Do you know where that candy came from? Child slave labor in the chocolate industry

Chocolate may be a tasty treat for most kids – save for those stuck as slaves in the cocoa fields.

Illustration Ryn Gargulinski

Illustration Ryn Gargulinski

Hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa toil 12-hour days in sickening and dangerous conditions – at no pay – just so folks elsewhere can get some cheap candy and coffee, according to the organization Global Exchange.

I’m betting just the thought of chocolate makes those kids sick. That is, if they have ever been lucky enough to taste some or even know what it is.

Global Exchange does more than just fret and moan about it. For the third year in a row, its Reverse Trick or Treating program is in full swing, expecting to hit some 250,000 households throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The campaign is on here in Tucson at the Volunteer Center in Southern Arizona, 924 N. Alvernon Way.

Between five and 15 kids, ages 11 through 18, are expected to participate. They will hit the streets around 5 p.m. on Halloween armed with fair trade chocolate and information to hand out to folks who open their doors.

Before anyone starts panicking, no one is asking you to throw out that large, costly batch of candy you have in the decorative bowl by your door.

Nor is anyone telling you to boycott candy or coffee that doesn’t come from free trade certified vendors.

You’re just being asked to think about what it’s like for those kids, the ones who are permanently ripped out of school to pick cocoa pods all day just so their family can survive.

And those are the fortunate ones.

Other African kids are actually sold – by their own families – to traffickers with the promise of a cocoa job on the Ivory Coast where they will send home their wages, Global Exchange says.

Once the family is out of sight, however, the kids are put to work with nearly or absolutely no pay from about 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

We doubt they get a lunch break.

Tasks include cleaning machetes, playing with pesticides and scaling high branches to cut down cocoa pods, which are split open for the beans to be scooped out.

It takes 400 cocoa pods to make a single pound of chocolate.

Enjoy your candy.

Cadbury provided a huge leap for the industry when it became the first major brand to earn fair trade certification earlier this year. While the certification is thus far only for its dairy milk chocolate bars in the United Kingdom, it plans to follow suit with other products in other countries.

Hershey’s is in the process of being targeted by advocates to become the first big U.S.-based company to achieve fair trade certification.

In the meantime, you can make sure to buy only fair trade chocolate and coffee. I checked out the selection at the Global Exchange’s online fair trade store thinking the prices would be ridiculous. Some are, but others are reasonable.

Any individual effort can help, but the major changes will most likely take major companies, like good ole Hershey’s and major coffee firms, to join the fray.

Now go enjoy your Halloween. And don’t feel guilty about eating that candy bar – even though it may have taken some 52 starving slave children with scabby knees and machete scars littering their stick-figure arms to help make it.


Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and Ryngmaster who doesn’t eat chocolate but enjoys her coffee. She likes the idea of fair trade products but has to yet to solely seek them out. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at E-mail


Photo Ryn Gargulinski
Photo Ryn Gargulinski

What do you think?

Is this a valid concern or just another way for people to draw customers away from big businesses?

Do you really care where your products come from as long as they are cheap?

Will you be changing your chocolate and coffee consumption in any way?

Rynski column

Tucsonan Joe Gardner was on one of his favorite day trips to Lochiel, about 100 miles southeast of Tucson, where the air is clean and the land pristine – usually.

Except when he finds a dead duct taped coyote.

Duct taped coyote/submitted photo

Duct taped coyote/submitted photo

During his trek about two weeks ago, the 62-year-old who grew up in the Lochiel area noted buzzards circling about and followed their feast to find a mutilated carcass.

The coyote was definitely dead, with a hole in his underside where something had chewed out his entrails. He had not been skinned, but the two front legs and two back legs had been secured with tape, leaving him defenseless, provided he had still been alive when taped.

“I was surprised and puzzled and wondered about mutilation stories I had heard in the past,” Gardner said, “but those involved livestock, not wild animals. I also wondered if it was some kind of sick message for human smugglers, who are also referred to as coyotes.”

He vaguely recalled stories of livestock’s organs and genitalia being removed with “precision-appearing incisions” some time back in Cochise County. Perhaps Jack the Ripper of the cattle world.

Yet he had never seen such abuse of coyotes.

Lochiel school house/submitted photo

Lochiel school house/submitted photo

“I have not an inkling as to who or why would bind a coyote and leave it out for the buzzards,” he said. “I was born and raised in the area, and as a matter of fact, this was right in front of the one room school I attended when I was a kid. I know just about everyone who lives in the area, and can’t imagine any locals doing this, as they live in the area because they love and respect the land.”

Nothing respectful about a duct taped coyote.

Arizona’s animal cruelty felony law, ARS 13-2910, slaps a felony on anyone that “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly inflicts unnecessary physical injury to any animal.”

Awesome law. But it may not apply in the case of the duct taped coyote.

“Law enforcement would have to successfully allege that it was cruelty,” explained Marsh Myers, spokesman for the Animal Cruelty Taskforce of Southern Arizona. “Since coyotes can be legally hunted, an investigation would have to rule this possibility out. Sometimes the animal is hunted and then the carcass is just left to rot. It’s a sloppy practice but it happens all the time.”

In that case, it’s OK.

Many hunters are respectful – even reverent – about nature and engage in the sport for much more than just the kill. But there are always the idiots.

In another coyote case earlier this year, six mutilated carcasses were found dumped in a creek near an Oklahoma high school.

The critters had been skinned, with their front legs chopped off at the knees and their remains unceremoniously hurled where teens could easily find them.

The animals were originally thought to be dogs and all hell broke loose. Necropsies revealed they had been a half dozen coyotes. Hell kind of subsided.

