Feb 06, 2012
by April Hedrick

Make it a Sweet Valentine’s Day-  Avoid the dark side of chocolate

What says “Be Mine” better than chocolate? For those of us who love chocolate it really is a great gift. For those who really like chocolate it may well be in the pantry for everyday occasions as well. But, do we know where it comes from? Would we find it so easy to indulge if we knew that the great majority of chocolate available in our stores is made with cocoa beans harvested by children? Children who work long days in return for a roof over their head, some food, and little more. CNN’s Freedom Project did an expose in Cote d’Ivoire where much of the world’s cocoa originates.

So what are we to do? Which brands can we trust? The major chocolate distributers in the United States and West African cocoa producing nations made an agreement to address the issue 10 years ago and seemingly little progress has been made. Until just recently when Hershey’s announced they would work with Rainforest Alliance to make their Bliss products slave & child-labor free. Good news indeed! The new products should be available by the end of this year. And yes, it costs more to produce when workers are paid for their labors. As this is passed onto consumers we’ll all be able to see if we’re willing to put our money where our mouths are.

In the meantime, thankfully, there are quite a few options of slave & child labor-free chocolate. As part of my research I took it upon myself to explore these options and do some taste-testing. (Somebody has to do it, right?) I learned that the most important thing to look for is the “Fair Trade Certified” label. This ensures, among other things, that the workers harvesting the cocoa are not children and are paid a fair wage.

So, where to shop? It’s rumored that Trader Joe’s has Fair Trade Chocolate Truffles in a box ready to give. If you have a Whole Foods near you, you are in luck. I found a great selection of fair trade chocolate there. Some brands to look for- Green & Black’s (liked the Milk Chocolate Almond), Alter Eco (Dark Quinoa made in Bolivia was deliciously unique), Theo, Equal Exchange (Orange Dark Chocolate was intense), and Divine (prettiest packaging, White Chocolate with Strawberries was subtle but good).

I know there are more brands out there, as well as small chocolatiers, that make slave-free chocolate and I hope you'll comment here with your sources. These may not be the traditional Valentine’s candies we’ve come to expect in a big red box. But we can enjoy them with a clear conscience, after all, freedom never tasted so sweet.

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