The Real Halloween Horror: Trick or Treat Candy's Bitter Human Toll

Halloween candyOne of the joys of the Halloween tradition is to dole out confections to costumed kids calling out, "Trick or treat!"

But while we're celebrating all things spooky and scary and sweet-tasting, the bitter reality behind the candy most Americans hand out for the holidays is who suffers getting that chocolate from cocoa-producing countries into your child's plastic pumpkin bucket.

The Dark Side of Chocolate

According to the National Confectioners Association, in 2011, Americans spent a record $2.273 billion on Halloween candy. Just look in any plastic pumpkin on Nov. 1, and you'll see that chocolate is a pretty standard Halloween treat of choice.

Before you bite into that chocolate bar, though, consider this: About 35% of the world's cocoa comes from West Africa's Ivory Coast, where the day-to-day life of many children is terribly bleak. According to the Department of State, 109,000 children work "under the worst forms of child labor" there. They are subject to beatings, long hours, dangerous work implements, and pesticide exposure for cocoa production.

The International Labor Rights Forum has embarked on several campaigns to urge all chocolate providers to convert to 100% Fair Trade policies to even better address this heartbreaking problem.

Some big candymakers -- like Nestle (NSRGY), Mars, and Kraft's (KRFT) Cadbury -- have made concrete moves and/or set goals for providing ethically sourced cocoa. But not all companies have been quick to respond.

It took quite some time for candy giant Hershey (HSY) to come around to the idea that it needs to address ethically sourced cocoa. The maker of iconic candy brands like Reese's, York Peppermint Pattie, Kit Kat, Mounds, and, of course, Hershey bars and Hershey's Kisses recently agreed to certify all its cocoa by 2020. But it's stopped short of vowing to provide only Fair Trade cocoa, which is the most rigorous certification for avoiding child labor in the supply chain.

Candy Gets a Conscience

It's nice to report that Hershey has at least caught up with its rivals in devising a more responsible stance on its cocoa sourcing. Still, to really remove the guilt from Halloween goody bags, Fair Trade treats are the way to go -- and this isn't quite as tricky to accomplish as you might think.

If you live close to a Whole Foods Market (WFM) store, you'll find the organic grocer puts major emphasis on Fair Trade chocolate in its candy aisle. Whole Foods carries hundreds of Fair Trade choices, helping farmers in cocoa-producing nations.In fact, its sales of Fair Trade chocolate have climbed 350% in the past five years.

As for handy Halloween-ready treats, consider the company's EnviroKidz treats, which help endangered species and conservation efforts. Whole Foods also carries bags of small Endangered Species chocolate bars that are perfect for trick-or-treat purposes (these are also Fair Trade chocolates ethically sourced from family cooperatives on the Ivory Coast).

Fair Trade brands are available at other stores, too. The Directory of Ethical Chocolate Companies lists specific brands available in a variety of grocers; these include Green and Black, Newman's Own Organics, and Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Bars, just to name a few.

Treats That Keep on Giving

Fortunately, more big-name confectioners are responding to the pressure to address the issue of child labor in the supply chain. Such moves definitely help protect their brands from the distastefulness of supply-chain problems, and protect their shareholders from fallout from consumer boycotts.

This Halloween, shoppers can push for an even greater positive effect in cocoa-growing countries by buying Fair Trade options for trick-or-treaters. Helping contribute to improved conditions, particularly for children, in the countries that provide the core source of one of the most universally loved sweets is a treat that keeps on giving, after all.

Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Whole Foods Market. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Whole Foods Market.

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There are some children in Africa that would be happy to do farm labor but they are dead, killed by Malaria after the do-gooders in America, inspired by Rachael Carson's "Silent Spring", got DDT banned.

No mosquito control = dead kiddos.

But the eagles' eggs have thicker shells.

There is always a simple answer to any economic or social problem. The simple answer will fix what is seen and it will cause a problem that is unseen, at first. By the time the caused problem is realized the do-gooders will have moved to their next project and will not be around to fix the new problem, or even to acknowledge their role in creating it.

The simple fix to the problem presented by Alyce is banning child labor or boycotting chocolate made using child labor, then the unseen problem is that the child's family will starve due to high food prices caused by the American Federal Reserve Bank creating liquidity as the simple response to a recession in America.

Yes, that's right, the do-gooder Ben Bernanke is causing food riots and killing children in third-world countries, in order to save American mega-banks by buying their crummy assets. Follow the money trail and you will see it, too.

You want to help these kids, then buy so much of their chocolate that the value of their labor will rise. Or you can ban their labor or boycott their chocolate, so the only job they can get is turning tricks at the local truck stop.

Yeah, you're doing some real good there.

October 25 2012 at 12:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh gosh, nothing is innocent anymore - nothing. What a sad price to pay for a fun day.

October 24 2012 at 12:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

why does no one invent artifical chocolate : /

October 23 2012 at 2:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to janka51's comment

There's already a good chocolate alternative out there. Try Carob. It's not quite the same, but still good.

October 23 2012 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The problem here is the law of unintended consequences. The result of this effort may just be, that instead of these children having a tough life with a lousy job, they'll have an even worse life with no job at all.

October 23 2012 at 12:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Someone has to pay for the "Everyday Low Prices" America demands.

October 23 2012 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

hmm 35% of the chocolate comes from bad people in africa. okay, 65% comes from not so bad people. this article says that two third of the chocolate i buy is "good," one third is "bad." as i am writing this, and with full understanding that some countries do abuse what we take for granted "child labor laws...," i am doing my laundry. i am washing fifteen dress shirts. four came from bangledesh, three from thailand, one from mexico, three from vietnam...i could go on, but the dryer just beeped at i have to go hang up those shirts. in the meantime, no one seems to care that the people making these shirts are probably kids, somewhere in the countries mentioned. oh, and go in your own closets, look at the tags, and see where your own clothes come from. it's rather interesting.
Point being: Buy with what you feel is right, according to your own thoughts.
to cut to the chase....if people on the ivory coast in africa are beating their children.......well, that says a lot about AFRICA.

October 23 2012 at 1:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ok, let's imagine all chocolate producers get only fair-trade cocoa. That's going to drive up the price of cocoa because higher wages will have to be paid to the workers (child or not) in Africa, which will in turn drive up the price of chocolate. Last time I went to my local health food store a small bar of organic fair trade chocolate cost around $2. If you have 30 kids come to your house on Halloween that's $60 for 30 chocolate bars. Most people will do the math and figure that the big bags of hard/gummy candy for $5 will be a much better deal and not buy any chocolate. If hardly anyone buys chocolate there's no need to grow cocoa, so people in Africa will get laid off. Instead of $1/day they now make $0. Yep, that's a fair trade.

October 22 2012 at 11:00 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Annika's comment

So, you're willing to compromise the health and safety of children in cocoa producing countries just to keep the price of chocolate low?
Yep, that's fair trade all right!

October 23 2012 at 10:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Third world candy? Yuck

October 22 2012 at 10:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

a kick back from Whole Foods get this article written...???

October 22 2012 at 10:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The debates are on and it is like a lawsuit with 99% of the evidence supressed so how can anyone make a choice. Obama paid off Pakistan to get Bin Laden and everyone knows it. Not one word will be spoken spoken about it. The world want the oil from Iran and that is the bottom line! God help us

October 22 2012 at 10:20 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply