The next time you have a chocolate fix, satisfy your cravings while paving the way for a more equitable global economy by choosing fair trade chocolate.
This post will dive into the problems facing the millions of farmers producing the world’s cocoa, actions you can take to push for change, plus 15 of the best ethical chocolate brands showing us what a more equitable chocolate industry looks like.
What’s the Problem With the Chocolate Industry?
As explained in the docuseries Rotten on Netflix, “The real story of chocolate is a supply chain where our affordable luxury is paid for in misery and exploitation… farmers [are] paying the price for our cheap chocolate.”
It is difficult to overstate just how dire the conditions are at the beginning of the cocoa supply chain. Modern-day slavery, illegal child labor, and other forms of exploited labor is rampant in the cocoa industry.
Just how bad is it? Let’s look at West Africa, where 60% of the world’s cocoa is sourced, mostly from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire (commonly referred to as Ivory Coast in English). Research from Walk Free Foundation found that in these two countries:
- 1.5 million children engaged in child labor in cocoa agriculture
- 632,000 children in Ghana and 769,000 children in the Ivory Coast were performing hazardous tasks
- 30,000 children and adults were subject to forced labor between 2013 – 2017
Even if farmers aren’t subjected to the worst-case scenarios like human trafficking and hazardous child labor, the conditions are bleak.
Although the world is heavily reliant on the Ivory Coast’s cocoa — the country produces 40% of global supply — the average Ivorian farmer earns less than $1 a day, less than $200 per year.
These farmers earning below poverty-level wages are, in fact, part of the same industry that makes over $130 billion per year.
Although there are an estimated 5.5 million cocoa farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, these farmers have no control over the prices they are paid.
The Ivorian government’s Cocoa Board sets a farm gate price, which is supposedly designed to determine a “living wage” for workers but the reality is far from any semblance of wages.
Not only is the farm gate price far below what farmers would need to earn to support themselves and their families, but middlemen are known to negotiate prices down or delay payment and pay than the agreed-upon prices. With these poor smallholder farmers having no bargaining power, they are left with no choice but to accept these prices, even if it means operating at a loss. [Source: Rotten on Netflix]
Why is Chocolate Production So Unethical?
As one of the most consumed foods in the world, the chocolate industry is certainly not struggling — in fact, the industry is predicted to grow to $182 billion by 2025. So, why are cocoa farmers facing such extreme poverty and cruel exploitation?
Put simply, chocolate’s supply chain is so unjust because that is exactly how the system was designed.
The NGO Fern found that retailers and chocolate makers receive 80% of the final price of a chocolate bar, while the average cocoa farmer receives just 6%.
Why do cocoa farmers receive so little?
Tony’s Chocolonely has a fantastic graphic that explains how the chocolate supply chain works. Essentially, there are millions of cocoa farmers on one end (1) and billions of people who eat chocolate on the other (3). But there are just a handful of cocoa trading companies (2) who purchase the cocoa beans from cocoa-producing countries and deliver them to chocolate makers, mostly in Europe and the U.S. These insanely powerful companies have a huge influence on the price of cocoa.
How to Take Action for a More Ethical Chocolate Industry
Outraged yet? Here are some ways you can get involved in pushing for a better chocolate industry.
- Learn: Watch the episode of Rotten “Bitter Chocolate” on Netflix
- Sign petitions, such as this one from Tony’s Chocolonely
- Call on your government to regulate the cocoa supply chain (voluntary industry pledges have failed miserably); there is momentum building for the EU to take action
- Contact the major chocolate companies demanding they take action to ensure slave-free chocolate
- Buy from chocolatiers based in producing countries that are bypassing the lopsided trade system completely, such as Le Chocolatier Ivoirien
- Purchase from direct trade or fair trade chocolate brands
Which Chocolate Brands Are Ethical?
The list below has 15 of the best ethical chocolate brands, illuminating a more equitable sustainable path forward for the industry by:
- Forming long-term relationships with farmers
- Ensuring stable above-market prices and living wages
- Investing in training for farmers and sustainable agricultural practices
- Using organic certified or non-GMO ingredients that you can feel good about consuming
Although there are reasons for fair trade chocolate being more expensive — paying farmers fairly, investing in farmer welfare, ensuring sustainable agricultural practices — we recognize here at Conscious Life & Style that these higher prices are not accessible for everyone.
The good news is that there are other ways to get involved in pushing for a more ethical chocolate industry (see above).
Also, there are ways to get organic and fair trade chocolate at a lower price: Thrive Market is an online natural foods membership-based retailer that sells organic and fair trade chocolate at 15-25% off retail price. The membership is about $5/month but you can apply for a free membership here if you are a teacher, student, veteran, and/or low-income.
Note: This post contains some affiliate links. Selections were made independently and each brand featured meets high standards for ethical and sustainable sourcing.
Far more than just a fair trade chocolate brand, Tony’s Chocolonely exists to eradicate slavery in the chocolate industry. They do this with awareness building (empowering cocoa communities with information about what is and isn’t allowed + empowering chocolate lovers with ways to get involved) setting an example showing that a chocolate company can succeed without exploitation (the company pays farmers 40% more than the farm gate industry price and invests in farmer training), and inspiring others to act.
Price: $5.95 for 6.35oz bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars (Big, Small, and Mini)
One of the first organic chocolate brands on the market, Green & Blacks was founded in 1991. The brand’s Maya Gold chocolate bar was also the first in the UK to have the Fairtrade mark. Today the brand has a variety of unique flavors like Velvet Rasberry & Hazelnut Dark Chocolate alongside classics like Organic Dark Chocolate as well as customizable gift options like personalized chocolate bars and chocolate hampers/gift sets.
