How often do you think about where your clothes come from,
or who made them? Ever wonder who grew and harvested the coffee beans used in your latte? Or the cocoa beans used in your chocolate? What about your laptop or your phone? Maybe you think about it sometimes. Maybe it never crossed your mind...
Everybody enjoys the occasional day off from school... but how would you feel if the government made you do really hard labour in the fields instead? Did you know that schools are often closed in the harvesting season at the beginning of the school year, to force children in Uzbekistan, as young as seven years old, to spend long hours in dreadful conditions picking cotton by hand? In Spring too they have to weed and prepare the fields – with little or no pay (university students and adults also have to pick cotton or they will lose their jobs or pensions). They have to live in filthy, flea-infested, unheated barracks and get mostly bread and turnips to eat. There is hardly any clean drinking water and the children often get sick and die, there being no medical services. If they refuse to work, they are beaten, failed in their subjects at school or expelled. If their parents complain, the government can take away their businesses, cut off their water and electricity or plough up their vegetable gardens.
The cotton is sold to other countries at a high price but the farmers who produced it are only paid one third of the actual value, so all the people are kept poor while the government gets the extra money. Investigations by organisations (like the ones mentioned below) are bringing these facts to light, allowing them to challenge retail companies that benefit from such exploitation. We can share the truth with our friends and choose not to support unethical companies with our purchases.
Armed with this information, we too can make a difference.
All over the world, millions of people are forced – either by their employers or by their circumstances – to work long hours in often uncomfortable and unsafe environments, for unreasonably low wages. Labourers suffer in sweatshops, farmers are underpaid for their crops, and communities have their rightful resources stripped away for little compensation.
And, of course, as is often the case with exploitation, young children are often found to be suffering under these conditions. These heartbreaking examples are just the tip of the iceberg – all for the sake of greater profit, while giving you and me goods at a lower cost!
Thankfully there are some organisations working towards making a difference in some of these situations. You have probably heard of World Vision, Oxfam, Stop the Traffik, Fairtrade, or Rainforest Alliance, just to name a few. These organisations are making practical differences in many areas. They help communities develop better farming practices and bring a greater level of sustainability. They guarantee a fair and stable minimum price on produce, and they invest in the local communities. These companies expose those involved in unfair practices so that change can happen!
Earlier this year, Nestlé – considered one of the largest food companies in the world – announced that it will be sourcing all the cocoa for its retail confectionery business from cocoa that is produced sustainably on farms with safe working conditions – definitely a step in the right direction. This makes Nestlé the first of the major chocolate manufacturers in Australia to trade ethically.
What about you and me? It is easy for these large organisations to make an impact, but not for us, right? Wrong! Why not start with where you shop regularly? A fantastic resource to check out is ‘Shop Ethical’. The website allows you to search through hundreds of companies to see how they rate ethically. A balanced outline of each company is provided, listing positives and negatives and detailing what voluntary agreements they may have signed. You can also see specifics such as whether or not they have taken steps to exclude Uzbekistan cotton from their supply. Why not subscribe to World Vision’s ‘Don’t Trade Lives’ campaign, to receive updates via email.
So what do you do if you want to see change in a company? Write on their official Facebook wall, tweet them, write emails and letters. Stop The Traffik provides postcards specifically directed at Rivers, calling for them to commit to boycotting Uzbek cotton until their government brings change. This method has already worked for Cotton On, Target, and the Just Group (Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Jacquie E, Peter Alexander, Portmans), who all changed because of the amount of mail they received.
Let’s think wisely about what we need to buy and where we should buy it from. Perhaps you might like to start with a few simple items such as coffee and chocolate, and make a commitment to only buy the products that have been certified as ethically sourced. Approximately 95% of the chocolate sold today is not certified to be free from the use of forced, child, or trafficked labour.
Let’s vote with our dollar!