Ethical Halloween Candy 2011

Halloween Controversy by mtsofan

Halloween is one of the biggest chocolate candy holidays of the year, with over 100 million dollars in sales. Unfortunately, the vast majority of chocolate candy sold for Halloween is made from cacao that is grown under dubious labor conditions. (According to the International Cocoa Organization, only 0.1% of chocolate sold is fair trade certified.)The problems of forced, trafficked, and child labor on cacao plantations have been documented throughout West Africa, the region that produces nearly 70% of the world’s cacao for chocolate that will be consumed abroad, mostly in North America and Europe (see here and here for an introduction). One of the worst offenders in the chocolate industry’s snail’s pace response to these issues is Hershey’s, which consistently receives a failing grade on forced, trafficked, and child labor and has taken no action toward instituting verified third party systems to investigate and prevent labor abuses.

Read the 2011 report Still Time To Raise the Bar: Real Corporate Social Responsibility (PDF) for full details on Hershey’s stark underachievement in tracing its supply chain and preventing labor abuses in its cacao cultivation. The report, produced and edited by Global Exchange, Green America, and The International Labor Rights Forum, documents the company’s inaction and lack of transparency on the problem, showing that it lags behind every other major chocolate producer in meeting the standards set in the Harkins-Engel Protocol of 2001 (PDF), an international agreement aimed at ending the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa industry.

This Halloween, Hershey’s, which commands the largest single share of the US chocolate market (42.5%), stands to make over 50 million dollars in chocolate candy sales. Given the company’s long time complacency in the face of unacceptable labor practices, many consumers are consciously choosing not to purchase Hershey’s products for the trick-or-treaters who will knock on their doors. This post marks an attempt at providing better alternatives.

The criteria for inclusion on this list of alternatives follow, based on market research into Halloween chocolate candy sales and the added requirement for transparency into labor practices:

  • Low prices are key to successful sales of Halloween candy. The candy listed below is affordable for a range of price points, from cents to a couple of dollars per piece.
  • Candy must be small in portion size and individually wrapped. It must also be available in retail stores or for purchase online in bulk quantities (this excludes many craft chocolate and confectionery makers that do not typically provide products in this way). Most consumers of Halloween chocolate candy buy it at the nearest supercenter or warehouse club, so accessibility is key.
  • Halloween candy must be child friendly in taste and appearance, or one might wake up to a yard full of rotten eggs and toilet paper. It has been my experience that young tastebuds are generally happiest in the 30-55% cacao content range. I’ve included some higher cacao content options for dark chocolate loving palettes. You don’t have to take my word on taste, as I’m sending out samples of these chocolates to a small army of kid and adult taste testers and will summarize their reviews in upcoming posts. Happy early Halloween, y’all!
  • The candy on this list must be third party fair trade certified or be fairly traded, with transparent, well documented labor practices.

Without further ado, the list:

Ethical Halloween Candy 2011: offering tasty and affordable alternatives to Hershey’s products

Alternatives to Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Alternatives to Hershey’s York Peppermint Patties

Alternatives to Hershey’s Rolo Caramels

Alternatives to Hershey’s Miniatures Milk Chocolate and Special Dark

Alternatives to other Halloween candies

While third party certifications like Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade USA, Utz Certified, and IMO – Fair for Life are not free from debate or critique, they are, in fact, measurably better alternatives to Hershey’s existing standards of no transparency, no third party observation, and no documented certification. In choosing chocolate from this list, consumers can, at the very least, feel confident that the represented companies have taken documented steps toward preventing the worst forms of labor abuse in cacao cultivation.

For the record, USDA Organic Certification does not include labor rights standards. It is listed here as an added bonus, but does not substitute for another third party certified or well documented, transparent standard of labor practice.

In the interest of simplicity, I have not specified whether the listed products are vegan, soy free, gluten free, nut or dairy allergy safe, Kosher, etc., though many of them are. I recommend visiting the websites of the individual products to learn more.

What else can consumers do to celebrate Halloween with ethical candy?

If it turns out that you simply can’t afford or find these alternative Halloween chocolate candies, then my recommendation is to purchase products from Mars (e.g. 3Musketeers, Dove, Mars, Milky Way, Snickers, Twix) and Kraft (e.g. Cadbury, Cote d’Or, Green & Black’s, Milka, Toblerone). These companies have recently taken basic first steps toward incorporating ethical, sustainable cocoa into their products. Mars is taking action toward a stated end goal of 100% certified sustainable cocoa by 2020. Kraft has also begun sourcing some of its cocoa sustainably. I caution, however, that these corporations are still far behind those in the list above when it comes to full backing of transparency in sourcing and support for ethical chocolate.