While Oklahoma, like Arizona, does have animal cruelty laws with severe penalties, it would probably not apply if the animals were being hunted for their fur.

Authorities in Ohio were going nuts in 2007 trying to find the sicko who apparently skinned and boiled a dog – while it was still alive.

The animal, identified by a vet as a chow/pit bull mix, was fully skinned except for fur left on its paws, had cuts on its legs and neck and had wire wound around one of the back legs.

Someone finally did come forward to confess – that the animal was not a dog at all but simply a coyote he hunted but didn’t dispose of properly.

Even though the vet had initially been wrong about the animal’s identification, calling it a dog, the doc was not wrong about the animal having been still alive when it was boiled and skinned.

No matter. It was just a coyote.

The case was immediately closed and all pending criminal charges promptly dropped.

Do you care if coyotes are mutilated or abused?

Yes – people who torture any animal should be tortured themselves. 68%
Yes – even if the coyote is being hunted, it should not have to unduly suffer. 29%
No – if the coyote is being hunted, it’s OK to torture it. 0%
No – coyotes deserve to be tortured. They are evil and they smell. 0%
I have no opinion because I watch TV and eat marshmallows all day. 1%
426 users voted


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Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and Ryngmaster who loves coyotes as much as she loves wolves but not as much as she loves her dogs. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at E-mail


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at
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21 Responses to Do you know where that candy came from? Child slave labor in the chocolate industry

  1. radmax says:

    Mornin’ Rynski. What a nasty little secret this is. I’ve  never even heard of this! Great reporting, this is something everyone should consider. Just another example of big business exploitation in the pursuit of bigger and bigger profit margins, who cares if we lose a few kids along the way…
    Simply appalling.

    • Rynski says:

      mornin’ radmax – yes, i was sickened to learn more about this myself. thanks for compliment. and double yes, money money money is all too often the bottom line – in TOO many industries. money money money.

  2. tiponeill says:

    You can get fair trade organic coffee at Sunflower for (i believe) 6.99 a pound.
    Hopefully we will have fair trade chocolate available soon.

    • Rynski says:

      thanks for the head’s up, tiponeill. that’s a reasonable price, too. i’ll check it out (although every time i go in there i end up sucked in to buying a new pair of crocs -haha).

    • radmax says:

      Thanx for the tip, tip. No more ‘Juanito Valdez’ for my household. I don’t personally much care for chocolate-my daughter?(chocolate fiend!) Cadbury only for now, until the others follow suit. This has got to stop.

  3. Jennatoolz says:

    Very depressing Ryn! Here we are, enjoying a tasty treat…only to find out that those poor kid’s in Africa are suffering for our delight. I don’t usually buy chocolate (because I can’t eat it 😦 ) but I think I’ll choose more wisely which candies I’ll be purchasing tonight to give to them crazy kiddo’s for Trick or Treating. Jolly Rancher’s, here I come! 😛

    • Rynski says:

      hiya jennatoolz – yes, i’m glad i could spread gloom and woe in the shadow of my all-time favorite holiday (haha!) – i like fun juxtapositions like that. …just wait til you see what i write up for christmas – hahhahaha
      i, too, will be paying more attn to products i purchase.
      jolly ranchers!!! get extra sour apple ones.

  4. tiponeill says:

    Had to check my facts – yes it’s 6.99 a pound

  5. azmouse says:

    Gosh…here I’ve been fretting about what I’m going to carve on  my pumpkin for the contest. My problems are nothing compared to so many people’s problems!
    I just wish I could save every child in the world!!! This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. We’ve all heard about the factories where the little kids stitch together soccer balls and clothes, now this?!?

    • Rynski says:

      AZMouse – your heart is as a big as the MOON! didn’t mean to make you fret, just wanted to bring more awareness to the topic.
      maybe you can carve your pumpkin to somehow reflect fair trade…??? bring that theme in??

    • Rynski says:

      i got it!!! make your pumpkin an evil cocoa field tyrant – you can stick a machete in his head, like the children rebelled and killed him.

      • azmouse says:

        there’s a thought….

      • azmouse says:

        …on second thought, I may avoid anything to scary  (I get allot of little tiny kids every year) and with my luck someone would think it was a political statement of some sorts and my house would get TP’d and I’d get death threats.

        Might stick with something cute just to be ‘politically correct’.  🙂

  6. Marie says:

    This produced a bit of a buzz in the food world a few years ago, with a few celebrity chefs and other similar food industry people hitting the morning talk shows or doing other news reports.   I then started seeing info along the lines of ‘do you know where your chocolate came from?’ or other info promoting the fair trade certification aspect.  
    I’m happy to learn that Cadbury which is a major candy producer in Europe has made a very significant changes towards ending the human exploitation in the cocoa trade.   I’m even happier to hear that Hershey’s seems to be working towards that goal as well.  
    Thanks for the info and writing about it Ryn.   

    • Rynski says:

      hi marie – glad to hear the topic has been buzzing about…the more folks that hear about it, the more that will help. my pleasure to bring awarenes. yes, i was happy to hear big company cadbury was on the bandwagon – even though i’ll never understand what people see in those gloppy white-and-yolk-colored-centered eggs that are so popular at easter.

      • azmouse says:

        Yuck, those egg things look so nasty. Never tried one, but I’m not in the habit of eating raw eggs, real or candy.

      • Rynski says:

        i had to try one just because – prob. the same reason i once ate duck feet at a nyc chinatown new year celebration. i would not recommend either.

  7. Mark B. Evans says:


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