World Chocolate Day – celebrated on 7 July – indulges one of the world's favourite treats and marks the introduction of chocolate to Europe in 1550. Until this point, chocolate was only known to natives in Mexico and parts of central and south America.
As much as we love chocolate, it is worth remembering that it frequently contains problematic ingredients, such as palm oil, which is one of the biggest contributors to deforestation, and cocoa, which is an industry fraught with modern slavery. In addition, in 2015, research found that more than 2.26 million children were working in cocoa farms in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.
Furthermore, chocolate often comes packaged in layers of non-recyclable plastic as well as foil.
The good news is that many brands are changing how we think about buying chocolate and bringing the issues associated with it, such as slave labour, to the forefront of the conversation.
Tony’s Chocolonely is the brand that is leading by example. It openly shares the details of its supply chain and pays farmers a living wage that is relevant to the size of their farms and families – this combines the “Tony’s premium” and Fairtrade price. It is also on a mission to make the chocolate industry 100 per cent slave free.
On the other end of the spectrum is the conglomerate Nestlé. From October, KitKats in the UK and Ireland will no longer be Fairtrade, since the confectioner is splitting from the Fairtrade Foundation, which certifies products and ingredients that meet the standards and pay farmers fairly, in favour of its own cocoa sustainability programme, Cocoa Plan, certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
This is particularly damaging for the many cocoa and sugar farmers worldwide who depend on the Fairtrade minimum price as a safety net to support those at the bottom of the supply chain. It is predicted that 27,000 of these smallholders will miss out on an annual premium worth £1.6m.
On Fairtrade terms, cocoa farmers earn a minimum price of approximately £1,900 per tonne for the cocoa beans sold. Under Nestlé’s new Cocoa Plan, farmers will receive a premium of just £47.80 per tonne, a price set by the Rainforest Alliance.
Nestlé isn’t the only brand to move away from Fairtrade, Mondelez dropped the Fairtrade logo from its Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar in 2016 when it opted for its own Cocoa Life scheme, and Green and Blacks launched a non-Fairtrade edition in 2017.
Before you boycott chocolate all together, you can still enjoy this sweet treat. It is however worth considering the alternatives to these large conglomerates. Lots of small, independent brands are now going further than Fairtrade; working to change the system from the inside. While you may pay a premium, chocolate is after all a luxury that we should be paying a fairer price for.
Whether it’s milk, dark or white, here’s your go-to guide to helping you choose all things choco today and always. Happy World Chocolate Day!
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Tony’s Chocolonely dark chocolate almond sea salt, 180g: £3.50, Sainbury's
Tony's Chocolonely's range of vegan chocolate is some of the best, not least because of its taste, but also its ethical ethos. The brand's raison d'être is to make the chocolate industry 100 per cent slave free. It works directly with farmers and invests in farming cooperatives, as well as pays extra premiums on top of Fairtrade prices – with more than nine per cent of the product's price going back to the cooca farmers. To represent the inequality within the chocolate industry, Tony's bars are divided into unevenly sized chunks. The flavours on offer are equally as great, ranging from milk chocolate to dark and milk chocolate pretzel.
Cocoa Runners monthly subscription: From £19.95 per month, Cocoa Runners
Highly commended in the IndyBest review of the best chocolate subscription boxes, Cocoa Runners is a monthly box for chocolate lovers. Choose to receive dark chocolate only, milk chocolate only, a mixture of dark and milk, or 100 per cent cocoa only. Each box contains four full-sized single-estate bars, and you're encouraged to try them side by side to compare the flavours, much like you would during wine tasting. This is a great way to discover under the radar, high quality chocolate from around the world.
As Cocoa Runners source its chocolate from a range of artisan chocolate makers, it’s slightly different to some of the others in this round-up. While some of the chocolate is Fairtrade certified, most of the bars featured go well beyond Fairtrade. Many artisan chocolatiers source cocoa beans directly from farmers and farmer cooperatives, cutting out the middleman and making sure beans are paid for at a significantly higher price (more than the Fairtrade premium).
Montezuma's dark side, 90g: £2.59, Montezuma's
Since February, Montezuma has used eco-friendly packaging –including recyclable inks, adhesives, stickers, and tape. The brand's best-selling chocolate products now come in 100 per cent paper and card packaging, eliminating the non-recyclable metallised plastics often used to wrap confectionery.
The brand is Social Association Organic certified, and while it’s not Fairtrade certified, Montezuma’s is dedicated to its sustainable cocoa production and farmer's education and investments in the local communities. Food Empowerment Project – a non-protfit organisation dedicated to creating a more just and sustainable world by recognising the power of one’s food choices – comfortably recommends this brand since it is transparent about the country it sources its cacao beans from; the beans are not sourced from areas where child labour and slavery are pervasive; and the brand goes above and beyond to support workers and their families.
Livia's nugglets choc brownie, box of 9: £13, Livia's
Known for its range of naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan indulgent treats, Livia's offers a host of sweet treats for vegans and non-vegans alike. The brand is also making positive sustainable steps – no palm oil is used in any of its products, and it’s on a mission to reduce plastic from its packaging. As it stands, it has recently switched the plastic from using plastic trays to recyclable uncoated trays in one of its products, cutting its annual use of plastic by three tonnes. Thanks to the great taste of these chocolate brownie nugglets, you’d be forgiven for thinking they weren’t plant-based. If you're not sure you want to buy a whole box of nine, you can buy a single pack at Holland & Barrett for 99p.
Cocoa Loco dark chocolate truffle making kit: £12.99, Cocoa Loco
If you're looking for a rainy day activity for you, or indeed your children, this truffle making kit is just the ticket. It comes with everything you'd need to make 30 truffles, including a step-by-step guide and gift bag and ribbon should you choose to gift it on. Cocoa Loco is also Fairtrade and Soil Association certified, as well as having a range of plastic-free products, so it's doing its bit for the environment.
Divine Chocolate 38% milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt, 90g: Divine Chocolate, £2.39
Divine Chocolate has been championing farmers for more than 20 years. What sets it apart from the rest, is it’s co-owned by a British company and Kuapa Kokoo – a Ghanian cooperative made up of 85,000 farmers. Farmers earn command a stronger voice, and the brand has created a supply chain that shares value more equitably. While it is Fairtrade certified, it is going above and beyond through its range of initiatives – including, empowering women through encouragement and mentioning.
The chocolatier does not use palm oil in any of its products and is a Certified B-Corporation – meaning it meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
Its chocolate products are seriously good, too. From its dark chocolate mint thins (Divine Chocolate, £4.50) to its smooth dark chocolate with pink Himalayan salt (Divine Chocolate, £2.39) sharing bars.
Hotel Chocolat the velvetiser: £99.99, Hotel Chocolat
For something truly decadent, it's got to be this at-home hot chocolate machine by Hotel Chocolat. Made with real grated chocolate flakes in just two and a half minutes, no longer will you have to slave over a hot stove, or drink mediocre hot chocolate. Included is 10 hot chocolate single serves in a mix of flavours, two ceramic cups worth £15, and a one-year guarantee.
Hotel Chocolat is unfortunately not eligible for Fairtrade certification because it’s owned by a company rather than being a smallholding. As such, it developed an “engaged ethics” programme to make sure its farmers are looked after – including, fair pay that is higher than the current Fairtrade price, and to feed, clothe and educate farmers and their families.