Dark Chocolate Indeed; Let’s Talk the Impact of Chocolate Production

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Chocolate means many things to us. It’s the flavor of our favorite celebrations, our cravings; it’s the taste of luxury and indulgence. Some boast its health benefits, such as its abundance of flavanols, linked to reducing heart disease. Some see it as an every day snack. From Hu to Hershey’s, we accept chocolate’s omnipresence at high end restaurants and the local bodega without a second thought. But, chocolate and its production in the global consumer market has a dark side that far exceeds the darkest 98% cocoa bars.

Historians and chocolate enthusiasts suggest that chocolate consumption has been around for 2,000 years, though not as most of us know it today. Stemming back from Latin and, first, Aztecan etymology, “Theobroma cacao” and “xocatl,” “chocolate” refers to the original form of consumption, the cacao bitter drink known as the “food of the gods.” But when we hear “chocolate” we think of bars, shiny and pressed into easily broken squares, ranging in colors from lightest cream to richest, deepest brown. Enter the presences of milks, creams and massive amounts of sugar — and that means bring in the cows and sugar cane. And don’t forget the labor.

From an environmental perspective chocolate carries serious consequences. Agriculture around the cacao plant is of a particularly thirsty sort, sucking up significant amounts of water for cacao bean growth, 34x the amount of water needed to grow the equivalent in apples. As chocolate demand grows, production races to match it, and with optimal cacao plant production staying within a 10 degree latitudinal wrap around the equator, that means unfathomable deforestation within this band to clear forests, like the Amazon, to cultivate cacao plants. Chocolate production creates an agonizing burden on the environment with the combined GHG emissions from cows and those of sugar cane production, on top of the significant emissions caused by burning and clearing the forests. Further, chocolate practices are even destabilizing communities.

Most cacao beans are grown and exported from West Africa and the Amazon, with Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Brazil as some of the largest exporters. In 2019, West African smallholder farms were responsible for fulfilling roughly 60% of the global supply. And those farms are fueled by the labor of millions of children. Local labor laws mandate compulsory education through age 16, but many children are not able to obtain this education. Particularly in regions where the government is struggling to ensure such labor laws, as in the Ivory Coast, where children are giving up their education and potential earnings for a staggering dollar a day — often less.

This is not a suggestion to ‘cancel’ chocolate. I love chocolate, you love chocolate, the world loves chocolate — it’s exported from chocolate powerhouses in Switzerland, from key industry players like Lindt, Cailler, Frey and Sprüngli, to over 140 countries. It’s not going anywhere and frankly, life without chocolate would be so vanilla. But the methods behind production need a critical re-evaluation and serious alterations.

Lillian MacCartney, Business Development YvesBlue

  • Implement and standardize the practices of growing shade trees among cacao crops, which helps create more fertile conditions for the plant while reducing the need to continually expand into forests
  • Nurture coalitions of companies that can help with reporting and transparency
  • Only purchase legally sourced chocolate, such as Tony’s Chocolate, which focuses on slavery-free sourcing for their chocolates

Check out the movie that helped expose the Nestle child labor practices, “The Dark Side of Chocolate”, which was played on large installed screens outside the Nestle headquarters.

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