Cocoa is a global commodity which is grown close to the equator in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. The most important impacts associated with cocoa cultivation include:
Child and slave labor — Wide ranging human rights abuses and exploitation, including child trafficking and child and slave labor particularly in West Africa, are still a common problem in cocoa production.
Traceability and fair pricing — Companies rarely purchase cocoa from farms directly. Cocoa is mostly grown on small family farms, which rely on a complex series of intermediaries to transport the crop to processors. Chocolate is also a multi-ingredient product containing cocoa components such as cocoa butter and cocoa solids as well as other components, all potentially coming from a variety of sources. Because product traceability is difficult, farmers often don’t have the ability to maximize their crop’s value, and commodity prices paid can be far lower than market value.
Ecological impacts — Older crops produce less yield, resulting in farmers using additional pesticides to keep production high. Cocoa also grows best when under a protective shade canopy of a tropical forest.
Health — With respect to the health benefits of chocolate, most products are made with sugar, milk, and several other additives - the dietary problems associated with the sugar and fat content of candies will compete with the potential health benefits of the anti-oxidants in cacao.
Buying Guide: What to look for
Certifications ensure the chocolate has been produced under industry leading labor and environmental conditions.
Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, or Fair for Life certifications address livable wages, fair labor practices and safe working conditions, and environmental standards.
GoodGuide's ratings for chocolate bars, candy bars and boxed candy are based on the nutritional value of the food, as characterized by a standard method of nutrient assessment called the “Ratio of Recommended to Restricted Nutrients” (RRR).
The Ratio of Recommended to Restricted Nutrients (RRR) calculates the ratio of “good” to “bad” nutrients, essentially providing an overall picture of a food's nutrition profile. For most types of food, the list of recommended nutrients includes protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber and the list of restricted nutrients includes calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium. For more on how the RRR is calculated and scored, see GoodGuide's Food Methodology.
The presence of anti-oxidant compounds in some chocolate products (as well as in other types of foods) is not currently factored into GoodGuide health ratings. While anti-oxidants have health benefits, there is no standard measure of this type of biological activity or disclosure of product-level amounts. While dark chocolate generally contains more antioxidants, accurate identification of total cacao content in any given candy product is challenging and therefore not applicable to ratings at this time.