Ever wonder where a luscious piece of chocolate came from? Though chocolate may be the food of the gods (literally, Theobroma cacao), the devil is in the details. Conventionally grown and purchased chocolate, like many imported commodities, can have a nasty backstory, including environmental degradation and child slave labor.
A new crop of socially conscious entrepreneurs wants to sweeten chocolate’s pedigree. Following in the coffee industry’s footsteps, some chocolate makers are adopting a direct-trade model, dealing one-on-one with small-scale cacao farmers and paying fair-trade prices to obtain superior beans while supporting cacao communities. “Direct trade is a lot of legwork, but you get much better quality ingredients, and you can also ensure the transparency of your supply chain,” says Alex Whitmore, cofounder of Taza, a direct-trade artisan chocolate maker in Somerville, Massachusetts. To ensure integrity, Taza prints a batch number on the back of every chocolate bar; buyers can enter the number on Taza’s website to trace exactly where the beans and other ingredients in that bar came from. And fair-trade wages make a huge difference: “It means farmers are more able to provide good working conditions and not rely on business practices such as child labor,” says Anna Ferry of Urban Trader, a fair-trade broker for urban-poor artisans “It protects kids, who don’t have a voice.” Fair trade also incorporates environmentally safe and sustainable farming methods—protecting both workers and Earth.
How chocolate is made
1. Ripened cacao pods, which thrive 20–30 degrees north and south of the equator and emerge straight off the tree trunk, are harvested with a machete or knife.
2. The large pods are broken open, and a whitish, mucilaginous pulp (called baba) that contains the cacao beans is scooped into sacks for transport to a fermenting station.
3. Beans are fermented and dried, then packaged for transport to a factory.
4. Using specialized equipment, beans are roasted, then winnowed to remove the shell and germ. This breaks the beans into small pieces, called cacao nibs.
5. Nibs are ground into cocoa liquor, the basic ingredient for all chocolate products.
6.6 billion: Pounds of cacao beans produced annually worldwide
$13 billion: U.S. dollars spent on cacao products annually
70: Percentage of cacao that comes from West Africa
<1: Percentage of cacao currently certified fair trade or organic
Learn more >> Check out Global Exchange (globalexchange.org/cocoa) for a list of industry leaders and chocolate makers committed to ethical cocoa sourcing and reforms to end abusive practices in cacao farming.