Every year in the lead up to Halloween, we see the many questions regarding Christian participation in this cultural holiday. Some say absolutely not– the day is pure evil. Others, such as good bud Kirk Cameron, say we should reclaim the holiday, with similar voices saying we should “be missional” at Halloween. Finally, there’s the crowd on the opposite spectrum that says, “lighten up, and let’s have some fun.” There are plenty of opinions out there, so you probably don’t need mine.
I’m not here to weigh into that debate, but before you take your kids out to get some free candy, I do want to tell you something:
There is an evil, evil side to Halloween– one that doesn’t involve fake ghosts or goblins, but a real evil– one that includes slavery, oppression, beatings, broken lives, and destroyed families.
The evil part of Halloween you probably didn’t think of is most of that tasty, free chocolate we’re going to consume in a festive spirit is chocolate tainted with child slave labor.
You see, while it is “out of sight, out of mind” to those of us privileged to live where we do, we still live in a world that relies on slave labor to keep up with the demand for us to be able to purchase our goods at the cheapest price possible. The chocolate our little goblins will consume tomorrow, happens to be one of the major products that are produced, in part, by slave labor.
Here are the basics of it all: chocolate comes from coco beans, and about 70% of coco beans come from Ghana and the Ivory Coast in Africa. Coco bean plantations where it is grown and harvested have historically relied on child, slave labor to harvest those coco beans so that you and I can eat a product many of them have never tasted. As told by Food Is Power, the reality of human trafficking and modern slavery to produce chocolate is a true evil of our time:
“Every research study ever conducted in [Western Africa] shows that there is human trafficking going on, particularly in the Ivory Coast.” While the term “slavery” has a variety of historical contexts, slavery in the cocoa industry involves the same core human rights violations as other forms of slavery throughout the world. Cases often involve acts of physical violence, such as being whipped for working slowly or trying to escape. Reporters have also documented cases where children and adults were locked in at night to prevent them from escaping. Former cocoa slave Aly Diabate told reporters, “The beatings were a part of my life. I had seen others who tried to escape. When they tried, they were severely beaten.” Drissa, a recently freed slave who had never even tasted chocolate, experienced similar circumstances. When asked what he would tell people who eat chocolate made from slave labor, he replied that they enjoyed something that he suffered to make, adding, “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”
The basics of life as a child on a coco plantation are rather dire; long work days instead of receiving an education, hazardous working conditions using chain saws and machetes, exposure to pesticides, and carrying heavy loads of harvested pods. Some of these kids will never see their families again– those who do will return with scars, both physical and emotional.
While there have been attempts to change the system, these changes have not proven effective and most major chocolate companies have not been cooperative in the process. Since we demand cheap chocolate, farmers are not paid a living wage (can be as little as $2 a day) and have been driven to rely on child slave labor to produce the crops we demand at the prices we demand them.
About 13 years ago, the US government tried to take a small action to at least alert the public and give consumers a choice as to whether to consume chocolate tainted by child slavery or not, urging that chocolate produced ethically should be labeled “slave free.” Unfortunately, as any fan of House of Cards knows, big business lobbyists in Washington have the ability to kill any good idea with their money, and this idea was killed as well. However, most major chocolate companies at least agreed to take steps to eliminate slavery from the supply chain, but years later, this has not been done by many– and child slavery to produce our chocolate is still a reality.
What Can We Do?
(a) Help to open people’s eyes to where their chocolate is coming from– spread the word! Education is always a good first step. (Perhaps next year you could even go “reverse trick-or-treating” to help educate your neighbors.)
(b) My hopes would be that we would agree that slavery is wrong– and that as people of Jesus or even just decent human beings, we should not participate in it. I’m not going to lie– this involves sacrifice on our part, as nearly all the chocolate you’ll encounter on Halloween will be something less than “slave free.” When our family decided to try hard to become free trade chocolate people, it wasn’t easy– fair trade chocolate is harder to find, and more expensive. If not entirely possible to rid ourselves of slave produced chocolate immediately, we can “vote with our wallet” by rewarding companies who behave ethically and by refusing to do business with companies who refuse to make adjustments or have public transparency in their coco supply chain.
To help, there are some great organizations who monitor the major chocolate companies and assign letter grades to help us know which companies have worked to eliminate slave labor, and which ones have not. Get familiar with these grades, and make the moral choice to start purchasing ethical chocolate.
My favorite go-to place is Free 2 Work (a project of Not For Sale), and they even have an excellent app that you can pull up in a store to see if you’re purchasing slave made chocolate– we’ve used the app repeatedly to educate ourselves before making a purchase. On their website, they’ve gone deeper than just rating the company but have broken it down by our actual favorite chocolate candy, and have assigned a rating for each specific candy bar– which I think is very helpful tool.
Your Reece’s products? Just a measly D+
Your Mr. Goodbar or Almond Joy? Same thing. Not impressive.
Hershey products? Lower end of the scale as well.
Please– take a moment and look through their list of chocolate grades; you’ll be shocked at which of your favorite candy bars are still produced with child slave labor.
So yes, my friends… there IS a truly evil side to Halloween.
I can think of no other way to describe a system that relies of the blistered backs of children to keep up with our desire for cheap consumption– a system that must be dismantled.
My hope and prayer is that this year your eyes will be opened and that you’ll join me on insisting that we begin purchasing chocolate– and all of our products– in the most ethical ways possible, and ridding ourselves from participation in modern slavery.
If you’d like to explore this topic deeper, I suggest this short documentary (available in full, here) called The Dark Side of Chocolate: