Earth Day 2024: Gentle farming and ethics approach

15 Apr 2024

Chocolate Knowledge Environment & Ethics Events Saint Lucia

In celebration of Earth Day on 22nd April, we’re taking this opportunity to share our appreciation for the world, its resources, and our approaches to promoting positive and gentle cacao farming.

Earth Day is a chance for us to pause, reflect, and embrace the positive global movement towards a more sustainable and respectful future. At Hotel Chocolat, we like to use this day of celebration to share our approach to gentle farming, uncovering our ethical mission that underpins cacao production.

To us, Earth Day is a chance to celebrate everything the planet has to give. This just further reaffirms our pledge to tread lightly upon it, ensuring our practices enrich rather than damage.

Let’s take a closer look at how our sustainable practices are helping to craft a future where delicious chocolate and sustainability are intertwined. Join us in today’s celebration of our planet, where every snap and nibble is a step towards a more sustainable world.

Person holding palms open with cacao beans.

What is Earth Day?

The very first Earth Day was celebrated on 22nd April 1970, and every year since then, it has been a chance for all walks of life to partake in a celebratory modern environmental movement.

Across 195 countries, Earth Day is a testament to the power of collective action — calling upon individuals, businesses and governments to preserve the planet’s ecosystems. It’s a fight for a sustainable and thriving future — one which we are so glad to be a part of.

Sustainability challenges in the chocolate industry

Naturally, every business sector and industry faces sustainability challenges. As you can probably imagine, the cacao industry comes with its own set of struggles — all of which we take extremely seriously at Hotel Chocolat.


    Cacao farming is a significant driver of deforestation, especially in countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which are among the world’s top cacao producers.

    Sadly, the expansion of cacao plantations often comes at the expense of tropical forests, leading to a loss of biodiversity and disruption of ecosystems, further contributing to climate change issues.

    Our solution and approach

    Over the years, we’ve implemented several strategies to help combat deforestation and promote sustainable cacao production.

    We’re lucky enough to own and operate our very own cacao estatethe Rabot Estate in Saint Lucia. This means we can do our part for reforestation by planting trees across our estate. It’s also our chance to preserve the biodiversity of the existing area, reducing the need to clear new land for cacao plantations — all by producing estate-grown cacao.

    In addition to this, we’re strongly committed to sourcing our cacao sustainably and responsibly. We work directly with farmers, paying a premium for high-quality cacao which incentivises sustainable farming practices. This, in turn, ensures that cacao is grown in a way that minimises environmental impact while discouraging the expansion of farming into forested areas.

    Climate change

      The cacao plant is extremely complex, so it’s highly sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation. Climate change poses a serious threat to the future of cacao production, as rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns can reduce yields, increasing the incidence of pests and diseases.

      Our solution and approach

      Through our Engaged Ethics Programme, we work to support cacao farmers in adopting modern agroforestry techniques. Some of these techniques involve growing cacao trees alongside other plant species, and this biodiversity helps to create a microclimate that can mitigate extreme temperature fluctuations.

      The result? Maintained moisture levels and a reduced impact of climate change on cacao yield. These practices contribute to soil health, increasing its capacity to store water and carbon, which further combats the effects of climate change. 

      Saint Lucia landscape scene.

      Soil degradation, water usage and pesticides

        Intensive cacao farming can lead to soil degradation, reducing soil fertility over time. Poor agricultural practices, such as inadequate crop rotation and the overuse of chemical fertilisers can worsen this issue. Furthermore, cacao farming in some regions requires substantial water use, leading to water stress which can negatively affect local water availability.

        The use of chemical pesticides in cacao farming can also have harmful effects on the environment, contaminating water sources and affecting non-target species, including beneficial insects and other unique wildlife in the area. Pesticide exposure can also pose health risks to farmers and local communities — something that we do not condone in the slightest.

        Our solution and approach

        Through our work with cacao farmers across the globe, we promote the use of organic composting and natural fertilisers. This is to enhance soil health and fertility without relying on chemical inputs.

        By educating, advocating for and implementing water-efficient irrigation techniques, our goal is to reduce excessive water consumption in cacao farming. What’s more, our commitment to preserving the natural ecosystem around cacao farms includes maintaining any areas of natural vegetation, further helping to replenish groundwater and prevent soil erosion.

