Did you know that a cocoa tree needs between 1.5 and 2.5 meters of rain per year, and that it takes 4 years before cocoa beans can be harvested from it? Every year, Europeans alone consume 1812 million tons of cocoa, while the main global producer, the Ivory Coast, produces only 1741 million tons in the same period. Thus there are concerns about a chocolate shortage in the coming years. If we want to avoid this, consumers should ask themselves a few questions before they decide to make their purchases.
1) Production: What are the workers’ conditions like?
Cocoa is the third most popular food product in the world. However, only very few consumers ever ask themselves about the conditions in which the chocolate is produced.
Six large producers, including Mars, Nestlé and Ferrero, own 50% of the global chocolate market. They generally source from producers who are living in poverty, in countries in which child labour is common.
On average, a chocolate producer in the Ivory Coast earns less than 2 euros per day, according to a study run by a French agency, BASIC.
In Peru, in the Ivory Coast and surely in other countries, deforestation, child labour and the threat of hunger are realities, as was highlighted in a recent documentary on ‘the hidden face of chocolate’.
In order to combat the working conditions highlighted (low pay, exploitation of children, etc.), we need to be prepared to pay more for chocolate, if we have the means to do so, or to eat less of it.
Equitable, fair trade brands and labels (Cadbury, Green&Blacks, M&S, The Raw Chocolate Company, etc.) guarantee equitable working conditions and fair pay for the producers. They refuse to employ children. Certain fair trade companies will for example buy cocoa for around 4,000 dollars, by comparison to a market average of 1,850 dollars.
2) What is the percentage of cocoa?
In general, dark chocolate is a product that contains at least 35% cocoa, at least 18% of which is cocoa butter and 14% is dried cocoa (with the fat removed). Milk chocolate should contain at least 25% cocoa with minimum of 2.5 percent dried cocoa (with the fat removed).
The rest of the ingredients in chocolate (making up around 40% or more of your bar of chocolate) can include fruit, dried fruit or nuts, but also sugar, butter or oil. The list of ingredients is shown in order of quantity of the ingredient in the product, starting with the most prevalent ingredient.
3) Does it contain additives?
Certain chocolates or chocolate products such as Celebrations contain additives. For example, mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (E471) is a texturising agent derived from animal fats (pork or beef) or from vegetables. Colourants and chemical additives that are thought to be harmful to your health can also be found in certain chocolates.
To avoid these kinds of additives and pesticides, try to buy organic chocolate and chocolate products (or fair trade chocolates if you would like to be fair to the producer).
4) What is the environmental and social impact?
Certain conditions in cocoa production can have consequences for the environment and for society in the areas in which it is produced:
- child labour, involving children who don’t go to school because they are forced to work, or because they don’t have the choice
- exploitation of the producers, who are not paid enough to live comfortably
- deforestation linked to the production of palm oil, the main ingredient in industrial products containing cocoa (chocolate bars, sweets, boxes of chocolates, biscuits and chocolate cakes, etc.)
- the use of pesticides, which affects the soil and the water sources (polluting the groundwater, rivers and wells).
There are so many questions to ask yourself before you decide to buy a bar of chocolate!