Price: £2.00 – £3.50 for 90g/3.2oz bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars, Baking Chocolate, Cocoa Powder, Chocolate Eggs
3. Alter Eco
Alter Eco is a B Corp certified business considering people and the planet every step of the way. The certified Fair Trade chocolate brand sources their cocoa directly from small-scale farmers using sustainable agricultural practices. Beyond being 100% USDA-organic certified, Alter Eco is investing in regenerative agriculture and better packaging solutions.
Price: $3.99 for 2.65oz (75g) bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars, Truffles
Aptly named Equal Exchange, this company operates as a democratic worker co-operative with more than 130 worker-owners. The co-op was built to challenge trade models in 1986 and continues to do so through sourcing fair trade chocolate, tea, and coffee. Equal Exchange’s practices include raising the incomes of small-scale farmers, promoting labor rights, and promoting safe and sustainable farming practices.
Price: $29.60 for 12-pack
Categories: Chocolate Bars, Chocolate Chips, Cocoa Powder
A global farmer-owned company, Divine is a fair trade chocolate brand that is no less than disrupting the cocoa industry. The social enterprise was founded with “the belief that producers should earn a share of the profits they help to create” — Kuapa Kokoo Farmers’ Union (a co-op of 100,000 farmers) is a stakeholder in Divine Chocolate and is involved at the highest levels of decision making.
Price: $3.99/£2.39 for 3oz (85g) bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars, Boxed Chocolate, Baking Chocolate, Drinking Chocolate
6. Beyond Good
Beyond Good goes beyond fair trade, working directly (i.e. zero middlemen ever) with more than 100 cocoa farmers in Madagascar, which puts 6x more income in the hands of farmers. The brand also goes beyond in flavor and quality — Beyond Good’s Madagascar chocolate is made from Criollo cocoa, Earth’s heirloom (i.e. original and oldest) cocoa. Finally, Beyond Good goes beyond sustainability, investing in agro-forestry practices that restore vegetation and protect endangered species.
Price: $4.50 for 2.64oz (75g) bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars
Check it Out: Beyond Good
With flavors like Oat Milk + Mixed Berries and Espresso Beans, Endangered Species creates delectable certified Fairtrade chocolate that’s perfect for gifting — or for treating yourself to. In addition to sourcing their cocoa ethically from small family farms in West Africa,, Endangered Species gives back 10% of their annual net income to conservation organizations.
Price: $3.29 for 3oz (85g) bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars, Vegan Chocolate Chips
For sugar-free fair trade chocolate, check out Lily’s chocolate bars sweetened with Stevia. The Fairtrade certified bars are also made with non-GMO ingredients. The ethical chocolate brand can be found in many retailers, including small natural food shops and larger retailers like Whole Foods.
Price: $19.99 for 4-pack
Categories: Chocolate Chips, Chocolate Bars, Baking Chocolate , Chocolate Covered Nuts, Peanut Butter Cups
Fair trade chocolate brand UnReal sources very real ingredients for their all-natural chocoalate. UnReal uses GMO-free ingredients and skips the questionable stuff like corn syrup and sugar alcohols, instead opting for real cane sugar (but less of it than other brands on the market).
Price: $4.70+ per 4.2oz bag
Categories: Chocolate Cups, Gems, and Bars
10. Taza Chocolate
Taza creates minimally-processed stone-ground chocolate that was ground using Molinos — traditional Mexican stone mills. The result is a uniquely bold and authentically gritty chocolate flavor. The ethical chocolate brand uses USDA-organic certified ingredients and operates with a Direct Trade model, sourcing directly from farmers and paying a 15-20% premium on cocoa market prices.
Price: $5 for 2.5oz (70g) bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars, Chocolate Covered Treats, Chocolate Bark
Seattle-based Theo Chocolate is on a mission to create a better, more beautiful chocolate industry from bean to bar. The ethical chocolate brand has opted out of the volatile global commodity cocoa market and instead pays a “reliable base price” in addition to quality premiums. Theo has achieved the Fair for Life certification and sources only USDA-certified organic ingredients (except ingredients where no organic certification is available, such as salt).
Price: $3.99 for 3oz (85g) bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars, Baking Chocolate, Drinking Chocolate, Cups & Candy, and Confections
Check it Out: Theo Chocolate
TCHO creates sweet treats — like “Mokaccino” and “Mint Chip Gelato”-flavored chocolate with out the nasty stuff. In addition to using USDA-certified organic and Fair Trade Certified ingredients for their ethically sourced chocolate, TSCHO produces all of their chocolate in their own factory right in Berkeley, California.
Price: $4.39 for 2.5oz (70g) bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars
As a sustainable and ethical chocolate brand, Chocolate and Love trace where all of their major ingredients are sourced. The brand’s cocoa beans are responsibly-sourced from Fairtrade-certified cooperatives from Panama, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Madagascar. Chocolate and Love’s cane sugar is sourced directly from Paraguay and Costa Rica and their vanilla directly from Madagascar.
Price: £3.49 / €3.98 for 80g bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars
Perfect parts sweet & salty, barkTHINS has the ultimate crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth snacking chocolate. The brand uses Fair Trade Certified ingredients for over 65% of their product recipe and is Non-GMO verified. You can find barkTHINS at many major retailers and grocery stores, including Target.
Price: $5.99 for 4.7oz (133g) bag
Categories: Chocolate Bark
Free of dairy, gluten, cane sugar, GMOs, soy, and artificial anything, Coracau creates minimally processed chocolate made from 100% organic ingredients. The ethical chocolate brand has high standards for sustainability and flavor, sourcing South American heirloom cacao and certified organic cacao from biodynamic farms for their chocolate.
Price: $5.95 for 2oz (57g) bar
Categories: Chocolate Bars, Truffles, Candy Bars, Drinking Chocolate
Check it Out: Coracao Chocolate
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