Is your chocolate ethical? Chocolate producers rated

How ethical is the chocolate we buy? Check out the best (and worst) of the world's biggest chocolate companies.
Photo credit: Fuzz Kitto, Be Slavery Free

How ethical is your chocolate? Researchers have rated the social and environmental impact of the companies that control global cocoa production.

The annual Chocolate Scorecard study surveyed 38 of the world’s largest chocolate companies, including chocolate traders, processors and manufacturers.

These account for 80-90% of global chocolate products, Easter eggs among them, and include giants such as Mars, Lindt, Nestlé, Mondelez (Cadbury), Ferrero and Hershey’s.

Ranking highly in ethical terms were US-based Alter Eco, Beyond Good, New Zealand-based Whittaker’s and the Netherlands’ Tony’s Chocolonely, which is now widely available in the UK.

Only three businesses – Starbucks, General Mills and Storck, manufacturer of Werther’s Original – chose not to take part in the study, eschewing transparency and opting instead to conceal their practices.

The 38 companies were rated on the six most pressing sustainability issues facing the chocolate industry:

  • traceability and transparency
  • living income policies
  • child labour
  • deforestation and climate
  • agroforestry
  • agrichemical management.

Child labour in chocolate production

While there had been improvements in many areas since last year’s survey, the researchers said there was still a long way to go in addressing the issue of approximately 1.56 million children caught up in child labour.

This is in spite of repeated calls to address the issue and following a major academic study in 2020 revealing the scope of the problem.

Just this week, footage emerged of children working with machetes on a cocoa farm that supplies Mondelez, owner of Cadbury.

“We are not at all surprised that a journalist found child labourers on farms allegedly supplying Mondelez. Our concern is that we are not finding more of these children,” says Fuzz Kitto of Be Slavery Free, the Australia-based charity which coordinated the Chocolate Scorecard.

What is hazardous child labour?

“Much of the child labour found in West Africa is the hazardous form of child labour, where a child is in danger through such things as carrying heavy loads, using dangerous equipment, such as machetes, or being exposed to chemicals.”

“Every year the chocolate industry’s big players assure us that they’ll do something about child labour and the huge numbers of children being exposed to chemicals that burn their skin and affect their breathing. We say that progress is too slow and they have to stop poisoning children to produce chocolate.”

“If companies started paying farmers properly, so they can get a living income, there would be fewer children forced to work in cocoa production and fewer farmers cutting corners with dangerous pesticides.”


Where is chocolate made?

The Chocolate Scorecard focuses on the production and supply chains that start in West Africa, where around 75% of the world’s cocoa is produced.

“We’re often asked what chocolate is the most ethical to eat, so we always set out to name and fame rather than just name and shame. That way consumers get to see what better looks like,” says Fuzz Kitto.

Says Andrew Wallis, CEO of Unseen: “When faced with the issues surrounding child labour, individuals often feel overwhelmed by the problem and ask, ‘What can I realistically do?’ The Chocolate Scorecard is a brilliant way to help consumers choose wisely and eat chocolate this Easter with a clearer conscience.

Photo credit: Fuzz Kitto, Be Slavery Free

Is chocolate certification any good?

This year Ferrero joins the list of companies, including Hershey’s, Unilever and Ritter, whose cocoa is close to 100% certified by the Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade.

“While certification is not perfect,” says Fuzz Kitto, “it is often a positive first step in a company’s sustainability journey.”

Storck, Starbucks and General Mills were awarded the researchers’ “broken egg” for their continuing refusal to cooperate with the Chocolate Scorecard.

Storck was given the worst rating overall and awarded this year’s rotten egg for lack of transparency about its policies and practices in its cocoa supply chain, and in light of civil society complaints about the company.

“If they are making progress on increasing the sustainability of their chocolate supply chains, then we and their customers and investors would like to hear about it,” says Kitto.

A positive the researchers found this year is the massive increase in commitment to cocoa production as part of an agroforestry system, whereby cocoa and other trees are grown together.

This system has many benefits, like maintaining cocoa yields while helping farmers diversify – and restoring and improving local biodiversity at the same time.

Nestlé is notable for not only its 2021 distribution of over 1 million shade trees and a pledge for another million shade trees in 2022 in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, but also a reforestation programme.

As part of this programme, Nestlé has committed to planting 20 million trees every year for the next 10 years in the area where it sources ingredients.

The annual survey and its dissemination is a collaboration between 29 organisations from around the world, including Australia’s Macquarie University and University of Wollongong, and the Open University (UK), and not-for-profit groups, including Unseen in the UK.

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.