Fair Trade Chocolate: A Guilt-Free Treat With a Mission

Emilee Petkus

Written by Emilee Petkus | Edited By: Aditi Khandelwal

February 25, 2021

The fair trade label may have occasionally caught your eye while perusing the chocolate aisle. Confection marked with this certification is not only a delicious treat but also a mission that prioritizes human rights and environmental sustainability.  At its root, fair trade certified companies make their sweets from cocoa beans sourced under ethical and fair policies. 

Sadly, the chocolate industry has been keeping a very sinister secret from us. Many major chocolate manufacturers have their supply chain riddled with unfair wages, environmentally destructive practices, and child labor. Given that chocolate is a dessert that brings joy to many, its ingredients should be gathered with that same positive energy.

The Bitter Reality of the Chocolate Industry

The sweet taste of most chocolate bars is actually quite deceiving considering how they are created. It is so, as many corporations make their products by exploiting under-paid workers who are made to gather cacao beans in unsafe conditions. In fact, chocolate farm laborers are paid on average $2 per day. (4)

Unfortunately, such low wages have led to another grave issue within the chocolate industry. According to the US Labor Department, over 2 million children were found operating in dangerous conditions on these cocoa bean farms in 2015. (4) Most children work on their family plantations to help them make ends meet; however, a smaller subset of children are trafficked into the industry. (1) Climbing trees, cutting down and splitting open cacao beans with machetes, and spraying pesticides are all in a day’s work for these unfortunate kids. While most are between the ages of 12-16, children as young as 5 have also been found working in hazardous conditions. (1) 

cacao beans

In 2001, global chocolate manufacturers promised to reduce their use of child labor. However, after vowing to change their ways by 2005, they missed the deadline. Still today, these companies have not completely eradicated child-labor from their processes. (4) 

It can feel a bit hopeless reading this but do not get discouraged. In order for change to occur, we have to take action now. While buying a bar of fair trade chocolate may not seem like much, by doing so, you are taking the first steps that can fuel a movement to end child labor and unfair wages perpetrated by the chocolate industry. 

So, What Exactly is Fair Trade?

By now, the question above has probably run through your mind. Luckily for us, the fair trade certification has offered us a way to break away from the maladies of the chocolate industry while still enjoying a bar from time-to-time. You can rest-assured knowing that by choosing these products you are enjoying chocolate without contributing to unfair trade agreements. 

The word “fair trade” no doubt conjures up images of sustainability, equity, and a “do-good” feeling upon purchase for most people. While these emotions and assumptions are not far off from the truth, it is important to dive deeper into what exactly this label means and why it matters. Understanding these reasons will make you a more knowledgeable consumer who can make a difference through their purchases.

At a basic level, fair trade strives to redefine the current modes of industry, which grossly neglects the farmers and workers who are growing and making their products. Simply put, it tries to do exactly what its name states: make trade fair for everyone. Rather than the corporation raking in the profits and retaining complete power monopoly, fair trade organizations enable farmers to rightfully get some control back. 

How Much Can Fair Trade Really Help?

We all know that money talks, and by choosing to purchase fair trade products, you are actively pushing for companies to move away from unethical practices. New relationships thus formed can benefit every level of the supply chain and not just those at the top. Fair trade organizations do not just pay their farmers due wage, but also help them improve their skills, build their communities, and protect the environment. (5) These chocolate makers are giving the farmers back their voice and making chocolate a guilt-free treat, just as it should be, by following the major principles outlined below.

fair trade

1. Fostering Direct Relationships With Farmers 

Most Fair Trade organizations strive to maintain the shortest supply chain possible. Not only does this reduce costs, subsequently leaving more money for the farmers, but it also forces the company to claim full responsibility if any misconduct is discovered. 

Such establishments often work with collectives, which are groups of small-scale growers who democratically make decisions. (7)

2. Establishing Absolute Transparency

There are no hidden or secretive practices in fair trade companies. Every detail from when the bean is planted to when it is placed on the shelf as a tasty bar is characterized by a sense of openness. This creates a trustful relationship with consumers. It also forces companies to claim responsibility for how they conduct their supply chains. 

3. Always Paying a Fair Price

The price of the cacao beans and the worker wages are mutually discussed and agreed upon before any business is done between the supplier and company. Both parties are able to negotiate freely and arrive at an arrangement based on a mutual agreement. (6) The agreed price is always paid, even if the market price falls. Oftentimes, farmers also get paid in advance of the harvest to ensure they have everything necessary. (7)

4. Requiring Safe Working Conditions 

Health and safety guidelines are provided to farms working with certified companies. These set out to prevent worker abuse, harassment, discrimination, along with child and forced labor. (7) Reasonable working hours are enforced to prevent overworking.

5. Environmental Advocacy 

Many chocolate companies following these guidelines also exclusively use organic ingredients. They restrict the use of pesticide and fertilizers while trying to reduce waste as much as possible. GMOs are entirely forbidden as well. 

