By: Mireya Lupercio, CIFC Campaign Manager 

As early as mid-September, stores begin to transform their aisles with spooky Halloween decorations and costumes that let children dress up as their favorite princess or superhero. On the night of Halloween, little ones trick-or-treating will expect their plastic pumpkins to be filled with candy that will last them until the end of November—but careful, the chocolate you will be giving out is quite possibly the product of child slavery in the cocoa industry.


It’s true. Popular chocolate manufacturers such as Hershey, Nestle, Mars and Godiva partake in unethical supply chain practices that contribute to the high demands of cocoa beans at the low cost of child slavery. Western African countries such as Ivory Coast and Ghana are the primary producers of cocoa beans and the hands of children are usually doing the hazardous work. According to a recent report by Tulane University, it is estimated that during the 2013-2014 harvest season there were 918, 543 children ages 5 to 17 working in the cocoa sector.

 There are several health concerns due to children typically handling sharp machetes to cut open the large pod that holds the cocoa beans. They hold the pod with one hand and strike the machete with the other, but missing a strike can severely injure the child. Children also carry heavy sacks of pods, which can often weigh more than the child. Continuously carrying heavy items can cause lasting damage to a child’s body development as children’s skeletons are still growing. Another health concern is that these children are commonly exposed to agriculture chemicals and pesticides that can be harmful to a young child’s overall well-being.


Even worse, children who work in the cocoa farms are at times victims of human trafficking and slavery. A report by British Broadcasting Company (BBC) found that children are being purchased from their parents or stolen and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. Due to high levels of poverty in the region, parents often believe traffickers when they say that their children will have better working opportunities in the Ivory Coast. This then causes parents to make the difficult decision of sending off their children. The awful truth is that because children are very young and often vulnerable, children are frequently exploited and forced to work long hours for little or no pay. Alarmingly enough, the children live in abusive environments where they are neglected basic needs and frequently beaten if the children are not working fast enough.

As Halloween approaches, there are various alternatives and ethical chocolate companies for your Halloween treats. The best route to ensure that your chocolate is made without child labor is by looking to see if the package includes any of the Fair Trade certified labels seen in the table below. Furthermore, the scorecard can help determine which popular chocolate manufacturers are ethically sourced. Brands marked “B” or higher rely on a third-party labor certification for all their cocoa, whereas “C” and below only certify a portion of their chocolate products at present.


What The Certification Labels Mean

Label About
Fair Trade Certified Fair Trade prohibits forced labor, child labor, and discrimination, and protects freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. If child labor should surface, remediation guidelines are in place. Certified farmers are guaranteed a Fair Trade floor price for their cocoa beans as well as a social premium. In order to use the Fair Trade label, 100% of the primary ingredient must be certified.
Rainforest Alliance (RA) RA standards prohibit the use of forced labor, child labor, and discrimination. However, the protection of the right to organize on RA-certified farms is not a critical criteria. RA does not require buyers to pay a specific minimum floor price for cocoa beans. RA reasons that by producing higher quality and sustainable cocoa beans, farmers should be able to earn a higher price for their beans over time.
UTZ UTZ certification prohibits forced labor, child labor, and discrimination and protects the right to organize and bargain collectively. In terms of pricing, UTZ states that premiums are paid to farmers for their certified products, but the price is solely based on negotiations between the buyers and farmers. Paying the legal minimum wage is required only after the first year of certification
IMO Fair For Life The IMO Fair for Life guarantees that smallholder farmers receive fair payment and that workers enjoy good and fair working conditions. The Fair for Life system prevents forced and child labor and also includes detailed environmental criteria. Fair For Life certified products must use Fair Trade ingredients if available, and regardless, 50% of all ingredients must be Fair Trade in order for a product to bear the seal.
Organic Organic certification does not include labor rights standards. The program does not address wages, prices to producers, or management of cooperatives. Organic does require that 100% of the ingredients of a product be certified organic in order to earn a label. Organic certification also includes a grievance procedure and whistleblower protections.
Non-GMO Verified  The Non-GMO project verifies that products contain no genetically modified ingredients through testing and an annual audit. Non-GMO verification does not address labor issues or organic production methods.