Sustainable lifestyles: Trick or treat … or poverty |

Sustainable lifestyles: Trick or treat … or poverty

Nikki Florio

Halloween, for those who celebrate this fascinating and macabre holiday, conjures up images of three-foot-tall witches, quarterbacks and fairies, sprinting from house to house amid jack-o’-lanterns … and the occasional snow flurries.

Children love to have a door opened to them with a bowl of candy surprises waiting on the other side. Mini selections of M&M’s, Snickers, Hershey’s, Sweet Tarts and more all given for nothing more than a three-word proposition.

Unfortunately for many, certain aspects of Halloween are truly scary. For children whose job it is to pick beans on cocoa plantations that do not utilize fair-trade practices and policies, Halloween and other holidays are nothing to celebrate.

Each year hundreds of thousands of children work on cocoa plantations around the world under deplorable conditions. The children who work on these farms endure long hours, poor wages and living conditions, and thousands are “employed” as indentured servants (slaves). Many of these children end up having respiratory issues, neurological disorders and other health problems from pesticide poisoning, poor nutrition and work exhaustion.

How do U.S. corporations help resolve the problems of child and slave labor on cocoa farms?

They don’t.

U.S. chocolate manufacturers state they aren’t responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations, since they don’t own them. The $13-billion-a-year chocolate industry is extremely consolidated and made up primarily by two firms, Hershey’s and M&M/Mars. These two corporations control two-thirds of the U.S. chocolate market.

Because they deny responsibility for producing such poverty, they fail to take actions to ensure stable and sufficient prices. In fact, these corporations instead, engage in trading practices that lead to low market price and instability, i.e. speculation and manipulation of stocks.

Hershey’s, Nestle and M&M/ Mars spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on advertising, focusing on your children, using candy as a “fun treat.” An irony for the South American and African children picking the beans who rarely, if ever, see a candy bar in their lives.

How can we create change? We can purchase Fair Trade products.

October is Fair Trade Month. To many societies around the world, this month is extremely important; their quality of life depends on it. Fair Trade includes products such as bananas, rubber, coffee, tea, clothing and chocolate.

What does Fair Trade entail?

Fair Trade is a label given to products that are produced and manufactured under specified conditions. These conditions include fair wages and business practices, prohibition of child-forced labor (slave labor), prohibition of exposure of children/employees to dangerous hazards such as pesticides, unsafe tools, and excessive work hours. It also provides opportunities for social/financial advancement through education and better nutrition.

Fair Trade certification was introduced to ensure a fair price for small-scale farmers in the global South (Africa, Asia and Latin America), whose livelihoods have suffered as a result of the current conditions of international trade. Fair Trade is an international certification and monitoring system run by the Fair Trade Label Organizations International (FLO), a 17 Ð member international umbrella organization formed in 1997. TransFair USA is the FLO-affiliated labeling agency in the United States.

For cocoa farmers the FLO ensures they receive a fair price for their harvest. Direct links are created between farmer-owned cooperatives and buyers, and affordable credit access is provided. Slave labor is strictly prohibited and farms are inspected to ensure that Fair Trade standards are being met. Because Fair Trade also promotes environmentally sustainable farming, making it the most comprehensive model of positive economic development available.

Fair Trade and organic chocolates are especially important this Halloween. Because our purchases have an effect on children, families and entire societies, what we purchase within the next few weeks will either increase the quality of life for ourselves and others, or decrease it.

Other reasons to buy Organic and Fair Trade chocolate:

— It’s delicious. Because it isn’t grown with pesticides, it’s healthier for you. Fair Trade chocolates contain more cocoa (FTO average is about 60 percent cocoa; traditional chocolate bars only 30 to 43 percent). Because FTO cocoa is sustainably farmed and contains little or no pesticides, the watersheds downstream of plantations and rinsing plants do not destroy water sources of indigenous people nor habitat of many land and aquatic life forms.

— Where to buy: Grass Roots has the best selection of organic and Fair Trade chocolate in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Next in line is Raley’s and Safeway, and for those migrating off the hill, Trader Joe’s and Wild Oats in Reno have fine selections, too.

— For more information there will be an introduction to Organic and Fair Trade Halloween buying on Friday at Lake Tahoe Community College. Please join us.

If you are a parent, teacher, business or community member interested in learning more about the personal, local and global benefits of Fair Trade, we’re looking forward to meeting you.

Happy Fair Trade Halloween.

– Nikki Florio is founder and director of the Tahoe Regional Environmental Education Program. Her column appears every Wednesday in the Tahoe Daily Tribune. She can be reached at (530) 314-9400 or by e-mail at

If you go

What: An introduction to Organic and Fair Trade Halloween

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Lake Tahoe Community College

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