As middle-class Americans, most of us live in a bubble. Even as globally-minded as we think we are, we don’t have a good understanding of what it’s like to be impoverished and struggle daily to survive.
And, then sometimes our bubble pops… as mine did the other day when I read Kristen Howerton’s post the inconvenient truth about your halloween chocolate and forced child labor. Until then, I didn’t realize that most of our chocolate is sourced from West African plantations where child labor is the norm, and child slavery is common. My stomach has been in knots, and I have been having trouble sleeping, thinking about life without M&M’s. And, then I just get angry at myself for being so wrapped up in little chocolate candies. Knowing that there are children and forced labor behind these treats, how can I justify even a fun-sized bag?
As my sister said in our gchat conversation yesterday… “it looks like im giving up chocolate for a while....”
Then of course, looking deeper, many items that we buy without thinking are regularly cited for workers’ rights violations. Sugar and coffee being two common violators. (Thank goodness I don’t drink coffee…) But, that just makes me wonder… are there others.
This revelation is hitting at a time when I am especially ripe for this sort of message. After reading Interrupted and several other blog favorites, I’m trying to embrace simplicity and “less is more,” and I even have Rob on board in that endeavor. I’m also finally reading Same Kind of Different as Me and A Lesson Before Dying, both of which speak to the ramifications of modern-day slavery. And, our women’s group at church is currently selling fair trade Bead for Life products.
On one hand, I want to do everything I can to boycott these disreputable companies and to spread to word; on the other, I’m overwhelmed… we still have to eat, we have to work within a budget, and ohmygosh, we live in the middle of South Carolina, where there just aren’t a whole lot of convenient options.
My sister recommended a website/iPhone app, called Free2Work, which rates brands and products by measuring a brand’s efforts to make sure that child and forced labor do not exist in its supply chain. (The irony is not lost on me that I’m accessing this information through a product from a company that scores an overall D rating.)
After days of consternation after reading her first post, I also appreciated Kristen Howerton’s follow-up post, from problem to solution: practical ideas for an ethical halloween, where she provides levels of practical activism that address the chocolate issue.
For myself, I’ve decided that this journey begins with heightened awareness and a new conscientiousness at the grocery store. It may feel a little risky and uncomfortable at times, but if I can have even the smallest impact, it’s got to be worth it. I’ll be checking product labels for more than just nutritional information, and after an initial browse of the Free2Work ratings, I’ll be avoiding Hershey’s, Nestle, Wal-Mart store brands, Pop Secret, McCormick spices, Zatarain’s, Lawry’s, Simply Asia (this list is more for my own reminder than yours). I’ll be looking for fair trade/organic chocolates and sugar, as well as seeking products made in the USA with a new urgency.
What will your response be?