By: Anne Delafield

The Images below may be hard to look at. Feelings of sadness and guilt may occur, but this is understandable and common. Confusion and doubt may fill your head. You will most likely wonder where these pictures come from and why they are in this article.

After looking at these pictures ask yourself these questions: Have you ever stopped to think about where your food, clothes, electronics, and other items you own come from? Are these products produced here in America, or in another country? Have you ever wondered about the people making these products; what their names are; how old they are? Do they have families? Sadly, most of us don’t stop and ask these questions. We take for granted a lot of the perks we have as American citizens.

 

What if I were to tell you that an extremely large portion of the products we use in our day to day lives are made by people in devastating conditions. The people who are employed to make these products are paid next to nothing, and sometimes even nothing at all. There is a devastating amount of exploitative labor in our would today. The conditions are so harsh that the earth is said to have more slaves  today than any other point of time in history. These people are forced to sleep in the buildings they work in with total strangers in cramped conditions. How would you feel if you learned that many of these workers are children that are forced to work all day long, just so they can have something to eat? They are not allowed to play outside or get an education. It is a horrible reality, but everything you have just read is true. Many companies we buy from every day have been exposed to exploiting their employees in these ways, or refuse to reveal where their products come from. However, there is an alternative to many of these products, as today there is a powerful, growing movement called fair trade.

 

Misner describes and summarizes fair trade as  “support[ing] farmers and craftspeople in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized. These producers lack economic opportunity and often face steep hurdles in finding markets and customers for their goods”(Misner). Fair trade products are produced by employees that are treated and compensated fairly. These products are not produced by children, but rather by grown workers that are cared for and treated with the respect and concern that they deserve to be given as human beings. Fair trade companies do so much for our world. Many organizations that produce fair trade products give employment to victims who are rehabilitating from crimes such as sex slavery. Women and children who are saved from a life of imprisonment in brothels where they are forced to be prostitutes often have nowhere to turn. With the fair trade program, they are given sustainable jobs so they can support themselves and recover from the terrible trauma from their past. The industry’s overall purpose is to bring freedom and fair conditions to the human race.

 

This video explains the purpose of the fair trade industry. This shows the different communities around the world that are impacted for the better by fair trade.

.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tvLHDxv4B4

It can be extremely overwhelming to learn all this information about slave labor and the growing fair trade movement. Most people feel helpless and therefore do nothing with this information. Be encouraged and know that you are not helpless, and there are ways you can make a difference to improve this huge issue. A simple way to start is to spread this information around to your friends and family members. Raising awareness of this issue is a giant first step, as many people have never even heard of the fair trade industry. You could bring up fair trade products in your day to day conversations or you could even wear clothing and apparel that promote fair trade.

 

Think about how you would feel if you came face to face with the workers who live in these horrible conditions. How many times have you jokingly said “first world probs?” This phrase can really show how fortunate we are to be able to have safe jobs, and so many resources at our finger tips. This video from Saturday Night Live really puts things into perspective. Even though it is meant to be silly, the message still comes across.Posting this video on Facebook or showing this video to your friends, and then explaining the fair trade industry is a great way to raise awareness. We kid about being a first word country all the time, but in reality we should be thinking of ways to improve the problems in our word especially in these third world countries.

 

A great way to impact the fair trade industry is to look for products that are fair trade approved in your everyday shopping. There are many food products that are fair trade such as coffee and chocolate. Buying fair trade gifts around the holiday season or for birthdays is another way to support the industry, and it is a fantastic way to create awareness. There are several organizations here in America that certify products to be fair trade. Globalexchange.org, Fairtradeusa.org, and Fairtradefederation.org are all wonderful organizations that have information on fair trade products and the entire industry. These websites are the perfect places to find fair trade companies and find ways to support the cause.

 

imageThere are several different ways to find out if the products we buy are fair trade, or whether or not the companies we support use exploitative labor. One of the easiest ways is a phone application called FREE2WORK. This is an app downloadable for any smart phone. This application has the ability to scan bar codes and give you information on the conditions different products are produced in. The application also gives companies a letter grade on how good or bad the  company’s production is in terms of labor. To put this into perspective, Timberland received an A-. I was shocked to find out that one of my favorite stores  Forever 21 received a D-, This really impacted the way I think about my purchases. Perhaps information like this will make you think twice before purchasing products from well-known companies.

 

Because the workers that produce fair trade products are compensated fairly, the products they make tend to be priced higher than their supplements that are not fair trade. As college students, many of us do not have endless resources and are forced to budget our money, so often we choose the cheaper route. Since many of us are struggling with a budget here as it is, why should we try and help another person in a faraway country?

 

The answer is simple. All humans are part of one earth. We are all brothers and sisters because we all share this planet. The human race has come so far over history, creating mind-blowing technology and enhancing civilization in so many other ways. This is why it is so shocking that our world struggles so much with the issue of exploitative labor. It is troubling that we have come so far, yet still have slavery in our world. Paul Rice explained, “The money you spend on day-to-day goods can improve an entire community’s day-to-day lives” (Paul Rice). Rice emphasizes that our actions are not in vain. When we support fair trade we are supporting freedom. There should be freedom for every human being, no matter where he or she lives. We are so blessed to live here in America with countless resources at our finger tips. We have opportunities to use our ample resources to improve the lives of others.

 

Bibliography:

Misner, Jennie . N.p.. Web. 15 Apr 2013. <http://www.fairtradefederation.org/what-is-fair-trade/>

.Paul Rice, . N.p.. Web. 15 Apr 2013. <http://fairtradeusa.org/>.

Fair Trade USA, . N.d. 0. n.p. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tvLHDxv4B4

SNL, . N.d. 0. n.p. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybDKfGEw4aU

 

Photos:

Er. Hemant D Sonawane. Child Labor in India.  August 12, 2010

International Community Struggles to get a Grip on Child Labor. June 10, 2009

Labour Abuse in China’s iPad Factories. September 13, 2012

U.S. Department of Labor. June 12, 2008

. N.p.. Web. 17 Apr 2013. <http://www.dol.gov/ilab/highlights/if-20080612.htm>.

. N.p.. Web. 15 Apr 2013. <http://www.fairtrade.net/what_is_fairtrade.html>.

. N.p.. Web. 15 Apr 2013. <http://globalexchange.org/>