The Dark & Bitter Truth About Your Halloween Chocolate (+19 ethical chocolate options!)
Are you buying chocolate for Halloween? You may change your mind after you discover the dark and bitter truth about your Halloween chocolate. As consumers, we vote with our dollars and need to make the most ethical and sustainable choices. If you choose to have an ethical Halloween, here are 19 Fair Trade chocolate options, too!
We all love our chocolate…
And it’s never more obvious than during the month of October.
In fact, over 70% of candy sales for Halloween involve chocolate — over $4 billion dollars’ worth (source).
Where Does All That Chocolate Come From?
Chocolate is the product of the cocoa bean — a tropical crop primarily grown within 10 degrees of either side of the Equator. Though the cocoa plant is native to Central/South America, it is now grown in several Equatorial countries.
West Africa — specifically Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria — is now the world’s leading producer of cocoa. Brazil, Ecuador, and Malaysia trail closely behind West African countries. Other cocoa-growing countries include Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Peru, Colombia, Congo, Sri Lanka, and Equatorial Guinea.
The cocoa grown in these countries is primarily sold to the corporate chocolate giants Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestle (source).
The cocoa bean is harvested, fermented, dried, and cleaned before actual chocolate is produced. The dried shell is ground into cocoa/cacao nibs.
When the nibs are heated enough, they will melt into chocolate liquor, Milk, sugar, and other flavorings and additives are thrown into the mix to create dark chocolate and milk chocolate bars, chocolate coatings, and chocolate fillings in many of the world’s favorite candy bars.
Yet, who’s producing all this chocolate en masse so we can dress up as Harry Potter and Tinkerbell, walking from house to house, ringing doorbells, and gleefully screaming “trick or treat!”?
Children younger than 15 – some as young as 5 – work from 6 am till evening in West Africa at cocoa farms connected to Nestlé, Hershey, Mars, Kraft, ADM Cocoa, Godiva, and Fowler’s Chocolate to produce your favorite chocolates including Reese’s, Kit Kat, M&M’s, MilkyWay and Butterfinger. (Source.)
The Bitter Truth About Your Halloween Chocolate
In the cocoa-growing countries, especially the Ivory Coast and Ghana, entire communities are devoted to the growth and production of this major industry.
This industry ends up being a lucrative one for government and international traders and merchants…
But what about the actual farmers growing the cocoa? What about those dedicated communities?
Unfortunately, it’s not such a lucrative business for the people who are actually involved in the growing and harvesting of cocoa.
The bitter truth about your Halloween candy and the chocolate industry as a whole is…
- The farmers growing the cocoa are paid below-poverty wages.
- Low wages prevent farmers from hiring sufficient farm workers.
- So, children of these farmers are often pulled from school to help on the farm.
- Or, children are trafficked and forced into slave labor.
- Lack of education perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
- Lack of education and money prevents farmers from bargaining against corporate giants for fair wages and safer working conditions.
Though the most sensational stories about child labor over the years have focused on boys and girls who’ve been held against their will and abused, the more common story is [that] hundreds of thousands of children are used as free labor by their own families and often asked to take on dangerous tasks like harvesting with machetes or hauling 100-pound bags of beans. For many, school is not an option. (Source.)
The Real Numbers Of Child Slave Labor
In 2013, researchers from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) found 56 workers on Nestle farms under the age of 18, and 27 were under age 15. The FLA also found evidence of forced labor. One young worker had not been paid a wage in a year. (Source.)
According to a Tulane University survey, 71% of children working the chocolate industry are exposed to sharp tools (machetes). In the Ivory Coast alone, 37% of children working on cocoa farms had suffered wounds or cuts due to their tools.
This survey also estimates that 2.12 million children worked in cocoa production during the 2013-2014 growing season in Ghana and the Ivory Coast alone (source).
One-fourth of West African children ages 5 to 17 are involved in cocoa production (source.)
Children are sold into slavery — some for less than $30. Or, they are kidnapped or tricked into thinking it’s a real job. Once on the farms, they’re trapped, prevented from leaving, threatened with beatings, underfed, and forced to live in dirty, deplorable conditions. (Source.)
Isn’t Anyone Doing Anything?!
