By the time that last batch of holiday fudge is wrapped and shipped to friends and family, Americans will have spent upward of $15 billion on chocolate this year. Recent reports citing the benefits of dark chocolate on blood pressure have provided justification for our indulgence, but there is a bitter exchange for our pleasure: hundreds of thousands of children kidnapped, beaten and enslaved by cocoa farmers with dollar signs in their eyes.

Greg Russinger, founder of the JustOne organization, headquartered in Ventura, was astounded to discover the truth about the chocolate industry.

“It’s heartbreaking when you realize that somebody’s child was beaten and forced into hard labor to put a candy bar in your kid’s trick or treat bag,” he said.

On Oct. 30, JustOne, along with Stop the Traffik, will present a two-hour forum on the world of sex and child labor slavery. Organizers of “Sex and Chocolate: An Experiential Look into Modern Day Slavery,” will employ a variety of media and visual arts tools to create conversation about bringing modern day slavery to a halt. Participants will also learn how to identify trafficking victims.

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion … for the purpose of exploitation.” Exploitation includes prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services. Some 15,000 children are estimated to be working on the cocoa farms in West Africa’s Cote d’Ivoire, where more than 40 percent of the world’s cocoa crops are grown. Children are sometimes sold and often coerced into slavery by farmers promising financial freedom for families living in extreme poverty. Child laborers are forced to work 12 hours per day in scorching heat. Many are beaten and most are fed poorly and made to sleep on wooden boards without mattresses. In rare instances when children escape or are rescued, their emotional wounds are slower to heal than their physical ones.

Fortunately, the use of child slaves among cocoa farmers can be mitigated through conscious consumption. Not all chocolate is produced unjustly. Fair trade chocolate as well as organic chocolate (organic farmers are subject to strict labor regulations) can be purchased at retailers such as Trader Joe’s, Lassen’s and Whole Foods Market. Ben and Jerry’s also features four certified fair-trade flavors. The Global Exchange, a membership-based human rights organization, offers an excellent selection of fair trade goodies, as well as a trick-or-treat fair trade action kit for $15 that comes with individually wrapped miniature chocolates, information postcards and Halloween decorations.

Russinger, like other freedom activists hopes knowledge of the cocoa industry’s dirty little secret will make it easy for consumers to make the switch to more just desserts.