Just Living Blog
Trick or treat! That perennial sugar-driven battle cry is once again coming to a front porch near you. So tell me, have you wheeled down the aisles of your local grocery, big box, or drug store gazing at the colorful displays of individually-wrapped Halloween treats? Did you stock up to be ready for the little cuties to come calling?
If so, you are part of a massive movement that, according to estimates of the National Retail Federation, will generate more than $6.8 billion in total Halloween-related spending. That’s up from a paltry $3.3 billion in 2005. In fact, the “average” American (whatever that is) will spend $72.31 on candy, costumes, decorations, and cards. The group predicts the average consumer will spend $21.05 on candy alone. Note that figure is not per household; it’s per person. That’s a lot of fun-size chocolate, my friends.
Let’s just take a look at candy and forget the $310 million that pet owners will spend on pint-sized costumes for their four-legged friends. Let it hereby be known that I love chocolate as much or more than anyone I know. I have bought countless bags of Reese’s Cups, Hershey Bars and Kisses, Snickers, and M & Ms in my lifetime. In fact, I always prided myself on buying the “good stuff” to keep up the appearances my children desired. “Don’t give out raisins or pretzels, mom. That’s gross.”
This year, however, I face a dilemma. My eyes have been opened, and I am horrified by what I see. The information I’m about to share with you is controversial and points to the complicated consumer culture in which we live. Trust me, it will be a whole lot easier for you to go out and spend your $21.05 and ignore the rest of this article; however, if you’re brave, interested in social justice, and trying to do your part to do the right thing, then by all means read on.
That KitKat bar your child blissfully chomps may contain cocoa harvested by children, often children trafficked into slave labor. Yep, you could unwittingly be supporting child slavery and unjust labor practices.
Writing for the online version of Good magazine, Kristen Howerton says, “A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other African countries estimated that there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions. Many of them have been taken from their families and sold as servants.” Not surprisingly, major U.S. chocolate manufacturers claim no responsibility since they do not own the plantations. Just how “just” is that palm-size Halloween treat? Is it worth it for a child in Africa to labor to satisfy my child’s desire? I might as well call it gluttony, having watched my own children count their Halloween “loot” with as much greed as pirates fingering their ill-gotten gold.
Some may say, “Hey, at least they have a job! It’s better than starving.” While I can see their point, I wonder why it is right for my own children to have not only their basic needs met but also many of their desires when the child who is responsible for something as simple as a candy bar may not even have enough food or a pair of shoes? Is it right to spend money on a cheap costume when the person who made it lives on less per month than the costume sells for in the store? Like I said, it’s a complicated issue.
My decision is that I can no longer buy candy that may have contributed to someone else’s suffering. This means I choose to purchase my chocolate from fair-trade sources such as Divine Chocolates and pay the premium to ensure my purchase does not demean a fellow brother or sister, I find alternative “goodies” to dispense, or I don’t pass out Halloween candy at all. There are huge economic implications for to such a decision. Instead of a few cents for a Reese’s Cup, I will need to spend close to a dollar for a small-size chocolate bar. I could look at dispensing the dreaded “pretzels” or “raisins,” but I still need to check out the manufacturer’s social justice track record.
I don’t pretend to have the right answer, and I’m sure not trying to tell you what to do from some sort of high and mighty self-righteous pedestal. All I’m saying is that I can no longer afford to take for granted that bag of cheap chocolate Halloween candy. What do you think?
(Photo by respres, used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)
For more information about Halloween spending, click here to go to the National Retail Federation’s website.