I care about Fair Trade. It’s good for me, it’s good for you, it’s good for a bunch of people, and it helps our planet.
Fair Trade impacts the foods we eat in a big way. Think about this:
Products that get attention for the most egregious eco-devastation and dangerous labor conditions are chocolate, coffee, bananas, and flowers. These are some of the crops that use the most child labor (under age 15), are the most widely traded, use the most dangerous agrochemicals, and are associated with sexual violence. It’s hard to believe the impact of something as simple as a coffee with friends. Say you have two mocha lattes, a shared slice of banana bread, and a carnation on the table: under $10, right?
Chocolate, unfortunately, is notorious for child slave labor. The Ivory Coast and Ghana produce over half of the world’s cocoa. The numbers of children actually enslaved by cocoa farms, not working for pay, are estimated between 12 and 600 thousand according to Free2Work statistics. These children are trafficked due to civil wars and political unrest in the areas. The price of cheap chocolate like Hershey’s, Nestle, and Ghirardelli is a direct result of child slave labor.
Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world after oil. Whether you drink it black or prefer Italian blend espresso, much of the world’s coffee is grown on clear cut land and tended by impoverished field hands. Private coffee farmers may receive around 65 cents per pound of beans. This is hardly sufficient to pay the field hands a living wage. Many coffee finkas in Central and South America are in remote mountain areas that provide little opportunities for education or medical care. In order to make more money, these farmers clear cut the land to produce more coffee beans. The impact on their local environments leads to climactic changes, soil changes, and shifts in food production.
Bananas are one of the cheapest foods available because of dangerous farming practices. Banana farmers are exposed to a plethora of dangerous agrochemicals (thank you Shell corporation and your partners) that lead to birth defects, cancers, organ system failures, deformities, sexual dysfunction, sterility, blindness, and more. For decades, banana strikers have marched through the Central American country of Nicaragua to protest the use of these chemicals. Strikers report that petrochemical companies dump surpluses of agrochemicals deemed unsafe by first-world nations onto developing nations. One striker in Managua said, “They change the label from Peter to Paul, but we know it’s the same chemical.” Sadly, relief groups have confirmed the strikers’ suspicions.
The flower industry appears to be run by the Dutch as Dutch tulips are synonymous with springtime. In fact, most globally traded flowers are grown in South American green houses that employ primarily women. These workers are exposed to chemicals that cause disorientation, fertility problems, birth defects, cancers, and diseases similar to those found in fruit workers. Additionally, sexual abuse and exploitation is common in this and other industries where female workers are a clear majority.
How’s the coffee and snack sound now? Pretty gross.
Make 1 change today. Today will be the day you switch to … And once you’ve become all eco-elite on that front, make another change. And tell someone. Eco-evangelism only works when we tell OTHERS outside the movement. So get out there and save our planet and the people on it.