Changes to Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List

Food Empowerment Project’s recommended mascot – Chavez

Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.) appreciates all of you who use our chocolate list as a way to buy chocolate that does not include the suffering of non-human animals or does not support slavery or the worst forms of child labor in the chocolate industry.

This list is important to us because of what it represents―that you trust us―and we take that very seriously. And, of course, we use it, too.

In May of this year, a new report came out: The Global Business of Forced Labour Report of Findings. The report by Professor Genevieve Lebaron is from the University of Sheffield, Economic & Social Research Council and Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute. The dataset used “includes in-depth interviews with over 120 tea and cocoa workers, a survey of over 1000 tea and cocoa workers, and over 100 interviews with business and government actors.”

Research was done on the cocoa industry in Ghana and the tea industry in India. (We hope to eventually look into the tea industry, but at this time, our small organization is still committed to creating transparency in the chocolate industry.)

F.E.P. has always been transparent about our list criteria, so I felt it was important to let everyone know that due to this report, we have had to adjust our criteria, and we will no longer be recommending companies that source from Western Africa unless they show they are doing things very, very differently than what is currently being done there.

This means that we will be removing companies from our recommended list and placing them on our do not recommend list and others will be moved to our new “Mixed” category.

The “Mixed” category will include all of the companies that make some chocolate we recommend and some we do not. It will be important to look at the list of products under this category to be sure you are purchasing the ones we recommend. We will no longer have a “giving the benefit of the doubt” category.

One of the reasons for this change is that one of the companies we’d recommended uses a worker-owned cooperative where the workers were also partial owners, and that cooperative was specifically called out as being problematic in the report.

Unfortunately, the report validated our concerns that no certification system seems to be effective.

We already had a strong policy on Western Africa due to conversations with a number of people who have worked on the ground there. 

We did give a few exceptions but have since revisited that decision based on the findings from this report.

According to workers interviewed, major issues include:

  • Underpayment of workers
  • Not being paid for all of the work performed
  • Deductions for equipment (e.g., cutlass, machete), fertilizer, food, or transportation (including for items that were never really actually provided)
  • The imposition of fines or deductions leading to “nnaho,” or involuntary labor
  • The imposition of fees for securing a job as a farm worker
  • The non-payment of wages altogether (23% of cocoa workers have performed work they were not paid for)
  • Some workers talked about physical assault taking place when they ask for their wages

The conclusion states:
The workforce base of the global cocoa supply chain is caught in a trap of poverty and debt. Most cocoa workers are not earning enough to obtain the basic necessities of life. Our research suggests that workers in the cocoa industry are experiencing severe labour exploitation, including forced labour. These are not anomalous or randomly occurring incidents (added emphasis). Rather, dynamics of labour exploitation operate according to clear and stable patterns. Farmers’ demand for exploited labour is contextualized by the low prices they receive for cocoa, which preclude them from making a living income. These dynamics occur at the base of a highly lucrative supply chain: the top ten chocolate manufacturers bring in dozens of billions of pounds each year. The business of forced labour and exploitation in the cocoa industry therefore needs to be understood with the context of high uneven value distribution along the chocolate supply chain, especially, the disproportionate market power and monopolization of the companies at the top of the supply chain.

Unfortunately, this means that we have had to remove some of our favorite companies from our recommended list.

We have contacted all of the companies to offer them a chance to share with us if they were doing things differently than what was described in the report.

Some companies have provided us with additional information, telling us they had already changed suppliers or are working to switch suppliers; others have not responded; and still others have not had satisfactory responses to our questions.

There are also some companies that state they do not want to turn their backs on the farmers in Western Africa. While we understand that sentiment, we argue that they do not have to turn their backs in order to make a difference.

We do not feel it helps the farmers/workers to buy chocolate from these areas as the benefit seems to be to the corporations. Also, as an organization we do not want to encourage consumers to buy from areas where slavery and child labor are taking place and are very prevalent as this indirectly supports such abuses.

We also know that many times when workers have demanded change, many of them have actually encouraged others to cease their financial support of the business they work for. Example: During farm worker campaigns, they encourage boycotts of the products they are picking  (grapes, lettuce, strawberries) as a way to put pressure on the companies that are the ones actually making the profits. Also, it is important to remember that those who are slaves are not being paid.

