It’s Chocolate Week, scientifically proven to be the nation’s favourite week! For the entire seven days between 14th to 20th October, you have an excuse to delight in all things chocolaty. There is even an exhibition – Salon du Chocolat London, which takes place from 18th to 20th October at National Hall, Olympia. Not only will there be everything you’d expect from an exhibition of this sort – demonstrations, talks and samples, visitors will also be able to experience a live fashion show showcasing outfits made entirely of . . . chocolate.
I’m a strong believer in everything in moderation and certainly have my fair share of chocolate cravings. That said, I think quality is really important. If you buy good quality chocolate it’s too expensive and rich to overindulge with anyway (in theory). Much like the fashion industry, there is a dark side to the beauty that is chocolate. Fairtrade and organic chocolate is readily available, even the big brands are moving in this direction, but why should we be buying organic or Fairtrade chocolate and which is more important?
For one of my art A-level projects I looked at this very issue. I can’t remember what the theme was now (the exam board always give you a keyword or theme to work with – it would be interesting to know what this one was) but I decided to do something about cocoa supply chains. Hey, it’s modern art! I remember being told by my teacher that my initial idea was too superficial, I needed to dig deeper. Of course, when I came back the following week with lots of conceptual ideas about the exploitation of cocoa farmers by big business – the unseen truth behind the chocolate wrapper – I was told I was overthinking it. Teachers; forever changing their mind.
In the UK alone, the chocolate market is worth almost £4million. The biggest companies spend up to 10% of their profit margins on marketing to ensure they keep their sales high. The problems faced by cocoa farmers are akin to the problems faced by growers of other crops across the globe. Farmers are paid lowly for their harvest, plus as the market price for cocoa fluctuates the farmers have little security. Slave labour and human trafficking is rife, as is child labour. Essentially, cocoa farmers are being exploited in order for us to have a 4pm treat with our cappuccino.
The good news is that the use of Fairtrade cocoa has grown exponentially in recent years. In 1998, Divine, the first ever Fairtrade chocolate bar aimed at the mass market was launched into the UK confectionery market. Divine drives a whole new business model, a co-operative of cocoa farmers in Ghana own shares in the company. Of the big brands, Cadbury’s now solely uses Fairtrade cocoa beans in their Dairy Milk bars and Mars and Nestle have incorporated it into some of their supply chains. In 2013, Fairtrade certified cocoa makes up 11% of the chocolate sold in the UK.
Just because chocolate is Fairtrade it doesn’t mean it is organic. Cocoa beans are highly prone to disease so chemical pesticides help to eliminate this risk. Divine chocolate for example, is not certified organic. On their website Divine states:
“As cocoa is vital to the Ghanaian economy, the Ghanaian cocoa board is being cautious about introducing organic production [risk of crop disease would endanger farmers’ livelihoods]. Until enough tests have been done on organically approved pesticides in the Ghanaian context, introducing organic cocoa farming is considered high risk. If and when organic farming is considered safe, Kuapa Kokoo will undoubtedly consider its potential. Until then Divine is not certified organic – but it is worth noting that as pesticides are too expensive for most Kuapa farmers they rely largely on natural crop protection methods already.”
Divine is still a high quality product, so you don’t have to worry about any nasty ingredients but if organic production methods are important to you, for your own health and the planet, then you should look to buy organic chocolate from Green & Blacks, Montezumas, Hotel Chocolat and smaller brands from health shops.
Personally I would recommend prioritising Fairtrade, choose the Fairtrade certified chocolate to support farmers and show the big brands that you are voting with your feet (or taste buds).