I don’t worry about sugar consumption at Halloween. I figure the time to focus on healthy eating isn’t during the sweetest holiday of the year, but every other day, when I won’t be drowned out by slurping and crunching.
Besides, there are bigger, more haunting problems to worry about when it comes to All Hallow’s Eve treats. Even as it positions itself as essential to our spooky, silly fun, Big Candy is engaging in some unsavoury business.
Years ago, satire website The Onion produced a mock news segment about Gap clothing, using the invented slogan “made for kids, by kids.” The same depressing joke also applies to much chocolate.
As documented by Oxfam, the BBC, the International Labour Organization and others, children make up a significant part of the work force on the Ivory Coast cocoa farms that produce 70 per cent of the world’s supply. Buyers include Nestlé, Mars, Hershey, Mondelez (which owns Cadbury) and Ferrero (which this year bought most of Nestlé’s confectionery brands, other than KitKat).
The organization Slave Free Chocolate estimates that more than two million children work to make sweet treats, and that more than 10,000 are victims of trafficking and now considered someone’s property.
This isn’t new news. The big brands have been promising to eliminate underage and forced labour in their supply chains for two decades. In 2001, the United States government almost passed a mandatory labelling of “slave-free” chocolate, but bowed to industry lobbyists.
Instead, companies including Barry Callebaut, Hershey, Nestlé and Mars signed a joint agreement vowing to get rid of the “worst” forms of child labour by 2005. Most haven’t kept that weak promise.
Hershey keeps pushing the date it will develop a conscience into the future – it’s currently promising to be child-labour free in 2020.
Corporate lawyers are still on the case: In August, Nestlé argued against an Australian bill that would require companies making $100-million or more a year to report annually on modern slavery in their supply chains.
And Mondelez moved Cadbury out of the Fairtrade program, which solicits input from farmers, in favour of its own “Cocoa Life” program, which industry watchers view with skepticism. That’s unfair to consumers who try to be ethical, often spending extra money to do so. (If that’s you, logos for Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ show that a company is moving toward paying workers fairly on that product, though not necessarily its whole roster).
If that isn’t enough of a sugar crash, consider the garbage – all of the individual, non-recyclable plastic wrappings that encase those cute little bars or handful of potato chips.
Earlier this month, Greenpeace and the group Break Free From Plastic released the results of a six-continent study, for which volunteers collected and sorted the garbage they found on waterfronts around the world.
The multinational brand most often identified among the detritus littering Canadian rivers and lakes was Nestlé, followed by Tim Hortons, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
It was water bottles, not candy wrappers, that made up the bulk of it, but that only enlarges the problem: Nestlé also commodifies public water around the world, then blames the junk left behind on inadequate recycling efforts. It’s all gain, no pain for the company, never mind the real-world harm caused by its products.
Thankfully, efforts are afoot to make Halloween fun again. British Columbians are particularly lucky on the garbage front: London Drugs collects hard-to-recycle packaging, including chocolate wrappers and chip bags, at all 51 of its B.C. stores.
The process isn’t perfect – some of the garbage is sent to a lab, where researchers are trying to figure out how to make it truly recyclable. But most of it is incinerated, with the energy produced turned into electricity.
“At least it isn’t going to landfill and making no energy whatsoever,” said Maury McAusland, the company’s sustainability specialist, in an interview.
The company also tries to convince big corporations to act more responsibly on the waste front, which Mr. McAusland admits is a hard sell. “We’re a small retailer in a very big pond,” he said. “If it was Walmart talking, it would be a different story.”
Which brings it back to us, the candy-eaters, who might use our sticky fingers to nudge retailers to help reduce waste, or push Big Candy to fulfill its promises. It’s the least we can do before diving into the sugar bowl – because our indulgence shouldn’t be someone else’s horror.