In two weeks, millions of kids (and adults–because let’s be honest, we love our treats too) will make their way through local neighborhoods racking up handfuls of Milky Ways, Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Baby Ruths and dozens of other chocolate pieces. All of which is pure fun, or so I thought, until I learned recently that this very candy is often made possible by child slaves in Africa.
According to a report on GOOD.com, hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa are enslaved every year harvesting cocoa beans, and their work benefits the chocolate companies we associate most with Halloween. In fact, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture on cocoa farms estimates 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions, many of whom have been taken from their families and sold as servants. It’s horrifying, really.
While the American chocolate manufacturers like Hersheys, Mars, Nestle and Cadbury claim they are not responsible for the conditions on the cocoa plantations, since they don’t own them, you would think they would practice more ethical trade policies. But, in reality, money is money to them, and it’s up to consumers to speak out against this. If enough people voice their opinions and encourage these companies to pressure the cocoa plantations to enforce better working conditions, we will see a change.
Kristen Howerton from GOOD writes:
The connection between major candy bar manufacturers and child slavery is one of the world’s best-kept secrets. I consider myself proactive about educating myself about social justice issues, and yet I only found out last year by way of a documentary produced by the BBC. I was shocked to learn that the International Labor Rights Fund has sued the U.S. government for failing to enforce laws prohibiting the import of products made with child labor. And I was even more surprised to hear that the chocolate industry has blown by numerous deadlines set by Congress to begin regulating itself. A few major chocolate companies have mounted some smoke-and-mirror campaigns over the past year, either offering obscure fair-trade chocolate bars in addition to their slave-made materials or making a big show of donating to charities that support farmers. This does not change the fact that they refuse to be accountable for human rights abuses of children in their supply chains.
All of this presents an interesting dilemma for Halloween–and any time we get a chocolate craving from here on out. Do we stop buying the candy? Forgo our chocolate addiction? Or just go on buying the candy, pretending that we never knew about any of this?
This is not to say there aren’t other options to get our chocolate fix in a more ethical way. There are a few fair-trade chocolates you can buy (although some of them are pretty expensive). You can also choose non-chocolate treats this Halloween like Starbust, Skittles, candy corn, lollypops and gum. Or, if you’re really brave, you can hand out pumpkin seeds, applesauce, granola bars or yogurt.
What will you do?