KILLJOY ALERT: This week’s story brings to light some very inconvenient truths. It may contain some things you did not know. Once you know them, you may wish you didn’t. If you choose to remain in the dark, close this page now. If you want to be part of the solution to a very real problem, please read on, but don’t say I didn’t warn you, and don’t accuse me of guilt-tripping.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead
I spent this past week in the spicy, Creole heat of the New Orleans French Quarters. Aside from all of the amazing things to do in this area, the French Quarters is a place where homeless people abound—real ones, fake ones, con-artists, and pick-pockets. When I was confronted by one of these people, I told him I didn’t have any change— I lied. I tried to avoid eye contact. And I hurried past. Then, I recited in my head all of the familiar lines you tell yourself after you lie to a homeless person and feel guilty about it: you did the right thing, he would just use it for drugs or alcohol; he has places he can go if he really needs help; you never know if they’re real or fake; he could have made better choices in life…etc., etc. But I still felt guilty. I had been appropriately concerned about what I would be supporting if I gave this man my money. I did not like the thought of feeding a drug habit. And yet, I couldn’t bear not to help him, so I turned into the next CVS and bought 14 Clif Bars, went back and gave him one, and then kept one always on the top of my bag for the next homeless person that approached. I knew I might be providing breakfast to a con-artist, but in all honesty, if this is his chosen profession, I am guessing he is still worse off than I am, and it’s no skin off my back.
All of this got me thinking. If I am so terribly concerned about where my money goes when it leaves my hands, why do I so seldom ask the hard questions to the huge corporations that I support on a daily basis. We do mental backflips to come up with reasons not to give to those in need, and yet we are so quick to give our business to corporations that follow unethical business practices and support child slave labor.
Nearly everything we consume — from clothing, to the batteries in our cell phones, to the fish we eat — has forced labor and exploitation hidden somewhere inside its production…About 45.8 million people today are living in slave-like conditions.
One victim of the cocoa industry who lived to see freedom and is lucky enough to be able to voice his opinion put it this way:
They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh.
– quote from the documentary Slavery, a Global Investigation
I am floored by the monstrosities connected to some of the products I consume regularly. I am disgusted, and I am ashamed to have been a part of the problem. Up until now, when I’ve heard arguments for purchasing ethically made products I have thought: That’s a nice concept, but it’s expensive. I can’t afford that right now. But let’s think about this for a minute. Our economy is formed around countless corporations that rely on slave labor. These corporations have formed our idea of what “normal” pricing is. OF COURSE it’s going to be cheaper. Aside from the initial (very low) cost of purchasing the slave, slave labor is free. I may say I cannot afford to buy chocolate ethically. Fine. But I will not sell my soul to buy it unethically. I will not indulge my cravings on the backs of slave children. I may say I can’t afford ethical fashion. Okay. I must settle for second-hand clothes, then. I am done supporting these corporations. My right to cheap chocolate and fast fashion is not more important than others’ rights to freedom, health, and a decent chance at life.
Every dollar you spend . . . or don’t spend . . . is a vote you cast for the world you want.
― L.N. Smith, Sunrise Over Disney
Everyone is talking about voting right now. If you are an American citizen, whether you are voting for Trump, Hillary, or out of protest against both candidates, writing in your favorite late night comedian, you are doing so because you understand that you have no right to expect or hope for a better world if you are not willing to participate in the political decision-making process. The same goes for the way you spend your money.
So here is where I might step back shyly and say something like: But this is my journey– it might not be for everyone. That sounds nice. That sounds inclusive and all “co-exist-y.” But at the risk of sounding judgy, let me spell it out: Children are being stolen from their families, bought by farmers, overworked, and beaten so that we can eat cheap chocolate. It is NOT okay to knowingly participate in this horror show. You can pray for poverty-stricken children in Africa, but if you knowingly support companies that purchase their chocolate from slave-drivers, then you are a hypocrite. The key word here is knowingly. If you didn’t know about this before, now you do.
You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.
– William Wilberforce
You may want to make a change, but don’t know where to start. I’d like to suggest starting with Halloween. And no, I don’t mean you should dress up as a Hershey chocolate bar equipped with bloody hands and a whip. Though that would be pretty awesome. I mean you can choose not to contribute to the huge pay-out these candy companies will be getting at the end of this month. Buy from an ethical company, and if you are strapped for cash but still want to participate in giving out candy, just consider buying less than you normally would and closing your doors a little earlier. The kids in your neighborhood will survive. Many of the kids on the Ivory Coast do not.
Tsh with The Art of Simple wrote a great blog post about the ethics of purchasing chocolate, and offers tips on how to keep a clean conscious this Halloween.
Here are some other great resources to get you started if you want to learn more about shopping ethically:
Slave Free Chocolate -Ayn Riggs, Paige Hahn, and Bridget El Khayati bring awareness to the chocolate industry’s participation in human trafficking, and conduct campaigns to protest against it. I’d also like to give credit to Ayn Riggs for a lot of the information in this post, as she helped me through some questions I had via email.
Not For Sale – This organization is dedicated to bringing people out of human trafficking situations all around the world, and helps provide them with opportunities to make a life for themselves post-slavery.
Sustainably Chic – Natalie’s blog discusses shopping for clothes responsibly, and provides an extensive directory of ethically-sourced shops.
Slavery A Global Investigation – This documentary sheds light on slavery around the world within various industries.
Dark Side of Chocolate – This documentary, featured on the blog Slave Free Chocolate (mentioned above), shedding light on slavery within the chocolate industry.
There are so many other resources out there, and so many other areas to address when it comes to ethical consumption (jewelry, cosmetics, meat, etc.) There’s the fashion industry, where businesses like H&M can put out feminist ads like this one and shake the social media world while watching their sales skyrocket, but if they don’t actually change the way they do business, if they continue to fire women from their factories when they become pregnant and if they fail to provide ethical working conditions, they are simply liars, using the trendiness of feminism to sell their product. There is a great article here calling H&M out on this.
I am going to start slowly with this. I’m going to work trying to buy 100% ethically-sourced chocolate and clothing (or second hand), and when I get that down, I’m going to move on to something else.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
– Anne Frank
As an added note, I did a little research, and the jury is still out on whether or not Clif Bars are actually slavery-free products. It seems pretty clear to me that the company itself is headed in the right direction. After being pressured by the Food Empowerment Project (see article here), Clif Bar released information about the source of their cocoa, which included regions where child slavery is most prevalent. In 2012, Clif Bar shook hands with the Rainforest Alliance, and agreed to use “sustainably grown cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms” in 100% of their cocoa products (see the article here). These certifications are not a guarantee that no child slave labor is used in production, but they are a step in the right direction and they do mean that slave labor is less likely. The company also consistently speaks out against the atrocities of human trafficking in the cocoa industry. But still, it’s hard to know for sure if Clif Bar actually relies on sources that enslave children. Until we have concrete answers, however, if you’re going downtown and want to make a difference in someone’s life while casting your vote for a better world, I’d personally recommend tossing a few LÄRABARS in your bag: those are Fair Trade. Though Fair Trade certification is not foolproof either, it is preferable to Rainforest Alliance (based on the information in this article), and it’s the best we, as consumers, have to go on right now.
If this article left you feeling super-inspired, start demanding a better world today and share this message online. Post this to your Facebook page. Tweet it. Pinterest it. Ask your friends to consider buying ethical chocolate this Halloween. Share your thoughts on this topic with me on Facebook & Twitter, using #eatstories, and come back next Wednesday to eat some more stories. I promise that all of my stories are ethically sourced, and hand-crafted for your guilt-free indulgence.