Sure the costumes are cute, and the house decorations clever, but let’s face it, for kids, Halloween is all about the candy. If you’re like me, and your kids bring home way too many treats, you might want to consider mailing the chocolate ones back to Nestlé, M&M/Mars and Hershey. Why? Because, according to media reports, these and other chocolate makers buy cocoa from plantations that use child slaves in the harvesting of cocoa beans. The reports have unveiled stories about boys, as young as 9 years old, who were tricked or sold into slavery, to work on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast (Cote D’Ivoire) in West Africa. This small country is the world’s major supplier of cocoa, providing 43% of the world’s supply.
The International Labour Organization, part of the United Nations, estimates that 284,000 child laborers work on cocoa farms, most of them in the Ivory Coast. “These children are either involved in hazardous work, unprotected or unfree, or have been trafficked,” says the ILO.
About five years ago Senator Thomas Harkin (D, Iowa) led an investigation into allegations of child slavery in the African cocoa trade. The senator introduced legislation that would have required chocolate sold in the U.S. to be labeled “slave-free.” The bill was not enacted, but Nestlé got the message. The company, other big chocolate producers, the ILO and nonprofit groups like Anti-Slavery International, Save the Children, and UNICEF, signed an agreement promising that by July 2005 they would find a way to eliminate child slavery in cocoa production by certifying chocolate as not having been produced by any underage, indentured, trafficked or coerced labor.
The deadline passed and not much was accomplished. Chocolate makers have started a foundation to work with nonprofits to rehabilitate and educate child laborers. But the industry’s own assessment of its “progress to eliminate the worst forms of child labor and forced labor from the cocoa fields” was “discouraging,” reads a statement from Harkin’s office. Nestlé and others say they need more time – three years to certify half the cocoa-growing areas of Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Nonprofit groups like Global Exchange and the International Labor Rights Fund founded by a Methodist minister and funded in part by George Soros’ Open Society Institute, are now suing Nestlé’s U.S. subsidiary, together with commodity traders Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, in California. The suit charges Nestlé, Cargill and ADM with making false claims to the public that the problem of child slave labor on cocoa farms was being resolved.
There is something you can do: Buy Fair Trade chocolate. Under the Fair Trade system, yearly inspections certify farms as slavery free and guarantee them a fair price for their beans. The chocolate costs a bit more, but since poverty is at the root of chocolate slavery, fairer prices are one key to ending both. Buy Fair Trade, and you send a message to chocolate makers that you’d rather pay more than hurt children.
Organic chocolate, sold by companies like Newman’s Own and Dagoba, is also slave free since organic farms are subject to their own independent monitoring system that checks labor practices. Here’s a list of other chocolate makers who are either organic, Fair Trade or use slave free chocolate:
- Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream
- Endangered Species
- Green and Blacks
- Lake Champlain
- Land O’Lakes Hot Chocolate
- San Francisco Chocolate Factory
- Scharffen Berger
- Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Cocoa and their Organic Chocolate Bars
- Whole Foods Private Label Chocolates
Last Halloween, in my desperate attempt to get rid of most of the candy my daughter had gathered in her treat bag, I resorted to a ploy that will probably work best on kids 9 and under. I told the tale of the Sugar Fairies, which goes something like this: “There are children in the world who don’t get to eat candy because they’re too poor or they don’t celebrate Halloween in the country they live in. So let’s gather all the candy you’ve collected, minus the most special ones you can’t live without, and put them into a separate bag. When you go to sleep, the Sugar Fairies will come and take the candy and deliver it to all the needy children.”I can tell you from experience, it works! I unloaded miniature Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Milky Ways, untold numbers of Jolly Ranchers, M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, candy corn, Tootsie Rolls and Nerds. My daughter got to keep10 pieces she wanted to eat over time and the rest went into a bag which was tied onto her bedroom door before she went to bed. (I made sure our dog didn’t have access to it!) That night while she slept, I emptied the contents of the bag into the trash and in its place I enclosed a thank you note from the Sugar Fairies, along with some toys like jacks, squishy balls, glow-in-the-dark insects, spooky fingers, stickers, and a couple of rubber worms and spiders.
In the morning we both felt great – me for not having all that candy in the house (which, after all, is also tempting for me and my husband), and my daughter for having some cool toys to play with and thinking she did something good for other children. Hopefully this year there’ll be some Fair Trade chocolate to choose from and we can all enjoy one of life’s sweet indulgences.