Why You May Want to Think Twice About Buying Chocolate From Trader Joe's or Costco
Valentine's Day is on its way, which means chocolate is on (pretty much) everyone's shopping lists. While we love chocolate, we've become much more selective about where we're buying our treats this year. Turns out, the brands and stores you buy from can dramatically impact the lives of cocoa farmers and the land where chocolate is grown.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports millions of children in Africa work under hazardous conditions growing cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate. These dangers include exposure to pesticides, lifting heavy loads, using sharp tools and working in burning fields. And out of the billions of dollars chocolate producers make each year, farmers only see 6.6% of the profits—totalling to about $1 per day.
As if that wasn't enough to make you upset, the way much of our cocoa is grown is causing deforestation, endangering animals and the environment. New research from Green America, the nation's leading green economy organization, found much of the chocolate at popular grocery and drug stores don't prioritize Fair Trade or environmental protection policies.
Green America released their Retailer Chocolate Scorecard earlier this month, highlighting the best and worst food retailers in terms of their Fair Trade options and commitment to protecting against child labor and deforestation. Aldi, Food Lion and Kroger received the highest scores for addressing all three issues of child labor, deforestation and poverty, while Trader Joe's and CVS Pharmacy fared the worst, for prioritizing one—or none—of these.
"For decades the chocolate industry, including retailers, has known about child labor in chocolate production, but we are still seeing major retailers, like Trader Joe's, doing relatively little to address this issue," said Charlotte Tate, manager of labor justice campaigns for Green America. "Complex problems like child labor and deforestation need holistic solutions, and if retailers do not prioritize human and environmental rights, those needed holistic solutions will remain out of reach."
How the Scorecard Was Determined
Green America only used publicly available information to determine the rankings for this scorecard. For the first category of "Addressing Child Labor," the retailer's generic brand must offer at least one Fair Trade option to receive a green score, while those in the red offered no Fair Trade or organic options.
Those who were in the green for the "Commitment to No Deforestation" section had a commitment to zero deforestation, while those in the red had no commitment or even a deforestation policy of any kind.
For a retailer to earn a green thumb's up in the "Beyond Fair Trade" category, they must recognize child labor or poverty as an issue within the chocolate industry and take action to address it, while those in the red have no mention of this issue and/or a weak child labor or poverty policy.
Finally, anyone in the green for "Fair Trade Options" offers 11 or more Fair Trade brands in their stores, while those in the red offer five or less. (Note: Consider that retailers with smaller inventories, like Aldi or Trader Joe's, are likely to not even have 11 brands of chocolate at a given time in their stores.)
How to Find Responsible and Sustainable Chocolate
Luckily, Green America has made it easy to decide where to shop for ethically produced chocolate, and has also has outlined which brands are making the greatest commitment to taking care of their employees and the environment, via their 2019 Chocolate Scorecard. Seven chocolate brands earned top marks for this—Alter Eco, Divine, Endangered Species, Equal Exchange, Shaman, Theo Chocolate and Tony's Chocoloney.
More mainstream brands like Mars, Lindt, Nestle and Hershey led the middle of the pack, while Mondelez, Ferrero and Godiva received the lowest scores. However, it's important to note that Mondelez and Godiva have made commitments to have 100% sustainable cocoa—Mondelez by 2025 and Godiva in 2020—but Godiva has not provided any additional information about their progress or plans regarding this commitment.
"Retailers control what chocolate brands the public sees and eventually buys, and they should take a leading role in promoting products that benefit cocoa farmers and the environment," said Todd Larsen, executive co-director of consumer and corporate engagement for Green America. "The unfair division of chocolate profits must change. Farmers must be paid fairly, or we have no hope of ending child labor in the cocoa industry."
The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Affairs has raised nearly $30 million in the last decade to eliminate child labor in the chocolate industry, but we can also do our part by shopping sustainably. We encourage you to ditch the drugstore, Costco, Walmart and Trader Joe's for Aldi, Food Lion, Kroger or even Whole Foods. You could also reach out to the corporate representatives from your favorite grocery store or drugstore to let them know you want to see Fair Trade and eco-conscious action taken, and you won't be purchasing their chocolate until then.
In the meantime, buy some Fair Trade chocolate and make your own box of chocolates to give to a loved one (or yourself!) this Valentine's Day—or try Aldi's amazing dark chocolate truffles. Either way, they'll taste a whole lot better knowing no children, animals or land was destroyed in the making of your sweet treats.