“Let it not be said that I was silent when they needed me.” – William Wilberforce
January is National Slavery Month and January 11 specifically is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
It is unfathomable to us that the problem of slavery still exists in modern society — and just how BAD it still is. In fact, just like switching to more sustainable, healthy, ethical living can feel overwhelming at times, fighting human trafficking can also feel discouraging. “What could I possibly do?”
After all, human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, has more than 20.9 MILLION people enslaved against their will in two major industries: sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
However, the encouraging truth is that there are everyday actions we can all take that collectively add up, especially as we fight human trafficking and slave labor.
It starts with what you buy.
Slavery creates BILLIONS of dollars of profit for companies that are motivated solely by money. They want to produce enticingly cheap products for consumers to buy, which is accomplished by eliminating labor costs. In fact, most us unwillingly support slave labor through the products we buy every day. Think that couldn't be true? Take the short survey at www.slaveryfootprint.org to see how many slaves "work" for you.
It can be nauseating to think that the products we buy support slavery, but that is where your power lies.
The simplest stand you can take against modern day human trafficking and slavery is to stop supporting companies that actively turn a blind eye to products produced by slavery and, instead, support companies that care.
You will have to choose to stop picking products that you “have always bought” or that are the cheapest, which can be hard.
And there is more, of course, that we can do. Organizations actively fighting on the front lines need financial support and volunteers. We can call our government officials to let them know that we care how they address these global issues in trade and imports and exports. Local organizations need our support, too.
But the moment it feels overwhelming and we do nothing, everyone loses. Beginning to pay attention to the products we buy, JUST ONE PRODUCT AT A TIME, does create change.
If something is cheap, you absolutely need to question why. Labor or quality (which impacts your health and the planet) are almost always compromised to get something cheaply made.
We’ve heard people complaining about higher costs of slavery-free products. Maybe you've met them, too. We dare that person to look into the eyes of the child (a CHILD!) who is picking their chocolate for the “cheap” Hersey’s chocolate bar and tell them that they need $2 more dollars in their bank account.
We’ve heard people complaining about the inconvenience of researching which new companies to support and the learning curve. We dare them to look in to the eyes of a mother who has been forcefully separated from her children and tell her that an hour or two of their time, while she lives enslaved and heartbroken, is just “too much.”
Slavery is a hard problem to fight because we are comfortable. Most us are free. Most of us will never travel and see the working conditions of enslaved shrimp peelers firsthand. It is so easy to read about the fact that the shrimp industry is the dirtiest, most polluting, slavery-filled industry in the world and then turn it off. Shrimp cocktail is just too good. But most of the world’s shrimp can be traced to processing factories in Thailand. Children and adults work 16-hour days in hellish conditions with no chance of escape.
Seeing the number 20.9 million is just text on a screen, but that 20.9 million represents infinitely more. Broken families, anguish, pain, hopelessness, and a loss of freedom, a basic human right. The cost of slavery is even higher than any blog or news article can portray.
Again, we deeply feel how overwhelming it can be to tackle a problem like this, which is one reason why we work so hard to spotlight companies we can call come alongside as we focus on "freeing" our homes, our closets, and our pantries one product at a time.
ONE THING YOU CAN DO TODAY: If you only do one thing, stop buying chocolate and coffee from Nestle and encourage your friends to do the same.
Nestle is a massive company that has been continuously called out for the use of slavery in its products. Even after media investigations revealed in 2001 that the company was using farms on the Ivory Coast in which 600,000 children were being used in child labor, the company kept on using the same farms and did not change anything until 2012, when another major report revealed what was still going on.
Nestle said it would change again, and has since implemented some new programs with promise, but for a company of its size, the investment is low and the change is excruciatingly slow.
Nestle coffee brands also source coffee from "blacklisted" plantations that are known to use slavery. The list of its coffee brands can be found here.
That is a big deal because Nestlé and another company called Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) together control approximately 18% of global coffee production, and over 40% of global retail market share.
Both companies had to admit in early 2016 that coffee from plantations using slave labor was in their coffee products because they didn’t vet if the coffee they bought from middlemen had originated from plantations using slavery. They were just buying based on price.
The research against them was collected by a third-party research firm, DanWatch, over seven months, and included actual plantation inspections, speaking directly with farmers, experts, and trade unions, and traced the beans through the complex supply chain from plantation to middleman to global market.
JDE coffee brands include Maxwell House, Gevalia, Kenco, Tassimo, and Senseo, plus many international brands. Plus, the privately held JAB Holding Company owns the majority share in JDE, and JAB has majority stakes in Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Caribou Coffee, Keurig Green Mountain, Einstein Noah, and (via Peet’s) Intelligentsia and Stumptown.
That is a large list, and probably includes some of your favorites. We know... deep breath! Coffee and chocolate attachments are hard to break. But when compared to the pain and suffering of modern day slaves, we think it is possible to give them up!
Plus, there are so many new companies striving to do it right!
Please consider switching to a company that can prove it works directly with farmers and their communities such as Cameron’s Coffee (you can read our interview with its founder here), or look for fair trade options such as Equal Exchange (which does an amazing job of supporting women in the coffee industry) and Ethical Bean Coffee (each and every bag of coffee that leaves its roastery is stamped with a unique QR code so you can track the journey your coffee has taken to get to you!).
You can fight slavery every day just with the products you choose to bring into your house, starting with your morning cup of coffee!
Seem too simple to matter? It is not! Remember, the worst thing any of us can do is nothing.
Do you have a favorite new fair trade coffee or chocolate company you love? Share in the comments below!