More than 50% of Americans hand out chocolate candy on Halloween. But many people also like to give out hard candy and lollipops, chewy or gummy candy, bubble gum, caramel treats, and more. The online retailer Natural Candy Store has lots of great options, many of them also ethically produced.

Green America has productive suggestions on other Halloween actions for Fair Trade. If you choose to go the ethical chocolate route, you can send Hershey’s a note to let them know about your choice. You can reach Hershey’s in the following places: Facebook, email here or with a pre written message here, or snail mail: CEO James P. Bilbrey, 100 Crystal A Drive, Hershey, PA 17033.

Finally, we all have our own chocolate preferences, ranging from mass produced confections to artisanal bonbons and craft bars. Whenever and whatever we eat, it is essential to consider the human cost of our consumption. We can pressure existing companies to reform their unacceptable labor practices; I hope that you will consider voting with your purchase choices this Halloween.

More posts on this topic coming in the future. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me at any time with questions, concerns, or suggestions about this list.

Update (October 31, 2011): The taste test survey results are now available: Ethical Halloween Candy 2011 Taste Test Results.

Also, visit The Root to read more of my thoughts on this topic: Chocolate’s Bittersweet Legacy.


36 Responses to “Ethical Halloween Candy 2011”

  1. Meister on October 11th, 2011

    This post is excellent — I’ve been hesitating on buying Halloween candy because I know so much of it is utter crap, and I don’t mean just sugar content. These alternatives are going to make me feel ethically a lot better about essentially handing out cavities to the neighborhood kids.

    Great work!

  2. carladmartin on October 11th, 2011

    Thanks so much, Meister! Appreciate the feedback. Ah, what fun it is to hand out ethical cavities on Halloween. ;)

  3. Christopher Angell on October 14th, 2011

    This is a great list, and I hope people are able to find and share some of these products this Halloween. I would also add my Angell Organic Candy Bars to the list. We’re a Fair Trade Certified ® + USDA organic line of candy bars (chocolate coating, chewy/crunchy center) made with only 5-7 pronounceable, recognizable ingredients per bar.

  4. carladmartin on October 14th, 2011

    Thanks so much for the feedback and for this great recommendation! Much appreciated.

  5. PatF on October 19th, 2011

    Waaah — I just looked it up, Hershey makes Almond Joys, and you didn’t list a substitute for that. Okay, i didn’t need to buy my annual supply of the 2-bite “bars” this month. Save the money and keep the lights off for the whole 3-day weekend i guess.

  6. thanks on October 19th, 2011

    The hard part is convincing kids into eating these over the other ones. I remember when I was a kid–if anything didn’t look familiar (brand) I would toss em or give them away. Nevertheless, invaluable stuff.

  7. Sayid Shabeer on October 19th, 2011

    This is awesome – starts tackling a big issue in a clear, tangle way. I’ve shared this with my 9-year old and we plan to buy our Halloween candy ETHICALLY! Whether consciously or not, you are applying a lot of change principles laid out by Dan and Chip Heath in the book, “SWITCH”.

    Once again, great research and work – my BEST WISHES!

  8. Debbie on October 19th, 2011

    I have to be honest. This is the first time I’ve heard this. I have heard of it in other industries, but never in the chocolate industry. Thank you so much for sharing and informing me. I have now read several articles on this topic and am disgusted with Hersey the most. I have shared your article on my facebook page to help try to get the word out.

  9. carladmartin on October 20th, 2011

    Thanks, Debbie, for reading and for helping to get the word out. Much appreciated!

  10. carladmartin on October 20th, 2011

    Thanks so much, Sayid! I haven’t read Switch, but I’m adding it to my reading list right now. It looks fascinating.

  11. carladmartin on October 20th, 2011

    This is such a good point. I expect that it will take some time for kids to get used to the look of different candy, especially brands that are not backed by multimillion dollar advertising campaigns. At the very least, much of this candy is attractively packaged — hopefully that will catch their interest!

  12. carladmartin on October 20th, 2011

    Hi Pat, I hear you! Almond Joys were a childhood favorite of mine. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet come across a bite sized ethical alternative for these. Perhaps sometime in the future!

