I love the fall. Crisp cool weather. Changing leaves. Apple festivals. Halloween. Especially Halloween. I have great memories of dressing up, running from house to house collecting as much candy as I could possibly get, and dumping the candy into a huge pile when I got home to trade it until I got just the right mix.
But I recently learned something about that candy that makes this holiday not so sweet. Something that not enough people know about yet. Much of the candy that is handed out and collected for Halloween each year is likely there at the expense of another child.
Just what do I mean by that? The majority of the world’s cocoa beans come from West Africa. In 2001, news outlets started reporting that young children were being used as slaves and cheap labor on cocoa farms in West Africa. It led to the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a voluntary international public-private agreement to eliminate the worst forms of child slavery in the production of cocoa. It was signed by the eight largest chocolate companies as well as three politicians from the US and the Ambassador to the Ivory Coast. 15 years later, not much has changed. A 2015 report from Tulane University estimated over 2 million children worked as child laborers in the cocoa industry between 2013-2015. 96 percent of those children were exposed to hazardous conditions. Children are using machetes, working countless hours throughout the night while being exposed to harmful pesticides and fertilizers—all in the name of chocolate.
Chocolate? All that Halloween candy? My hidden stash of treats that I share with NO ONE? This was now a problem. It’s hard to imagine something so tasty being such a problem. But now here I was, knowing that paying for this chocolate was actually paying for something to which I was fundamentally and morally opposed. How can I believe in the inherent dignity of every human being, yet continue to purchase chocolate that comes at the expense of someone else? Sometimes the truth is so inconvenient.
It was crazy to think that being pro-life could affect what food I purchased. Yet there I stood. The decision to not purchase this chocolate was not a hard one, the discipline that came with it was another story. But only purchasing slave-free chocolate was a small yet significant way I could make sure I was living up to the pro-life name.
Now that you know, you might ask “What can we do about this?”
For starters, we can avoid purchasing this chocolate. Even if that means you have to give out pretzels and glow sticks for Halloween. Fortunately, chocolate is not something we NEED to survive (even though I may joke sometimes that it actually is). It really hurts to pass up a good sale on tasty treats, but in order to make a difference, it must be done. Use your purchasing power as a consumer to tell the companies that you will not be complicit in these practices.
Purchase fair trade or ethically sourced chocolate. Fair Trade or Ethically Sourced chocolate means that the farmer was paid a fair price for the cocoa. Unfortunately, this is going to cost more than the other brands. It is probably going to put a dent in the amount of chocolate you consume and it might require a little self discipline, but fortunately you are not willingly participating in exploiting children.
Write to chocolate companies and ask them to use only cocoa sourced from ethical producers. As consumers, we can send messages to these companies to let them know that you care. A few of the larger companies have promised to ensure that their cocoa beans are fair trade and slave free certified, but we need to make them keep good on their promises.
Share! I wouldn’t have known about this if not for a friend sending out a mass email. In this age of social media, news spreads quickly. There is no reason that this should be the cocoa industry’s dirty little well-kept secret.
The fight to bring an end to child exploitation in the cocoa industry is far from over. But by being vigilant and following the tips above, we can make a difference.