There are several past and present lawsuits involving the chocolate giants. However, progress is slow. And, as we know, the corporations that have the most money are able to pay themselves off, avoiding bad media and accountability.
- 2000: The documentary Slavery: A Global Investigation was released. It documents the industry’s connection to chocolate harvested by child slaves.
- 2005: 3 former Malian slaves brought suit against Nestle, ADM Cocoa, and Cargill for aiding and abetting child slavery in the Ivory Coast (source).
- 2014: Shady Chocolate was released by filmmaker Miki Mistrati. This film documents the 2005 suit against Nestle and Cargill.
- September 2015: 3 class action lawsuits in California against Nestle, Hershey, and Mars (source).
There are other lawsuits and plenty of articles all over the Internet. Many organizations, such as Make Chocolate Fair, Food Empowerment Project., and the Organic Consumers Association among many more, are raising awareness and putting up a good fight. I encourage you to support organizations like these, subscribe to their newsletters, and share their articles with your friends, family, and on social media.
Awareness is HUGE. But, awareness is not enough.
Can We Do More To End Slave Labor In The Cocoa Industry?
As consumers, we have powerful sway over the corporations who ignore or turn a blind eye to forced child labor in the cocoa industry. We spend what they want most: money.
If we refuse to buy their slave-produced chocolate, they will have no choice but to change their business practices!
Filmmaker Miki Mistrati is correct…
Consumers have not been critical enough,” he said. “They have not asked why a chocolate bar only costs $1 when the cocoa comes from Africa. Customers have been too easy to trick with smart ads. It is over now. This trial is a unique opportunity for the world to see how their chocolate is produced and why it is so cheap. (Source.)
So, October is a big month for corporate giants like Cargill, Nestle, Hershey, Cadbury, and Mars. They’re depending on us to buy bags and bags of cheap, mini-sized chocolates to hand out on Halloween.
As consumers, the choice is actually ours to make.
Is that bag of mini Snickers, Twix, and Kit-Kats worth it?
When Our Family Was Done With Cheap Chocolate
Three years ago, our family made a big decision.
We were already buying organic chocolate and cacao products, but on Halloween, our children were just like everyone else’s. They dressed up, trick-or-treated, and dumped a mini mountain of candy on the dining room table at the end of the evening.
We always sorted out the candies with food coloring, since our daughter is sensitive. We allowed them to keep the chocolate, however, and have one piece per day until it was gone.
All that stopped when we learned about forced child labor and slavery in the cocoa industry.
How could I, a mother, allow my kids to eat something that was produced on the backs of children just like them? I imagined the African and South American mothers whose children were kidnapped or sold or forced to leave school. What if those were my children?
I wouldn’t want anything to do with a product or a company that made billions of dollars from my child’s sweat and tears!
Finally, it was decided. Our family was done with cheap chocolate.
No special occasion, no holiday, no party, no “just this once” could justify eating another bite of chocolate that was produced at another’s expense.
And now that you know the dark and bitter truth about your chocolate, what will you do?
Fair Trade Chocolate
Thankfully, we don’t have to do without chocolate completely! We have another option — one that ensures a fair wage to cocoa farmers, one that forbids child labor and forced slavery, one that’s also good for the environment.
Look for Fair Trade Certified chocolate and cocoa products (including cacao powder, cacao nibs, and cacao butter).
In order to become Fair Trade Certified (a 3rd party certification), companies buying and selling cocoa products must meet rigorous standards, including:
- Farmers and producers are paid a fair price for their products.
- Farmers must pay their adult workers a fair wage.
- Transparency and traceability must exist throughout the entire supply chain — from field to shelf
- Small producers have the information they need to improve their livelihoods through improved farm management and business practices
- There is no kind of forced labor, including bonded labor, human trafficking, indentured labor, slave labor, prison labor, or any restrictions on freedom of movement.
- Minimum age for employment is either the legal working age, the age of completion of compulsory schooling, or age 15 — whichever is highest.
- Young workers and children engaging in family labor are protected — and do not carry out work which would jeopardize their health, safety, education, or emotional and physical development.
- For a complete list of Fair Trade standards, click here.
Yes, Fair Trade Certified chocolate is more expensive. Chocolate should be expensive!
