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Thinking About Buying Cheap Chocolate? Think Again.

Brad Kearns Podcast

If you’ve listened to my show with Toréa Rodriguez or read my eBook, A Connoisseur’s Comprehensive Guide to Dark Chocolate (a free download for all newsletter subscribers!), then you already know all about the incredible benefits that come from consuming dark chocolate: from decreasing blood pressure to improving insulin sensitivity, to helping liver function, improving your mood, and protecting against UV damage….is there anything dark chocolate can’t do? Studies have shown that consuming dark chocolate also reduces inflammation, helps with cognitive function and weight loss (it is a natural appetite suppressant), and contains a higher amount of antioxidants than açaí berries and blueberries.

But, like all food, its quality plays a huge role in its nutritional profile. Furthermore, the quality of the product has a long lasting effect on the people who produced it. And the one thing that probably puts most people off from buying a higher quality chocolate bar is the price point. The question is: is it worth it?

The answer is a resounding yes, especially since an article from The Washington Post revealed that big brands like Nestlé, Mars, and Hershey’s are still using cocoa harvested by children, in spite of their now two-decades long pledge to stop. This also means that the odds that a chocolate bar purchased in America is the product of child labor are “substantial.” This makes sense considering the fact that two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is harvested in West Africa by more than 2 million children. Children who are doing hard labor, and in dangerous conditions. Another alarming fact The Washington Post revealed was that these chocolate companies are still unable to identify which farms their cocoa comes from—let alone if child labor is still playing a part in the production of their product. In fact, Mars (the company that makes M&M’s and Milky Way bars) can actually only trace 24 percent of its cocoa back to farms, while Hershey can only trace less than half. In short, it’s the horrifying opposite of the Bean to Bar concept that Shawn Askinosie talked about on the B.Rad podcast.

Founder of Askinosie Chocolate (creator of my two all-time favorite chocolate bars), Shawn has been a total pioneer of the Bean to Bar concept since first starting his company. This is because Bean to Bar is the most transparent way of ensuring that the people who harvested the product are receiving fair compensation and treatment. He also has a pretty unique business model: Askinosie Chocolate not only compensates their farmers fairly, but they also offer profit sharing and translate their accounting books into the farmer’s native languages.

But Shawn was very much a trendsetter when he started Askinosie Chocolate, and while he has said that there are many more bean to bar chocolate makers these days than you’d think, we still have a very long way to go within the chocolate industry. One of the best examples of this is Fairtrade, which Shawn describes as “great in the beginning,” but something that later became “a victim of its own good marketing.” 

The problem with Fairtrade now is that the profits get “siphoned off.” They first go to the supply chain, then to exporters, processors, and others. In fact, Shawn revealed that studies have shown that the farmers who harvest and grow the beans don’t even get the money. The Washington Post supports this, stating that while big chocolate companies have started buying cocoa that has been “certified” by third parties like Fairtrade or the Rainforest Alliance, this ethical certification barely holds any weight because of a total lack of enforcement of child labor rules. The article also reveals that third-party inspectors are only required to visit less than 10 percent of cocoa farms.

Unfortunately, just last year, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nestlé and Cargill in a lawsuit brought on by six African men who were trafficked out of Mali when they were children and forced to work on their cocoa farms for 12-14 hours a day, where they were kept under armed guard while sleeping (in order to prevent any escape attempts) and paid little “beyond basic food.”

Shawn (a former lawyer) and I actually discussed this lawsuit when he was on the podcast, because he (along with 16 other small chocolate makers) submitted an amicus curiae brief for this specific case (this means that someone who is not a party to a case can assist the court by offering expertise, information, or insight). Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled last year that Nestlé and Cargill cannot be sued for child slavery on African cocoa farms.

This news is disappointing to say the least, especially as more and more consumers continue to educate themselves and the demand for high quality, ethically-produced chocolate keeps growing. But if you happen to know anyone that still needs convincing to not buy the cheap stuff, Shawn makes a great point: “Bean to bar chocolate is everywhere, but there are many who say, ‘You want me to pay $10 for this chocolate bar? What a rip off!’ And I say to them: let’s talk about that $2 bar that you like to buy at the convenience store. Let’s say it’s a Snickers bar, Hershey’s, or whatever. That is a rip off. And the reason it’s a rip off is because that chocolate bar was made on the backs of slaves. Now that is the epitome of rip-off.”

If you want to learn more, there is a great resource called Slave Free Chocolate, an organization focused on eradicating child slavery in the cocoa industry. Check out their website here, and my episode with Shawn Askinosie here

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