Sweet Freedom: How to Find Slavery-Free Chocolate

Sweet Freedom: How to Find Slavery-Free Chocolate
Sweet Freedom: How to Find Slavery-Free Chocolate

No, we’re not talking about chocolate that’s free because slaves made it. We’re here to say “no” to exploitation in the name of tasty treats.

Over 40% of the world’s chocolate is produced by child slaves. There are now an estimated 1.1 million child slaves working in the chocolate industry. “These children typically come from countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Destitute parents in these poverty-stricken lands sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work once they arrive in Ivory Coast and then send some of their earnings home. But that’s not what happens. These children, usually 11-to-16-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, receive no education, are barely fed, are beaten regularly, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.” [Huffington Post].

While major chocolate companies signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol to stop child slavery in the production of their chocolate, the use of child slaves has increased in the years since then. As always, it is up to us to decide. Will our money go to support ethical chocolate production or perpetuate the use of child slavery?

There’s just one problem: how do we know which companies use ethical practices? How can we find slavery-free chocolate? I went on a quest for the answer. This is what I discovered:

How to find slavery-free chocolate: things to look for.


As always, the best option is to know your producer. This, however, is much harder when it comes to chocolate because cacao is not grown in Western countries. The next best thing is to look for a short supply chain, craftsmanship, and transparency. Here are a few ways to identify that:

  • Bean to Bar. Some craft chocolatiers participate in the entire chocolate-making process. Provided they are sourcing directly from farmers, this is one of the best practices to look for. I talked with Lindy Hart of Two Little Monkeys, a local producer in Costa Rica and a prime example of ethically sourced chocolate.Our chocolate is made in a process that is described as “bean-to-bar”. This means that instead of starting with a chocolate paste or chocolate liquor as many companies do, we are joining a small (but growing!) group of chocolate makers that actually start the process from the cacao bean. This gives us more control at each step, and brings you closer to an authentic cacao experience. We buy our beans, which have been fermented and sun-dried, from organic farmers throughout Costa Rica. We then hand select each bean, roast them, winnow (a way to remove shells using airflow), grind for 36 hours, temper, mold and hand-package each chocolate. It’s about a three-day process. We work in small batches and only use three high quality and organic ingredients from local Costa Rican sources: cacao beans, cane sugar and vanilla.”
  • Direct Trade. This means the chocolate-maker sources their cacao directly from farmers and is thus able to verify that they are not using slave labor, as well as to dictate a fair price.
  • Single-Origin. This indicates the country in which the cacao was produced, and sometimes traces back to farmers. Not always a guarantee, but a good start.
  • Craft chocolate. Chances are the company has a strong connection to the cacao producer.


Certifications are far from perfect. They must be paid for by the company that seeks them, which can be a prohibitive cost for small producers. There are many ethical, non-certified companies, and a share of certified companies that exploit loopholes and oversights. However, they do give us a general idea of a company’s practices, and certainly point us in the right direction. They’re also really easy to identify, which is a plus for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time researching. Here are some certifications that denote slavery-free chocolate:

Brand Lists

Luckily, there are many brands that choose to produce their high-quality, slavery-free chocolate (mostly smaller companies, but also large ones like Ben & Jerry’s). Here are a few lists of those companies. Of course not all slavery-free chocolate brands are on these lists… ask around and see if you can find a small company you can trust.

My quick-lists: the best and worst brands

These are the brands I found coming up over and over again in my research as socially and, often, environmentally responsible. It is not an exhaustive list.

The Best Brands

  • Endangered Species
  • Newman’s Own
  • Green and Black
  • Shaman
  • Rapunzel
  • Clif Bar
  • Cloud Nine

These are the companies that I found, over and over again, to have NEGATIVE social practices, certainly including slavery. Again, this list is not exhaustive.

The Worst Brands

  • Nestle
  • Hershey
  • Mars
  • Kraft
  • Godiva

What else can I do to stop chocolate slavery?

Where you spend your money is important, but it’s not the only thing you can do. Here are some other ways you can prevent slavery from persisting in chocolate production.

  • Share this article. Talk to people, educate your community (without preachiness).
  • Write to chocolate companies. Tell them you’re not buying their chocolate because they refuse to use ethical standards in making their cacao. One letter alone may not convince them, but little by little, eh?
  • Support non-profits dedicated to eradicating child slavery.

While researching this, I found myself in a grocery store, thinking twice about buying dark chocolate with an unknown source. And that’s the point, isn’t it? No money for slave chocolate=no more reason to enslave children on cacao plantations. Little by little, one at a time. Pretty simple, huh?

Nicholas Tippins

Thanks to Giulian Frisoni and Forest and Kim Starr for use of their photos.