Anti-poverty activists say thousands of children will go door-to-door tonight handing out chocolates to adults in some 300 cities across the United States and Canada.
Their decision to turn the ritual on its head is part of an international campaign to highlight the plight of tens of thousands of children who are forced to work on cocoa plantations instead of going to school in developing countries.
Campaigners said on Halloween costumed children would fill streets to hand out samples of "Fair Trade Certified" chocolates as a reminder to local communities that there exists an alternative to traditional chocolates, which usually rely on child labor or other abusive processes abroad to grow and harvest the cocoa for their candies.
Calling their campaign "Reverse Trick-or-Treating," activists said it would address the persistent problems of chronic poverty in cocoa-growing communities, abysmal working conditions, and the massive abuse of child labor in the West African nation of Cote d'Ivoire in particular, where 40 percent of the world's cocoa is produced.
The campaign is sponsored by human rights advocacy groups including Global Exchange, the International Labor Rights Fund, Co-op America, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, along with Fair Trade chocolate companies Equal Exchange, Sweet Earth, and Theo Chocolate to raise awareness among children and grown-ups about Fair Trade Certified chocolate as a solution to labor abuses in the cocoa industry.
Fair Trade Certified farmers are required to abide by international labor laws that prohibit illegal child labor. In addition, the Fair Trade system ensures that farmers receive a fair, stable price for their cocoa and that environmentally sustainable farming practices are applied.
"Chocolate connects the millions of Americans who eat it daily to the millions of growers around the world who depend on cocoa for their livelihoods," said Adrienne Fitch-Frankel of Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights group that has successfully pressured many corporations to adopt new business practices.
"It is unthinkable that our children are eating chocolate made with illegal child labor or slave labor; especially when a viable solution, Fair Trade, exists right now," Fitch-Frankel added in a statement.
According to Global Exchange, every year, U.S. consumers eat 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate, representing nearly half the world's supply.
Citing a study by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture for USAID, the group says there are currently 284,000 children who work in abusive conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa, the world's largest cocoa producing region.
Despite continued pressure from politicians and advocacy groups to identify and eliminate any use of child labor in the growing and processing of cocoa beans, the industry has failed to meet the substantive benchmarks, according to Fitch-Frankel and other international labor rights activists.
Their concerns have been validated by a recently conducted study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor. It shows how the industry has largely failed to act responsibly. The study is due to be released next week.
"Chocolate isn't so sweet if it's made by kids in Africa who don't get to go to school," said 6-year-old Lucas Rich of Santa Monica, California -- one of thousands passing out Fair Trade chocolate to grown-ups tonight.
Activists said, this Halloween, the distribution of Fair Trade products will raise the profile of the chocolate made available by companies committed to using only ethically sourced cocoa. They hope to put public pressure on the large chocolate companies to follow suit.
The reverse trick-or-treaters will also be handing out tens of thousands of informational flyers on Fair Trade Certified chocolate downloaded from the Global Exchange Web site.
Reverse-trick-or-treating comes on the heels of a statement released by 47 organizations and fair trade companies around the world outlining key elements needed in an ethical cocoa sourcing policy.
© 2007 One World