Fair Trade Chocolate: What You Need to Know


After dinner, when I need a 3pm pick-me-up or first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee – I love a good piece of chocolate. If you’ve ever wandered through the chocolate aisle, then you know the options are endless. No matter how many bars I’ve taste tested, I’m no expert on the complexities of the chocolate industry. However, since it’s something we all like to enjoy daily (it’s not just me, right?), I try to ensure I’m purchasing something that doesn’t harm the planet or the people who produce it. To learn a little more, I dug into what the different certifications are – like Fair Trade, Rain Forest Alliance and UTZ, so we can all navigate the chocolate aisle with Mother Earth in mind.

Why should we care?

West Africa is one of the main producers of cocoa in the world, with the Ivory Coast leading production and Ghana not far behind. In 2010, a study found that 1.8 million children ages 5 to 17 years of age work in cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast and in Ghana. Oftentimes, it’s in less-than-acceptable conditions with workers being exposed to harmful chemicals and other unsafe working situations. The same study estimates that only 5% of Ivorian children are paid for their work. Additionally, UNICEF estimates that nearly 35,000 Ivorian children working on cocoa farms are victims of trafficking.

What can we do to help?

Here’s where those certifications come into play. Various organizations have stepped up to not only ensure that workers are being treated fairly but that farming practices are sustainable. Admittedly, even after consuming our fair share of chocolate bars over the years, understanding the various certifications can be a bit confusing. We’ve broken it down as simply as possible for our community.

Fair Trade Certified. This means the farms that produced those cocoa beans provide fair wages, safe working conditions and prohibit child labor. It also ensures the farms are obeying internationally regulated environmental standards. You can read about other impacts of fair trade here.

Fair for Life. Similarly to Fair Trade, this certification is designed to allow all producers and workers who are at a socio-economic disadvantage to access a wider range of social and economic benefits. However, Fair for Life goes a step further by ensuring fair trade practices throughout the entire trade chain.

Rain Forest Alliance Certified. This means that farms have met the criteria set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a coalition of leading conservation groups that work to promote sustainability agriculture, by focusing on all three pillars of sustainability—social, economic and environmental.

UTZ Certified. Similarly to Rain Forest Alliance, this certification shows consumers that products have been sourced, from farm to shop shelf, in a sustainable manner. To become certified, all UTZ suppliers have to follow their Code of Conduct, which offers expert guidance on better farming methods, working conditions and care for nature.

Still a bit confused? Here’s the deal. Rain Forest Alliance Certification and UTZ Certification are pretty similar. So similar, in fact, that the organizations announced earlier this year that they plan to merge by 2019. More on that here. Fair Trade Certification differs in that it is designed to tackle poverty and empower producers in the world’s poorest countries, giving them a guaranteed price for their products, while Rain Forest Alliance certification focuses on how farms are managed and empowers farmers with the knowledge and skills to negotiate for themselves in the global marketplace. More on that here. Fair For Life Certification is similar to Fair Trade, with the main difference being that Fair for Life puts emphasis on ensuring Fair Trade Practices throughout the entire supply chain.

Understanding the difference between these certifications is important and will help you navigate the chocolate aisle with ease. However, a company with products that carry any of these certifications is taking steps towards being more socially responsible and that is something to celebrate (maybe with a piece of chocolate!).

With all of this in mind, these are the treats we feel great about reach for and sharing with friends time and again.

Local to Seattle, utterly delicious and Fair For Life certified. If you ever find yourself looking for a sweet afternoon treat, stop by their factory in Fremont. Not only is the smell of chocolate overwhelmingly amazing but you can sample every flavor bar in the gift shop!

Green and Black’s
Delicious, Fair Trade certified and made with the simplest ingredients. If you’re one to look for a clean ingredient list, this chocolate is for you.

Rich, creamy and Fair Trade certified. Our favorite part? This company is co-owned by 85,000 farmers from the cooperative in Ghana that supplies the cocoa for each bar of Divine Chocolate. Read more about the benefits of this arrangement here.

Endangered Species
If you’re looking for a vegan option, this one is for you. They also contribute 10% of their net profits each year to protecting wildlife and are Fair Trade certified.

Utterly decadent and Rain Forrest Alliance Certified. If you’re looking for indulgence in your chocolate treat, look no further than Bissinger’s.

The gold bars and caramels are Fair Trade certified, and let’s just say that if you haven’t tried these signature sweets, you absolutely should.

Do you have a favorite that didn’t make it on the list? Comment below or share with us on Instagram.

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Where Mindful Meets Mainstream. The Reveal is your inside guide to living a fun-filled and sustainably-minded life. We make it easy to do the things you love (eat, shop, travel, play) while treading lightly on the planet. Get ready to get connected to a community of thinkers, doers and life-lovers just like you!