Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Challenge: Ethical Halloween

“Trick or Treat?!”
Allow me to reminisce and take you on a journey to the ‘middle-of-nowhere’ Manitoba where I grew up….

Halloween Win: dressing up as your cat and your mom
making your Halloween costume.
Where I grew up was literally the middle of nowhere. Our closest neighbours were miles away and we were the only house down the mile stretch of road that could possibly just be considered our massive driveway. Without fail, on Halloween, it was going to snow. Due to the snow, costumes were made to fit over bulky winter jackets and if your costume wasn’t, you had to wear your bulky winter jacket over top to ensure you would actually enjoy your Halloween and not complain about the cold that would surely overtake you as it progressed further into the evening. Since I grew up in the middle of nowhere, walking from house to house like most friends did in the town where my school was located was not an option. First off, that’s dangerous when there are bears and coyotes and other wilderness creatures out and about, and second, did I mention the closest neighbours were miles away? My dad would drive us from one house to the next and the neighbours we visited would be expecting us—an aunt and uncle, my one neighbour I was really good friends with, the house of the teenagers that baby sat us, my parents random friends...  You would get brown paper bags filled with candy and most of those you would visit had just enough candy for those they would be expecting. I recall one Halloween where we must have ventured outside our general route and we ended up visiting the house of an elderly individual who just gave us money! This venture also included stopping in on people who just moved in who only had festive cupcakes to give.

The nostalgia of sleeping bags as your candy collection mechanism, adults making random comments about your costume, and even school Halloween parties are nothing short of sugary sweet.

However, as I’ve become an adult, the sugary sweetness that once coated my Halloween adventure has turned into an exposé on the Trick, and how the Treat portion is there as a cover-up to make us indulge.

When someone thinks about Halloween, they probably think candy, costumes, parties, pumpkins and good times. When I think of Halloween, I think of those things but also of the underlying issues with the common themes of Halloween... One of those issues, and the biggest if you ask me, is the slavery that goes into producing our night of spooktacular indulgence.

Spooky is right.
According to a recent survey from the National Confectioners Association, 72% of all candy spending this Halloween will be on chocolate. Out of the 10 best selling chocolate brands consumers will be using their purchasing power to buy for the trick-or-treaters bombarding their ‘welcome’ doormats, either Hershey or Mars owns the brand.

Remember around this time last year when Hershey announced it was going to commit to sourcing 100% third-party certified cocoa for all of its chocolate products worldwide by 2020? While that seemed like a major step in the right direction, it was more of an issue as to why they hadn’t been sourcing unethical cocoa to begin with. The company, as part of their Hershey’s 21St Century Cocoa Plan has set the goal of sourcing 10% by the end of 2013—with 2013 coming to an end, I am surprised I haven’t heard anything about their status on attaining this goal.

According to the website Grist, a 2011 Tulane University study found a “projected total of 819,921 children in Ivory Coast and 997,357 children in Ghana worked on cocoa-related activities” in 2007-2008. The documentary ‘The Dark Side of Chocolate’ has exposed what ‘worked’ really means in that statement; slavery—these children are forced to do the work, are beaten, abused, denied education and are victims of injustice… and, dare I say, victims of first world inhabitants that either lack education of world issues and everything that goes into what they buy, or are victims of those who ARE educated but choose to look the other way and conveniently forget about the issues when it comes time to make a purchase.

Mars, similarly to Hershey’s, has a plan in place to source 100% Sustainable Cocoa by 2020. Mars is working alongside Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, and FairTrade. By 2014 their goal is to have 35% of their supply sustainably sourced. Better than the 10% we see over at Hershey’s, but I’d still like to see some proof this is happening and making a difference. After all, even their Rainforest Alliance certification that graced their chocolate bars in the past meant that only 30% of the cocoa in the bar you are eating is actually certified.

While company information isn’t exactly ‘pull on your heart strings’ material, I don’t want to regurgitate information I have already shared in previous posts (see Challenge: Ethical Easter for the initial Challenge). I want to bring you something new. Something different from what most people are sharing around this time of year…

Your Challenge is to have an Ethical Halloween.
Here is the outline of the challenge and, should you choose to accept it, it will change the way you look at the candy you see in stores, in your child’s pillow case when they get home, and will change how you decide to use your purchasing power.

1- Research.
Take 10-15 minutes RIGHT NOW (you’re already on the internet—why not kill some more time? Pinterest and Facebook can wait) and Google some of the stuff I’ve mentioned about child slavery in cocoa.

2- Imagine.
Think about your kids, nieces, nephews, grand kids, friends’ kids or even yourself working in the fields in the Ivory Coast of Africa. While we cannot even fathom this concept, and visualizing it is next to impossible, individuals live it every day of their lives.

3- Return.
Now that you are educated and want to make a difference take a look at the chocolate you already bought. It’s hard to believe that child slaves exist and are picking the cocoa that goes into making those mini chocolate bars you’ve already bought to hand out on Halloween. Do you still have the receipt? If so, return the chocolate to the store. When they ask why, say you don’t want your purchasing power supporting a company that still has slave labour in their supply chains. There are companies out there that already commit to this standard and your dollars are better spent supporting them.

4- Share.
Share what you’ve learned. I have found the best to reach people is to share your story. When I speak I share how I didn’t know what human trafficking was a mere few years ago. It’s powerful to know that the person doing the educating was just like you before they became passionate about ending injustice. You are the best tool to change the hearts and lives of the global community forever—in those you educate in your closest circles to those companies you give your money to when you buy something.  Tell people why you aren’t handing out the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Pumpkins, or mini Hershey’s bars. When someone goes against the flow, people want to know why. Share and inspire.

While I specifically talk about chocolate, I want you to also know the Halloween Costumes you buy for yourself or your children are possibly also sewn with the same seams of slavery and injustice. My want for you, first, and foremost, is just for you to research. Learn about where your goods come from and be an advocate for change with the money you spend. A dollar spent is your compliance with how a company runs—from the first stop in their supply chain to how it makes it to your hands.

You can make Halloween a treat for everyone—your friends, kids, and the random strangers dressed as goblins, ghouls, princesses and *insert trendy child costume here* that come to your door, and those in the fields starting the supply chain process. Expose the trickery and be more like Glinda the Good Witch than the Wicked Witch of the West.

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