I have been lessening my overall chocolate intake with the knowledge of how conventional cocoa production can do a lot of environmental and social harm. Cocoa farmers often aren’t paid fairly, and the overcultivation of cocoa can decrease land fertility, resulting in lower yields. These types of unsustainable practices make the consumption of chocolate truly a guilty pleasure, but it doesn’t have to be that way! There are brands making a conscious effort to do better, such as how in 2017, Ritter Sport was awarded the German Sustainability Award. This honours companies that combine social responsibility with economic success and environmental protection. I’m curious to know if Ritter Sport has remained on track with their sustainability venture.
Ritter Sport should be commended for its sustainability and I feel more comfortable about supporting their products. While not a 3, the company has been doing a lot to support the environment and the wellbeing of their workers throughout the years. With the track record they currently have and their plans for changing their ingredients and packaging, I can definitely see the rating change to become higher in the future.
The main ingredients of Ritter Sport’s fine milk chocolate bar include cocoa, milk, sugar, and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is a good alternative to the use of palm oil and can be sourced from the same cocoa plantations. Around eleven million euros are invested by Ritter Sport annually to ensure that they are sourcing sustainable cocoa, a large figure which allowed the company to achieve their goal of 100% well sourced cocoa by 2018.
While plenty of information was available on their cocoa, it was difficult to find out more about their dairy based ingredients. Cows, especially when considering them in industrialised agriculture, are inherently unsustainable with the resources and space it takes to feed and raise them, as well as how they release methane gas into the atmosphere. Although, it appears from founder statements that the company does recognise the growing demand for vegan products and have plans to be more vegan focused for 2021.
The majority of Ritter Sport’s chocolate bars are contained in colourful plastic wrappers made from polypropylene, which may be fully recyclable, but are not the most sustainable option. However, I found out that the company does have a limited-edition bar called “cacao y nada” that is more in line with their sustainability commitments and is wrapped entirely with paper. They also had a 2020 paper wrapper trial in Austria and are continuing to make attempts to distance themselves from using fossil fuels.
I was impressed to learn that almost a third of Ritter Sport’s cocoa comes from their own plantation, “El Cacao” in Nicaragua. Their farmers utilise sustainable agro-forestry methods when planting cocoa trees, and half of the plantation’s 2500 hectares are left uncultivated to be a nature reserve for biodiversity. The cocoa trees are planted together with banana, guava, and mahogany trees to create a healthy microclimate that can provide shade and minimise the use of pesticides. The sustainability claims of Ritter Sport’s practices can be verified by their Gold Standard certificate. The Gold Standard is an organisation that certifies projects on energy, use of land and afforestation. Projects certified by them are subject to strict transparency criteria and monitored by independent companies accredited by the UNO. Furthermore, Ritter Sport establishes direct connections with their other suppliers and partners which helps hold them accountable to a similar standard.
As stated by one of the founders, Alfred T. Ritter, “You can tell by tasting the chocolate how the people who produce it are doing.” A quote like this gives me high expectations about the company’s worker transparency. To verify the fair wages of employees, I looked towards Ritter Sport’s ZNU sustainability certificate, one that is only awarded after there has been an extensive quality check. Within the quality check report, Ritter Sport was evaluated positively on the fair pay of their employees, even recognising the pay as above the standard rate for the industry.
It was nice to see how in depth the company was about unacceptable working conditions, detailing different kinds of exploitative labour and where the regulations come from. Quoted from their Modern Slavery Act “the use of child labour according to ILO regulations, UN conventions and/or national regulations is not accepted. Further, all forms of forced, slave or prison labour are forbidden. Also, employees may not be forced to work through violence or coercion, either directly or indirectly.”
Ritter Sport is committed to forming lasting partnerships. The automation and machinery used to produce the chocolate was developed in collaboration with Nicaraguan employees, and local farmers contribute to teaching the company what the best techniques are to grow cocoa.