How Green Is Your Chocolate?

By Judy Kirkwood

Fifty million pounds of chocolate will be sold in honor of Valentine’s Day. Women of a certain age with discriminating palates – in other words, advanced chocoholics — might prefer Godiva or boutique chocolates. But much of that 50 million pounds will be in the form of Hershey’s kisses, chocolate roses, and their 3 pound solid chocolate hearts. In fact, Hershey’s sales claim 42 percent of the American chocolate market.

The advantage of Hershey’s chocolates, of course, is that they are everywhere – in drugstores, grocery stores, and gas stations; you can even order them on Amazon. Plus, it may be gauche to say, but Hershey’s brand is a lot cheaper than something with a ganache filling or gold leaf ornament. This makes Hershey’s chocolates a perfect gift for novice or inept Valentine’s Day wooers.

The disadvantage of buying Hershey’s chocolate is that the company sources their cocoa from a region that engages in child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking in order to produce our lovely treats. That casts a shadow on a token of true love.

While many chocolate companies have committed to fair trade practices in their manufacture of chocolate, unfortunately our most-recognized name in chocolates has no policies in place to trace their cocoa purchasing and enforce labor rights standards. Much of Hershey’s cocoa, for instance, is sourced from West Africa, a region that is plagued by child labor abuses.

Fair Trade Certified products set a price that aims to cover the cost of production and a living wage in the local context for those involved in the manufacture. This allows businesses to hire adults instead of to force children to do the work of adults for much lower wages. Many sources for chocolates have formed cooperatives or artisan collectives to reinvest revenue in their communities. Human rights and labor laws are strictly enforced.

For more information, google Global Exchange, Green America, the International Labor Rights Forum, or Oasis USA. Better yet, don’t wait until February 14 for someone to buy you chocolates. Do your own shopping and research for Fair Trade chocolates online now, or visit with your neighborhood chocolatier to get the lowdown on your chocolate high.

Chocolate is a fabulous traditional Valentine’s Day gift. But if you want to fan the fires of love without stoking the furnace of misery for children in another part of the world, look for chocolates with Fair Trade certification. It’s one more thing you can feel good about as each bite melts in your mouth.

Judy Kirkwood has written about Chocolate: The Exhibition, which opened at the Field Museum in 2002 and is still touring the U.S. and Canada.