Sustainability Tastes Sweeter: Here's an Eco-Friendly Chocolate Shopping Guide

The week surrounding Easter is the top chocolate purchasing week of the year worldwide. Kids and adults all over the world enjoy the fun of Easter egg hunts and savor delicious treats. But chocolate truly is a guilty pleasure.

For the chimps in West Africa, sloths in Peru, jaguars in Ecuador, dwarf buffalos in Indonesia and other animals, many of whom are endangered, chocolate spells disaster as cocoa encroaches on their precious forest homes a little more every year alongside our rising global appetite for chocolate.

In the fall of last year, Mighty Earth's groundbreaking report "Chocolate’s Dark Secret" revealed how the chocolate industry was actually the number-one driver of deforestation in Ghana and Ivory Coast, responsible for around 30 percent of overall deforestation in both countries. Ghana and Ivory Coast—the two top cocoa producing countries in the world, growing around 60 percent of the world’s cocoa—have both already lost most of their forests, and nearly all their elephants.

From a former elephant population of tens of thousands, they are down to a couple hundred. Far fewer elephants are still left alive in forests today than on the labels of iconic local Ivoire beer bottles. Soon elephants risk becoming just a memory.

Chimps and monkeys are also vanishing, pushed closer to the brink of extinction with every national park that’s lost to cocoa.

Chocolate lovers: See our ethical chocolate purchasing guide!

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Sloths in Peru (top) and jaguars in Ecuador (above) are among the many animals suffering from deforestation caused by the chocolate industry.

West Africa is not alone. Cocoa is killing forests from places as far-flung as Indonesia's Sulawesi island, to the Peruvian Amazon where sloths and jaguars live. When we looked at global deforestation for cocoa, what we saw was a shockingly high risk that bad practices from West Africa were threatening forests from Asia to Latin America. The satellite maps in our Valentine’s Day report "Kissed by Deforestation" show this risk clearly, with stark red splotches of deforestation spreading through emerald tree cover.

Cocoa is not just harming the planet, it's hurting people too. Both forests and farmers have suffered. According to a University of Tulane study, around 2.1 million children are still working on cocoa farms today in West Africa, from younger children to teenagers. While kids in the U.S. or Europe joyfully hunt for Easter eggs, West African children are often trapped in painful, dangerous, difficult work to grow cocoa, with 96 percent of Ghanaian and Ivorian child laborers in cocoa involved in "hazardous work."


Above: Ghana land cover time series (1975, 2000 and 2013). The increase in agriculture has driven a remarkable rate of deforestation across Ghana. According to the USGS, "This rate of agricultural expansion is unprecedented in the country’s history." (image: USGS)

West African kids are not the only people to suffer. Adult farmers face tremendous hardships too. For Americans or Europeans, chocolate is an affordable luxury we can indulge in regularly, but most cocoa laborers are so impoverished that they will never actually taste chocolate in their lifetimes. Nearly all cocoa farmers are grossly underpaid, with average Ghanaian and Ivorian cocoa farmers making under a dollar a day.

It could get worse, not just for the cocoa farmers, but for everyone. Because so many Ghanaian and Ivorian forests were destroyed, both countries are experiencing desertification and losing their rain at a dangerous pace. Without forests, there's less rain and worse crops. What will the future hold if things don't change? Millions are at risk of losing their livelihoods.

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A cocoa farm in Ivory Coast. Ghana and Ivory Coast, which grow around 60 percent of the world’s cocoa, have already lost most of their forests, and nearly all of their elephants. (image: World Agroforestry Centre/Flickr)

However, there is some good news on the horizon. After our first exposé—and thanks to the work of Prince Charles, the World Cocoa Foundation and other stakeholders—one company after another pledged to turn things around in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Today, 26 major chocolate companies have signed the pledge alongside the Ghanaian and Ivorian governments to stop all future destruction in West Africa, and to do their best to save the remaining protected areas and embrace better environmental practices overall.

Though most companies stopped short of agreeing to clean up their act worldwide, a few brave exceptions like Hershey’s, Nestle and Unilever have even agreed to end deforestation for cocoa worldwide. Others like Halba are forging new ground by committing to agroforestry for all their cocoa worldwide.

To hold the industry accountable this Easter, we made a purchasing guide. This helps consumers understand which major chocolate companies are doing the best job so far to protect forests, and which are lagging behind.

We hope this will help chocolate lovers to buy from the heart this Easter, buy with love and consideration not only for bunnies, but for sloths, jaguars, chimps and elephants. There's more that can be done beyond shopping mindfully: Hundreds of thousands of consumers have already acted by signing petitions by SumOfUs and Rettet den Regenwald.

Engaged consumers can even take it one step further and support the work of pioneering lawmakers in the U.S. like Congressman Eliot Engel, or in the EU like Parliamentarian Ignazio Corrao. These courageous legislators have tried to take on the chocolate industry’s worst excesses and give us laws that we desperately need, to regulate the industry and end its child labor and deforestation once and for all.

Together we can make sure 2018 becomes the year the chocolate industry resurrects forests from the dead and truly goes green.

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