  13. April on October 21st, 2011

    Unfortunately, they don’t come in a small sizes, but Mahalo bars by Go Max Go are an ethically sourced vegan option to Almond Joy bars. (They taste amazing, too!) My local grocery co-op carries them, as do both of the Whole Foods locations here. They can be bought online several places, like Food Fight Grocery – . Here’s the company’s website telling about their ethically-sourced ingredients – .

  14. carladmartin on October 22nd, 2011

    Thanks for the tip, April! This is fantastic. I stopped by my local Whole Foods and picked one up this evening. Can’t wait to try it!

  15. Christina Thompson on October 23rd, 2011

    As a chocoholic who is concerned about fair trade, I am very grateful that someone is researching this, and thanks also for this very practical list – including the “ok” on a few more mainstream brands.

    Equal Exchange also has mini dark chocolate bars on their website.. though as a *milk* chocoholic, I wish they carried mini milk bars.

    For those interested in supporting local business while purchasing their fair trade chocolate in the Boston area, Cambridge and JP’s Harvest Co-operative Markets carries the Newman’s Own and Equal Exchange fair trade chocolates.

    Harvest Co-op was among the first to carry Equal Exchange fair trade coffee, and works to support local and fair trade whenever it can…(I’m a member of the Co-op).

    In any case, thanks so much for this work – I’ve been feeling guilty about my love of chocolate and am so happy to hear of fair alternatives!

  16. Kimberly on October 23rd, 2011

    So do the people picking cacao for Hershey’s who depend on these jobs want us to boycott Hershey’s products? Did you ask them? Or are you doing this just to make yourselves feel better about your privileged lives which allow you to indulge in these overpriced alternative candies you listed?

  17. carladmartin on October 25th, 2011

    @Kimberly – Your first two questions presuppose that all those involved in cacao cultivation have the freedom to communicate with cacao purchasers like Hershey’s or consumers like us. Those involved in forced, trafficked, or child labor through the illegal actions of others are deprived of this kind of freedom. For those who are interested in the lives of farmers in Ivory Coast, I recommend the book Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet for an introduction.

    The question of pricing in relation to alternative candies is an important one. There is, in fact, an exaggerated cheapness to mass produced American chocolate candy that reflects the low pay and poor labor conditions that are prevalent throughout cacao producing regions. It also often reflects tax subsidies (from taxes that we Americans pay) that benefit large corporations. When we pay cacao farmers more, it is only natural that chocolate will cost more here in the US. And the opportunity to indulge in any candy, no matter the price, reflects the privilege and freedom that we all enjoy.

  18. Teri Raymond on October 26th, 2011

    Thanks! I immediately facebooked it! Fantastic article and I’m almost positive some time or other I saw “How to make your own almond joys” in a cookbook. I’m going to go for it because I remember the ingredients were very simple. Can’t wait!

  19. Debra Knight on October 26th, 2011

    Great article. I did not know this information about chocolate and I am returning the Halloween candy I already purchased and will be buying some that does not involve unethical practices.

    Your reply to Kimberly was gracious. To equate the desire to not participate in unethical practices with self-indulgent privilege is quite off the mark and in my opinion speaks of a very narrow and cynical perspective.

  20. Julie on October 26th, 2011

    Do you have any information on Child’s Play candies? (Tootsie Roll, Blow pops, dots, etc.?) I found one site saying these are ethically produced in America – but want to make sure.

  21. carladmartin on October 27th, 2011

    @Julie Great question! I just did some basic net searching to see what I could find. Unfortunately, there wasn’t readily available info on the ethics of production. In this case, I would contact the folks at Child’s Play (Tootsie Roll Industries) directly to ask.

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  27. Rodzilla on November 1st, 2011

    Great post, thanks. Just signed the petition and I will be avoiding Hershey until a change is made.

  28. carladmartin on November 1st, 2011

    @Christina, Thanks for the recommendations! Cambridge has such great options.

    @Teri, That Almond Joy recipe sounds fabulous. Wow.

    @Debra, Thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate it.

    @Rodzilla, Thanks for reading and commenting.

  29. Krishna Lewis on November 2nd, 2011

    Thank you for this enlightening piece! My family, friends, and I will now have a very different , improved, relationship to chocolate!

  30. carladmartin on November 3rd, 2011

    Thank YOU, Krishna! I appreciate the feedback.

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    Bittersweet Notes is an open source research project on chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. I invite you to join me as I explore the story of chocolate and the life stories of those involved with chocolate at its many stages of production and consumption.

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