BITTER SWEET: Valentine’s Day chocolate guide

GODIVA and LAURA SECORD Godiva may generate more oohs than a box of, say, Pot of Gold, but at.


Godiva may generate more oohs than a box of, say, Pot of Gold, but at least other chocolate giants have committed to having all their cocoa certified by 2020 (see story). Considering the 1.8 million children involved in West African cocoa farming (where most, including Godiva and Laura Secord, get their beans), Godiva must do more than just insist it’s following basic labour laws and donating a few wells. World Vision is asking Canadians to pressure Laura Secord to get certified, too. Sign Green America’s petition pressuring Godiva to go fair trade at

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Of the mass-produced chocolate makers serving up V-day bonbons, Lindt is surprisingly transparent about its ingredients, including its use of pesticides and controversy-plagued palm oil, as well as “the labour situation” on Turkish hazelnut farms (where the Fair Labour Association has documented child labour and other problems). In response, Lindt’s website maps its expanding cocoa traceability programs, pesticide testing protocol and “sustainable” palm commitments. Tell the company to go further by offering fair trade certified treats.

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You’ll find indie chocolatiers in all corners of the country, but where are they getting their cocoa? Ask. These artisanal truffle kings stay away from conventional West African cocoa farms and follow the slow food motto of “good, clean and fair.” They source from a mix of small-scale shade-grown premium cocoa suppliers. Some are certified fair trade and/or organic, but many are not. They do use certified organic sugar cane, but the rest of their nuts, spices and milk products are conventional, mixed with a handful of locally picked ingredients.

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More and more chocolate shops are offering a few ethical and sustainable options, but Delight is one of the rare chocolatiers cooking up 100 per cent pure certified organic, fair trade truffles. Delight actually gets its cocoa powder from Ottawa-based Camino, which helped form Fair Trade Canada’s cocoa standards. And although Camino mostly makes health store candy bars, it also sells a box set of finer chocolates.

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This ain’t your typical candy bar. Toronto-based Chocosol offers up pedal-powered, stone-ground, whole food chocolate using traditional forest garden shade-grown organic cacao. And all of it is sourced directly through what the founder calls “horizontal trade relationships” with indigenous communities in the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas and the Oaxaca mountains of southern Mexico. Free of dairy, soy, destructive palm oil, nuts, gluten and guilt of any kind. Pick up cute V-day-inspired bars complete with card, and, if you get ’em from the St. Clair West shop, a side of chocolate hearts.

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But truth is fair traders don’t want to keep losing market share to more lax certifiers

At last month’s International Sweets and Biscuits Fair in Germany, some fresh-baked moves in the world of cocoa were announced.

Fairtrade International (the org that sets global fair trade standards) said it was going to make it easier for Big Chocolate to go fair. Sounds sweet, right? Well, hold your Hersheys.

Under new Fairtrade International (FLO) rules, chocolate manufacturers will no longer have to commit to using all fair trade ingredients if they want FLO’s fair trade seal of approval.

They can now opt to use fair trade cocoa but keep buying, say, sugar from conventional and potentially exploitative sources and still slap a fair trade logo on their bars.

The policy shift is aimed at spurring growth in fair trade cocoa, a move industry insiders say is essential for the long-term survival of the chocolate industry, which is predicted to face global shortfalls by 2020.

Mars Chocolate (the peeps behind M&M’s and Snickers) first warned of a 1 million ton cocoa shortfall by the end of the decade “unless more is done to promote sustainability.”

Why? As the global appetite for chocolate grows, the pool of cocoa farmers is shrinking. Despite child labour usage on plantations, struggling farmers are an aging demographic, and the next generation is chasing the promise of better jobs.

Enter Mars, Ferrero, Cadbury and foot-dragging Hershey. Over the last couple years, they’ve have all announced they’ll be moving toward 100 per cent third-party-certified chocolate by 2020.

The industry certainly needs the reputation boost after the U.S. State Department estimated over a decade ago that some 109,000 children work under the “worst forms of child labour” on Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa/coffee/cotton farms alone.

Not only will certifying chocolate help ensure that plantations dispense with the worst forms of child labour and hopefully institute sustainable farming practices, but industry reports have found that, much to their advantage, certified farms are also more productive.

Still, the move to loosen fair trade standards at the international level will sound eerily familiar to anyone who’s been following fair trade politics over on this side of the pond.

Fair Trade USA rewrote its rules in 2012 to allow companies to cherry-pick a single fair trade commodity like cocoa and still call their bars fair trade. NGOs slammed the new labels as a “hoax” for allowing the Fair Trade USA seal to appear on bars that were as little as 20 per cent fair.

But truth is, the fair trade community doesn’t want to keep losing market share to laxer certifiers like UTZ and Rainforest Alliance (sometimes dubbed fair trade lite).

At least 120,000 cocoa farms in more than 11 countries have scored RA certification. Some Mars-owned Dove Chocolate and Hershey’s Dagoba items, for instance, are both Rainforest Alliance-certified.

RA farms don’t have compulsory wage requirements (besides legal minimum wage) and aren’t paid fixed premium prices like Fair Trade ones are, but RA does have more standards in place for preventing soil erosion and water contamination by protecting shade trees, planting native trees and reducing pesticide use.

And RA points out that at least the bars that bear its seal actually contain some certified content. That isn’t the case, they say, with candy bars from Fair Trade USA.

If chocolate manufacturers buy 20 per cent of their beans from certified farms, Fair Trade USA lets them put the fair trade logo on one in five bars at random. That means earnest customers could be biting off more than they were meaning to.

Nonetheless, the pot of gold at the end of rainbow is that by 2020, Big Chocolate should be more accountable, traceable and, if all goes according to plan, ethical and sustainable.

In the meantime, choose your chocolate with care. | @ecoholicnation

Update (Thursday, January 13, 1:08 pm): The Canadian Fair Trade Network says Fairtrade International’s new rules around certifying products that don’t have 100 per cent Fairtrade certified ingredients won’t be implemented in Canada.

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