Cacao grows in a very limited climate, is labor-intensive to grow, and requires a lengthy and precise process to go from cocoa bean to the silky dark chocolate bars we all love so much.
Currently, only 5% of the world’s chocolate is Fair Trade Certified (source).
How to know if your chocolate is Fair Trade? Check your product’s label. Brands that go to the trouble to have their products certified will proudly display this certification on their product labels.
Look for one of these symbols:
Ethical Chocolate For All
In the documentary, Slavery: A Global Investigation, one boy is asked what he would say to the billions who eat chocolate worldwide. His response should make us stop in our tracks:
They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh. (Source.)
I don’t think there’s anything else to be said. We owe it to humanity to stop these corporations from using forced child labor! And the only way we can each do our part is to buy ethical chocolate.
Chocolate Bars & Truffles
- Alter Ego Truffles (for you Ferrero Rocher fans)
- Theo Foods — a variety of naturally flavored chocolate bars, including raspberry, ginger, and orange
- Rescue Chocolate — perfect for choco-holics who are also animal lovers! 100% of net profits are donated to animal rescue shelters!
- Equal Exchange — grown by small farmer co-ops
- Lily’s Sweets — stevia-sweetened chocolate for you low-carbers and sugar-free folks
- Endangered Species Chocolate — 10% of profits are donated to organizations that support species conservation, habitat protection, and humanitarian efforts
- Green & Black’s — For dark chocolate fanatics and those who enjoy gourmet flavors like Hazelnut-Currant, Spiced Chili, or Burnt Toffee
- Divine Chocolate — From bars to after dinner mints, this is just awesome chocolate!
Cocoa Products For Baking/Cooking
- Wildly Organic Cacao Nibs — high in antioxidants, make a great sugar-free substitute for chocolate chips, great for snacking or adding to trail mixes
- Wildly Organic Cacao Powder — use instead of cocoa powder in baking, delicious, pure, raw cacao powder. Try in recipes like a Salted Caramel, Chocolate, & Pecan Shake, No-Jello Chocolate Pudding Cups, and Ooey Gooey Allergy-Friendly Brownies.
- Equal Exchange Baking Cocoa — replace your can of Hershey’s cocoa powder
- Wildly Organic Cacao Butter — just as delicious in homemade skincare products as it is in anything white chocolate! I use it in my Nourishing White Hot Chocolate!
- Lily’s Sweets Chocolate Chips — not only are these babies Fair Trade, they’re also dairy-free and stevia-sweetened!
- Equal Exchange Chocolate Chips — if you’re not watching your sugar, these babies are sweetened with organic sugar!
Hot Cocoa Mixes & Chocolate Syrup
- Wildly Organic Chocolate Syrup — toss your bottle of Hershey’s (it’s full of junk anyway!) and try this instead!
- Equal Exchange Hot Cocoa Mix — high quality, organic, and produced by small farmer co-ops
Ethical Halloween Candy Options
If you’re the type to splurge and provide the neighborhood with ethical Halloween chocolate…
- Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Mini Bars — 150 mini bars
- Alter Eco Black Truffles — 60 truffles
- Endangered Species Bug Bites — 64 bug bites of chocolate
Ok, I admit, you may not want to spend that much on chocolate for the whole neighborhood! So, how about some non-chocolate but still eco-friendly, ethical, healthier Halloween options:
- Honey Stix 100% Clover Honey — 100 sticks
- YumEarth Organic Natural Lollipops — 5 pounds
- YumEarth Naturals Gummy Bears — pack of 50
- Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks — 24 pouches
- YumEarth Organic Natural Candy Drops — 5 pounds
- Stretch Island Organic Fruit Leather Variety Pack — 48 count
- Clif Kidz Fruit Ropes – 18 fruit ropes
So, You Just Want A Candy Bar?
Pretend for a moment that the Twix or Snickers or Almond Joy or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups you love so much are Fair Trade Certified…
(I hope to live in a world where Hershey’s, Mars, Godiva, and Nestle step up and actually become Fair Trade!)
The remaining ingredients — like refined sugars, milk solids, and hydrogenated fats — still aren’t at all nourishing your body. So, I submit to you… try making your own. 🙂
Your homemade candy probably won’t taste exactly like unwrapping your favorite candy bar. In fact, I bet it tastes better! When you use better ingredients, your food just tastes better!
