If you came by my house trick-or-treating last year, you know I gave away full-sized candy bars.  I admit it:  it’s fun to watch the eyes of 12-year-old boys (the boys tend to be more demonstrative, I’ve noticed) bug-out and a sighed “wow” as I had them a full-sized chocolate bar.

I’m not doing that this year.  Here’s why.

Chocolate is made from cacao, and 70% of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa, with 30% coming from Ivory Coast alone.  Big corporations purchase most of this cacao from intermediaries to make the chocolate bars and candy that you see in stores worldwide.

The story behind that supply chain is a grim one:  illegal child labor in West Africa is a problem that has plagued the chocolate industry for decades, with little improvement despite international pressure.

Without access to the market, many family-owned cacao farms rely on intermediaries to buy their crop, but these middlemen pay so little that many farmers struggle to get by.  Out of desperation, some turn to illegal child labor and enlist kids from their extended families or communities to work excessively long, hazardous days in the field – to an abusive extreme far beyond normal chores or help.

Equal-Exchange-logoThousands of other children are trafficked from Mali and Burkina Faso and sold to cacao farmers in the Ivory Coast.  These adolescents, desperate for work to help support their families, are deceived by traffickers who promise them good jobs.  Once over the border, far from home and their own languages, these children are also forced to work long days of dangerous labor with no access to education, proper nutrition or health care.  Most are unable to escape or seek help.

Despite this being a well-documented, ongoing crisis, we have seen little actual progress where it is needed most.  And it is this cacao, harvested by exploited children, that often ends up in mainstream chocolate.

I’ve decided to give out chocolate (mini-bars) from Equal Exchange because the Equal Exchange supply chain is different:  they work with small farmer co-operatives in Peru, Panama, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.  They have a close working relationship with our farmer partners and visit their co-ops often.  They’re invested in the well-being and success of the individuals, communities, and small businesses behind their chocolate.

Their chocolate costs a little more, but knowing that no child was exploited to bring this chocolate to my mouth and yours makes it taste just a little better.

And I think I’ll hand out an explanation about why the chocolate bars are smaller this year.