Chocolate Industry Is Making Real Effort to Clean Up Its Act

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Companies and governments in West Africa and Europe are finally saying no to cocoa grown on deforested land.

You will soon have good reason to feel less guilty about enjoying a tasty chocolate bar. It appears that, finally, cocoa companies are taking serious action on deforestation, implementing new policies that will prevent illegally-grown cocoa from entering the supply chain. The Guardian reported on several of these efforts last week.

Ghana has announced a plan to fight deforestation and forest degradation caused by cocoa production. A report published last year by Mighty Earth said that the West African country has been notoriously bad for cutting down its own forests, losing 7,000 square kilometres of rainforest between 2001 and 2014, around 10 percent of its total forest over. One quarter of this is directly linked to the chocolate industry.

Ivory Coast, which cleared 291,254 acres of protected forest in the same time frame, has also promised to work toward reforestation, saying it will ask donors and companies to help fund the $1.1-billion effort.

The effort to tackle deforestation must come from all angles -- laborers, producers, chocolate companies, consumers, government -- so it is good to see the European Union getting aboard the ethical/environmentally responsible chocolate campaign, too. The EU consumes most of the world's chocolate.

Discussions have begun on a draft law, the Guardian reported, that would prevent cocoa from illegally deforested land from entering the EU; and pressure is coming from chocolate companies too, as it should:

"Cémoi and Godiva published new corporate policies to tackle deforestation not only in cocoa but in the other commodities they use, while Valrhona and Ferrero look set to do the same."

In the meantime,

"Outside Africa, Colombia became last week the first Latin American country to sign up to the cocoa and forests initiative, committing to using deforestation-free cocoa by 2020."

All of these reports represent a broader effort to ensure that cocoa has a more transparent supply chain and that chocolate lovers know a bit more about where their favorite treat is coming from. It's already much easier than it used to be, with several respected certifications offering insight into a chocolate bar's origin and ethics of production.

The Fairtrade symbol, which we've long supported at TreeHugger, has more of an emphasis on human wellbeing, but this usually translates to an improvement in environmental stewardship, as well. For example, when a farm worker needs to be protected, s/he will use fewer toxic chemicals on the cocoa trees. Being guaranteed a minimum price for cocoa each year enables the farmers to integrate environmentally sustainable practices into their cocoa production.

The Rainforest Alliance certification has more explicitly environmentally-related goals:

"[Certified farms] protect shade trees, plant native species, maintain wildlife corridors and conserve natural resources. These farms also reduce their reliance on pesticides in favor of biological and natural alternatives, and they are prohibited from using any banned pesticides. Through Rainforest Alliance training, farmers also learn how to adapt to the effects of climate change."

It's all well and good to have external bodies offering these optional certifications, but if good environmental stewardship is eventually required by governments and companies buying cocoa, the situation will improve even more rapidly. These are great advancements -- happy news from the chocolate industry, for a change!