Those who know me, know full well that I like M&M’s with my popcorn. And that I have popcorn almost every day. So I like having some around. Ok, not just some…a lot.
A few years ago, I started learning about fair trade products. Oh, nice idea, I guess I might take that into consideration whenever it’s convenient for me. Cool, I’m growing. Check. Moving on.
Let’s pause here and think about why this actually matters far more than I realized at the time. We are talking about people who are working themselves to the bone in order to provide us spoiled rich folk (Yep, you. No excuses allowed...you’re reading this online, therefore you’re coddled.) whatever items we desire. And our demand for more affordable products coupled with the greed of the companies that provide them for us has resulted in a major problem - the guys who actually do the work don’t get paid for it.
Then more recently, I heard about how the chocolate industry is particularly bad about this. Specifically, the majority of the chocolate that gets imported into the US is produced by...children. And slaves at that. Their parents are so poor that they sell their children into slavery. And the guys that are buying kids as workers are the guys providing the chocolate for my M&M’s.
For some reason that didn’t click very deeply with me the first time I heard it. It wasn’t until later that I got a very clear image in my mind of a chocolate distribution center with a walk-up ordering window. I approach, request an oversized bag of candies and watch as the foreman turns to whip a small child, barking that she has one minute to fill my request. I see her sweat, scars, tears, exhaustion. But hey, I may have had a bad day and need some chocolate to make me feel better, right?
And this is the backbone of the chocolate industry. Think about Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, that aisle at every Walmart that is stuffed to the gills with chocolate goodies...and how many children worked how hard to make our sugary indulgences a cheap option.
Chocolate is not the problem. Greed is.
You see, just next door to this factory is another one. No one is forced to work here. Everyone is treated well, paid well, happy to produce chocolate for me to enjoy. It is more expensive, but only because that is what it costs to make chocolate with an eye toward the people who do the work.
I can no longer choose to turn a blind eye to the suffering caused by the cheaper option. Saving a buck is a bad reason to hurt someone.
So I’m giving up my greedy need for chocolate. I will still eat some, but it will be in the form of fair trade chocolate, where it has been investigated and established that every person who contributed to the production of the goodies was paid a fair wage and treated decently in their work. Now that is something I can enjoy.
And yes, I will pay a higher price for it, but I would rather see money coming out of my pocket in payment rather than exacting the extra cost in abuse of a child halfway around the world because I can’t be bothered to pay the full price of my own desires.
I don’t have a great deal of access to fair trade chocolate here in Peru, so I’ll just have less. There are good options in the US, so just look online or at stores in your area and see what’s available. The idea is that if we can communicate to the producers that we will not purchase any product that has dehumanized any person in the process, the producers will make it worth their while to change their methods. That’s the goal. Fair treatment, fair wage, fair price to the consumer (which means more expensive, folks). Not that they go out of business, but that they do business right.
I know that it sometimes feels like one person can't do anything, can't really enact change in the world, especially on this scale…and maybe that's true. But is that enough to make me throw my hands up in defeat and ignore the power I have to choose for myself? Maybe nothing will get better, but I will be sure I did not make it worse. If that's all I can do for today, then I'll do that. It's a step in the right direction which is always worth taking.
Note: I'm not picking on M&M's for any reason other than its my usual go-to. Most mainstream chocolate brands are supplied by child slave owners. The conscientious consumer can do a simple internet search to find out if a favorite treat is fair trade…and is there really a good excuse not to?