Conventionally produced and traded chocolate, as Worldchanging readers are well aware, has a particularly ugly backstory. Farmers in Africa's Ivory Coast, where nearly half of the world's cocoa is produced, receive about a penny for every 60-cent candy bar produced--a fraction of the value of their labor. Most cocoa farmers in this part of the world live in dire poverty, making as little as $30 to $100 a year. Partly for this reason, many cocoa farmers in this region rely heavily on abusive child and slave labor. According to a 2002 report by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, about 300,000 children work on cocoa farms in just four African countries--the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria.
Fair-trade campaigns are an attempt to change that. Here's how it works: Producers agree to refrain from using child, slave or abusive labor. In exchange, buyers guarantee them a fair price for their product. Buyers and producers maintain a long-term, direct relationship, and buyers provide access to financial and technical assistance (and, in some cases, encourage farmers to produce their crops sustainably).
It's a laudable goal—and a timely one, as Halloween is just a few days away. This year, Global Exchange, a group that promotes fair trade, is encouraging parents to take their kids “reverse trick-or-treating.” Instead of knocking on doors and asking for candy, kids who reverse trick-or-treat will hand fair-trade candy to whoever answers the door, along with an informational flyer chiding the grownups about abusive labor practices and social justice. I know, fun, right? Aside from the fact this seems highly unlikely to catch on (try getting a six-year-old to hand over one single piece of chocolate, let alone turn down a handful of candy), no one wants to be scolded with a tsk-tsking flyer for doing something nice for children.
Now that you know what not to do, here's a much better idea: Buy fair trade candy to give out this Halloween, and encourage other adults you know to do the same. It costs more, but it’s worth it. Oh, and while you're at it, make that candy organic. The pesticides and fertilizers that are used in sugar production are bad for growing kids, and have contributed to the loss of aquatic and forest ecosystems.
Companies that sell fair-trade treat treats include Divine Chocolates, available online and in 42 US states; Equal Exchange; Dagoba organic/fair-trade chocolates; Sweet Earth Organics; and Green & Black’s Organics (available at retailers in the US and online.) Many natural and organic candy selections can be found at the Natural Candy Store and ShopNatural.com.
Image: Ghanaian girl eating Fair Trade chocolate bar. Credit: flickr/crankyshooter
Another interesting twist on the holiday is Green Halloween (greenhalloween.org). It's an initiative starting up this year in the Seattle area (but will probably spread to other places in the coming years) that encourages kid- and earth-friendly alternatives to the usual Halloween treats.
Make sure you buy fair trade chocolate that has been made on rapadura (fair trade organic dehydrated cane juice) as opposed to just sugar. The difference nutritionally is phenomenal. Just because the sugar is organic doesn't make it good for your body. Refined sugar is a drug, a poison that steals vitamins and minerals from your organs and bones so your body can assimilate it. Rapadura has the vitamins and minerals of the sugar cane intact. No stealing, no poisoning. Sure, help the third world but also help your body.