How ethical are your Valentine's Day chocolates?

by Matthew Lavietes | @mattlavietes | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 12 February 2021 19:23 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Chocolates are displayed at the "Le Salon du Chocolat - Chocoladesalon" chocolate fair, in Brussels, Belgium, February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

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Leading chocolate makers have faced intense scrutiny over how they source their cocoa beans in recent years

• Cocoa supplies linked to forest clearance in West Africa

• Few chocolate makers committing to zero deforestation

• Confectioners are doing more to trace supply chain abuses

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK, Feb 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With sales set for a Valentine's Day boost, chocolate lovers and romantics concerned about ethical sourcing can take some heart from a new report.

Leading chocolate makers have faced intense scrutiny over how they source their cocoa beans in recent years, and U.S.-based nonprofit Forest Trends said they are making progress to tackle human rights abuses like child labour and deforestation.

But despite their efforts, much more remains to be done, from disclosing their results to cracking down on suppliers found to be falling short.
Here's a look at how the world's largest chocolate makers are striving for more ethical supply chains and what more they can do:


In a survey of nearly 70 chocolate manufacturers, candy companies and cocoa exporters, researchers found more than half have made at least one commitment to source their cocoa sustainably in line with targets drawn up by the Accountability Framework, a global coalition of environmental and human rights organizations.

The guidelines are one of many drafted by nonprofits to guide companies on how to ensure that their supply chains are just.
Still, less than 20 of them disclosed exactly how much of their cocoa supply was in compliance with their objectives.

"They're setting high targets, but they're finding it challenging to meet them," Philip Rothrock, a project manager at Forest Trends, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Some may choose to not disclose their high-level findings before they can have progress."


Only eight of the 69 chocolate manufacturers, candy companies and cocoa suppliers studied in the report have fully committed to zero deforestation in their cocoa supply chains.

Three pledged zero net deforestation, meaning that while some of their cocoa beans are sourced from cleared forest areas, they are compensating by planting trees elsewhere.

It is an imperfect trade off, said Rothrock.

"What we find is that existing forests end up providing a significant and often underappreciated value in terms of carbon mitigation, biodiversity benefits, water retention," he said.

"You will get a benefit from it, but there's a delay and often times it can be difficult to replicate."


While more than half of the chocolate companies said they planned to scan their supply chains to trace the source of their cocoa, only nine of them said they had worked back as far as the plantation.

Tracing supply chains back to the farm-level requires resources that many companies are unwilling or unable to commit to, the Forest Trends researchers said, urging policymakers to press for clearer and more ethical sourcing.

"Legislation can really motivate some of those countries and companies to get their act together," said Rothrock.

Last month, the European Union urged Ivory Coast, one of the world's leading cocoa producers, to prepare for stricter cocoa laws the bloc hopes to ratify later this year which aim to protect forests, curb child labor and end farmer poverty. 


While a third of the companies said they had confronted suppliers who engaged in unethical practices, only 11 had policies in place on how to deal with ethical lapses in their supply chains.

Rothrock warned that suppliers are unlikely to take ethical compliance seriously if they do not fear the repercussions.

"If they don't have a clear policy outlining what their processes around it, that signals to them that it's not that important," he said.

Related stories:

Child labour rising in West Africa cocoa farms despite efforts - report

Cocoa-growing Ivory Coast draws up new plan to stop child labour

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon two-thirds lower on titled indigenous land

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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