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ESC: The Sweet Taste of Conservation

Endangered Species Chocolate

African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has long believed that the private sector has a pivotal role to play in protecting Africa’s wildlife and wild lands, as well as improving the lives of its people.

Since 1998, one of AWF’s key conservation strategies has been our conservation enterprise program—a strategy that has set us apart as a leader in the field. The conservation enterprise program has advanced our mission by helping communities benefit economically from sustainable agriculture and wildlife-based tourism, while concurrently reducing human pressures on wildlife and its habitat.

AWF has also been proud to partner with leading companies from around the world that share our commitment to conservation and sustainable economic development in Africa, and integrate these values into their businesses. One of AWF’s longest standing and strongest partnerships has been with Endangered Species Chocolate (ESC).

ESC has made conservation a core part of its mission as a company, and for the past seven years it has supported AWF through its 10% GiveBack program. This remarkable program donates 10 percent of net profits generated through the sale of its premium chocolate to groups like AWF that are working to protect the iconic species of wildlife pictured on each of their chocolate bars (and now chocolate spreads).

Over the past three years this program has generated more than $1 million to support conservation programs worldwide, and has played a critical role in AWF’s efforts to respond to the rhino and elephant poaching crisis in Africa.

In addition to protecting wildlife and habitat through groups like AWF, Endangered Species Chocolate also improves the livelihoods of Africa’s people by only purchasing ethically sourced, shade grown cocoa from small family farms in West Africa.   

In 2015 ESC built on this legacy to become the first chocolate company to produce American-made chocolate using fully traceable Fairtrade cocoa from West Africa. ESC has committed that only fully traceable cocoa beans sustainably grown and harvested under Fairtrade standards will be used to make their chocolate.

70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa (largely Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana), and 90 percent of this cocoa is grown on small family farms. Cocoa is a very challenging crop to grow, and for all the effort involved many cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire earn only $2 per day. According to the Fairtrade Foundation the average age of a cocoa farmer is now 50, since the very low profit margins discourage young people from taking up cocoa farming. As a result of these low profit margins and the intensive labor involved in cultivating cocoa, some unscrupulous farmers in West Africa have resorted to the use of child labor and even child slavery to keep their prices competitive in a global market that demands huge quantities of extremely cheap chocolate.

Most cocoa is handled as a bulk commodity where the beans from many different farms are all lumped together for the export market, making it impossible to tell which cocoa beans were grown by farmers in good working conditions and which beans are tainted with child labor and slavery. Fully traceable Fairtrade certification is the only way to be sure the cocoa is 100 percent slavery-free, but this process is expensive since this traceable cocoa has to be kept separate from all other cocoa beans all the way from farm to factory. This is why so few companies are using fully traceable Fairtrade cocoa.

ESC has had its own rigorous ethical sourcing practices for cocoa beans for many years, but the Fairtrade certification will provide an additional assurance to consumers that ESC chocolate meets the highest social, economic and environmental standards. Fairtrade certification ensures that West African farmers earn a fair price for the cocoa beans they grow, and an additional Fairtrade social premium to invest in business and community projects such as improving education and healthcare, protecting their environment and improving their economic well-being.

Obtaining this certification is a great achievement, and as Endangered Species Chocolate continues to grow as a company it will also help the fair trade community to grow. Our hope is that their move will inspire more chocolate companies to only buy fully traceable Fairtrade cocoa.


Brenna Thompson
About the Author

Brenna Thompson is a foundation and corporate relations officer for the African Wildlife Foundation, and has been in this role since 2012. Brenna is a graduate of Colorado College and a master’s candidate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

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AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.