Our bitter-sweet tooth: The dark side of mass-produced chocolate

Dr Johnny Drain bites into the bittersweet truth about chocolate, noting ethics, sustainability, and a cocoa-free future to address challenges.

The vast majority of us love chocolate. We eat it in celebration. We gift it to loved ones. And we use it as a pick-me-up after a hard day at work. In fact, we adore chocolate so much that the global chocolate confectionery market is estimated to be worth more than $300,000 million (USD) by 2030;1 a 66 percent increase over its previous valuation in 2021.

However, all’s not as sweet as it might seem when it comes to one of the world’s favourite indulgences.

Chocolate hides some dark secrets. Mass-produced chocolate is riddled with ethical and sustainability issues including child and slave labour, deforestation and massive CO2 emissions.

Cocoa – chocolate’s raw ingredient – grows only within 10° of the equator in tropical rainforest. That, coupled with a history of colonisation and imperialism, have directly resulted in West Africa being the source of most of the world’s cocoa. Indeed, a staggering two-thirds of it comes from just two countries: Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The supply chain there is dominated by European and US multinationals; cocoa prices are kept low and Big Choc – akin to Big Pharma or Big Tobacco – wants to keep it that way.