As one of the few (if not only) organic chocolate bars available on supermarket shelves during my childhood in the UK, it has long been my brand of choice. They also stood out from many other chocolate brands due to the lack of plastic packaging, Fairtrade symbol and omission of palm oilin the ingredients list. Green & Black’s (G&B’s) who also produce biscuits, ice cream and hot chocolate, was co-founded in London in 1991 by the same man who founded Organic Whole Earth. In 1994, G&B’s Maya Gold chocolate bar was the first product in the UK to be certified as Fairtrade.
However, G&B’s were bought by Cadbury’s in 2005, which led to concerns whether their ethical practices would be discarded. This fear greatly increased 5 years later when Cadbury’s was engulfed by the US conglomerate Kraft Food lnc. (later split into Mondelēz International). Mondelēz’s portfolio includes Oreo, Milka, Belvita, LU, TUC, Sour Patch Kids,Trident, Ritz, Toblerone, Philadelphia and many others. Safe to say, Mondelēzis a controversial company. In 2021, they faced a federal class action lawsuit for their complicity in child trafficking and forced child labour, along with other brands such as Nestlé, Mars and Hershey. Greenpeace also found that Mondelēz has illegally deforested 70,000 hectares of protected rainforest between 2016-2018 alone, all for palm oil.
G&B’s once seemingly, purely ethical name is undoubtedly devalued by its current connection to Mondelēz. Additionally, G&B’s new range in the US has dropped the organic symbol, and their ‘Velvet edition’ range are neither organic nor Fairtrade. Instead, they show a ‘Cocoa Life’ certification, which was set up by Mondelēz themselves… But let’s try to look solely at one chocolate bar, G&B’s Organic 70% Cocoa.
This product is made up of only four ingredients. Cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla extract; all of which are certified organic by the Soil Association. This, incidentally, makes it vegan-friendly as well. The organic certificatthat the system of farming and production for this bar has met the highest environmental and animal welfare standards available. These strict, legal regulations develop a resilient natural landscape, increasing biodiversity by working with nature rather than against it. All artificial pesticides, fertilisers and chemicals are banned from the production of this chocolate! Use of pesticides is a key driver of the biodiversity crisis and global insect decline - significantly jeopardising future food security, so take this into consideration when choosing between organic and non-organic products. Additionally, by refusing to use artificial fertilisers and employing crop-rotation practises, G&B’s are allowing the soil to maintain its nutrients naturally and sustainably. Dependence on synthetic chemical solutions threatens the long-term health and functionality of the soil on which our civilization depends.
I was really disappointed with the lack of information on G&B’s website about where the ingredients were sourced from. All they mentioned was that these were organic, ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable’ - the only exception was their vanilla, which they say comes from Madagascar. Alternative sources say their organic cocoa comes from Madagascar, Belize and the Dominican Republic. But this still leaves the cane sugar, meaning that I have no choice but to guess where it could be from. South America appears to be where most organic sugar is grown and produced, 15-20% of which is Fairtrade. Maybe this is where G&B’s procures its sugar? Why don’t you let us know G&B’s?
The packing is 100% recyclable, made up of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Mix certified paper and aluminium foil. An FSC certification means the paper originates from forests that are said to be environmentally and ethically managed through strict principles and criteria, and that all companies in the paper supply chain must also adhere to these principals. Additionally, FSC works to promote environmental conservation and address illegal logging. For context, WWF considers FSC the “only credible forest certification system that ensures environmentally and socially responsible management of forests”. The ‘Mix’ of the paper used in G&B’s bars means it’s a mix of either raw, recycled or from a controlled source. To improve, the paper could be made FSC Recycled, and the aluminium could be replaced with 100% compostable foil, like Seed and Bean’s Chocolates.
From G&B’s website, I have no idea. Luckily, others have already described the bean-to-bar process before, although it varies with origin and bean type. Cocoa pods are harvested manually from Cocoa trees when they’re ripe. The pods are then split open, and the beans are removed, before fermenting in the heat for 5-8 days with stirring. If the climate isn’t warm enough, heated trays are used. The beans must then be dried in the sun for around a week before being transferred into sacks for transportation to a chocolate manufacturer. Here, the beans are cleaned and then roasted depending on the desired effect, before the brittle shells are removed by cracking and filtering the contents with mechanical sieves. Only the nibs are left, which are ground into a paste using grinding stones or heavy steel discs. At this point, 80% of the cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa using a hydraulic press. This can later be reincorporated in certain amounts, along with the other ingredients, depending on the flavour of chocolate being made. In the case of our 70% bar, we know there must be less than 30% cocoa butter. The cane sugar and vanilla extract would now be added and blended with the cocoa liquor. At this point, G&B’s have provided one detail in the production of this bar - the vanilla pods have been whole torn and then sun dried to maximise their flavour. Next, under regulated speeds and temperatures, conching machines knead the chocolate for anywhere between 4-96 hours to allow the flavours to properly combine. Finally, the chocolate is tempered before being poured into moulds.
The energy supply used for this extensive process has been identified as an ‘environmental hotspot’ of a chocolate bar’s life cycle. As G&B’s have not commented on their energy usage it is difficult to know whether they are taking steps to make these procedures more energy efficient as has been outlined by the Carbon Trust. Another consideration for the sustainability of the product is the environmental cost of transportation. G&B’s are not transparent about their transport routes but a study into environmental impacts of chocolate production and consumption in the UK found that transport of these goods significantly contributes to ozone depletion and fossil fuel consumption.
As the ingredients are organic, farmers don’t risk their health from having to handle artificial pesticides and fertilisers, nor is this passed into the environment. The former has been linked to numerous negative health effects, which include those related to neurological, carcinogenic, and reproductive damage. While contamination of water or improper storage of fertilisers have negative health impacts as toxic trace elements in fertilisers include mercury, arsenic, cadmium and lead. The detrimental impacts of these chemicals are felt most strongly by those most highly exposed, such as planters, weeders and harvesters, but the impact is also felt by the wider community as water ways can become contaminated. Commendably, G&B’s Organic 70% Cocoa bar is free from these practises.
G&B’s website lacked details on who makes their chocolate. According to an alternative, outdated source, G&B’s chocolate is processed by a small family-owned operator near Lake Como in northern Italy; but whether this is still true it is unknown. What we do know is that it’s Fairtrade, so G&B’s farmers will be receiving an additional Fairtrade Premium on top of the price of their crop. This premium means they’re more likely to be able to cover household costs and benefit the wider community. Fairtrade also ensures more stable contracts and better terms of trade. But G&B‘s goes above and beyond this. Since becoming the first British brand to hold a Fairtrade certification in 1994, it is fair to say that G&B’s have significantly benefited the Toledo district by paying more than double the market price for cocoa. They also gave training in management and accountancy as well as funding roles for local people trained in nursery management, IT, administration and more. However, there is no information about the gender pay gap.
Overall, G&B’s are clearly leading in sustainable and ethical practises for chocolate production, so if you’re going to buy chocolate, definitely consider purchasing from them. This being said, their reputation is undeniably tainted with their connection to first Cadbury and then Mondelēz (who have said they don’t want to sell G&B’s back to the original founders any time soon). My research also suggests that major improvements need to be made on their website to increase transparency to customers.