I never thought much about the question of “fair trade” until recently. Of course I knew of the concept. I remember seeing a fair trade poster once which featured a sad child’s face and the words “Fair Trade. It matters to him.” But I had so many personal causes, crusades and boycotts that I didn’t feel called to take on another one.
But last month Cherie and I attended an event at a church in Greensboro featuring a film about sex trafficking in the U.S. The event also drew attention to the issue of slavery in the world. Some of the things I learned that night shocked me and now I’m not willing to stay blissfully ignorant.
The sad truth is that there are more slaves in the world today than at any time in history. I’ve written before about the restavek child-slaves in Haiti. That situation seems somewhat unique to that strange and cruel country and is not really being enabled by American consumers. But for most of the child slaves in the world, they are there because they enable the production of cheap products for American consumers, and American consumers prefer the cheap goods over the freedom of those children. That may seem like a strong statement. Speaking for myself, until recently I was buying products made by children in slavery, but not knowingly. Now that I am aware of the situation, I’m trying not to do it. But to my amazement I’ve discovered that lots of people–good, church-going people included–just don’t care and just don’t want to hear about this issue. It blows my mind, especially when I compare it to some of the things they do choose to care about and publicly oppose. I’ll have more to say on that on other days.
Back to Fair Trade. The notion is simply that if growers and local producers are paid fair prices for their products, and if consumers refuse to purchase products made with child slaves and other forms of human exploitation, then the evil practices will end. Seems reasonable enough, doesnt’ it? Behave decently in the production of your goods, or we won’t buy them.
Three specific industries that are widely guilty of exploitation are coffee, tea and chocolate. I urge everyone to do as we have done and start only buying these items if they are fair trade and slave-free. If they are fair trade, then the packages will be clearly marked. If there is no “fair trade” certification on the packages, then they are not.
Another way to increase awareness is with this free smartphone app: http://free2work.org/. With it you can scan the bar codes of items and determine whether they were produced using slave labor. It helps you to shop with a good conscience.
It may seem like one person can’t make a difference in a problem as large as this one. But imagine if all of us acted together. Then child slavery in these industries would end immediately.
I say, let’s get started.