However, their environmental efforts do not stop there! These companies also often try to use local resources and latest production technologies to reduce their environmental impact when creating their chocolates. (8)

What to Look For On Your Bars

Now that you have got this information, you may be wondering how you can easily identify which chocolate bars to buy. Seeing all these different labels can get a bit overwhelming as you try to decipher which one means what. To help you out, we have outlined the five certifications you will find in the US which designated fair trade bars, along with another helpful term. Though they all slightly differ in their approach, the goal they strive towards is the same.

Fair Trade International

You will probably come across these labels more frequently than the others. Fairtrade International, who also own Fairtrade America, currently have over 30,000 certified products in 120 countries. This number only continues to trend upwards. Not only do they have a wide reach, but they also make sure to include farmers in the decision making processes. (2)

Fair Trade USA

This non-profit organization is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in America. It is focused on sustainability and global trade models that benefit the farmers, workers, consumers, industry, and the earth.” (2)

Fair Trade Federation

The Fair Trade Federation is a trade association that encourages American organizations to follow ethical guidelines. Each brand labeled with this certification must continually meet their Nine Principles, which revolve around fair pay, environmental stewardship, accountability, and safe working environments. (2) (3)

Petkus, Emilee. “Fair Trade Labels.” 2021. jpeg file. 

Fair For Life

Based in Switzerland, Fair For Life has since expanded to the US since 2007. They are a brand neutral certification program which fights for social accountability and fair practices in agriculture, manufacturing and trading. Their certification is based upon the same principles as Fair Trade International. (2)


While the brands listed above will undoubtedly help make a difference, there also a few other things to look out for. Sometimes, you may come across the term “bean-to-bar,” which essentially means the chocolatier is responsible for handling the manufacturing process from the cacao beans to the final product. Most misconduct arises when the supply chain remains muddled and companies are caught unaware of where their ingredients are sourced from. Bean-to-Bar companies cannot play ignorance, and therefore most will strive for fair agreements. (3)

A lot of craft chocolate brands also use this term. They usually do not add any artificial sweeteners and generally avoid unnatural preservatives. This not only results in a healthier chocolate, but also forces “bean-to-bar”  corporations to have closer relationships with their manufacturers and often involves a direct trade between the two. As a result, most companies adopt ethical practices. (3)

The Top Ethical Brands That Can Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

In order to help you get started on your fair trade journey, we have put together the top chocolate brands you should buy next time you crave a sweet treat.


Alter Eco 

Alter Eco provides a wide variety of chocolate bars. These are made with clean, minimally processed ingredients which are 100% sourced directly from small-scale farms. (9) By creating mutually beneficial relationships, they enrich the farmer’s lives by paying fair prices. (10)

Bonus: all their products are certified organic too. So, that means no harmful pesticide use destroying the environment. (9)

Endangered Species 

Endangered Species is a fair trade brand that takes it up a notch. They do so, by donating 10% of their annual net profits towards nature conservation. Over $2.6 million dollars have already been given to further protect the earth and its species since 2016. (11)

Not to mention their chocolate is absolutely mouth-watering!

Local Chocolatiers 

Perhaps one of the best options would be buying local. Not only does this help boost your community’s economy but can also reduce your environmental impact. This is because local chocolatiers may use less packaging than their grocery store counterparts. 

Before you buy, make sure to ask if their chocolate sources follow fair-trade practices!

Maya Moon

Maya Moon makes sinfully delicious truffles with fair trade chocolate. This chocolatier prides itself on its relationships with local, sustainable farmers and beekeepers. On top of that, every ingredient promotes various health benefits.

Check out our feature on the founder, Kathryn Rogers, to learn more.

One Final Motivation

Most fair trade organizations try to avoid filler ingredients such as palm oil and added sugars. As a rule, try to reach for chocolate bars with high cacao content, which most certified brands solely create. Pure cacao has numerous health benefits, especially for your heart. Not only will your chocolate be ethical but can give your health a boost as well.

Make The Shift Towards Ethical Consumerism Now

With the majority of us striving to purchase more ethically-sourced products, adding fair trade certified items to your list is another small change you easily can make. 

Our dollars are perhaps the strongest weapon we have against the exploitative behaviors of the chocolate industry, and we must utilize them. Don’t forget that buying a bar of fair-trade chocolate has the capability to spark the ripple that can eventually turn into a powerful wave. Though fair trade chocolate may cost a couple of dollars more, remember that the surplus is returning back to those who grew the ingredients which made that bar of chocolate possible in the first place.

Share this on social media, so we can collectively spark a change within the chocolate industry. 

Want to do more activism through your chocolate choices? Another common, yet destructive, ingredient found in many chocolates is palm oil. Learn more about how palm oil farming is destroying our environment and what you can do to help.

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