Pure cocoa is dark—really dark—but not quite as dark as the industry that surrounds it.
Child labour, human trafficking and massive theft are all par for the course in an industry fuelled by global demand for chocolate. And if that weren't shady enough, there is growing overlap with the cocaine market.
That's because cocoa, which is traded on the futures market, has become one of the hottest commodities in the world. Over the last three years, while most commodities have fallen by 40 percent, cocoa futures have surged 39 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and Andean farmers are reaping the benefits.
The surge in price is so pronounced that some farmers are getting out of the profitable but dangerous coca game and opting for more benign cocoa crops. Despite only one letter's difference, these farming industries are worlds apart, because coca leaves are used to make cocaine. And for farmers, that means all of the stress and bloodshed that come along with the narcotics trade.
This basic economic reality combined with the environmental factors wreaking havoc in West Africa, where 70 percent of the world's cocoa is harvested, have created an ideal situation for Colombian farmers trying to move towards a legitimate source of income.
Based on estimates by the International Cocoa Organization in London, global cocoa bean use will outpace crops by about 96,000 tons, while the chocolate market is also expected to grow to $115 billion by 2020 from $50 billion in 2001, Bloomberg reported.
"Family members were killed and others ended up in jail. The economic revenues didn't justify the risk," Colombian coca-farmer-turned-cocoa-farmer German Sanchez said. He also told Bloomberg that he makes 6,800 pesos ($2.31) this year for a kilo of cocoa beans, compared to less than half of that in 2012.
So while the usual weight-gain guilt associated with chocolate will always be there (and compounded by the realities of child labour), your next bite into a chocolate bar could be helping a Colombian farmer leave a life of crime.