from problem to solution: practical ideas for an ethical halloween

I’ve been wanting to do a follow-up post on the connection between child slavery and chocolate.  In case you missed it, the low-down is here . . . but in a nutshell a BBC documentary revealed that child labor and even child trafficking is rampant in chocolate production, and that chocolate from most mainstream candy companies can be traced back to farms employing (and even buying) children to work in dangerous conditions. 
 
For our family, the response to learning this has been to limit our chocolate purchases to fair-trade chocolate, which is a system that ensures that workers are paid and treated fairly.  I believe that our purchases have the biggest impact on corporate change.  The chocolate companies are well aware of the human rights abuses in the farms they are buying from, but unfortunately it is the profitability that is driving the ship, not ethics.  I really do believe that consumers can change things.  I think back ten years ago, when organic food was a fringe hippie thing that you could only by at specialty stores. Now, nearly every mainstream grocery store is producing their own line of organic foods.  Consumer demand is what drives the market.
 
I realize that everyone is at different levels in terms of how willing they are to make changes.  I’ve given ideas below for every level (rated 1-4 stars), from baby-step changes to full-on advocacy.  Of course, personally, my hope is that everyone would at least give up mainstream chocolate, because I think it could send a powerful message.

{*} Baby Steps: avoid Hershey’s and Nestle

If you aren’t quite ready to commit to alternative Halloween chocolate candies, then my recommendation is to purchase products from Mars (e.g. 3Musketeers, Mars, Milky Way, Snickers, Twix) and Kraft (e.g. Cadbury, Green & Black’s, Toblerone). These companies have recently taken basic first steps toward incorporating ethical, sustainable cocoa into their products. Mars has a stated goal of using 10% certified sustainable cocoa this year and an end goal of 100% certified sustainable cocoa by 2020. Kraft has also begun sourcing some of its cocoa sustainably. Keep in mind, though, that these corporations, and most mainstream candy companies, are still far behind when it comes to support for ethical chocolate.  It’s likely these companies are using chocolate sourced from child labor.  However, according to what I've read Hershey’s and Nestle seem to be prime offenders. 

{**} Conscious Shopper: choose chocolate-free candy

If you want to be a little more conscious but aren’t ready to commit to fair trade, you can stick to non-chocolate candy.  However, keep in mind that sugar production has it’s own set of human rights abuses.  (In fact, when you really do some research, the chocolate industry is only scratching the service of everyday products produced by children).   If not buying fair-trade, it’s a good idea to stick to products made in the USA, since our country at least has some laws in place to prevent child labor and worker abuse.  Mike and Ikes, Hot Tamales, Neccos, and Clark Bars are examples of US-made candy.
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{***} Socially Responsible Consumer:  buy fair-trade or organic

Buying fair-trade is the best way to ensure that chocolate has been ethically sourced, and it also sends a message to mainstream chocolate companies that there is consumer demand for Fair Trade Certified chocolate (which is ultimately what will lead to change).  Buying organic is reportedly another way to ensure that your chocolate wasn’t produced by exploited children due to the checks on labor practices organic certification requires. Additionally, organic producers often receive higher (and more stable) payment for their goods than those who don’t use organic methods.

The best sources I’ve seen for a variety of socially conscious Halloween shoppers are the Global Exchange Fair Trade Store and the Natural Candy Shop.   Over at Babble, I've compiled a list of several ethical options for Halloween treats, along with pricing and ideas for where to buy. You can check it out here. Also, if you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, they have a great selection of organic and fair-trade chocolate.
 
Our family will be handing out Endangered Species Bug Bites Organic Milk Chocolate Bites. I ordered a huge box of 64 bites for $26 from Amazon yesterday.  And yes, it was pricey. But I think we will survive. If you are interested in this option, order quickly so it can be delivered in time.
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{****} Activist: do reverse trick-or-treating

If you really want to advocate this Halloween, consider doing reverse trick-or-treating, where you give out fair-trade chocolate and a pamphlet as you go door-to-door.   Individual participants or families can participate by visiting www.reversetrickortreating.org.



I do realize that fair-trade candy is quite a bit more expensive than the mainstream alternative.  But again, I think we have to keep in mind – would we pay less for a product if a child was being abused to make it right in front of us
 
I’ve also heard people express concern that children will be disappointed with fair-trade chocolate.  In my house, my kids are equal-opportunity chocolate lovers.  In fact, we've been off of commercial chocolate for nearly 2 years now, and I've come to prefer the taste of most fair trade brands, which are richer and less sugary-sweet.  Quite honestly, kids who stop by my house should be lucky they aren’t getting raisins and pencils, because I’ve so been THAT mom before.  But if we’re making our purchasing decisions because we’re scared that a bunch of American kids might be disappointed because they can’t gorge themselves on chocolate made by children in Africa . . . there might be a problem with our priorities.

How do you boycott mainstream chocolate if the neighbors are passing it out while kids trick-or-treat?

This is a hard question to answer.  Inevitably, some of our neighborhood homes will be passing out mainstream chocolate as we are trick-or-treating. I am leaving it to each child to decide what to do.  On the one hand, the candy is already purchased, so the only statement we would be making would be to our neighbors.  And I know from the proliferation of nasty comments on my last post that people get all bent out of shape when they are told that something they love may be unethical.  (I’ve since deleted the comments, but I got more hateful comments on that post than any I’ve ever written.).  I’m not sure that a drive-by trick-or-treating moment is the time to educate, and it would definitely put people on the defense.  At the same time, Jafta is very educated on the issue and he was rather vocal about it last year, asking me about whether or not the chocolate was fair trade at each house.  I don’t want to stifle his activism, so I will let each kid choose how to respond.  As for our house's purchases decisions, though, we will vote with our dollars and buy fair trade.
 
What about you?  What will you be passing out this Halloween?  And how will you approach it if you decided to boycott mainstream chocolate but the kids bring it home?

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