Here are a few recipes if you want to give homemade candy a shot:
- Paleo Almond Joy Bars
- Naturally Sweetened Peppermint Patties
- Raw Homemade Chocolates
- Healthy & Vegan Snickers Bar
- Homemade Vegan Kit Kat Bars
- Homemade Chocolate With Cacao Butter
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Honey Cups
- Coconut Butter Fudge
- How To Make Paleo Mounds & Almond Joy Bars
- Paleo Peanut Butter Cups
- Salted Dark Chocolate Clusters (paleo, vegan)
- Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cups
- Goji Berry Cranberry Truffles
- Homemade Ferrero Rocher Truffles
- Sugar-Free Keto Peanut Butter Cups
- Homemade Candy Bars With Caramel & Marshmallow Nougat
- Sea Salted Cookie Dough Bark
- Chocolate Coconut Bars
- Fair Trade USA’s 2010-2011 Cocoa Impact Report
- Fair Trade USA’s 2016 Cocoa Impact Report
- Complete Fair Trade Standards
- The Dark Side Of The Cocoa Industry & Why Wildly Organic Is Fair Trade
- Slave Free Chocolate
[…] The Dark & Bitter Truth About Your Halloween Chocolate (+19 ethical chocolate options!) […]
Curiously whether you stopped trick or treating or just throw away all the candy that people bought? Thank you for sharing the fair trade information.
Hi Sally, my kids are older now, so we don’t trick-or-treat any longer. When they did trick-or-treat, they simply said “no thank you” to chocolate candy that wasn’t fair trade. We discussed this issue with them at length beforehand, and also took them to the health food store to buy them each their own bar of fair trade chocolate so they didn’t feel like they were missing out.
Great article, Lindsey! I am not a big consumer of chocolate, but will certainly try to do my part.
As a small artisan chocolatier, thank you for keeping the public informed. I was in the human rights legal field before teaching myself (and falling in LOVE with) about the world of chocolate, so this is something very important to me. My company, Truffles in Paradise, uses Guittard, which is Fair Trade Certified. In fact, I have visited some of the plantations myself to check up on practices, etc. We also use local ingredients when we can – the cream I use is from cows about 2 miles from my house. My product is a little more expensive than Hershey’s,… Read more »
Wow! This is AWESOME! You and your company sound awesome! I’d love to try some of your chocolate! And thank you for doing all you can to keep your business ethical!
I don’t buy chocolates except for Hallowe’en only so that I can have something to give to the children knocking on my door. You just brought up a topic so necessary for the discussion and attention – I didn’t know anything about it, so thank you for sharing! I will be sharing this too with my community.
I’d like to add Divine Chocolate to your list. They are fair trade certified and are the only cocoa company that is co-owned with the farmers. They have a variety of delicious chocolate bars, minis (perfect for Halloween), baking cocoa, hot cocoa, etc.
Thanks, Ilana! I’m adding it to the list now!
I love chocolate but not the horrible practices of the chocolate industry. I only buy ethical chocolate!
It is horrible. I’m so glad you’re already aware and that your awareness influences your buying habits!
Excellent post. Thank you for the reminder. I tend to buy fair trade chocolate when I do purchase. I watched a documentary a few years back and it was very horrific ~ so sad. Here’s to raising that 5% of the fair trade chocolate in the world.. to a much higher number! xo
So horrifying! Hopefully, that 5% goes up because of our collective efforts!
So sad. 🙁 I don’t ever buy chocolate, ’cause of all the sugar, and now I’m glad I don’t!
Do you know about Lily’s, Raia? It’s stevia-sweetened, and their dark chocolate, dark chocolate sea salt, and chocolate chips are dairy-free!
Wow I had no idea about this. I don’t buy a lot of chocolate and when I do, I get it from our local natural market and they only sell fair trade chocolate. I will definitely make sure I am ONLY buying fair trade chocolate products in the future.
Vicki, THIS is exactly why I wrote this post! When we know better, we can do better! <3
This is a very well written article concerning the chocolate industry, thank you.
I don’t eat a lot of traditional chocolate but I didn’t know anything about this- thanks for the info and for the alternative recipes!
Of course! The more you know, right… 😉