Did You Know That the Majority of Halloween Candy Relies on Slave Labor?

Giving you reason to hand out alternative brands to this year's trick-or-treaters.

Photo Credit: Leena Robinson/ Shutterstock

Recently Haribo, the German company known for its iridescent gummy bears, was accused of some disturbing slave labor and animal-cruelty practices, suddenly making every squeezable gummy look far from charming. While the candy company remains “shocked” at the news, every ethical consumer should pause to evaluate the inhumane labor practices buried under the labels of this nation’s most formidable candy wrappers. It also presents a chance to trick-or-treat for more socially conscious candies this year.

Accusations around Haribo come amid decades of challenges to the unethical labor standards practiced by chocolate’s largest triple threat: Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars—the chocolatier to your Kisses, Snickers, Reese's, and virtually every other candy sold in the checkout aisle.

In 2015, a commission funded by Nestle found cases of child slavery in the cocoa fields the company sourced from. This is nearly a decade after the company first publically recognized this crisis. While Nestle’s code of conduct forbids child labor in their supply chain, the report, produced by the Fair Labor Association, still found cases wherein children worked over a year without pay and awareness of the code of conduct was low among farmers.

Hershey’s, Nestle and Mars have all been sued for using child slave labor to source cocoa. The trio has also signed the Harkin-Egel Protocol to reduce cases of child slavery, yet the Fair Labor Association shows just how much further there is to go.

Most cocoa is harvested on the Ivory Coast, while the majority of chocolate is consumed in Europe and the States. Chocolate itself is estimated to be a $110 billion industry, most of which comes from its retail value—not its labor costs. Meanwhile, it is a huge contributor to deforestation, with large sectors of protected land becoming deforested for cocoa fields. Statistics like these underline the role of consumers in contributing to the chocolate industry’s success and their chance to divest.

As for Haribo, the documentary on Haribo was produced by the German TV series “Markencheck,” which uncovered the gruesome practices in which Haribo’s animal gelatin is produced, showing the cramped quarters where animals live, sometimes with open sores and among their own fecal matter. Meanwhile, another main ingredient in the gummies, carnauba wax, was traced to palm tree leaves in northeastern Brazil, where harvesters work according to conditions Markencheck said, “could be described as slavery.”

Somewhat to its credit, Haribo released a public statement after the show’s installment ran, expressing that the company is “working on a prompt audit of our suppliers.” Though one has to wonder whether the company truly had no previous knowledge of their sources’ gross mistreatments. In either case, consumers should hold Haribo to their recent statements, and to higher standards of social and environmental welfare. Until they do, consumers can also boycott their “sweets.”

The living harms from these kinds of sweets are inexcusable and heart-wrenching. A ceremony around candy and ghoulish costume cannot wipe this away. While Halloween has become the blind excuse to reach for the candy jar, it is also a grotesque display, which undermines a nexus of social and environmental rights when it showers children with these “sweets.”

So before we hand out the candy that our culture has accepted as iconic—the M&M's, Snickers, and modified gelatin molds—consider purchasing the vegan, fair-trade and alternative candies that are ethically responding to this crisis. While Sunspire’s Earth Balls and Newman’s Own Peanut Butter Cups may not be as pervasively known, sweets like these could sort out your ethical dilemma at the store and release Halloween from its horrifying hex.

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Sophie Linden is an editorial assistant at AlterNet's office in Berkeley, CA.