Trip or Treat: 'Chocolate can be sweeter for people on both ends of the supply chain.'

They should call it trip or treat, our 4-year-old quips, struggling with the tail of her hand-me-down mermaid costume, while her baby brother trips over his duck costume. More safety pins to the rescue, is my standard trip or treat fix-it. My husband prefers duct tape.

I wish all solutions were as simple. As parents, wed like to preserve a simple childhood tradition of greeting neighbors and enjoying treats. But as citizens, we must weigh the dark side of those sweets. Concerns about child labor, slavery and exploitative conditions in the African cocoa trade make trick-or-treat bittersweet. How can we avoid tripping into moral perils while enjoying holiday traditions?


More chocolate is sold at Halloween than at any other time of year. Chocolate sales were $14.4 billion in 2004, as Americans consume nearly 12 pounds of chocolate per person per year. Chocolate consumption in rich countries should be good news for the worlds poor. The cocoa beans that make chocolate can be grown only in a narrow band near the equator, a slice of the planet home to many of the worlds poor. Yet chocolate profits go predominantly to manufacturing and marketing companies in the first world, rather than cocoa farmers in the developing world. Instead of benefiting from the cocoa trade, many cocoa growers suffer exploitation.

Africa leads the world in cocoa production, growing over 76 percent of the planets total output. Four of the five top cocoa-growing countries are in Africa: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria. Ivory Coast alone is responsible for 43 percent of world cocoa production, yet the country is extremely poor and becoming poorer. More than 44 percent of Ivorians have incomes below the poverty line, and the country ranks near the bottom in the U.N. human development index: 164th out of 177. Certainly poverty there has many causes: a civil war ravaged the economy and the rising H.I.V./AIDS epidemic takes its toll. But low prices paid to cocoa growers have not helped.

Media exposés six years ago focused attention on the dire conditions of cocoa workers in West Africa. Congress responded, and the House passed legislation that would have required that cocoa products be labeled and certified that they were not made with child or forced labor. The chocolate manufacturers intervened and derailed the legislation. They raised the standard chorus of multinational corporations looking to shirk social responsibilities in the global economy: that they do not own the producers, are not responsible for conditions there and are unable to control their own supply chains. In September 2001 Representative Elliot Engel (Democrat of New York) and Senator Tom Harkin (Democrat of Iowa) negotiated the Cocoa Protocol, a voluntary agreement among chocolate companies, cocoa traders, governments and plantation owners to take measures to improve conditions among cocoa farmers, reduce child labor and establish a certification procedure by July 2005. The companies failed to meet the deadline, blaming the civil war in Ivory Coast. But a recent industry report released by Tulane University lauds the progress on other fronts.

In a meeting of the African Cocoa Summit last month, Ghanas President John Agyekum Kufuor told a different story. Although countries have now ratified the International Labor Organizations Convention 182 pledging to do away with the worst forms of child labor, they do not adhere to it. He called for imposition of a regime of verification and stoppage of the phenomenon in every form. This is important so that the Cocoa Protocol results in real gains, not excuses.

There is another way to get at the problem: buy only fair trade chocolate and cocoa, especially through Catholic Relief Services partnership with Divine Chocolate. Fair trade chocolates return more of the purchase price to the farmers who grow the cocoa, helping them and their families to make a living and rise from poverty. Eating fair trade chocolate is a way to put your money literally where your mouth is, and use your food dollars to treat both yourself and the person who grew your food.

The Catholic Relief Services fair trade chocolates program goes one step further. The farmers of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana are not only guaranteed better fair trade prices for their cocoa beans; they also own almost 50 percent of the Day Chocolate Co., which produces their Divine Chocolate bars and products, so they earn a share of the profits directly from all Divine Chocolate sales. C.R.S. also encourages schools, parishes, teams and other groups to use fair trade products in their fundraisers. Through their Raise Money Right program, groups can raise money for their organization and raise awareness about fair trade as a way to fight global poverty. Winners of the C.R.S. Raise Money Right contests earn prizes, including trips to Ghana to visit the cocoa cooperative themselves.

As we prepare for the onslaught of the trip or treaters, we can use the holiday to stand in solidarity with children in poverty around the world and make chocolate a sweeter experience for people on both ends of the global supply chain.

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John Walton
11 years ago
Perhaps a visit to that portion of Hersheys' website dealing with stewardship will assuage the writer's guilt when consuming Peppermint Patties.


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