Friday, June 14, 2024

The Ethical Revolution Happening In the Chocolate Aisle: From Dairy-Free to Fair Trade


Unwrap a bar of dairy-free chocolate that’s made by sustainable and ethical brands.

With its rich, decadent flavor and creamy, smooth texture, chocolate tops the list of palate-pleasing treats. But from environmental degradation to slave labor, chocolate’s impact on the planet is anything but sweet. Enter: sustainable and dairy-free chocolates othat are ethically sourced with the environment in mind. 

The dark side of chocolate

Chocolate has been around for ages. Its origins date back about around four millennia to the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica. Of course, the earliest chocolate wasn’t consumed in the form of Kit Kats or Snickers bars, but as a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. Nowadays, it takes about 400 beans to make one pound of chocolate. The vast majority of beans — 70 percent — hail from West Africa, mainly from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria.

African holding cocoa beans
The chocolate trade often relies on slave labor. | Photo by Etty Fidele via Unsplash

In these areas, illegal deforestation runs rife as farmers clear large swaths of tropical forests to make room for new cocoa trees. The environmental impacts of chocolate production don’t stop there; soil contamination, water and air pollution, and loss of wildlife are all byproducts of the chocolate trade.

Human rights abuses are also prevalent in the chocolate industry. Farmers often rely on children and slaves to help grow, harvest, and transport beans. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an estimated two million children were used throughout Ghana and the Ivory Coast during the 2013 to 2014 growing season.

Chocolate has also been linked to high levels of lead and cadmium, even in the brands working to do good. The heavy metal contamination comes from the cacao tree pulling up cadmium from the soil. Lead gets into the cacao during the drying process. Heavy metals have been linked to a number of health issues, especially for young children.

How to spot sustainable chocolate

So, how do you ensure that your chocolate is actually sustainable? For starters, you can shop chocolate that’s Fair Trade Certified. The third-party accreditation certifies that farmers are paid fairly for their products. Fairtrade standards also prohibit child and forced labor.

The Food Empowerment Project — an organization that promotes veganism and food justice — also has a guide to ethical vegan chocolate. The Chocolate List recommends vegan-friendly chocolate brands that do not rely on child labor or slavery. 

Ethical, dairy-free chocolate brands

A number of companies that source sustainable chocolate leave out dairy as animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change. However, some brands still offer a few milk chocolate options alongside their sustainable vegan bars.

More dairy-free options have become available in recent years — whether oat milk or microbial fermentation dairy — the industry is seeing ingredients that deliver the taste and texture of milk chocolate without the environmental or ethical complications of dairy. Satisfy your sweet tooth with vegan chocolate bars that are good for people and the planet. Here are some of the best options to shop for ethical chocolates. 

Ritual chocolate


Award-winning small-batch bean-to-bar brand Ritual makes its chocolate the old-world way with premium cacao sourced directly from growers and co-ops that prioritize sustainability. Ritual pays a premium for organic cacao that protects biodiversity, supports farmers and growers with fair wages, and ensures plants and animals thrive. Try the limited-edition Snowed In bar that features crushed peppermints, the Hygge drinking chocolate, or the creamy oat milk Desert Sands.

Beyond Good

For chocolate made right, look no further than Beyond Good. The chocolate brand promotes conservation efforts within the cocoa industry by working directly with cocoa farmers in the untapped regions of Madagascar and Uganda. With the 2.8 million chocolate bars the company produced in 2021, Beyond Good employed 105 locals at its factory in Antananarivo and facilitated 93 direct farmer relationships. The company is also helping local wildlife thrive in cocoa forests by creating canopies for endangered lemurs to call home.

equal exchange oat milk chocolate

Equal Exchange

The original Fair Trade chocolate bar, Equal Exchange is committed to sourcing its cacao ethically and supporting smallholder farmers and their communities. The company is also committed to its own community and operates as a worker-owned co-op. Try the single-origin bars or the oat milk bar for a creamier treat.

alter eco chocolate

Alter Eco

Alter Eco has been working directly with growers for more than a decade. Its chocolate bars are made with Fair Trade and organic ingredients because Alter Eco partners with small-scale farmers and considers the environmental impact of all product manufacturing practices. Avoid the options that contain dairy for a truly sustainable nib, and opt for the puffed quinoa bar or the Super Blackout, 90 percent pure cacao.


Dr. Bronner’s

Dr. Bronner’s makes chocolate just like it makes soap—with the best ingredients possible. Its chocolate bars feature Fair Trade cocoa along with other responsibly sourced ingredients. The rich, dairy-free chocolate bar flavors are as unique and distinguished as the company’s soap scents. Try the hazelnut, almond butter, or coconut praline for a real treat.

Endangered Species

Endangered Species Chocolate was the first chocolate brand in the U.S. to use fully traceable fair trade cocoa from West Africa. The company has a long history of working directly with cocoa farmers to help ensure ethical trade and high-quality beans. Plus, the brand supports endangered species with every purchase, with ten percent of its annual net profits going to organizations that help protect animals and their habitats.


Made from bean-to-bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Raaka makes unroasted dark chocolate from scratch using cocoa beans that are harvested and prepared ethically by producers at origin. With flavors like Green Tea Crunch, Bananas Foster, Maple & Nibs, and Ginger Snap—you’re definitely going to want to try each and every one of these ethical vegan chocolate bars.

Dick Taylor chocolate bar

Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate

Handcrafted in Eureka, California, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolates were originally made with only two ingredients: cacao and sugar. The bean-to-bar brand has recently begun expanding its offerings to include more ingredients, like peanuts, salt, and dried fruit. But for the minimalist, enjoy the guilt-free pleasure of ethical chocolate in every bite.

letterpress chocolate


Handmade in Los Angeles, Letterpress is strict about its quality. The company pays $6,000 to $17,500 or more per metric ton compared to the $2,200 average for cacao beans. That higher price means farmers earn a living wage and you only enjoy the highest quality chocolate bar around.

Lagusta’s Luscious

This vegan and woman-owned chocolate brand holds sustainability at its core. It sources ethical cocoa beans from cacao plantations in Ecuador. And its chocolates are packaged in 100-percent post-consumer recycled paper boxes and packing materials. Chocolate lovers: take a bit out of the decadent Turtle Bar, which features creamy caramel and pecans all topped with chocolate nougat. Or indulge in the Maple White Chocolate Bar, which contains organic maple sugar, vanilla, and Fair Trade Certified cocoa butter for pure yumminess with every bite.

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