When it comes to health, chocolate is something of a mixed bag—a little bit of dark chocolate every day is good for the heart, but too much of the creamy, sugary kind is bad for both arteries and waistline. Chocolate’s impact on the planet is equally tangled. The $128 billion-a year chocolate industry has long been synonymous with unfair labor practices, deforestation, and biodiversity loss, but is also a major source of income for the West African nations of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which, combined, produce three quarters of the world’s cocoa. Both countries have lost most of their forest cover over the past 60 years, and cocoa plantations are responsible for approximately a third of those losses.
Boycotting chocolate is not the answer, says Amourlaye Touré, the Ivorian human rights and climate advocate for West Africa at Mighty Earth, an environmental NGO based in Washington, D.C. A chocolate ban would “result in a crisis in the cocoa sector, throwing millions of impoverished farmers into greater despair.” Instead, he says, consumers should seek out sustainably produced chocolate. But when 40% of the world’s chocolate is completely untraceable, it’s hard to make the right choice.
Enter the Chocolate Scorecard, an annual assessment of the world’s major chocolatiers conducted by a consortium of international academics and 37 civil society groups including those from cocoa growing nations. The consortium ranks the 56 producers responsible for 95% of the world’s chocolate on the basis of deforestation and climate, traceability, labor rights, and sustainable farming practices. Released every spring just before chocolate bunny season, a.k.a. Easter, the scorecard is denominated by color-coded eggs—green for good, yellow for improving, orange for trying, and red for “needs to catch up to the rest of the industry.” Total scores are aggregated into similarly color-coded bunnies. The scorecard’s ranking system, says Touré, who worked on the rankings, addresses the most pernicious aspects of the cocoa industry. “Governments, traders, producers, chocolate companies, and civil society must all work together to improve traceability and transparency in the industry. Only then will we be able to end deforestation in cocoa supply chains and improve livelihoods for farmers.”
This year Dutch company Original Beans came out on top with a good egg in every category, closely followed by their Dutch compatriots Tony’s Chocolonely, which got its start as one of the world’s first “slavery free” chocolate bars 20 years ago. Lindt & Sprüngli, the Swiss company behind the ubiquitous gold foil-wrapped milk chocolate easter bunnies, received a yellow egg for traceability and transparency, but an orange one for deforestation and climate. Several of the world’s largest chocolate makers, including Nestlé, Mars-Wrigley, and Hershey, improved on their scores from last year to yellow-bunny status, proof, perhaps, that public rankings are having an impact.
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To a certain extent at least—Mondelez (Cadbury), Unilever, General Mills, Tesco, Walmart, and Whole Foods were awarded broken eggs for failing to take part in this year’s cocoa sustainability survey at all. “We believe that all companies selling chocolate products should be able to provide the information requested in the survey,” wrote the Chocolate Scorecard’s team in their methodology paper. “Consumers and investors have a right to be informed about the conditions under which chocolate is produced.” It appears that some companies agree: one of last year’s cracked eggs, Godiva, attained orange bunny status this year.
Considering the fact that chocolate ranks just behind beef, lamb, and dairy when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions from food, not including carbon reduction efforts in the company assessments feels like a wasted opportunity. But overall, the Chocolate Scorecard earns a green bunny for helping to untangle chocolate’s complicated tradeoffs.
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