Be Mine and Be Fair this Valentine's Day

03/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hi. I'm Elizabeth. And I'm a chocoholic. I eat it in all forms, and I eat it whenever I can get it.

I never really felt too bad about this guilty pleasure. Not even when I learned that the average person eats 27 pounds of chocolate per year--and I'm probably way above the mean. But then I learned more about the origins of chocolate and how it's produced. Then I knew I needed to shift my habit.

According to the Organic Consumer's Association, more than 40 percent of the world's conventional chocolate comes from Africa's Ivory Coast using child slavery. Sadly, this type of exploitation is the industry standard. Children are forced to work under hazardous conditions in cocoa fields in Africa and South America in order to produce cheap chocolate for Western consumers.

And when it comes to the buying of chocolates, there's probably no day bigger than Valentine's Day. In fact, almost 40 percent of Valentine's Day gifts involve some sort of candy or chocolate. Yet these gifts, which are meant to convey love and friendship, have this horrifically unlovely and unfriendly story.

Fortunately, there's an alternative that can keep your sweetheart happy while keeping your conscience clean.

Fair Trade chocolate is produced by farmers and workers who are paid a living wage and are not exposed to hazardous working conditions. Fair Trade operations do not use child labor, and they help promote social, economic, and educational programs in local communities. To boot, many Fair Trade products are also grown using organic farming methods and in ways that preserve natural ecosystems.

So send the message that you disapprove of the unsavory labor practices associated with cocoa production around the world. This February 14, skip the fancy heart-shaped box of candy and treat your valentine to Fair Trade chocolates instead.

Compared to high-end chocolate, buying a Fair Trade variety doesn't have to be expensive, and could actually save you $10 or more per box. Sounds like a great excuse to buy more chocolate!

Here are some of my favorites: