Over the past decade, Fair Trade has become more and more important to me. It started with chocolate. When I was pregnant with my first son I fell hard for dark chocolate and began to consume it on a regular basis. Think daily. So you can imagine my horror when I learned that most of the cocoa production in the chocolate we consume is grown and harvested by slaves. And slave children.
In my mind, I had two choices. Stop eating chocolate. (sob!) Or buy Fair Trade Chocolate. Since the first was nearly impossible, I began to research what fair trade is, what brands sell fair trade chocolate, and why on earth does it cost so much?? I feel like I couldn’t do that topic justice as so many people have. I recommend this article from Listen Girlfriends for a pretty comprehensive analysis. Here’s a quote to get you started:
Here are the hard facts. Two million cocoa farms across West Africa produce around 73 percent of the world’s four million tons of cocoa. Exports from the Cote d’Ivoire account for 10 percent of its GDP, bringing in $2.3 billion to the region annually. This lucrative business relies on more than 1.8 million children, most of whom work without pay and in hazardous conditions, which include exposure to harmful pesticides and forced use of machetes in their work. Between 200,000 and 800,000 children under the age of 18 are working under the ‘worst forms of child labor,’ and it is estimated that over 10,000 are trafficked annually in West Africa alone.
Suddenly my Snickers bar doesn’t look so good.
I can clearly remember wandering through Target on the phone with my mom sharing with her my findings. She asked, but how do we know what is fair trade and what isn’t? I was looking at bath towels at the time and I didn’t have an answer. Are these too made by slaves?
It became overwhelming to try to figure out the source of the things we fill our homes with. From chocolate to coffee. Clothing to shampoo. Hand towels to bananas. If so many of these things are made by bonded servants or other forms of modern day slaves, what can I do about it and where can I shop?
Here are a few principles I’ve formed for myself and I hope they are helpful for you:
1. Choose One Fair Trade Food Item to Focus On
I could write you a list of food items that are typically farmed by slaves, but here’s the thing, most people can’t handle to look at a list and change their buying habits of every single one. It is overwhelming. Ideal? Yes. Definitely.
It was both for me. But I didn’t know where to get Fair Trade bananas (they’re easier to find now!). And I didn’t know sugar is often produced by slaves. So I started with chocolate. I committed to only purchasing Fair Trade Chocolate bars. That meant I had to go find them in the candy aisle instead of just grabbing a bar at the checkout line. (It also made me re-evaluate my chocolate-coping mechanism. How much do I really need this?) Costco’s massive Kirkland Signature bag of chocolate chips is Fair Trade. I think I’m set with chocolate chips for over a year.
When I started drinking coffee, I bought Fair Trade coffee. Again, Kirkland Signature brand. In my opinion, coffee is one of the easiest food items to buy Fair Trade as many companies are making efforts to either directly buy from farmers and make sure the beans are ethically grown or they have the Fair Trade label. The Rainforest Alliance Certification not only covers the forests where the coffee beans are grown, but makes sure the people growing it gets a fair wage (the same cannot be said for organic foods, unfortunately).
2. Buy used
One way to fight human trafficking is to simply stop creating a demand. The culture of fast fashion has produced an overwhelming amount of clothing, that unfortunately is clogging up our landfills. But through consignment shops and thrift stores we can save much of perfectly good clothes from being thrown away, and stop the demand for cheap clothing being made.
And if thrift stores overwhelm you the way they overwhelm me, then start shopping online! I bought my son’s winter coat and my husband found his favorite jeans on ebay.com. I’ve got some pretty great clothing for myself or the kids from thredup.com! Even Goodwill has an online store, now.
3. Shop Local
Shop Farmers Markets. Craft Fairs. Boutiques. Made in the USA. It’s true Farmers Markets and craft fairs can be seasonal, but if we shop food that is in season rather than try to get strawberries in February we can do it. Plus there is etsy.com for handmade goods.
Or better yet, shop my Trades of Hope shop for accessories and decor which not only is Fair Trade certified, but also empowers women who have been rescued from sweat shops, sex trafficking, and extreme poverty all over the world (including the USA). It also creates jobs for women in the USA who desire to see change happening as they advocate for the artisans who create the beautiful accessories! [end plug 😉 ]
It’s tempting to believe that we can’t do anything. The injustices are too great. The problems impossible. The budget too small. But we can. Our pocketbooks carry great power and speak volumes about our values and beliefs about the world.
What can you do? What’s one small change you can make today? What more do you need to know before you can take even one step? How can I help? Let me know! I would love to have a conversation about this.