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While Valentine’s Day has become one of if not the largest chocolate consumption holiday in North America, and a day of flowers and romance, it also merits some thought about those making your chocolate. Valentine’s Day was originally a day to celebrate martyrs more than 15 centuries ago. With continuing industry issues surrounding child labor and slavery in the industry, especially in West Africa, and the spotlight on these issues through films such as The Dark Side of Chocolate, unfortunately there is still a great deal of suffering associated with chocolate production.
Fortunately, here in Ecuador there is no evidence of child labor or slavery being used in cacao production, though there are many, many families who make a subsistence living, if only that, by growing and harvesting cacao beans, banans, rice, and other tropical crops. Small farmers with small plots of land, usually five hectares or less, make up the bulk of Ecuador’s cacao production. If you are buying single origin Ecuadorian chocolate, you can be comfortable in the knowledge that it was not produced under duress.
If you are buying an everyday chocolate or a blend, it was probably made with beans from the West African countries of the Ivory Coast or Ghana. You may be buying a product whose ingredients were produced in less than ideal conditions. While Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and other certifications may add a “feel-good” stamp for the consumer, the issues are much more complex than advertised. A good source to read more about Fair Trade labeling is on thechocolatelife.com here. In Ecuador we are now producing gourmet, fine chocolates for export, and they will be available in the US in the coming months. The chocolate is made from pure Nacional beans and we know it’s produced under excellent conditions, as we have visited the farm where the beans are growing. Stay tuned, and make sure your Valentine’s Chocolate is made under conditions you’d be happy working under!