Fair Trade Trends Supports Occupy Wall Street!

Abusters's Corporate America Flag.

If you’re one of our regular (and valued) readers, you know that while we’re deeply rooted in ideals of peace and social justice, we’re primarily trendsetters. We share the Fair Trade finds we love, so you can look hip and eat/drink scrumptious goodies while doing good for the workers of the world and for the planet. We’re a fashion/shopping blog with a conscience.

However, we’d be remiss to continue sharing our fabulous Fair Trade trends with you without first commenting on the Occupy Wall Street movement. (Though we have some a-ma-zing fall finds we can’t wait to show you, so check back soon.)

Yes, we are a nation divided. Yes, our elections are tight and heated. Yes, we have become angry, dug in our heels, and stuck to our party’s agenda, sometimes turning a blind eye to injustice. But it’s time to recognize that what’s right is right. That it’s okay to cross the party line if it means following your moral code.

You may be surprised to learn that we, at Fair Trade Trends, are not all liberal democrats (though many of us are). We’re composed of folks from all walks of life who care about how the people of the world are treated. We are grad students, teachers, professors, social workers, and ministers who want to see an end to child slavery, sweatshop labor, and the unfair treatment and payment of the hardworking people who grow our food and sew our clothing. Though some of us would call ourselves liberal and others would call themselves conservative, though some are registered as republicans and some as democrats, we know that the financial, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of the world’s workers is not okay. It’s not right, and we have vowed to take a stand through our purchases, teaching, preaching, and blogging to say, there’s another, better, fairer way to do business. One that respects people, families, communities, and the environment. That way is Fair Trade.

In this spirit, we support the non-violent Occupy Wall Street movement because it has begun to question the economic discrepancies that result from capitalism run-amok. It’s not anti-American to question the economic structure of our country. It’s not unpatriotic to wonder if our current economic practices truly reflect the values we claim to support as a country. It’s not unChristian to ask yourself (or God) if the way we produce and sell goods in this country truly reflects the teachings of the Bible. (You might find it helpful to check out James 5:1-6, Proverbs 31:8-9, Isaiah 1:17, 1 John 3:16-18,  Matthew 25:31-46Mark 12:41-44, and [of course] 1 Timothy 6:7-10 [“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”] and 1 Timothy 6:17-19.)

We shouldn’t feel bad or guilty for wondering, why 1% of the people in the United States control 40% of the country’s wealth. Instead, we should feel troubled that “Each year, more than 3 million people experience homelessness, including 1.3 million children(National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty). We should feel upset that last year, “14.5 percent (17.2 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time.” We should care that “16.2 million children lived in food-insecure households” in 2010 (ERS/USDA). When economic times are tough, it’s tempting to focus in on your own families or communities and forget the very real needs of others. However, hunger, poverty, unemployment, and homelessness don’t stop when our economy is down; they only get worse. It’s not class warfare to care about people. It’s only good, just, and right.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is varied in scope because we have a lot of real, valid problems in our country. People are hurting, struggling to feed their families and pay for their homes, and they’re wondering how this vast discrepancy in wealth is fair. Why should they lose their homes or their jobs while banks and corporations were forgiven for their transgressions? The argument is made that our major financial institutions are “too big to fail.” Does that mean that American families are too small to matter?

The questions being raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement are important, but we would also urge folks to consider how our corporations affect not only the people of the United States but all of the citizens of our global community.

According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2010, 1.44 billion people live in extreme poverty on less than $1 a day, while 2.6 billion live on less than $2 per day. It is staggering to learn that “every 3.6 seconds another person dies of starvation[,] and the large majority are children under the age of 5.” In fact, “every year six million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday.”

And it’s not that the poor people of the world don’t work hard and somehow don’t deserve the relative luxury we enjoy because we were lucky enough to have been born as citizens of the United States. In fact, the opposite is true.

Film Stills from Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), showing child slaves in the Côte d’Ivoire. On the right is the image of a teenage boy who was beaten after attempting to run away from the cacao farm where he’d been working as a slave.

•  Consider the child slaves working on the cacao plantations. The chocolate industry, while it maintains a kid-friendly façade, relies on the indentured servitude and slave labor of trafficked children for the production of cacao beans. For instance, in 2000, we, in the United States, “ate 3.3 billion pounds of chocolate[, 43% of which came from the Côte d’Ivoire] and spent $13 billion on it” (Global Exchange). However, in the same year, the US State Department reported that “some 15,000 Malian children work[ed] on Ivoirian cocoa and coffee plantations. Many [were] under 12 years-of-age, sold into indentured servitude for $140 . . ., and work[ed] 12-hour days for $135 to $189 . . . per year.” According to Slavery: A Global Investigation (2000), others were never paid and have never even tasted chocolate. In fact, it is estimated that 284,000 children, many under the age of ten, work in the cocoa industry performing hazardous labor such as clearing forest and harvesting cacao pods with machetes and using pesticides and insecticides without protective gear (Global Exchange). By buying from middlemen, multinational candy corporations, such as Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé, can claim plausible deniability and go on profiting unchecked from these documented injustices.

"At a loom north of Lahore, Pakistan, girls are forced to work 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. In Pakistan, a quarter of all carpet weavers are girls under the age of 15. (Punjab, Pakistan, 2000)" (Goodweave).

