This Halloween millions of children across the US will hit the streets looking to score some treats and maybe, if they’re ambitious, give their neighbors a fright. But perhaps more frightening is the story behind many of candy they collect.
A survey supervised by the International Labor Organization estimates that about 200,000 children are forced to work in cocoa fields in high-producing regions such as Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, which account for about 70 percent of the world’s cocoa supply. Although the number of children involved in abusive labor abroad has been debated, it has become an issue American lawmakers are tackling.
In 2001, New York Rep. Eliot Engel and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, both Democrats, pushed through legislation aimed at stopping child trafficking in the cocoa fields. More than a decade later, Engel remains committed to that cause.
“Progress comes in fits and starts,” he said. “It’s small but it’s moving in the right direction.”
The chocolate giants heard the message. Hershey Company, the largest manufacturer of chocolate in North America, announced plans to have all its cocoa 100 percent certified by 2020.
Finding 100 percent certified cocoa before then will be tougher to find. According the National Confectioner’s Association, chocolate certified as Fair Trade represents just 0.5 percent of the overall market.
Despite this low percentage, certification makes a huge difference, said Erin Gorman, chief executive of Washington, D.C.-based Divine Chocolate. Her company is fair trade certified and also owned by their cocoa farmers. Gorman said she believes farmers must be paid a living wage to break the cycle of poverty.
The International Labor Rights Forum also urges consumers to read chocolate labels and to speak out against injustices happening in the cocoa fields in West Africa. Judy Gearhart, the group’s executive director, acknowledged that the choice isn’t easy, especially when it comes to Halloween, when children don’t choose their candy.