It’s that time of year, when it starts getting cooler, the leaves change, and people go out and buy obscene amounts of candy to celebrate one of America’s favorite holidays, Halloween. I’m sure no one would be surprised to learn that a large majority of those sales are made up of chocolate. In fact, Americans purchase about 90 million pounds of chocolate in the weeks leading up to Halloween, more than Easter or Valentine’s Day. But what most of us probably don’t think about is where that chocolate comes from.
About 70% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, with 46% coming from Côte d’Ivoire alone. The problem facing the cocoa farmers then, is how to meet this demand. According to the State Department, it would seem that they’ve turned to child slave labor, with as many as 200,000 children working on the farms. Traffickers promise food, homes, and education to entice parents to send or in some cases, sell their children. Most of these children are young boys, between the ages of 9-12, who have no idea of the industry or product that their labor is supporting.
This is a problem that affects all countries that import cocoa products because while not all farmers use slave labor, the beans that are picked by the children and beans that are picked by legitimate workers are usually mixed together for shipping and processing, leaving it impossible to separate them out. Inevitably, beans that are the result of child slavery are dispersed throughout the industry.
Until about 10 years ago, the major chocolate companies claimed ignorance of the real origins of their products. In 2001, two US Congressmen worked with the heads of the chocolate industry to create the Harkin-Engel Protocol (or the Cocoa Protocol), which called for immediate action to eliminate child labor. The World Cocoa Association and the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association agreed to develop and implement voluntary standards to certify cocoa production. It was agreed that by July 2005, the chocolate industry would develop their standards of certification. They failed to meet this deadline and were given 3 more years. Another 3 years after that, and they still have not completed their agreement under the Protocol.
In the last few years, many chocolate companies such as Kraft, Mars, Cadbury, and Nestle have started to use fair trade certified cocoa and demonstrated some commitment towards working on a certification program. Noticeably missing from that list though, and ranked as the worst offender, unfortunately, is America’s favorite chocolate maker, Hershey’s, who is responsible for 43% of the chocolate we buy. Activists have started the “Raise the Bar” campaign, calling for more transparency and the certification of their supply chain, as well as a boycott of their product for the upcoming holiday.
So before you unwrap that chocolate bar this Halloween, take a minute to stop and think about where it really came from.