I’m not willing to pick cocoa beans or cotton for a dollar a day, so who is? Trafficked boys on the Ivory Coast and factory children in Asia whose fingers are small enough to work intricate and dangerous machines fill this gap.
Spending four dollars on a candy bar seems irrational. There are so many great tasting candy bars for 90 cents, why would I spend three more dollars for this Alter Eco specialty chocolate? In the end, they’re both equally bad for me and I won’t remember the difference tomorrow. Plus, I’ll be able to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks with the leftover change. Being a business major, I began wondering if these “socially conscious” products like Alter Eco chocolate, Threads for Thought clothing, and other specialty made products were all cutting edge ways for people to make money with the front of caring about the sustainability for the world and people. It seemed to me that it was a great marketing scheme like a strategy done by The Indexer team and that these people in the companies focused on promoting a cheaper product for a greater cost to consumers because they put the emphasis on the individuals making them. The government already has regulations, like labor laws, in place so maybe all this hype about building “sustainable communities” is just a fad or another way for small companies to make it against these transnational corporate giants.
To make things clear, I really am all about supporting the local coffee shop or book store instead of always flocking to big corporations; but when Amazon has the same product for less, it has been my impression that I would be a careless buyer to go somewhere else. This is a question that has been introduced to us with globalization. Growing up in a consumerist society, I’ve repeatedly been taught to find the best product with the lowest cost, it’s Business 101. Gobbling up my 90 cent chocolate, I started worrying about how many insects the FDA allowed per candy bar, realizing that maybe that was the downside to cheaper chocolate. My business professors teach that the bottom line is what matters the most, but I have grown up in a family immersed in mission work and advocating global consciousness. I have started wondering what is most important in order to simultaneously be successful and yet not cross my personal ethics. Is there a way to be both? Is money the only way to success? Surely there was a way to balance both sides instead of veering off in just one direction.
With these thoughts mulling through my head and chocolate lingering in my mouth, I walked into the Freedom Summit conference hear about all the forms modern day slavery takes, and how globalization has created prime breeding grounds for the vulnerability of the masses. The speakers included Condoleezza Rice-former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, Bradley Myles-CEO of Polaris Project, and David Batstone-a Professor of Ethics at USF and founder of Not for Sale Campaign. In the hardest days as Secretary of State under the Bush Administration, Condoleezza turned to the Founding Fathers biographies and came to the conclusion that with every large struggle, “what seemed impossible one day, seemed inevitable the next.” She introduced us to the idea that anti human trafficking is the social justice movement of our century and what is happening behind the backs of the general public is far worse than slavery in the past. There are more slaves today than in any other time in history, and we are all doing our part to help propel it forward.
Much of this shocked me-while not being completely ignorant to the struggles of people globally, I still had the rude awakening that every person is participating in this victimization process, where the marginalized people of society always become the victimized, from sex slavery to forced labor. As middle-class consumers, we want to support our families and ourselves while still having our 401ks and Baskin Robbins family night. The great disappointment to us is not having the fudge sauce on our two scoops because they ran out; but where does the chocolate Baskin Robbins buys come from? Consumerism doesn’t leave much room for humanity. It turns people into self-centered buying machines. Instead of being praised for finding the best deal, maybe we should be praised for being globally aware.
Nathan George, founder of Trade as One, switched from working at a lucrative software company to starting his fair trade company and discussed the business side of slavery. Common sense shows that resellers want the best price, and distributors want to make money, so somebody needs to make up for the gap at the bottom line. I’m not willing to pick cocoa beans or cotton for a dollar a day, so who is? Trafficked boys on the Ivory Coast and factory children in Asia whose fingers are small enough to work intricate and dangerous machines fill this gap. At the other end of the sheltered world, people want more chocolate and twenty t-shirts from Costco, therefore creating a demand for this work. All traffickers need to do is provide children to employers who solely care about money, and the cycle keeps going.
Most human traffickers tend to be ex drug traffickers who have realized that unlike cocaine, people are a resalable commodity. This creates a higher earning power for the trafficker and minimal risks because in developing countries, people cannot search after every child. With a high reward and low risks, it is a perfect business set up; that is, if you just look at numbers. The chocolate didn’t taste as sweet in my mouth as I heard about how I was eating slave-produced products and wearing a shirt made by 10 year old hands.
Realizing that my demand is directly correlated with the amount of their exploitation was not satisfying. Instead of being a savvy shopper by looking for the yellow smiley faces on weekly deals, maybe the valued knowledge actually comes in knowing the product’s supply chain. The advertising for a product tasting the best or being the cheapest shouldn’t trump what is happening on the underside of their business. I don’t see a change coming in my chocolate addiction, but the 30 minutes more of work to buy the slave-free chocolate won’t strain my body as much as theirs. This conference probed me to think about the validity of these brands that I was a skeptic of. One of the careful statements that Nathan George, founder of Trade as One, made during the conference was that we as consumers may be overwhelmed at the prices of actually buying socially responsible items, but the first step is to reduce what we consume in order to balance it out. Do I really need to have a candy bar and Starbucks? Aren’t both of those luxury items anyways? By living responsibly, I’m giving others a higher chance of simply living.
This is easier stated than done. With opportunities for “deals” surrounding us daily, it’s hard to not fall into a pattern that we, as free people, are used to. One of the biggest reminders and strongest points I repeat daily is that I have done nothing to secure the position I have in life of being in a free country, just like these modern day slaves have done nothing to have their entire lives indebted to us because of the harsh demands we put on them with our high consumerist behavior. These socially conscious products contain more than just a new age aura or a better selling point; they represent a desire for the priority of humanity instead of selfish search for profit. The balance that fits in my life is one that requires awareness of what I consume, learning to live on less, and realizing that I can be socially active this the model and with my voting power. What changes can you make in your life to leave room for others?
Kate Case, a Global Studies major at La Sierra University, is a campaign strategy intern for California Against Slavery, a non-profit, non-partisan human rights organization working to get an anti-human trafficking initiative on the 2012 ballot for California. Case is the founder of the blog, The Priority of Humanity (http://www.priorityofhumanity.com), which is a compilation of books, documentaries, and other resources related to human trafficking. The blog also has information on current and pending legislation on the issue. This fall, she will be interning with Seventh-day Adventist Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department in Washington, DC where her duties will include research and advocacy.