We want to put pressure on corporations to do better because they can.

As an example, take a look at Project Hope and Fairness. This is a chocolate manufacturer that is aware of the problems in Western Africa. At this time, they do not buy chocolate sourced from those areas. Instead, what they are doing is raising funds in the US to give to farmers in Western Africa where they can build and make their own chocolate. Not just pick the beans, but make chocolate so that the farmers make the profits and own the business.

Some companies might pay into other large consortiums that supposedly help to reduce slavery and child labor; however, they are not doing what would make the most sense: speaking to the growers/farmers about what they would need to survive to not rely on slavery or child labor.

When chocolate companies or organizations that certify adjust the price they pay for the cacao, it is no wonder why these farmers live in poverty. It feels odd that they do not understand how problematic it is.  That would be like your salary changing every year―imagine if your salary went up and down like that.

Ironically, as I was wrapping up this blog, the 2018 US Department of Labor report on list of goods produced by child and forced labor came out, and Brazil was listed as a country having high rates of child labor. Because of this, we will be adding Brazil as a country that we will not be recommending cacao beans from, with a few exceptions for those farms that include the workers in the profits and financially help the children with school.

F.E.P. has always maintained that there might be a time in which we will recommend no chocolate, but until that time, we will continue to update our list monthly and stay informed on reports that are not funded by the industry or the companies themselves.

Thanks to everyone who does their best to truly eat with their ethics and hold our government and corporations accountable―this will help to right some of the injustices that exist in the current food system.

Being removed from our recommended list:

  • Ds Naturals – Brazil
  • Divine
  • Felchin
  • The Cooperative (England)
  • Tony’s Chocolonely* we have had detailed exchanges with the company and will update this if we change their status.
  • Treat Dreams

Some companies are being moved to our Mixed list:

  • TCHO (only single-origin bars from Latin America)

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Wendy Scher

    I just tried these wonderful chocolate bars from a local company (NYC) called Rawmantic ( Would you be able to reach out to see if they could make your list?


    1. Hi, Wendy! Thanks for sharing this company with us, we will be sure to pass it along to our volunteer that reaches out to companies and hope to have them added to our chocolate list. Stay tuned for updates and please feel free to reach out about any other companies that are not yet on our list. Thank you!

      1. Carol Costa

        Hi all!

        Thank you for this amazing job! O’ve come accross a brand here in the Netherlands called So Vegan so Fine. It is a product line from a company called Brinkers. Could not find them in the list, if you happen to have any info on them, I’d appreciate it. So far, I think it would be not recommended because they say they are part of the fairtrade initiative, but would be nice to have your take on it.

        1. Hi, Carol! Thank you for sharing this company and for caring about these issues. We will pass along this information to our volunteer who works on our Chocolate List and will add Brinkers to our chocolate list, based on the country of origin for their cocoa. Stay tuned for updates! Again, thank you and please feel free to contact us with any questions or other companies you would like us to contact.

  2. Rebecca Jones

    Is this list still being regularly updated please and can you explain why specifically Fair trade companies such as Divine and Tony’s Chocolonely (especially!) are now on the list as not recommended. Thanks

    1. Hey Rebecca, We do still update the chocolate list every month. Regarding Fair Trade companies on the not recommended list, it is unfortunate, but all certifications have been found to have problems. We acknowledge this might change, but for now, this is how they rank on our list. Companies that are working with us to change suppliers are not listed. You can find more information about how we rank companies here:

  3. Sondra J Kahler

    I’m interested to know what your findings are regarding the work of
    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your question. As of right now, none of these schemes have proven to be making a huge difference, but some are still new. However, we do tend to be skeptical of any project that doesn’t just pay the farmers/workers a living wage and of a project created by the industry themselves. To see more of one such program, watch Shady Chocolate: Thank you for caring about this issue!

  4. Adie


    Could you do Foleys Chocolates and Candies?


    1. Thank you for reaching out, and for caring about these issues.

      We will pass along this information to our volunteer who works on our Chocolate List and will add Foley’s to our chocolate list, based on the country of origin for their cocoa. Stay tuned for updates!

      Again, thanks so much for reaching out, and please feel free to contact us with any questions or other companies you would like us to contact.

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