In Search of the Ethical Easter Bunny: 3 Ways Chocolate is an Even Guiltier Pleasure Than You Expect
In truth, chocolate shouldn’t be a ‘guilty pleasure’ at all.
Real chocolate with a high percentage of quality uncontaminated cacao is a powerful antioxidant. It has benefits for the heart and blood pressure, and stimulates endorphins and serotonin.
However, the most available and popular brands of chocolate are not only largely missing these qualities, but they bring a host of other significant issues to the table.
So, as we approach Easter, another time of year for massive chocolate consumer demand, it is important that we recognize the impact of chocolate production. Knowing what the issues are, and how to make better choices, is one way to start.
1- Child Labor
More than 70% of cacao production takes place in West Africa, predominantly the Ivory Coast and Ghana respectively. Behind this are massive multinational companies such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle. These three amount to more than 35% of global chocolate production and $100 billion in chocolate candy sales.
Assisting the profit margin is taking advantage of an impoverished population with promises of fair wage, and turning a blind eye to child labor. Labor is a generous term, with brutal conditions bordering on, if not completely landing within, the definition of slavery.
Children are forced far from home, unpaid, prevented from escape by armed guards and beatings, and forgoing any semblance of childhood. Despite promises from large corporations to make sure these practices end through greater oversight and enforcement of their labor laws, not much impact has been made yet.
The irony and tragedy of feeding our children chocolate as a sweet treat, made hundreds or thousands of miles away by the suffering of children their own age, can’t be lost on us.
2- Rainforest Demolition
These same large companies, often talked about as ‘Big Chocolate’, are the impetus behind mass deforestation of rainforest, to make room for more cacao production. If you didn’t catch our Palm Oil post, the effects are much the same (not to mention Palm Oil is a common ingredient in ‘Big Chocolate’).
Deforestation leads to desertification, tons of greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of animal habitat, and concurrent catastrophic loss of biodiversity. It is also a continued cause of displacement of indigenous people, robbing them of their home, land, resources, and thousands of years of ancestral heritage.
This emphasizes the constant correlation between social justice and environmental justice. It shows how our unconscious choices have impact far beyond our borders, and on the most innocent and vulnerable members of communities.
Large monocultures of crops for levels of production needed by ‘Big Chocolate’ means there is a lot to lose. The farmers can’t risk having an entire yield wiped out, succumbing to an infestation of pests. So, the cacao plants are sprayed. Heavily. With powerful toxic pesticides containing chemicals such as methyl bromide, which is linked to a slew of health issues—reproductive, respiratory and neurological.
These pesticides are absorbed by the soil, enter rivers and streams, and are consumed by animals. The impact of such contamination is unimaginable, and increasingly solidified in recent reports on bee die offs. Of course, the health of people working on these crops is affected, and, inevitably, so is ours.
Making Better Choices
Chocolate. We connect it to occasions of joy and celebration. We partake in it as a source of comfort. We use it within varied rituals and rites. But knowing the outcomes of current chocolate production irreversibly stains these experiences.
We need to start seeking out ethical sources of chocolate. Looking for labels is a start. ‘Fair Trade’ implies fair pay and labor practices for the farmers. Organic signals stringent environmental regulation, but not necessarily in ways that support social sustainability and economic justice. The Rainforest Alliance label is popular, indicating protocols that protect wildlife, workers, and the community’s quality of life. Direct Trade can be even better, indicating a short supply chain—a direct link between farmer and buyer.
Getting the certification for these labels can be too expensive for some farmers, so sometimes just doing the research is all you need to figure out whether something is a good ethical choice. Get to know the source of your food. And if you find ethical chocolate expensive to buy, changing consumption habits might be necessary too.
Regardless, these are all steps, ways of making the conscious decision that our joy doesn’t come at the expense of others. To get started, check these links to familiarize with some ethical chocolate choices, and go deeper in your understanding with the documentary, ‘The Dark Side of Chocolate’, embedded below: