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Couple exposes dark side of chocolate this Halloween

This Halloween, United Methodist youth pastor Devin Tharp will give out Fair Trade-certified chocolates and flyers about cocoa farm workers in Africa to trick-or-treaters in his Racine, Wis., neighborhood. A UMNS video image.

By Jon Kaplan*
Oct. 29, 2008 | RACINE, Wis. (UMNS)

When Devin Tharp takes his 2-year-old son, Lleyton, trick-or-treating this Halloween, he plans to put a new spin on an old tradition.

While Lleyton dons a Thomas the Tank Engine costume and collects goodies in a pumpkin-shaped bucket, his dad will hand mini chocolate bars that are Fair Trade-certified back to his neighbors.

"I did not realize that so much of the chocolate we purchase as a nation
is an injustice," says Tia Tharp.
A UMNS video image.


It's a case of "reverse trick-or-treating" with a lesson in mind on the bittersweet truth about abusive worker conditions on West African cocoa farms.

"Free-trade chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast, where most of our chocolate in America comes from," explains Tharp, director of youth and family ministry at Evangelical United Methodist Church in Racine.

The difference, he said, is that "a lot of chocolate farmed on the cocoa farms are done by … forced child labor and also a lot of the farmers aren't paid an equal amount for their work. So, free-trade chocolate simply promotes a fair wage for those cocoa farmers, no child labor—forced child labor—and also it's better for the environment because it's organically made."

Tharp and his wife, Tia, learned about free-trade chocolate through e-mails from The United Methodist Church. This Halloween, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society are partnering with Equal Exchange, a Massachusetts-based cooperative operated on fair-trade practices, to raise awareness about the hidden horror behind Halloween.

U.S. State Department data related to chocolate production in Africa is sobering:

  • More than 109,000 children work in deplorable conditions on cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire;
  • Sixty percent of name-brand chocolate like Nestlé is produced in West Africa, with 43 percent coming from Côte d'Ivoire;
  • Boys from Mali, Burkina Faso and Togo travel to farms in Côte d'Ivoire hoping to earn money for their families but are forced to work 12-hour shifts for a pittance; and
  • Among child cocoa workers in Côte d'Ivoire, 64 percent are younger than 14 and 66 percent do not attend school at all.

Tharp and 2-year-old Lleyton plan to hand out fairly traded chocolate as they go "reverse trick-or-treating." A UMNS photo by Jon Kaplan.

That's just some of the information that the Tharps will hand out in flyers this Halloween, along with samples of fairly traded chocolate ordered through the Equal Exchange Interfaith Store. They also will distribute them to neighborhood children who trick-or-treat at their door.

"It does make me think about chocolate differently," said Tia Tharp. "I did not realize that so much of the chocolate we purchase as a nation is an injustice."

Using treats as a teaching tool already has affected the attitudes of some youth at church who have come to the Tharp home for Halloween events. "I believe that teenagers get behind causes and that they believe very strongly in some things that are happening globally," she said. "Social injustices weigh heavily on their hearts."

Jeffrey Rauembuehler, 11, is among those who had not been aware of the dark side of chocolate. "I never knew that kids my age were picking beans and doing things just to make chocolate," he said. "I thought it’s kinda cruel that they make little kids do this."

Others said they will make an effort to purchase Free Trade-certified chocolate in the future.

"It makes me feel better because then I know some little kids aren’t working really, really hard to make chocolate for us because they shouldn’t have to work," said Joey Felle, 12.

Fair Trade-certified mini chocolate bars
can be ordered through the
Equal Exchange Interfaith Store. 

That’s just the reaction Pastor Tharp had hoped for.

"We’re really hoping to at least make our students aware of the issues and also that they’ll pass it on to at least a few other people in their circles of influence as well," he said. "Promoting free-trade chocolate is a very easy way for us to get involved and fight that injustice."

And as the Tharps have learned, it also makes for a more guilt-free, but still tasty, Halloween.

*Kaplan is a freelance producer based in Chicago.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newdesk@umcom.org.

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