“Like Halloween, chocolate should be a source of joy for all children, including those in countries where cocoa is grown.  Unfortunately, that is not the case today.” ~ Global Exchange Reverse Trick or Treating flyer

The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture and the US State Department estimate that 284,000 children work in abusive labor conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa, 64 percent of whom are under the age of 14.  Yet, documented cases of forced child labor are not limited to West Africa (nor the cocoa industry for that matter). Cocoa is grown throughout the equatorial regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and as the world’s largest importer of cocoa (consuming annually more than three billion pounds of chocolate), the US should be doing a lot more to ensure the source of its chocolate.

Friday night, Halloween 2008, eight AID staff, Miss Greater Baltimore, and friends joined thousands of reverse trick or treaters in over 300 cities across North America to turn the Halloween tradition on its head.  We went door to door, decked in costume, but instead of collecting candy, we were handing out samples of Fair Trade chocolate and initiating conversations about Fair Trade certified chocolate as a tool for combating poverty and child labor in the cocoa industry.

Some knew about Fair Trade, others had no idea.  A few thought the certification process only pertained to coffee.  One gentleman exclaimed: “You mean this candy I’m handing out here was produced in a sweatshop?  How am I supposed to know that!?”

The bottom line is most people never even think about where their chocolate bar came from, let alone that their demand for such a sweet treat might be keeping kids out of school in other countries.  But the good news is that consumer demand for socially responsible goods is already on the rise, and taking advantage of the opportunity to talk with our neighbors, universities, or local grocery stores about supporting Fair Trade is an important step towards larger reforms, such as improved national trade policy.

So, while Fair Trade certification directly empowers the producer, ensuring a higher price per pound, prohibiting child labor, and encouraging environmental stewardship, it also empowers you, the consumer, to cut out the middleman, securing a more direct and ethical exchange with those who feed your sweet tooth (or caffeine fix, sugar rush, etc., etc.).  Don’t wait til next Halloween to start the conversation!  Visit www.globalexchange.org or contact Sarah@aidemocracy.org for more information on how you can bring Fair Trade to your community!

-Sarah Frazer