        Child labour and fair trade

          In the past, the chocolate industry has been heavily criticised for its use of child labour in cacao farming — and rightly so. It would be ignorant of us to look at this with a rose-tinted perspective, ignoring the fact that children are often employed under hazardous conditions, interfering with their all-important education and development.

          Additionally, the issue of Fairtrade in cacao production is also important for us to cover. This is because many cacao farmers receive low prices for their crops, making it difficult for them to cover their costs and invest in sustainable farming practices.

          Our solution and approach

          Our main goal is to foster direct, meaningful partnerships with cacao farmers, particularly spotlighting the limitations and challenges faced under the conventional cooperative models in regions like Saint Lucia. This insight led to the creation of a bespoke initiative designed to empower individual cacao growers with the tools, knowledge, and financial support needed to thrive.

          Under this programme, we commit to purchasing the entire yield from local cacao farmers annually, at prices which are substantially higher than the prevailing market rates. This guarantee not only provides farmers with a stable and improved income but also incentivises them against employing child labour, by alleviating financial pressures and enhancing their capacity to engage in ethical farming practices.

          Our initiative also extends beyond financial transactions. We also provide farmers with high-quality Trinitario seedlings and offer extensive advice and technical assistance to improve yield quality and sustainability practices.

          Why are we not Fairtrade?

          Despite our deep commitment to ethical and sustainable cacao production, our specific operational model presents unique challenges that mean we are unable to obtain traditional Fairtrade certification. This is primarily due to our ownership of the Rabot Estate in St Lucia and the direct partnership model we have cultivated with cacao farmers.

          Fairtrade certification typically covers smallholder farms and cooperatives where individual farmers or groups of farmers make the ownership and operational decisions together. These criteria aim to ensure that small-scale growers in developing countries receive the benefits of Fairtrade, such as guaranteed minimum prices and premium payments, to improve their economic stability and foster community development.

          We, however, operate on a different premise. Our Rabot Estate is a company-owned farm that does not fit into the smallholding category that the Fairtrade certification requires. What’s more, in places like St Lucia, we’ve found that the cooperative model often advocated by Fairtrade does not align as effectively with the local context and needs of the cacao growers themselves.

          Instead, we choose to empower private farmers directly, offering them a more tailored support system that includes technical assistance, quality seedlings, and, most critically, a guaranteed market for their cacao at premium prices. This direct engagement model allows us to ensure ethical and sustainable cacao production, with a focus on fair compensation and long-term partnership with farmers, despite this being outside the conventional Fairtrade certification framework.

          Economic sustainability

            The volatility of cacao prices on the global market can make it difficult for farmers to predict their income and plan for the future. This economic uncertainty within the industry can discourage investment in sustainable practices and the improvement of living standards for farmers and their families.

            Our solution and approach

            By entering into long-term agreements with cacao farmers, we can provide farmers with a stable and predictable income, enabling them to plan for the future with greater confidence and security.

            This financial stability is crucial for encouraging investments in sustainable farming practices and improving living standards for farmers and their families. Our direct involvement and investment in farmer education and community development projects also reinforce their commitment to enhancing economic sustainability.

            We’re very proud of the fact that our initiatives ensure that farmers are not only financially compensated but also supported in their efforts to adopt sustainable and ethical farming practices, therefore contributing to the positive future of the cacao industry.

            Raw cacao beans stacked horizontally.

            Our commitment beyond Earth Day

            Being ethical is at the heart of everything we do, and it’s been rooted in our brand since the very start. We treat workers fairly, tread lightly on the planet, and strive to leave things better than we found them by acting with a clear conscience.

            Over the years, we’ve learnt so much about the most sustainable and effective ways to help our planet and those we work with — from cacao farmers in Saint Lucia to our shop assistants in your nearest Hotel Chocolat location.

            For us, this means doing the right thing and not just saying it. To make cacao fairer for farmers, we don’t just write a cheque. We get stuck in, bringing the world’s love of chocolate back to the growers who make it possible in the first place.

            Celebrate Earth Day 2024 with our Single Origin Chocolate — made from the best 10% of the world’s cacao harvest (including chocolate from our Rabot Estate).

            Alternatively, satisfy your cravings with the Better Way Bar. Did you know that 100% of our Better Way Bar sales (excluding VAT) support gentle farming initiatives? Learn more about the mission of the Better Way Bar today and be a part of a more sustainable future.