I wonder how many of you can relate to this scenario. I stand in the baking aisle at the store, hand outstretched to the baking chocolate but unable to decide which brand to get. Yes, I am the woman at New Seasons Market, frozen in indecision in the chocolate section.
Granted there are times when I can be decisive. It has certainly been known to happen. But this is a little different. My mind is whirling with three thoughts: budget, birthday parties, slavery — which makes an interesting mix when you're trying to decide which chocolate to buy.
Who knew buying chocolate could be so complicated? According the Fair Trade USA website, “Cocoa farmers are often forced to sell their harvest to middlemen who rig scales or misrepresent prices, and media reports of child slavery show the stark contrast between the delicious treat and the difficult conditions of the people who produce it. Fair trade certification ensures that farmers receive a fair price, allows farmers to invest in techniques that bring out the flavors of the region, and strictly prohibits slave and child labor.”
Fair trade chocolate helps to insure that our decadent treat isn’t enjoyed at the price of child or slave labor. I think that’s pretty important, and that’s why 95 percent of the time I pick fair trade. But there have been a few times, like for a big birthday party, when I have wavered a bit, and gotten something cheaper, just because — gosh darn it — it can be expensive to feed a fair trade chocolate cake to a crowd!
But I think I would make a different choice today. I thought about it again after reading about the terrible building collapse in Pakistan at a clothing factory. I thought about how we support companies in our spending choices. I was reading a history book a couple years ago, and in a section about the industrial revolution, the author mentioned that while the atrocities of that time for many factory workers were an unbelievable and terrible reality, many who directly or indirectly supported those factories were just good people trying to keep their family fed and clothed. Reaching for a cheap, factory-spun spool of thread at the store was a consumer decision made not because they didn’t care (if they knew) about the ill-health, poor conditions, and child workers of factory life. Sometimes they were just barely making ends meet themselves. Ignorance, apathy, and the reality of their own pressing needs helped them support unquestionably harsh working conditions for others.
It made me wonder. How often do we do the same today? I've read reports about the bad working conditions of farmers of cocoa and numerous other impoverished people who are utilized for company gain in factories around the world.
It’s easy to make the companies the “bad guys” here. But aren’t we the ones buying whatever is cheapest? How many companies have had to close American-based factories and move it out of the country because they simply couldn’t compete without doing so? We, the consumers, can put companies in the position of having no other choice if they want to survive.
There are no easy answers to the complex relationships between consumers, worldwide commerce and personal choices, but I have decided that while perhaps not all of my purchasing choices will be perfect, I will renew a commitment to be looking for fair trade options, to support my local economy, and to support American-made products when I can.
What change could we make if we committed to even half of our household purchases fulfilling a similar criteria? I don’t want ignorance, apathy, or the very real problem of a limited budget to push me into supporting and indirectly promoting work conditions I’d never want for my own family.
Will you consider doing the same?
Related on MNN:
- Focus on the best bargains in fair trade foods
- First coffee, then chocolate: Now entire towns can be fair trade certified