Thursday, 25 October 2012

An Ethical Hallowe'en

We are Hallowe'en crazy in our family and come October we proudly raise our Hallowe'en freak flag. As fantasy and science fiction fans, my husband and I love to decorate our home in the more macabre aspects of life. At the moment we have light-hearted decorations for our three small daughters. Don't forget the creativity of dressing up in a costume and taking on a role for the day!

There is one aspect of Hallowe'en that has become a concern for me, which ironically is the part that children look forward to the most.

Sure, I am concerned about the harmful effects of sugar and how it has been linked to numerous heath problems. Ideally I want to eliminate it from our diet, and for a number of years I did when I followed a candida diet because of food sensitivities (sugar, caffeine, chocolate, corn). I felt great. However, I am now a mother of three young children living in the suburbs and I don't have time to spend my whole day prepping and cooking meals as I once did, and I am a teacher at an elementary school, so I have become more pragmatic over the years about limiting sugar for kids.

What concerns me right now, however,  is chocolate and how it is grown and harvested. More specifically, I am concerned that children (and I) love eating chocolate in an industry utilizing child slave labour.

Most major candy makers use chocolate farmed using child labour (Nestle, Hershey, Mars). However, these companies in the past have said that they do not support child slave labour and they cannot change this because they do not control the chocolate farmers; they are merely the purchasers of chocolate. This seems like a hollow excuse because smaller chocolate companies can sell chocolate farmed without child slave labour, and as the largest chocolate companies they have the most power to change the supply chain and support ethical chocolate farms. This is also a political problem as often the farming practices are ignored or supported by corrupt regimes. Non-governmental organizations are attempting to make industry-wide changes, but it takes political will and corporate ethics to comply (link).

I love chocolate and when I learned of this I tried to ignore it. I tried to justify buying chocolate, saying that there was no alternative for me. How could I stop eating my beloved chocolate? Rage Against the Minivan puts it well:

People continue to buy chocolate even after learning about these human rights abuses.  I’ve heard excuses from people in my own life that sound pretty similar to the ones I made in the coffee post.  We rationalize that we can’t afford fair-trade.  We joke about how addicted we are.  We justify that we can’t change everything.  And I think secretly, we don’t relate because these are kids in a far-off country, and not our own.  It’s okay as long as we don’t have to see it happening right in front of us.  link

I recently bought a large box of mini chocolate treats for Hallowe'en. Did I feel guilty? You betcha. I should be savouring and truly enjoying my chocolate, rather than unconsciously shovelling poor quality chocolate into my mouth. Thinking this way it is easy to justify spending more on good quality, ethical chocolate. I try to buy ethical, fair trade chocolate for myself (as does my husband, to ensure peace in our home when I've had a difficult day), but for trick-or-treaters? I have yet to contact natural and health conscious stores in Vancouver (Choices, Whole Foods, Capers) to see if they have mini chocolate treats packaged for little Trick-or-Treaters, but the stores in my suburban area do not. The natural food stores do carry ethical chocolate Easter eggs, so must remember that, but I'm not buying Easter eggs for the neighbourhood like I am at Hallowe'en. Perhaps we need to switch to a non-chocolate treat for the little ones. 

If we cut down our consumption of chocolate and treated it as something special then it would not hold the same power over corporations, regimes and corrupt producers. Perhaps we should be consuming it the same way as the ancient Aztecs did, as a sacred ritual, a sacrament.  Honestly, this is wishful thinking because the western world is just as addicted to chocolate as it is to coffee, another industry rife with problems of ethical treatment of farmers and farm workers.

I don't pretend to know what the answer is to this problem but I do know how to vote with my dollar. I must make a stronger commitment to purchasing ethical, fair trade chocolate and stop making excuses for myself. I must also make a commitment to educating people about the use of child slave labour in the chocolate industry, as I am attempting to do here in this post. I must be willing to take the pressure from my children when they ask for unethical chocolate and other treats and explain why I am doing that. 

This leaves me wondering how many other things we consume are produced using unethical practices, be it treatment of workers, farming practices, etc.  Diamonds, coffee, sugar, chocolate - what will it be next? Learning about what we consume is important, but it can make me feel downright depressed and think I should shuck it all and live in a cave.

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