Avoid the Three Chocolate S’s: Slave labor. Soy. Sugar-overload.

A woman surprises another woman with a stack of fair trade chocolate bars

Give chocolate that skips all the bad stuff! Here’s what to watch out for in your Valentine’s, Halloween, or Easter chocolate:

Slave Labor

There’s still slave labor in the chocolate industry today? 

It may surprise you to find out that slavery and child labor can still be found in the supply chains of major chocolate companies. Cacao (the agricultural product from which chocolate is made) is traded on the global commodity market. The price has dropped abruptly in recent years. But consumer demand for chocolate — especially inexpensive chocolate — has not. When companies are paying less for the same amount of product, that creates a real problem for farm workers. Journalists who cover the chocolate industry have documented labor abuses, including child labor and forced labor. It’s especially prevalent in West Africa, where much of the world’s cacao is grown.

According to a June 2019 article in the Washington Post Hershey, Nestle and Mars could not guarantee that any of their chocolate was produced without child labor. Demand transparency in your chocolate supply chain.

How do you know if your chocolate has been produced without slave labor? 

Most major corporations don’t advertise where their chocolate comes from and if the cacao farmers were paid fairly. In fact, we don’t hear them talking about it at all! So if you’re buying from one of the big guys, it’s not easy to answer that question.

We’re different. Equal Exchange works directly with small-scale farmer cooperatives in Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Togo as part of long-term, fair trading partnerships. Equal Exchange’s products meet the strict standards established by the Fair Trade Federation. This includes no child labor or slavery. We visit our farmer partners in person. We’ve met their families and know their names.  We’re proud to connect you with their stories and their high-quality, organic cacao.

ACOPAGRO cooperative member and cacao farmer Jorge Morales Luna harvests cacao in Peru with Annie Sholar of Equal Exchange

Soy lecithin

What is that again?

 Soy lecithin is an emulsifier made from phospholipids and oil derived from soybeans. Many chocolate bars contain soy lecithin because it lowers chocolate’s viscosity and extends the shelf life. Soy lecithin is inexpensive. It’s a byproduct that’s left over after soybean oil is manufactured. Using soy lecithin speeds up the chocolate-making process. That makes it cheaper to produce.

Which chocolate doesn’t have soy lecithin?

ALL of Equal Exchange’s chocolates are free from soy lecithin. Instead of using emulsifiers or fillers, we conch our chocolate the old-fashioned way. We don’t skimp on high quality, organic and fairly traded cocoa butter to make delicious, soy-free chocolate.

92% Total Eclipse Dark chocolate bar with some of the ingredients pictured next to it (sugar, vanilla, cocoa butter)
Equal Exchange’s chocolate has pure and simple organic ingredients you can pronounce


How much sugar is there in some chocolate bars?

We know that consuming a lot of sugar isn’t in our best interest, health-wise. Did you know that a 1.4oz size chocolate bar from a popular brand that rhymes with “Glove” has 22g of sugar per serving? You can choose a treat that isn’t a sugar-bomb but is still delicious.

What kind of chocolate is a good choice for someone who wants lower sugar but great flavor?

Equal Exchange’s best-selling Organic Panama 80% Dark Chocolate Bar has 8g of sugar per 12 piece serving (1.4oz, or half of an Equal Exchange chocolate bar). And sugar isn’t the first ingredient on the label. One reviewer describes it as “velvety smooth, not overly sweet but rich and satisfying.” Another says the bar has a “very creamy texture and full-body taste for a very dark chocolate bar.” Other Equal Exchange chocolate bar choices that are lower in sugar include our 71% Organic Very Dark Chocolate (11g of sugar per 12 piece serving), and our 92% Organic Total Eclipse Dark Chocolate bar (3g of sugar per 12 piece serving). You can find the ingredients and nutritional information on each of our chocolate bars online, Just click on the product and scroll down past the pricing information. 

Panama 80% Extra Dark Chocolate bars on a napkin with a bowl of unwrapped pieces of chocolate next to them
Decadent, fudge-like 80% extra dark chocolate makes a luxurious treat

Buy Equal Exchange Chocolate>>


  1. Olivia | 22nd Aug 21

    Please consider making a sugar free chocolate. Diabetic people want very much to participate in slavery free confections and are currently an untapped market.

    • Bethany McGinnis | 23rd Aug 21

      Hi Olivia. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I’ve passed them along to our Chocolate team.

  2. Ellie | 7th Jul 21

    Hi, where is the chocolate made?

    • Bethany McGinnis | 7th Jul 21

      Hi Ellie, thanks for your question. The cacao in our chocolate products is sourced from small farmer cooperatives in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, and Togo. The sugar is sourced from Paraguay and vanilla from Madagascar. These organic and fair trade ingredients are all made into chocolate bars in Switzerland and for our chocolate chips they are made in Peru. You can learn more about the farmer groups we work with here https://equalexchange.coop/our-partners/farmer-partners

  3. Jeff S Crumbaugh | 14th Feb 20

    Excellent article. Thank you. I am curious, though. What do you mean by “conch our chocolate”? Do you mean “emulsify”?

    • Bethany McGinnis | 17th Feb 20

      Hi Jeff, thanks for reading! Your question is a great one since many people aren’t familiar with conching. Chocolate-makers mix ingredients in a machine called a conche (a surface scraping mixer and agitator) that evenly distributes the cocoa butter by mixing and aerating at high temperatures. This process thoroughly blends the ingredients, taking out some of the acidity of the cacao and further developing the flavors that will appear in the final bar. If chocolate-makers add an emulsifier, like soy lecithin, it would reduce the conching time. Because we skip that short-cut, we achieve the right smooth, balanced flavors and texture through conching and tempering (arranging the molecules in a certain way before the chocolate solidifies, optimizing the texture and the taste) alone. The process takes a lot longer, but we feel the end result is better. If you’d like to learn more, you might want to check out this blog post about our bean-to-bar process https://blog.equalexchange.coop/organic-cacao-bean-bar/

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