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By Charita L. Castro and Jialan Wang |
Children all over America will participate in trick-or-treating festivities this Halloween. Babies not even a year old will be squeezed into peas in a pod, little boys will transform into Ben 10, and tweens will prove that Hannah Montana is forever. Most parents will consider the security of the neighborhood and the safety of the candy received, but few of us will give any thought about how the 90 million pounds of chocolate candy given out this Halloween was made, who made it and under what conditions.
Indeed, few products are more evocative of the joy and innocence of American childhood than the iconic Hershey bar. On our recent visit to a neighborhood café, the proprietor expressed her homespun values by saying she didn’t use fancy foreign chocolate in her cookies, just good old American Hershey’s. But while the brand may be all-American, the humble Hershey bar begins its life as cocoa beans, the seeds of a tropical tree known as Theobroma Cacao, about 70 percent of which comes from the West African nations of Ghana and Ivory Coast, where children are more likely to face hunger and malnutrition than enjoy the taste of a chocolate bar.
In 2001, journalists uncovered labor abuses of children in Ivory Coast’s cocoa plantations. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Elliot Engel, D-N.Y., have put pressure on companies to eliminate cocoa from beans picked and processed by children.
After a decade of negotiations with industry, Tulane University and Global Exchange reported in September that Hershey, Mars and other American chocolatemakers have made little progress toward promised reforms to address the worst forms of child labor in their cocoa supply chains.
At least 2 million children currently are involved in the production of cocoa in Ghana and the Ivory Cost. Children as young as 5 work instead of attending school, and they handle dangerous agrochemicals, wield machetes to hack open cocoa pods and carry backbreaking loads. Even worse, there is evidence that children from Mali and Togo are trafficked into forced labor to work on the cocoa farms of the Ivory Coast.
This wouldn’t be the first time that candy has consumed children instead of the other way around. Jane Addams established Hull House in Chicago in the late 19th century and helped little girls who were exploited and fatigued from working six weeks straight for 14-hour days in a candy factory. When finally given a chance to taste the hard-won products of their labors, the girls couldn’t bear the sight of the candy they were offered.
Times have changed in the United States, yet children across the globe still work under unconscionable conditions to satisfy our sweet tooth. So what is a consumer to do? Stop eating chocolate altogether? Lobby our congressmen to ban imports of Ivorian cocoa? The answers are not that simple.
Child labor exists because of complicated economic conditions and development challenges. Boycotting chocolate would do little to help these children, but the marketplace is beginning to offer various ways for consumers to make a difference.
Fair Trade Certification appears on a number of chocolate bars, including Equal Exchange, Theo Chocolate and Divine Chocolate. The Fair Trade program guarantees farmers a minimum price for their output, enforces fair labor conditions (prohibiting forced child labor) and encourages environmental sustainability. While critics of Fair Trade point to costly investments in labeling and product certification, shortfalls in investigating compliance with labor standards and imperfect financial transfers to farmers, these efforts are better than nothing at all.
Consumers can purchase chocolate from companies owned by cocoa farmers themselves so that the farmers reap all of the benefits of their labors. Divine Chocolate is owned in large part by the Ghanaian farmers of the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative. Many smaller producers such, as Theo Chocolate and Askinosie, which is based in Springfield, Mo., source beans directly from farmers, compared with larger companies that source chocolate from middlemen with fuzzy supply lines.
As consumers, our dollars are our voice in the globe. Take back Halloween from the gruesome grips of exploitative child labor by buying responsible chocolate, not treating the bottom line of Big Chocolate.
Charita L. Castro is an assistant professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and Jialan Wang is an assistant professor at the Olin Business School at Washington University.