Several advocacy and humanitarian organizations are asking Americans to participate in "reverse trick-or-treating" this Halloween to help build awareness about inequities in the global cocoa industry and alert consumers to Fair Trade chocolate alternatives. For the second year in a row, Co-Op America, Global Exchange, and other non-profits are sending kits to consumers across the U.S. for free, asking them to join in their efforts to raise the profile of Fair Trade chocolate.
The idea is for trick-or-treaters to "give back" Fair Trade chocolates at the houses they visit, "sharing a friendly Fair Trade message with [their] neighbors," according to Co-Op America. Last year, chocolate for reverse trick-or-treating 72,000 households was distributed. (Note: that's less than one-hundredth of one percent of U.S. households.) The chocolate included in the reverse trick-or-treating kits will be donated by Alter Eco, Equal Exchange, La Siembra, and Theo Chocolate.
The gotcha is that the chocolates are attached to a card that contains "information on problems of poverty, child slavery, abusive child labor, and environmental degradation in the cocoa fields," says Global Exchange. The cards apparently also contain explanations on how buying Fair Trade products makes a difference.
While there is little doubt that slavery and abusive labor practices exist in cacao farms in Western Africa (the materials single out Cote d'Ivoire in particular), there is no apparent attempt to place the figures cited in any context—and there is no discussion of the sources for the numbers used. Furthermore, and not surprisingly, nowhere is there a discussion of the inherent flaws in Fair Trade:
a) There are no mechanisms in place that guarantee the premiums being paid by various Fair Trade licensees, actually get paid to individual farmers.
b) Farmers are not certified while co-ops are, and the co-ops must pay to be certified effectively kicking-back a percentage of the premium price they earn.
c) After more than a decade of work, the number of Fair Trade-certified cacao co-ops worldwide is measured in the tens.
About 15 million families depend on cacao in whole or in part for their income and Fair Trade "benefits" fewer than one percent of them. If Fair Trade was all it was represented to be, the number of Fair Trade-certified cacao co-ops would be far greater than it is.
More problematic, for me, at any rate, is the cynical use of small children to politicize of Halloween. While some parents may have "raved about how reverse trick-or-treating transformed Halloween into a meaningful event, when children could give back to their neighbors and to cocoa-growing communities," I imagine that many kids involved were totally grossed out by the thought of playing this particular trick on their neighbors.
What do you think about mixing politics with holidays?
What standards should the groups be held to regarding accuracy, completeness, and balance in the information they distribute to support such efforts? Would you be receptive to receiving such a reverse trick-or-treat?
About the author: Clay Gordon has been a professional chocolate critic since 2001. His first book on chocolate, Discover Chocolate was selected as a finalist in the International Association of Culinary Professionals' 2008 Cookbook of the Year Awards. A serious chocolate educator, Clay has created and moderates an online community for chocophiles and aspiring chocophiles - The Chocolate Life.