Trickery of Treats

Halloween is full of so many fun things: Ghosts, goblins, witches, costumes, pumpkins,pumpkin patches and apple cider, and candy. However, how fun is candy when the cocoa’s origins are quite the opposite. In a season where “around 90 percent of Americans buy candy,spending $2.6 billion (Amadeo, 2018),” it’s no wonder the demand perpetuates the less thanideal conditions experienced in countries farming the cocoa.

“Over 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa.” That’s where “cocoa farmingfamilies with an average of 6 people, live on roughly $2 per day. [This results in] over 2 millionchildren being relied on to harvest the cocoa crop each year” (“Printable,” 2018). Think aboutthat for a minute. $2 per day! While you have to consider the relativity of spending in othercountries, two dollars doesn’t come close to what is deserved for the labor done; especially whenyou consider the billion-dollar industry of confection during Halloween and other holidays. There are two specific countries in West Africa, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, with communities that focus on growing this crop. It is a very “lucrative crop for governments and international traders,but [it] brings below-poverty wages from the farmers who produce it” (“The chocolate,” 2018).With the extremely low wages, that makes hiring quite a challenge come harvest time and this iswhat “perpetuates the child trafficking and worst forms of child labor that have plagued theindustry.

Children are exposed to chemicals, long working hours, and the denial of a decent education. Low prices in the cocoa industry have left smallholder farms with impoverished incomes and with no choice but to pull their children from school and have them help the plantation. With low educational access and attendance, families in the cocoa sector are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty [with] little bargaining power against the few large multinational companies that control the supply chain and ultimately determine the livelihoods of farmingfamilies. (“The chocolate,” 2018).

In the short film by Judy Gearhart, Executive Director on Child Labor in the West African Cocoa Industry, she contrasts things children like in the United States with that of the African countries involved in child labor. In the opening of the film, kids are playing sports, sharing their interests for coloring, talking about their love of family, school, and then candy. When the film breaks,

Ph Balanced Films Founder, Piper Hendrics, opens by stating “it’s incredibly disturbing to knowthat kids in the U.S. are eating chocolate that’s made by the hands of kids halfway around the world” (PH Balanced Films). Sean Rudolph, Campaigns Director for the Int’l Labor Rights Forum, shares that “there are $1.7 million children employed in the cocoa industry in WestAfrica” (Ph Balanced Films). The problem is not that children are helping work on their family’s plantation, Gearhart remarks, “but it’s a problem when they start wielding machetes at the age of five,” with a picture that shows two children with machetes. Rudolph goes on to explain that children are exposed to pesticides, work with pesticides, and carry heave bags of harvested cocoa. These children are unable to attend school, and this should be their childhood right. Their plea is that consumers should partake in the charge to help end the child labor andfor those in “power” to stand up to the top candy companies like Hershey, Mars, and Nestle.

To drive the point home, one statistic shares 90% of Americans will buy Halloween candy and around 70% plan to hand it out to trick-or-treaters. Last year, “it was estimated to have sales of around $9.1 billion in spending, $2.7 billion [of which is from] candy sales” (HTS Staff, 2017). The What’s in Your Chocolate This Halloween article (2017) explains that theforced child labor has been going on for centuries. “According to the US Department of State, over 100,000 children in the Ivory Coast cocoa industry work under the ‘worst forms of child labor’ (as defined by the international labor organization). Issues of trafficking and severe child labor within cocoa production sparked the US government to demand changes from leaders inthe industry” (HTS Staff, 2017). While the article explains the Harkin-Engel Protocol, known as Cocoa Protocol, was signed into law in 2001, it was not executed. Three checkpoints, 2005, 2008, and 2010, came and went without any change to combat child and forced labor. It has even been postponed to 2020! While the hope was to reduce child labor up to 70%, a study actually found an increase of 51% in child labor in 2009.

Rest assured, a “class action lawsuit was filed against Hershey, Mars, and Nestle inSeptember 2015, accusing them of false advertising by failing to disclose the use of slavery on their packaging, despite their knowledge of such practices” (HTS Staff, 2017). The article urgesconsumers to be aware of their purchases, while also explaining stricter labor standards are being enforced in the countries producing cocoa. The lawsuit is still ongoing; however, there are two quotes that show improvement on the issue from Hershey and Mars:

Mars-Wrigley spokesperson stated “we believe that the worst forms of child labor haveno place in the future of sustainable cocoa. has been working to address this challenge both on our own and through collaboration across sectors for years and yet our view isthat progress has been far too slow” (Nieburg, 2018).

Director of Corporate communications at Hershey said, “We are now sourcing more than75% of our cocoa from our products around the world from certified and sustainablesources verified by independent authorities and will be at 100% by 2020” (Nieburg,2018).

The awareness is there, action is starting, but ultimately it will take awareness of consumers around child trafficking and forced child labor to demand a stop. This article is not to say candyshouldn’t be part of this Halloween season, in fact, having worked at one of the top confectioncompanies, I know how large of a season Halloween is followed by the large baking, holiday, and Easter seasons. It is a cycle that will continue based on the demand from its consumers.However, it is my hope you’ll stop and think about what you can do to support these conditions.


Amadeo, K. (2018, October 4). Halloween spending statistics, Facts and trends: Two reasons why Halloween sales will hit $9 billion in 2018. Retrieved from

International Labor Rights Forum. (n.d.). Printable Halloween Cocoa Cards – 2016. Retrieved from

International Labor Rights Forum. (n.d.). The chocolate industry has a century-long history of forced and child labor in the production of cocoa. Retrieved from

Nieburg, O. (2018, February 28). Cocoa child labor lawsuits against Mars and Hershey filed. Retrieved from lawsuits-against-Mars-and-Hershey-filed