by Maranda Vilsack
This past Thursday, February the 9th, the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking held a presentation at the Church of the Holy Spirit’s Parish Hall in Safety Harbor. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, the presentation was centered around how a conscious consumer has the power to effect the prevalence of exploitation around the world through the products they purchase.
Valentine’s Day is always a popular gift-giving occasion, and this year American consumers are expected to spend about $18.2 billion dollars, according to the National Retail Federation. (https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/nrf-says-consumers-will-spend-182-billion-valentines-day) While U.S. consumers spend their hard earned money on gifts for their loved ones every year we rarely consider where those gifts come from. For a better understanding of how these products are produced we can look to the United States Department of Labor’s ‘List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor,’ released September 30, 2016. (https://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/)
Think of it this way-
You want to buy your sweetheart a diamond necklace:
A comparison of the D.O.L.’s list and the Diamond Producers Association’s most recent statistics, ‘World Diamond Production by Volume and Value 2015,’ of the 10 countries that produce the most diamonds, half of the countries produced these diamonds through the use of child labor and forced labor practices, (Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.) The Central African Republic also uses child labor and forced labor in the production of their diamonds.
You pick up a bouquet of roses or other flowers:
According to worldexports.com, many of the cut flower stems, bouquets, and bulbs that are purchased in the U.S. are actually grown in other countries. Two of the major producers use exploitive production practices. China, which is known for artificial flowers, uses forced labor. Ecuador, which is known for a large variety of flowers, including long-stemmed roses, uses child labor. Other countries on the D.O.L.’s list were Afghanistan (Poppies and other flowers, child labor) and Burma (Sunflowers, forced labor).
A heart-shaped box of chocolates:
The cocoa needed to produce the sweets is exotic. Five of the six countries listed by the Department of Labor as using child labor and forced labor in the production of cocoa are also on worldatlas.com’s list of Top Cocoa Producing Countries in the World. These countries are Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and the number one producer of cocoa, Cote d’Ivoire. Guinea also made the D.O.L.’s list.
People do care where the items they buy are coming from and how they are being made; the information just isn’t readily available.
Free Trade USA is endeavoring to change that by auditing and certifying transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers. Their certification label on the product packaging guarantees that farmers and workers producing the goods are paid fair wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment, and do not use forced labor or child labor.
During the presentation Giselle Rodriguez, State Outreach Coordinator for FCAHT, was able to answer questions from the community about Fair Trade USA and how they are helping to reduce global exploitation in the name of cheap labor, human trafficking in the U.S., and how consumers can make a change in the world simply by being conscious of where the products they buy are coming from.
In her words: “It all starts with awareness.”