Updated: the blacklist

Updated: the blacklist

There are many attempts to generate and maintain “whitelists” of ethical chocolate companies. This is not one of them.

Updated on April 9, 2022 to add a new criterion for inclusion/exclusion.

One of the main attractions of the blacklist format, to me, is that it presents information in ways that encourage skeptical, critical, thinking, not blind acceptance – to get people, including you, dear reader, used to the idea they need to educate themselves and be vigilant, critical, and view claims that appear on product labels and marketing skeptically.

I deliberately chose to use loaded language (blacklist and whitelist) in a way I thought would call attention to the irony of my word choices. Some were not open to my ironic usage and suggested I could make the points I wanted to make using less polarizing language. So I have, and that list is here:

The proposed “black”list is not intended to be a proxy for doing your own homework. This list is my opinion of these companies based on my assessment of seven criteria, which are set forth below.
the wicked bad & wicked good lists
New and Improved! Renamed and updated! Now easier to use than ever to follow.
All of the lists generated from the following criteria, are now on this post.

Catch the live streams where I discuss this list and and take your questions and comments. If you’re not able to participate live, comment below.

Watch the original live stream.
Watch the follow up live stream,
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EIGHT ways how not to end up on the wicked bad list

An entity (a company, organization, or person) may be added (elevated?, demoted?) to this blacklist based on my assessment of the following criteria:

1. Don’t be a defendant in a child labor/trafficking and/or a deceptive practices lawsuit.

Duh. This criterion should be a no-brainer.

Issouf Coubaly et. al v. Nestlé, Cargill, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Olam, Mondelēz, and Hershey. — IRAadvocates
CAL files suit against Hershey and Rainforest Alliance — Corporate Accountability Lab
Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL) is excited to announce that on October 27, 2021 we filed suit against Hershey and the certification scheme Rainforest Alliance in a consumer protection case in Washington, D.C. Superior Court. CAL, as the plaintiff in the case, is suing the defendants -- Hershey an

2. Don’t get booted off an ethical chocolate “whitelist.”

This criterion is about greenwashing, or making carefully worded claims that present the work being done in the best possible light while sweeping under the rug aspects of the work that undermine the veracity of those claims.

Anti-slavery chocolate is taken off ethical list
The fast-growing anti-slavery chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely has been dropped from a list of ethical makers because of its links with a large manufacturer t

3. Don’t be overly proud of using (or being) one of “Belgium”s Finest.”

While not a black and white indicator, most of the chocolate confections made in Belgium – and the rest of the world – are handled, processed, and/or use chocolate manufactured by one of the companies colloquially referred to as “Big Chocolate.” If a company uses this phrase it may be a tacit admission they are using cocoa processed, or chocolate manufactured, by a company on the blacklist.

Look closely – a large Belgium-based chocolate maker that is a subsidiary of an even larger multinational says they make ‘real chocolate’ as well as ‘real Belgian chocolate.’ What’s the difference? Is it a difference that makes a difference? But that’s the nature of this beast. Confused, yet? (That may be the point.)

4. Don’t fail to fully represent your relationships with supply chain partners. Don’t misrepresent them, either.

The nature of international, multicultural, multilingual conversations makes it easy for a company to have carefully crafted messages for different audiences, professional, consumer, and regional (NL vs UK vs US). A lack of internal and external consistency in messaging may be a sign that a company is engaged in obfuscation, knowing that few people have the knowledge – or the will – to figure it out. Or care.

Any entity that engages in the practice of mass balance will be subject to this criterion.

Taking a(nother Small) Bite Out of Tony’s
Tilting at Windmills? Part 2 in a multi-part series examining the fallout from Tony’s Sweet Solutions campaign.

5. Don’t be a subsidiary of a company that matches any of the above four criteria.

This can be really hard to keep on top of and it requires specific knowledge of the corporate ownership structure of multinational conglomerates. Are we talking just chocolate, or also chocolate and confectionery, which includes gums, gummies, boiled sugar candies, sweet cookies and biscuits, cakes and pies, and more. And a multinational making chocolate might also make pet food. It is a rabbit warren: how far you backtrack the degrees of separation is a hugely subjective decision.

6. Don’t be, or support, an NGO that engages in practices that can be considered neo-colonial economic imperialism.

“Who decides what’s fair?” is at the heart of this criterion. One way to describe “‘Fair’ Trade” is as a system in which privileged actors (try to) coerce less-privileged actors to adopt their values (those of a culture foreign to the less-privileged actors), make them pay for the “privilege” (certification and auditing fees), while the NGO accepts none – 0% – of associated upstream economic risks. Not all NGOs are bad actors, nor are all their members, but it requires a lot of research to determine who’s what.

Who Decides What’s Fair?
I took this image while visiting a coop in Perú in 2015. My name for it is “The Faceless Farmer” and it illustrates, for me, how cocoa farmers get lost in conversations about chocolate.

