Chocolate:  An explanation of commodity trading and child labor in the cocoa industry. - What’s The Difference between Craft, Bean-to-Bar, And Industrial?

Chocolate: An explanation of commodity trading and child labor in the cocoa industry. - What’s The Difference between Craft, Bean-to-Bar, And Industrial?

Chocolate is the ultimate heavenly sweet treat. However, not all chocolate, is created equal. It all comes down to the way in which the chocolate is made and how the ingredients are sourced. 

Chocolate Is Not Always Sweet

There have been concerns about the farming and production of cacao for several years now. This is mainly because the conditions under which it is produced are questionable with workers often having to tolerate inhumane working conditions. It is important to understand how most cocoa farmers endure extreme poverty and do not have enough money to taste chocolate, literally a product derived from ingredients they spend hours growing every day.

 This is mainly because the low prices are set through the commodities exchange where big corporate players trade cocoa as a soft commodity, adding risk, volatility, and speculation to the farmer. The farmer, however, has a fixed cost of harvesting their cocoa and does not benefit from the cocoa hedging in the commodity exchange. International traders have the ability to purchase the beans when the market is low, and then sell them to their customers when the price increases due to speculation. The farmers cannot use this model, as they don’t have the financial power to create hedging accounts in the international market.

Another one of the most common human rights issues encountered on cocoa plantations is child labor. All across West Africa, these plantations mostly depend on child labor, most trafficked children. Some children are taken from their families to settle a debt of their parents or because they cannot provide for them any longer. The work carried out by these children on farms is often extremely dangerous and includes climbing trees, opening cocoa pods using sharp tools, and spraying hazardous pesticides onto the harvest. 

The team at Cocoa Supply is passionate about educating chocolate consumers of all ages on the importance of ethical sourcing. It is our social responsibility that we in no way take part in any activity or sourcing that may encourage the exploitation of farmers and children.

To explain this a bit further, there are a number of terms that have been used by the chocolate industry more and moreover the last few years such as “craft” and “bean-to-bar. ” 

If you’re wondering what they mean, here’s a breakdown. 

Sustainability and chocolate

By sustainability regarding cocoa, we understand the practices that protect environmental and socio-economic aspects starting from farming throughout the entire distribution chain. This includes fair prices to the farmers, developing their communities and giving access to education, promoting eco-friendly practices avoiding when possible fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and additionally ensuring the ethical and dignified treatment of farmers. Obviously, any child trafficking or inhumane labor conditions are not tolerated. This is what Cocoa Supply aims for, avoiding origins where child slavery has been recorded. It is widely known that certification agencies and foundations have been useless in preventing human trafficking as many regions where this occurs in Africa have a high level of corruption or are even in war zones. This is too dangerous for any serious auditor to be able to truly dig into the reality of these cocoa fields, thus, making any claims that this is monitored is not realistic.

Artisanal or Craft Chocolate

When we think of something being “artisanal” or “crafted,” it brings to mind a product that is handmade, unique, and perfectly made.

This is no different with chocolate. 

Craft chocolate is a term that has been used more than ever over the last decade to try and differentiate it from industrial or mass-produced chocolate.

Chocolate makers who produce “craft chocolate” value the importance of quality in the ingredients they use. This means using and valuing high-quality cacao while making sure they know its origin. The skills of these chocolate masters make their bars, bonbons, or pralines unique and simply gorgeous.

It is important to those making craft chocolate that all of the ingredients they use are the finest possible and have been sourced fairly and sustainably.

Not only this but craft chocolate also focuses on the skill of the chocolate maker. As each piece of chocolate is handmade, this involves patience, precision, and a genuine love for creating beautiful chocolate. Usually, craft chocolate makers work in small batches with a variety of origins and recipes they create themselves.

It’s about more than just chocolate, it is about creating an experience for the consumer.

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

The term “bean to bar” started as a way for small-scale chocolate makers to distinguish their chocolate from chocolatiers and mass-produced chocolate.

They would buy small quantities of cacao beans which they would then prepare themselves through a process of cleaning, roasting, cracking, winnowing, and grinding. Following on from this, they could then produce a few hundred bars a month. 

This process coined the term “bean-to-bar” as it explained the process of the chocolate makers taking the cacao from bean to chocolate bar. Chocolate makers started the bean-to-bar revolution as they wanted to learn more about how chocolate is made and to have more control over both the final product and the sourcing of ingredients.

However, once this term became popular and their chocolate bars had a market with premiums that one would expect from artisanal or craft makers, some big industries decided to also call themselves bean-to-bar producers. Their argument is that they also manufacture chocolate starting from the bean. As the term does not imply small batches or handcrafted, we can find now that some of the largest corporations use this term, making it very difficult to distinguish the small batches and craft manufacturers from the large, commercially mass produced chocolate.

Industrial or Commercial Chocolate

The demand for chocolate during the nineteenth century led to the development of machinery that could assist in mass-producing it.

Large corporations buy containers of cocoa beans from the least expensive origins, blending the various cocoa varieties to produce a standard, inexpensive chocolate. As mentioned before, they work through the commodity exchange, sometimes also working with international commodities traders to buy in large quantities, regardless of the environmental or ethical aspects.

Chocolate Couverture vs. Compound or Confectionary Chocolate

Chocolate Couverture is the chocolate made for further use with pastries, moldings, bonbons, truffles, or pralines. This chocolate is made by grinding the cocoa bean and adding ingredients such as sugar and milk. It contains all the natural cocoa fat (cocoa butter) originally present in the cacao bean.

However, to make the chocolate even less expensive, larger companies extract some or all the cocoa fat of the cocoa mass and replace it with cocoa butter extenders or substitutes. Usually, the added fat is hydrogenated or interesterified vegetable oils to try to emulate the cocoa butter characteristics.

By removing the precious cacao butter and using cheaper ingredients to essentially “reconstitute” the chocolate taste, it is a much more profitable technique than producing chocolate made solely from cocoa beans.

While industrial chocolate serves the purpose of being able to make lots of chocolate in a relatively cheap and fast way, it can come at a cost of using non-sustainable sourcing of cocoa beans.


If you’re a chocolate maker, you’ll love to know where your ingredients are from and want to be assured that your creations will have the best, most delicious taste. There is no question that any human trafficking labor in any ingredient should not belong in any part of the food industry, and craft bean to bar makers usually cater to consumers that care about the environmental and social aspects of their treats. 

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