Ideas and inspiration for efficient living.

Becoming an ethical buyer

on February 11, 2012

Have you ever considered the ethics involved in the products you buy? Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of human injustice that goes on behind the scenes of many products found on store shelves?

Recently I watched the BBC documentary “Chocolate: The Bitter Truth”. It wasn’t particularly shocking because I had already seen the CBC documentary “Big Sugar” about sugar plantation slavery, so I had already been made aware of similar work conditions. The more distressing aspect was the child trafficking involved in cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast and Ghana. In north Burkina Faso, boys and girls as young as eight years old are kidnapped or sold by (mostly male) money hungry family members. They are made to work without pay 10-12 hour days with dangerous machetes and harmful pesticides, harvesting cocoa pods. They cannot go to school.

These children are harvesting the cocoa that will be used in the Hershey Chipits that melt in your cookies, the chocolate mousse cake at the restaurant, the hot cocoa at the coffee shop, the chocolate bar you scarf down when the craving hits, the Halloween candy your children bring back in their pumpkin. It’s everywhere and it comes at a high price to the children at the root of the cocoa processing chain.

How can I consume cocoa with a clean conscience?

I could stop buying cocoa and chocolate products. A great psychological battle would have to be fought (yes, I have a chocolate addiction). But it is indeed a small battle to fight in comparison to what child slaves must endure.

There is also the fair trade cocoa option. It is committed to preventing child labor that doesn’t prohibit schooling. (There is a flaw: local cocoa producers can still use child labor, but they have to hide it well. A 6 month suspension follows if they are caught.)

So now I’ve talked about cocoa. I could afford to buy fair trade cocoa at its higher price tag – if cocoa was all I was concerned about.

I said I watched Big Sugar. Large corporations control plantations in the Caribbean. Workers are not slaves, but they do not make enough to get by. When they are hurt on the job, they get no compensation whatsoever.

The good news is that sugar is also available in the fair trade organic version. The bad news is that it also carries the heavy price tag. Okay, I could deal with paying almost double for my sugar. I try to use it moderately anyway.

So now we move on to meat. I’ve seen Food, Inc. And Meet Your Meat. I know how unethically and unhealthily my meat is treated. Fortunately, I can find a local, kind farmer who will supply me with stress-free hormone beef or chicken – at a premium. Local, grass-fed beef never goes on sale. I’ve gone veg before and I grew tired of the beans/tofu meal choices. My husband is also a weight lifting carnivore who craves his meat. Going totally meatless is therefore not a viable option for us.

Food production is not the only thing we buy that denies basic rights to humans and humane treatment to animals. We’ve probably all heard of children working in sweatshops and countless adults who work long days in toxic and dangerous work environments. There’s a reason why “Made in China” is not a compliment.

I now ask: how is it ever possible to be a responsible, ethical buyer when almost everything we buy is tainted with blood and tears?

How do I keep living with people around me who don’t really care about these things? “Even if you buy fair trade, it’s a drop in the bucket.” “It’s not something you can change, only big corporations and government can make a difference, and that’s not going to happen.” “Maybe it’s not that bad for the workers in that country, the culture is different.”

And at last: if I want to buy everything fair trade and organic, how in the world do I afford it? It’s no secret that it costs significantly more.

I discussed this issue on an online forum and received wise replies. One woman advised to start with ONE change. One that doesn’t feel overwhelming. And you stick with that change until it doesn’t even feel like you’re doing anything different. Then you move on to the next thing, and the next thing.

It’s not my job to take the world’s burden on my shoulder. If it’s too heavy, it’s that I wasn’t meant to carry it, or at least ALL of it.

So I’ve started buying fair trade sugar and cocoa. I have also decreased my intake of these products, so that I only buy a certain amount every month and it doesn’t break the bank.

We had already ordered pastured hormone and antibiotic free beef from a local farmer, but now we need to buy some more. And I need to find free range chickens.

We’ve already been buying free range eggs for years now, a local farmer delivers them to our door (God bless her!).

So, small steps. If everyone changed one thing they consume to fair trade (and organic if possible), I’m sure it would make a difference.

What can you change today?



7 responses to “Becoming an ethical buyer

  1. Thanks for sharing, it sure brings me to think! This wolrd is ruled by money and not by love, Selfishness and no concern for Children! the Poor! We take advantage! This is horrible! Don’t you think we can do somthing for this suffering children! don’T you think we can do something as a society? Thanks again for sharing! Marie-Eve Coté

  2. wellrunlife says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Marie-Eve. So, what is one change you’re working on today? 🙂

  3. Myriam says:

    Super billet… j’ai bien l’intention de visionner Big Sugar prochainement…j’aimerais en apprendre d’avantage…
    Pour l’instant je consomme chocolat, sucre, banane, épice… tous équitable… (les bananes équitable sont vraiment facile à trouver…j’en ai même vu chez IGA… je trouve ça important…il arrive fréquemment que les pesticides soient pulvérisés par avion…avec les “travailleurs” en dessous…sans parler des enfants!!!!)
    Je ne bois pas de café…
    Je ne veux surtout pas avoir l’air d’une sainte…j’ai l’avantage de travailler pour une PME (Aliments Merci) qui vend ce genre de produit…et j’ai un rabais employé 🙂 … pour moi c’est facile 🙂
    Occasionnellement le coton aussi : drap & serviette de bain…
    Mon “challenge” actuellement c’est le coton… les vêtements… je sais pas encore comment je vais concrétiser mes intentions… je suis au stade de chercher des ressources…

  4. Dan says:

    how are you!This was a ralley wonderful subject!I come from milan, I was luck to approach your website in yahooAlso I learn much in your Topics ralley thank your very much i will come daily

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