The Shocking Truth About Where Chocolate Really Comes From

Chuao_003Boy collecting cocoa after beans have dried

Sponsored post from Equal Exchange

Whether we’re celebrating a holiday, baking with our kids, or just looking for treat, chocolate is usually part of the mix. It’s delicious, readily available and fairly inexpensive — but many of us never stop to consider where our chocolate actually comes from. The truth is disturbing.

West Africa produces 70% of the world’s cacao (the main ingredient in chocolate,) and 40% of that comes from the Ivory Coast. Big corporations purchase most of this cacao from intermediaries to make the chocolate bars and candy that you see in stores worldwide.

The story behind that supply chain is a grim one: illegal child labor in West Africa is a problem that has plagued the chocolate industry for decades, with little improvement despite international pressure.

Without access to the market, many family-owned cacao farms rely on intermediaries to buy their crop, but these middlemen pay so little that many farmers struggle to get by. Out of desperation, some turn to illegal child labor and enlist kids from their extended families or communities to work excessively long, hazardous days in the field – to an abusive extreme far beyond normal chores or help.

Thousands of other children are trafficked from Mali and Burkina Faso and sold to cacao farmers in the Ivory Coast. These adolescents, desperate for work to help support their families, are deceived by traffickers who promise them good jobs. Once over the border, far from home and their own languages, these children are also forced to work long days of dangerous labor with no access to education, proper nutrition or health care. Most are unable to escape or seek help.

Despite this being a well-documented, ongoing crisis, we have seen little actual progress where it is needed most. And it is this cacao, harvested by exploited children, that often ends up in mainstream chocolate.


The Equal Exchange supply chain is different: we work with small farmer co-operatives in Peru, Panama, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. We have a close working relationship with our farmer partners and visit their co-ops often – we know them, and they know us. We’re invested in the well-being and success of the individuals, communities and small businesses behind our chocolate.

We’re working to promote a system that eliminates the desperation that causes some farmers to use unpaid laborers. In our system, there are no middlemen or brokers, and our producer partners receive above-market prices for their crops and other Fair Trade benefits. Additionally, nonprofit, independent certifying organizations monitor these cacao farms to verify that they follow fair labor standards. In every sweet square of our chocolate, there is integrity, honesty and pride.

You can help change the face of the chocolate industry and promote a system where all workers are paid a fair price. It’s easy to add Fair Trade to any of your traditions or treats. Our dark and milk Chocolate Minis are perfect for any occasion, and baked goods taste even sweeter with fairly traded chocolate chips or baking cocoa. With Valentine’s Day coming up, you might even want to check out some of these fun fair trade ideas.

Next time you need a little chocolate in your life, check out the wide selection on Equal Exchange, or look for our products at your local market.

Equal Exchange also has a wonderful fundraising program for schools or groups. Find out how to get your child’s school, or other organization they’re part of, involved here.

Image: “Chuao 003” by Electrolito – Transferred from Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

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