•  Child labor and trafficking is not limited to the cacao field but is a massive problem of our global economy in which, according to the International Labor Organization, “200 million children work, and a staggering 115 million at least, are subject to [the] worst forms” of child labor. The handmade carpet industry of South Asia also relies on this sort of child labor and has approximately 250,000 children working behind the looms. Many of these children, “ages 4 to 14,” have been kidnapped and sold into slave labor in which they are “forced to work as many as 18 hours a day to weave rugs destined for export markets such as the US. They are subject to malnutrition, impaired vision, deformities from sitting long hours in cramped loom sheds, respiratory diseases from inhaling wool fibers and wounds from using sharp tools.” Tragically, children who have been trafficked into the carpet industry also have a higher chance of being resold into the sex industry (GoodWeave).

"Workers packaging flowers in Columbia" (International Labor Rights Forum).

•  While women reportedly love flowers, the flower industry, which notoriously pays its workers poverty wages, clearly doesn’t love women back. Over half of the women working in Ecuador’s flower industry have faced sexual harassment at work. Further, The U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project and The International Labor Rights Fund also reports that “66% of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer from work-related health problems. [Since p]esticide abuse is rampant – flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations, and miscarriages.” And yet, these facts are hidden from the consumer, and we continue to give bouquets of flowers as signs of our affection.

"Bangladesh's garment workers are clearly among the hardest working women and men in the world, but also the most exploited. It is the giant multinationals like Wal-Mart, Asda, Tesco, H&M and others, along with BGMEA, who are driving down the wages of Bangladesh's garment workers and trapping them in misery" (The Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights).

•  And injustice isn’t the exclusive domain of the cash crop field or the rug industry; the garment industry also shares in the abuse of workers to increase profit. For instance, consider, for example, the sweatshops of Bangladesh, “the third largest exporter in the world of garments to the U.S.,” where workers, mostly women, are made to work very long hours for very little pay and often face sexual harassment, threats, and unsafe working conditions. (For more information see The Institute for Global Labour & Human Right’s The Hidden Face of Globalization (2003), which documents the life of women garment factories workers in Bangladesh).

As representative of the 3.5 million workers toiling in Bangladesh’s sweatshops, take for example the 2,500 workers, mostly young women, working in Chittagong’s Anowara Apparels factory. The women working in this factory make clothing almost exclusively for Wal-Mart, which reported 2010 Net Sales of 405 billion and an operating income of 24 billion (“Walmart 2010 Annual Report: We Save People Money So They Can Live Better”). While the Walton family’s wealth continues to grow, the starting salary for the women working in the Anowara Apparels factory prior to the controversially inadequate November 2010 Bangladesh minimum wage increase* was only 11 ½¢ per hour, with senior workers only making a maximum of 17¢ per hour. Every hour, the women each made ten pairs of jeans; for each pair they made, they were paid less than 2¢ (Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights).

Ironically, Wal-Mart’s old slogan, “Always Low Prices” more accurately reflects the abject poverty in which these women lived and will continue to live on the grossly inadequate new minimum wage of 21¢ an hour, than their new slogan, “Save Money. Live Better.” Wal-Mart’s new campaign promises are not offered to the Bangladeshi women who make the merchandise for their stores and “can only afford to rent miserable one-room hovels in slum neighborhoods.” Wal-Mart, and the other major multinationals, could easily bear the economic burden of paying their workers a living wage for their labor, but instead they are seeking the highest profit possible. Perhaps they should try a more accurate slogan: Money Matters. People Don’t.

Whether we call ourselves conservatives or liberals, whether we’re registered as republicans or democrats, whether we come from a red or blue state, no matter if our values stem from religious beliefs or other sources, we know, deep down, that the exploitation of the world’s workers is wrong. When we read about child slavery, sweatshop labor, and corporate brutality, we should feel shocked and disgusted.  We should feel outrage, and we should dedicate ourselves to ending the humanitarian crimes committed in the interest of corporate greed.

Instead, our corporations and media outlets have tricked us into believing it’s un-American to recognize and work to stop inhumanity and injustice. We are told that the U.S.’s current business practices are so sacred and fragile that we can’t dare question them. In reality, the Occupy Wall Street movement is not attempting to dismantle the roots of our economic structure; they are shining a light on a system that is already broken.  Badly broken.  They are not inciting class warfare, they are standing up to say, enough is enough.  There is right, and there is wrong, and we know the difference.

So, what can you do in your everyday life to put an end to widespread economic inequality and injustice?  One way you can send the message that you care about the ways in which U.S. corporations treat their workers (both here and around the world) is to vote with your dollars.  Purchasing Fair Trade products (coffee, chocolate, tea, food, clothing, housewares, sports equipment, etc.) lets you cast an economic ballot for a better world.

By buying fair trade products, you are saying NO! to:

  • Human Trafficking
  • Enforced Child Labor
  • Cyclical, Inescapable Poverty
  • Environmental Degradation

And, you are saying YES! to:

  • Fair Prices for Workers
  • Fair Working Conditions
  • Community Development (Schools, Health Care, etc.)
  • Environmental Sustainability

Thanks for doing your part to make the world a better place. Please stop back often as we continue to share our tastiest and trendiest Fair Trade finds.

Peace and Love,

Your Fair Trade Trendsters

* While a definite improvement from the minimum wage of 1,662 taka ($23) a month, which had remained unchanged since 2006, Bangladesh’s new minimum wage of 3,000 taka ($42) a month, effected on November 1, 2010, is considered grossly inadequate and prompted protests from garment workers. The workers were only asking for an hourly minimum wage increase to 5,000 taka ($70) a month (or 35¢ per hour) when the actual living wage rate has been estimated by the Asia Floor Wage Campaign to be just over 10,000 Taka ($139) a month. However, since the garment industry constitutes 11 billion dollars of Bangladesh’s exports, the government seems to have responded to pressure from the multinational corporations to keep the minimum wage unfairly low (International Trade Union Confederation, Labour Behind the Label, and CIA: The World Factbook).