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The Scary Truth About Halloween Candy

10/31/2013 01:56 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Halloween is a hoot for Canadian kids, but a closer look at how candy is made could reveal a scary truth.

Two key ingredients in Halloween treats -- chocolate and sugar -- might contain disturbing amounts of child labour in their supply chains.

Thousands of children work in 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous and degrading) on cocoa plantations, mainly in West Africa.

They climb trees and swing machetes to harvest cacao pods.

They carry heavy loads in extreme heat, risking injury and exposure to harmful pesticides.

Some are taken away from their families and forced into this work.

A recent poll commissioned by World Vision found half of Canadians don't realize chocolate certified to be free of child labour is available.

Not surprising if you consider that only 5 per cent of chocolate sold worldwide is "ethically certified."

In El Salvador, I recently met boys and girls who toil in the sugarcane and coffee fields. It's one of 12 countries where children work in the sugar industry.

For some, it was an after-school job to help parents make ends meet.

Yet the reality is too many children miss school, fall behind or drop out altogether.

In many cases they work alone without their parents' protection, vulnerable to dangerous encounters with snakes, insects and fires, not to mention cruel employers.

Out of sight, out of mind? World Vision's poll also revealed 77 per cent of Canadians think it's easy for us to turn a blind eye to child labour in developing countries.

It might feel like these children are a world away, but our consumption connects us.

I can't forget how the children in El Salvador spoke so frankly about harvesting sugar and coffee, and how their faces lit up when they shared their hopes of becoming lawyers, police officers, business leaders and soccer stars.

While there is no simple solution to end child labour, there is some good news.

Eighty-nine per cent of Canadians are willing to pay more for products that are free of child labour.

On average, they would pay 23 per cent more for such products -- double the amount they said they'd pay a year ago.

Perhaps events such as the disastrous garment factory collapse in Bangladesh are making us think more about the labour behind the labels.

As a parent, I enjoy the excitement and anticipation of Halloween in my home.

I love watching my kids design costumes and change their minds a million times.

I've helped plan their routes, trailing behind and standing on sidewalks making sure they are protected.

I've gone through their candy sacks and checked for anything harmful.

I've also made that mad dash to the grocery store to buy a stash of treats in time for the first knock on my own door.

But this year will be different -- I'll be buying fair trade options so Halloween can be safe for all children.

This post originally appeared on the Ottawa Sun website.

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