Every Halloween, parents are spooked by candy horror stories on the news. Year to year there’s the strange paranoia that some crazed, old neighbor is sneaking something into the Halloween candy for little boys and girls. While, it’s good to be careful, much of these stories shouldn’t be taken too seriously. However, there is one candy horror story that we can (and should) take very seriously. Most major candy companies get the cocoa for their chocolate from West African countries, predominately the Ivory Coast. The problem is that a report by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture found that an estimated 284,000 children are being enslaved and forced to work in horrible conditions on cocoa farms.
With Halloween around the corner, this problem has gained increased media attention (including here and here). Children will begin stocking up on chocolate bars without the slightest clue that this happy Halloween tradition is hurting thousands of other children half a world away. The irony’s hard to miss. In 2001, in an attempt to address this, major chocolate companies signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol (otherwise known as the Cocoa Protocol) to end their dependency on child-labor in cocoa production by July 2005. This deadline has come and gone with little actually achieved.
Companies are aware of the human rights violations taking place. They may not have a direct role in instituting and directing such acts, but they certainly play a major part in purchasing large quantities of cocoa from these farms despite the obvious human rights abuses taking place. It is important to note that this problem is not specific to cocoa production. Many of the products that Americans consume are made in less than angelic ways.
This is why, if implemented effectively, the Cocoa Protocol could do a lot of good for trade reform. Candy companies are in the unique position to profoundly impact unfair labor practices abroad. If candy companies utilize their influence for good to eliminate child labor in cocoa farms, it could be a powerful motivator for other industries to do the same. In fact, as other industries sign on to similar agreements, it could mean a drastic improvement in both working conditions and development abroad.
Perhaps in order to better implement this agreement companies can begin supporting local initiatives in Western Africa which work to alleviate the root causes of child labor; such as lack of education, discrimination, conflict, etc. Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe expressed in an interview that while it is difficult for the company to influence the complete end of child labor, the company can help more children obtain an education, which may in turn give them alternative options to working on cocoa farms. In addition, according the 2011 Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances, Cargill coordinates 300 Farmer Field Schools to train cocoa farmers in more efficient practices. In addition Cargill also works with CARE to ensure better living conditions for cocoa workers and to “combat” child labor. These programs illustrate that corporation are working to achieve the goals of the Cocoa Protocol.
Despite this progress, there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to achieve the goals of the Cocoa Protocol. Implementing it is especially difficult because companies will need to pay more to farmers in order to deter the use of children as cheap labor. This price may be worth it, though, to ensure that the chocolate we consume regularly is not contributing to the exploitation of children abroad.
GOOD gives a list of “ethical” candy alternatives here. Check it out!