The Environmental Sustainability and Social Responsibility Behind Chocolate

The DeCal

Introduction to Chocolate was started in order to delve deeper into how chocolate intersects with agricultural sustainability, climate change, small-scale business, and social responsibility. Throughout the class, we dived into issues specifically related to how fair trade chocolate strives to create improved living conditions for farmers and explored how the bean-to-bar model of small, artisanal chocolates are also placing an emphasis on ethical sourcing and labor.

Fair Trade Chocolate

The concept of fair trade revolves around seeking equity in international trade and improving social and environmental standards for marginalized workers. Fair trade chocolate is a fairly new approach in which chocolate brands are focusing on sourcing cacao in a more ethical manner.

Certification labels are granted by organizations such as Fairtrade International, Fair Trade Certified, World Fair Trade Organization, the Rainforest Alliance, and more. The purpose of the fair trade logo is to help consumers make more informed decisions about the chocolate they are purchasing. Standard criteria for the fair trade certification includes chocolate production that assists smaller farmer cooperatives and empowers cacao growers, promotes inspection of cocoa producers to ensure they satisfy child labor conditions, advocates for environmental sustainability and prohibits the use of GMOs or dangerous agricultural chemicals, and guarantees that farmers are paid livable wage for their product.

With farmer cooperatives, the farmers that collectively grow the cacao also have the business that sells their crops. This prevents farmers from being affected by volatile industry prices and exploited by large corporations, and the increased income can also be utilized towards community development efforts. Establishment of specialized healthcare and educational infrastructure can subsequently alleviate the rampant child labour issues and the presence of structural poverty as a whole. Higher wages also allows farmers to invest in more sustainable irrigation and agricultural techniques that contribute to more positive environmental impacts in cocoa production.

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: A sustainable business model

In the chocolate world, there are two main types of chocolate makers: small, artisanal bean to bar companies and large, mass production scale companies. A classic example of mass production is Hershey’s, which produces 60 million Kisses per day (among other products). On the other side of the scale lies artisanal bean-to-bar brands like Dandelion Chocolates in San Francisco. Their products may be more expensive, but their business model may actually be more sustainable for both cacao plants and cacao farm laborers.

Large chocolate companies source their beans from two countries in West Africa: Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, leaving bean-to-bar chocolate companies to source their beans from all other countries. Without getting into extensive detail about the politics of trade in West Africa, the need to provide high cacao output levels to sustain the economy places extreme pressure on cacao farms in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

The issues present in these farms — exploitation, child labor, slave trade, etc. are cause for great concern. Bean-to-bar chocolate companies are not directly fixing these problems, but their business model has shifted the world’s dependence on West Ghanian cacao, proposing a new model of chocolate business incorporating ethical labor and sustainable chocolate use.

Kathy Ding is a 3rd year double majoring in Molecular Environmental Biology and Nutritional Sciences, Toxicology. She enjoys hiking, baking, and exploring SF in her free time.

Edith Lai is a 3rd year student studying molecular environmental biology and public health. She is passionate about ecology, food, and art.

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