fairtrade UK lists chocolates and sweets found at all of the major high street shops, from Lidl to Holland & Barrett!

Warning: Look for official, third party logos like the ones above. Terms like: “artisan”, “handmade”, “green” and the like don’t have any legal standing in terms of sustainability and ethical practices — at least in the US. Learn more about eco-ethical labelling with this article from Knowable Magazine.

Chocolate, Mon Amour

Sustainable chocolate is popular not only in “Western” countries, but in places like Japan too!

According to JOQR Radio, Japan ranks №6 in chocolate consumption and this issue of sustainability and fair wages is on their mind. One step forward within the archipelago was when big Japanese candy producers like Meiji and Morinaga released a specialty line of chocolate that supports sustainable production and donates money toward education for children and farmers within chocolate-making regions.

People Tree Chocolate // Photo:

On top of big companies making better choices, it’s now easier for Japanese people (and tourists alike) to make the right choice too! As the younger generation is looking more toward natural and organic foods, big convenience store chains like Lawson opened up a specialty line of shops called “Natural Lawson”. Here, you can find many whole foods, healthier snacks, and sustainable, Fair Trade chocolate brands like People Tree and Seattle Chocolate.

If you’re in Japan, check out this article from Sotokoto for some more chocolate options easily found in convenience stores!

Invest in chocolate companies that care about the environment and the people who help us enjoy our sweets with a piece of mind. Choose one of the brands we found, or go hunting for your own special brand for that special someone this Valentine’s Day!

Check back February 13th for our next series featuring: Tea! Black tea, Green tea, Herbal blends — learn more about the nutritional benefits, flavor profiles, and sustainable opportunities of each varietal. In the meantime, follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more fun facts, photos, and tidbits!




Promoting global Food Education, Sustainability, and Traditions for our Modern World. Based in Tokyo, Japan.

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Promoting global Food Education, Sustainability, and Traditions for our Modern World. Based in Tokyo, Japan.

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