Beware the Chocolate Monsters: Keep Slave Labor Out of Halloween

by Julie Hall at ProgressiveKid

For most of us chocolate is a happy part of Halloween. It’s hands-down the best treat in the bag—so popular, in fact, that kids have to keep an eye on their chocolate-pilfering parents at this time of year. So, it’s especially ironic that this beloved sweet treat is a living nightmare for the children who are caught in the chocolate slave trade.

Chocolate comes from the beans contained in the large pods of the cocoa plant, which is actually a small evergreen tree that grows in tropical regions. In the harvesting of cocoa beans, the tough yellow pods (4-16 inches long) are cut down from branches, opened with machetes, and scraped out. About 400 cocoa pods must be harvested to make one pound of chocolate  (one 16-ounce bag of M&Ms). Among the world’s biggest cocoa producers are the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon, with the Ivory Coast alone producing 43 percent.

Following an extensive study of cocoa farming in these countries, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in 2002 estimated that there were 284,000 child laborers working on cocoa farms. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 109,000 children in Cote d’Ivoire work in the cocoa industry under “the worst forms of child labor”; as many as 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. Many of these children are lured into slavery by promises of living wages, only to be beaten, forced to work for no pay, and confined to prevent escape. Others come from impoverished communities where they are removed from school because their help is needed on family farms. According to  Global Exchange, such child slaves and laborers experience the hazards of using machetes and applying pesticides and insecticides with no protection. Enslaved children typically work over 12 hours a day harvesting cocoa beans and have no idea what chocolate tastes like.

Under the Wrapper

Why is this happening? The fundamental problem is that cocoa farmers are not paid living wages for their crops. Companies like M&M/Mars, Hershey’s, Nestle, and Cadbury buy the cocoa cheap, take enormous profits, and sell it for less than its real market value around the world. At one time chocolate was a rare pleasure. Now this $13 billion industry has made chocolate as commonplace as toilet paper (another undervalued commodity!), and cheaper. So far increasing political pressure on chocolate companies has only elicited hollow promises of reform with no real change, leaving the cocoa farmers as desperate as ever and children victimized by the system.

Silver Foil Lining

The good news is that fair-trade chocolate companies are providing an alternative to these exploitative and deeply immoral corporate practices. Farmers who sell fair-trade receive higher living wages and in exchange do not use slave labor. Fair-trade chocolate costs more because its price is a reflection of its actual market worth. People who buy fair-trade chocolate know that their sweet treat does not come at the expense of children abroad but actually helps reduce their victimization by supporting the viable economies of cocoa farming communities.  Organic chocolate is also a good choice because, according to Stop Chocolate Slavery (SCS), organic cocoa farmers are paid higher wages, ones in keeping with those paid to fair-trade chocolate farmers. SCS offers a detailed table of fair-trade, organic, or otherwise slave-free chocolate brands. They also offer further ideas for taking action against the chocolate slave trade, including an email list of corporate “cretins” to voice your outrage at. The International Labor Rights Forum invites people to join their Cocoa Campaign and to sign petitions demanding change in the industry.

So, don’t give up the chocolate this Halloween; just make sure you get the right kind (like from my favorite place) from now on. The monsters will hate you for it.

Julie Hall is the author of A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids: Understanding Climate Change and What You Can Do About It and cofounder of the green online store ProgressiveKid.

Image by unknown photographer.

©2008 ProgressiveKid

One Response

  1. […] not right for All Things Eco! Try to keep the submissions on topic, everyone. Julie Hall presents Beware the Chocolate Monsters: Keep Slave Labor Out of Halloween posted at on a ledge. From the article: For most of us chocolate is a happy part of Halloween. […]

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