The world has an insatiable taste for chocolate — understandably so. But that’s a problem because our great demand for chocolate, paired with the pressures of climate change, is pushing the chocolate industry to the limit. Global warming and water scarcity are leaving cocoa trees parched, meaning they produce fewer beans.

But we want our chocolate and we want it cheap!

Many cocoa farmers live below the poverty line, surviving on less than the cost of one Snickers bar each day (a Snickers bar will set you back about $1.25 in NYC). And that encourages chocolate farmers to use free, but forced, child labor — particularly in West Africa, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana. This in turn supports the child slave-trafficking industry.

Chocolate tastes a little less sweet when it’s made by children who’ve never even had a chance to try it. While big candy companies like Nestle and Hershey’s have pledged to work on the problem, progress has been slow.

Without the pressure of having to meet massive demands, smaller artisanal chocolate companies are taking a “bean-to-bar” approach to crafting ethical chocolate.

Here are six carefully sourced and ethically made chocolate bars you won’t feel guilty about.


Theo was the first organic, fair trade certified chocolate maker in North America. They source their beans from the Norandino cooperative in Peru and Esco Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. All their beans are Fair Trade and Fair For Life or Demeter Certified — meaning Theo can be certain their beans are sustainably grown and that their farmers receive above market wages. They also work with farmers and grower cooperatives around the world, to help them develop their businesses. They are committed to full transparency and post their price details and specifications on their site for anyone to check out.

Alter Eco

Alter Eco’s mission is to be environmentally responsible, socially just, and reliably delicious. They pay a Fair Trade certified price for all their products, which are sourced from small-scale, farmer-owned cooperatives. This empowers farmers, especially women, to invest their income into their own businesses and improving their living standards. They are committed to transparency and are B Corp certified. On top of that, their packaging is compostable! Their truffle wrappers are made from eucalyptus and birch fibers.


Dandelion is a small San Francisco-based chocolate company that’s all about the flavors. Their products are fair trade, sustainable, and they visit the origins of their beans to ensure good practices. Dandelion then creates chocolate from these bean’s in their small factory in San Francisco — the factory is smaller than a two-bedroom apartment — using tools they’ve adapted to make chocolate in small batches because most chocolate making appliances are intended for large scale industrial use and can’t accommodate their purposes. Watch the video above to see how their chocolate is made, and find out more about each of the farms they source from here.


Askinosie is a little chocolate company based in Missouri started by former criminal defense lawyer Shawn Askinosie. Askinosie focuses on producing quality chocolate by working directly with farmers. "We know this direct-trade with farmers model works. All we have to do is look at coffee to prove it," Shawn has said. In addition to visiting all the farmers and forming personal relationships with the farmers, Shawn has worked to get involved in their communities; in Davao, Philippines and Kyela, Tanzania, he helped to start a sustainable lunch program for students going to the school in the area. Akinosie doesn’t believe that the chocolate ceases to be the farmer’s product once it leaves the farm, it’s still their product in bar form, so Shawn gives them “a stake in the outcome” by sharing the profits made from the chocolate they helped produce.

@shawnaskinosie here. It’s been a successful visit to Davao, Philippines, inspecting our next shipment of cocoa beans, profit sharing and starting a new school lunch program. Pictured is Peter Cruz, our lead farmer and my friend of nearly 8 years. What touched me about this photo among the many I took is the combination of home and cocoa beans. Our beans. They were stacked carefully all over this tidy farmhouse owned by one our farmer partners, Eddie. This symbolizes the care and attention put into our beans. Can you imagine the hassle of bags and bags of cocoa beans in your house? The smell alone is even a little off-putting. And talk about an understanding family! The bottom line is that the care and dedication of our farmer partners to our beans and chocolate means that we can do good work together for their communities (like the sustainable lunch programs for the students). #origintripDavao2016

A photo posted by Askinosie Chocolate (@askinosie) on


A photo posted by Madécasse (@madecasse) on

Madécasse was founded by former Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar in 2008 with the goal of making chocolate that truly comes from a single origin. 70% of the world’s cocoa beans come from Africa, but less than 1% of its chocolate is actually made there. Dissatisfied with this imbalance, Madécasse is bringing chocolate production back to the origin of the bean, with 90% of its product being made in Madagascar itself — the magic beans don’t leave until they’ve turned into chocolate.


TCHO is another small chocolate company based in San Francisco, which is known for it tech and innovation scene, and that’s exactly what TCHO shares with its farmers. They source their beans directly and work with the bean producers to improve the genetics of their plants, the fermentation process through redesigning their fermentaria, and drying techniques by designing new drying racks. TCHO has also created “flavor labs” for their farmers and teach their farmers to analyse the flavor profiles of the beans using common language so they can exchange information about the harvests’ flavors through a share cloud database — this couldn’t be farther from the experience of industrial cocoa farmers, most of whom have never had the chance to taste chocolate.

Though most of these brands have fair trade and organic certifications, the cost of getting certified can put financial strain on farmers who could put that money to better use, and food labels can be misleading.

Look for the bars with short supply chains — like single origin bean bars. The fewer hands the product passes through, the fewer opportunities there are for exploitation. And when a company encourages you to dig deep into their sourcing practices and are willing to be transparent with their purchasing information, that’s usually a good sign — but if you want to be sure farmers are getting a sweet deal for your sweet treat, start digging!


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