7. Don’t gaslight, engage in apologetics, or use marketing language that is deliberately disingenuous.

Gaslighting is a form of communication that deliberately sets out to make someone question their own reality. Ian Watson has written, “If you have to be persuaded, reminded, pressured, lied to, incentivized, coerced, bullied, socially shamed, guilt-tripped, threatened, punished, [or] criminalized ... if all of this is considered necessary to gain your compliance you can be absolutely certain that what is being promoted is not in your best interest.”

Examples of deliberately disingenuous marketing language include “World’s First ...” on products that are demonstrably not and “Made with Real ...”.

One disingenuous attempt to deflect is to use the term “modern” as in “there is no modern slavery in our cocoa supply chain.” Modern slavery as opposed to “____” (fill in the blank) slavery ? The chattel slavery of the triangle trade? Biblical slavery – as in Exodus, Leviticus, and elsewhere? Are you a Jew or a Heathen in that scenario?

Slavery is slavery. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is wrong on many levels.

If someone attempts to deflect, ask them this simple question: “Would you agree to subject yourself (and/or your spouse/children/siblings) to those same working and living conditions?” If the answer is anything but “No!” – if there is any attempt to prevaricate or deflect or engage in verbal sophistry – beware: someone is trying to gaslight you.
Gaslighting Slavery
Updated August 30th. When leadership not only fails to lead, but - IMO – deliberately dissembles, what can we do?
What is modern slavery? - Anti-Slavery International
What is modern slavery and what forms of slavery exist today? Find out where modern slavery happens, the numbers behind it and who is affected.
A Modern Slavery
©1906 Henry Woodd Nevinson, in the public domain

8. Don’t conduct “business as usual” in Russia while they’re committing atrocities in Ukraine.

Another no-brainer.

brands and subsidiaries

One of the real challenges in maintaining a list like this is to unwrap and expose the fact that most cocoa/chocolate products are funneled through a relatively small number of companies. While many in the industry know about the mutually beneficial relationship between Tony’s Chocolonely and Barry Callebaut, most consumers probably are not. And these relationships matter.

For example, one company that earned the highest (green bunny) ranking on the 2020 Mighty Earth Easter Scorecard was Alter Eco. Alter Eco is a marketing company, they don’t actually manufacture the chocolate they sell. Manufacturing is done by Chocolats Halba, another green bunny company.

However – and this is a really big but that can neither be denied nor liked – Tony’s Chocolonely is on the green bunny list despite their relationship with Barry Callebaut (a yellow bunny company based on one self-reported criterion) – in other words, a participation award. At least IMO. And I get there are politics involved.

Ask yourself the following: “Who manufactures the chocolate that The Endangered Species Chocolate Company sells?” and, “Who owns Green & Blacks?”

While there may be things to admire about those companies, without knowing the extent of their supply chain relationships how can we determine if they belong on a wicked bad list

further thinking and work

How to Support Work on the Blacklist

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Original image by Tim Mossholder / Unsplash

Just one of the question sets that need to be addressed is how to assess progress made towards goals set by companies.

  • How, for example, how (what process) should we, or even can we, use to factor in a company’s membership in the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) or Cocoa and Forests Initiative (CFI), and how does that affect inclusion on the list?
  • Similarly, how do we factor in the implementation of any form of Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) and the language used to make the claim?
  • How do we factor in progress towards one or more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs)?
  • How do we factor in other work aimed at remediating systemic climate, labor, and other issues?
  • ESG reporting?

I don’t have answers to these questions, today, as I engage in the creation of this list. I don’t know that the questions are answerable by one person. But they are questions I have been, and will continue, to ask.

And if there is one thing I have learned over the past twenty-plus years working in cocoa and chocolate, it is that the short answer to almost every question is, “It depends.”

other reference sources

the wicked good (& the wicked bad & the fug ugly)

In doing the research on this list, it occured to me there needs to be a guide to the guides. There appear to be literally hundreds of them (Google returns over 10 million hits on a search on “ethical chocolate list”). Some of them appear to be written by groups with serious journalistic and research creds – many are not,

Mention on the following list does not necessarily constitute endorsement of the opinions expressed by the authors and/or publishers of the linked resource – with the exception of entries linking to articles on TheChocolateLife, of course. I heartily endorse my own opinions. YMMV. Form your own opinions.
Because Wikipedia is never enough!
World Cocoa Foundation membership list
International Rights Advocates
Slave Free Chocolate
Mighty Earth
Pono Cocoa (Have You Been Ponoed?) on TCL
Green Matters
Ethical Consumer
Good Shopping Guide
Eating Well
Candy Industry 2022 Top 100
If you have a company/group/resources you think should be added to one of these lists leave it in the comments with reasons.
If you believe there is an error of attribution or misattribution, please communicate about it in the comments section, with reasons for why you think there is an error, so there is a public record of the dialog.
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