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Andrew Kaminsky headshot

Buying Halloween Chocolate Too Often Legitimizes Human Rights Abuses on Cocoa Farms

About 90 million pounds of Halloween chocolate are purchased during this time, an impact that's often a dire one for many cocoa farmers in West Africa.
Halloween chocolate

With people scrambling for last-minute costume ideas and yards scattered with leaves in shades of red, yellow or auburn, the smell of Halloween is in the air. That means homeowners are on the hunt for fun-sized Halloween chocolate to hand out as the flocks of trick-or-treaters descend on their doorsteps.

Each year, about 90 million pounds of Halloween chocolate are purchased and eaten during that surrounding week. Chocolate may be happiness that you can eat, but that really only holds true for the one with the finished product in their hands. Row all the way up the supply chain, and you may find that happiness is only but a dream.

What makes Halloween chocolate not so sweet?

You probably don’t want to hear it, but excluding meat products, chocolate is the food that carries the second highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions behind cheese. Less than ideal, but that isn’t the biggest issue in chocolate production.

More alarming yet are the working conditions of the cocoa (or cacao) farmers, many of whom are only children. Most cocoa farmers earn less than $1 per day, and those are the ones that receive a paycheck. Many children get caught up in the cocoa ring in search of work to help support their families, while some are abducted and forced into it.

The majority of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, primarily Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Approximately 2.1 million children are working on cocoa farms between the two countries. In some reported cases, children are used as slaves.

Cocoa is also grown in Latin America. Some reports of worker abuse have surfaced from Brazil, but for the most part the reports of dire working conditions on cocoa farms are concentrated in West Africa.

What can businesses do to clean up their cocoa supply chains?

Tracing the source of cocoa all the way up the supply chain to the farms of origin is tedious work, and identifying the exact farms can be near impossible, especially if you are a large producer like Hershey’s, Mars or Nestlé buying gargantuan quantities of cocoa. 

What is possible, however, is identifying where that the cocoa was harvested. Using this information, businesses can be reasonably certain whether or not there are human rights abuses and child labor involved in the supply of their cocoa.

Companies that offer ingredient sourcing and supply chain software like HowGood, a database for food and personal care products, are able to trace ingredients back to their places of origin — providing businesses with a look inside their supply chains and highlighting potential problem areas.

“Things that are happening at the ingredient level on the farm are the most critical when you’re trying to adjust your sourcing practices,” says Leah Wolfe, head of regenerative education and content at HowGood. “Most of a food product’s impact happens at the farm level — anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the sustainability impact of a given product.”

Regarding the labor conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa, companies should look to source their cocoa from another region if they're buying in large quantities and cannot verify the suppliers. “One of the quickest ways that you can as a company lessen your labor risk is to change the location of where you’re sourcing,” Wolfe says.

With proposed legislation incoming from the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States and from other governing bodies worldwide, there has never been more impetus for companies to take a deep look into the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors of their supply chains.

Image credit: Nika Benedictova via Unsplash

Andrew Kaminsky headshot

Andrew Kaminsky is a freelance writer with no fixed location. He travels all corners of the globe learning about the different groups that call this planet home, seeing natural wonders, and sharing laughs with the people he finds along the way. An alum of the University of Winnipeg's International Development program, Andrew is particularly interested in international relations and sustainable development. In his spare time you are likely to find Andrew engaging in anything sport-related, or finding common ground with new friends over a craft beer.

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