The (Not SO) Great Chocolate Traceability Mystery

The (Not SO) Great Chocolate Traceability Mystery

When it comes to the items we buy, we’d all like to make more sustainable choices - to know that our hard-earned cash is doing good.

We know the chocolate industry has a connection with social and environmental harm such as poverty, child labour and deforestation. Whilst some companies know exactly where their cocoa comes from (and can therefore have a better understanding of what adverse impact their cocoa may be contributing to), approximately half the cocoa we consume probably can’t be traced back to the farmer that grew it. So the question is, how can you be expected to know that your chocolate is free from human and environmental abuses if the brand itself can’t be sure?

It all starts with better transparency and traceability from the people that make our chocolate.

Traceability is pinpointing the original location of the bean. Transparency is being open and honest about where that bean was farmed and how your chocolate was made.  Why the mystery?

Why the mystery?

There are so many hands that your cocoa passes through from its original farm to its final destination - your supermarket shelf. In fact, the supply chain is less of a straight line and more like a spider web. Combine this with unregulated farming, the fact that there are millions of small farmers, as well as cultural barriers to overcome, and you’ve got yourself one tricky puzzle to crack.

The good news is we’ve seen an increase in brands taking traceability seriously.

And governments are jumping on board too. Traceability reforms are being enhanced in some of the highest cocoa-producing regions, while a number of Western and European regions are looking to ban the import of products that are linked to deforestation and human rights abuses.

So, what are the key steps we’d like to see companies taking?

Unite and collaborate

Rather than everyone paving their own path farms, manufacturers, brands, and NGOs need to work together collaboratively. By using big data and new technology, we can create innovative traceability systems that work for everyone.

Dig Deeper

Companies are learning more about their direct suppliers. However, information about their indirect suppliers (like farmers where unregulated middlemen are used) is still lacking. More needs to be done to bridge the gap.

Protect Farmers

There is no denying that traceability can be expensive. Brands need to accept their responsibility and find a business model which accommodates this without burden on the farmer.

Cocoa pods on ground. Photo credit Fuzz Kitto


I am but one individual chocolate lover. What can I do to help?

It’s not all bitter, we’ve found a number of companies that are leading the way, and more and more are joining the ranks with innovative programs. What makes companies really pause and pay attention is data and their bottom line. The best way to create positive change is to get out and eat some chocolate! We can think of worse ways to be an activist.


Click here to explore the top-ranked brands for transparency and traceability. 


Professor John Dumay, co-written by Athina Greenhalgh

This blog was originally posted, February 22, 2023 at Chocolate Scorecard website. Used with permission


Stoop, P., N. Ramanan, H. Geens, Lambrecht, A. and Dekeister, S. (2021), Technical Brief on Cocoa Traceability,, IDH and GISCO.

The World Cocoa Foundation Monitoring and Evaluation Guidance Manual.

Just like chocolate, this blog is better shared.