One day recently, my mother and I went food shopping. She wanted to buy coffee. [She is a coffee lover who drinks at least three cups a day because she says she is always exhausted from having three daughters under 11.] My mom was about to choose a bag of coffee randomly.
“Wait,” I cried. “Make sure that coffee is Fair Trade coffee.” My mom looked at the coffee package from a famous coffee company — and saw that it did not have a Fair Trade Certified logo on it. So instead we bought another kind of coffee that did. I had learned about Fair Trade in school. And I think it is a very important cause. Millions of children in Africa are suffering on cocoa farms, and many people (and their children) are living terrible lives working at coffee plantations. It is hard to believe that something that gives us such daily pleasure as chocolate and coffee (well, for my Mom) can cause so much suffering, but they do. I learned that things can get so bad that children are forced to work on cocoa plantations for 14 hours per day six days a week. They get very little to eat, for example they are lucky if they get anything for a meal. Sometimes, if they tried to escape to run back home to their families they could be badly hurt by their overseers. A few guards would even cut the feet of the kids who would try and escape the torture. And they were busy picking the coca beans that make the chocolate bars we American children eat every day for snacks.
So, a few days later, we were shopping at Michael’s and when we were at the cash register, I saw a shelf of mini-Ghirardelli chocolates. “Are these Fair Trade?” I asked my mother. “I don’t know,” she responded. I looked at the back of one of the chocolates, and saw that it doesn’t have a symbol on the back of it, so I just assumed it wasn’t Free Trade. I didn’t want to eat the chocolate if children were being enslaved and abused in order to make it.
Once we got home I looked up Fair Trade chocolate companies, and Ghirardelli was on the list. But then, we realized it was on a website called “Slave Free Chocolate” but actually doesn’t have the Certified logo. We saw there were petitions demanding the head of the company certify the chocolate. Now, my Mom and I are confused about what to buy. So right now, I am going to have a discussion with my Mom, and show her some websites to use, and make some decisions together.
Diana: Mom, did you know about Fair Trade and Free Trade before I told you about it?
Melissa: I did know, but I admit that sometimes it seems complicated to know exactly what to do. Sometimes I figure if I shop at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, the selections there are likely to be the most ethical. But there are so many details to being a Mom, and I do love coffee and chocolate, and over the years a lot of it has passed through our door. Sometimes I shop at delis or stores that are unfamiliar to me and it’s hard to focus at such moments on ethical shopping. It is true that I should be more aware that my choices affect more than just my family. I am glad we are having this discussion and maybe we can decide on our favorite brands and double check that our shopping choices do not support the slave trade or child trafficking.
Diana: Did you know children were being enslaved to make your everyday foods?
Melissa: I did not pay enough attention to the extent of this issue, I am embarrassed to say, and I am very happy to learn more about this very important problem.
Diana: Well, these are 3 useful websites that I suggest you can read:
Melissa: I am really impressed that you have brought up the things you care about, and, for so many weeks, that you have pressed me to pay attention. Thank you, Diana. I have found many articles (I pasted a few below) that really drew my attention, all published recently. What is hardest to accept is that the Fair-Trade Certification is often unreliable – or even a part of corruption, and isn’t the simple solution it sounds like. Apparently, the label “Fair Trade Certified” is meaningful, even if the words “Fair Trade” alone are not! It’s complicated. Many friends in the food world have told me that “direct trade” is even more important an indicator than ‘fair trade’ since direct trade means that the company has a direct relationship with the farmers of coffee or cocoa and can see for themselves if the workers are decently treated. The other day we went to the market at Grand Central and came home with some coffee and chocolate that seemed to be ethically sourced. But can we be sure? We’ll have to keep on digging.
Behaving ethically in shopping turns out to be like behaving ethically in life – it’s an ongoing process of paying constant attention, so that the cruel bullies of this world aren’t always allowed to have their own way.