Chocolate brings joy into people’s lives, and with Easter nearly here, big brands have started rolling out their caramel, fondant, jam-filled and hollow confections. But the provenance of common treats sometimes harbours uncomfortable truths.
Some of the world’s largest chocolate makers use child labour in cocoa supply chains, and many can’t fully trace where their cocoa comes from.
“For consumers, it requires a bit more research. You take some of the larger corporations, chocolate brands and confectionery names and do searches, a lot of them claim they’re fair-trade or ethical and then they get done in for child labour or something,” Jessica Pedemont of Sydney’s South Pacific Cacao tells Broadsheet.
A group of non-government organisations (including Be Slavery Free, Green America and Mighty Earth) has put together ethical chocolate scorecards for larger global manufacturers, but smaller local operations have also been making great strides.
Pedemont – a former Rockpool chef and self-proclaimed “cacao evangelist” – and business partner Brian Atkin’s small Haberfield factory in Sydney is a rare bean-to-bar chocolatier. It uses fully traceable ingredients sourced straight from producers.
“You can walk [into the shop] and we have the beans, we have the nibs. We bring in our own coconut from the Solomon Islands – we’re working directly with farmers on all that,” Pedemont says.
Atkin runs social enterprise Makira Gold, which empowers Solomon Island farmers to eliminate farming practices that harm the environment and their health (such as using smoke-drying beds for beans) and helps them switch to more sustainable methods that yield higher-quality chocolate. All of South Pacific Cacao’s chocolate is made with their beans.
For Easter – a time of year when chocolate dominates supermarket shelves and home pantries – Pedemont has crafted two sizes of Easter eggs shaped like cocoa pods. They're made with 75 per cent dark chocolate from the Foxwood village in the Solomons.
Inside the shell you’ll find what she calls Island Dream, a gianduja-like paste made with native ngali nuts (a cross between pine nuts, cashews and macadamias), cacao nibs, desiccated Solomon Island coconut, Papua New Guinea vanilla, Bundaberg raw organic sugar and a touch of Olsson’s sea salt.
“There are lots of reasons why some products are better than others, and it comes down to the raw ingredients for us. We treat them with respect,” says Pedemont. “You compare it to high-end fashion or cars, there’s a big difference in why something might cost more even though people think of them all as being the same.”
None of South Pacific Cacao’s products use palm oil (linked to large-scale deforestation in biodiverse areas); soy products; or lecithin, an emulsifier that lowers the viscosity of chocolate.
Because all of the ingredients are from Australia’s South Pacific neighbours, they travel less and have a smaller environmental impact. The company also does what it can to reduce waste, including selling cacao husks and composting unusable beans.
“We put all the money back into the social enterprise. It’s a passion project – we pay our staff and have the occasional volunteers from time to time, but I’ve fully donated all of my time, and Brian has gotten the best possible price on the beans while shouldering what he can,” Pedemont says.
“We know everyone we’re working with and we’re hoping that our practices help their future and their family, and that we’re not doing any damage along the way.”
South Pacific Cacao’s Easter eggs are on sale now and come in two sizes. Prices start at $24 for six small eggs and go up to $78 for six large eggs.