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End Slavery Now: The Power of Your Purchase
07/27/2011 - 2:08 PM

Next on your list: bananas — the deliciously versatile fruit, perfect for baked breads, desserts, and smoothies. While perusing the grocery store isles, you find the fruit section and intently scan for the perfect batch of bananas, ripe and reasonably priced. "Ah ha!" Confidently, you pick up the perfect batch — thinking about how scrumptious banana crème pie will taste — and make your way through the sea of carts to the checkout line.

Although we may consider ourselves attentive and mindful buyers, do we ever stop to think: What is really in my banana? And, what are my dollars supporting? These rarely asked questions, however, are critical to abolishing slavery and other unjust work practices employed by exporters. As abolitionists and active consumers, it's important for us to understand the realities of slave-produced goods, contribute to the Fair trade market, and participate in this social movement to abolish slavery and support sustainable company practices.

The realities are undeniably harsh — making the Fair Trade movement more vital than ever before. Children, women, and men are all targets of exploitation. A 2008 global report by the International Labour Office estimated at least 12.3 million people are in forced labor worldwide, with children approximately representing between 40% and 50% of all forced laborers. Moreover, 115 million children are working in hazardous conditions and 5.7 million children are trapped in forced and bonded labor. This issue is rampant across the globe, infiltrating into diverse regions of agricultural and industrial production. According to a 2000 US State Department report, 15,000 children (aged 9 to 12) in the Ivory Coast have been sold into forced labor on conventional cotton, coffee, and cocoa plantations. Ironically, the public — consumers of commodities produced by bonded laborers and slaves — agree human exploitation is wrong and slavery should be eradicated at all costs.

What if these consumers were aware that their purchases were contributing the expansion of slavery, endorsing an inhumane industry through the daily activity of buying basic goods? As consumers, it is our duty to understand what is really behind the production of our goods and, specifically, how we can harness purchasing power to abolish slavery.

These questions are addressed by Paul Rice, President and CEO of Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade USA is a non-profit organization that audits transactions between US companies offering Fair Trade Certified products and their international suppliers. Knowing what is behind our next purchase, or that next banana batch, is quite simple: just look for the Fair Trade label. Paul explains that this label is the only audited certification, indicating that labeled goods were produced in alignment with over 200 regulations; these regulations endorse ethical labor conditions, wages, and agriculture practices. He states, "If you care about slavery and poverty, buy fair trade."

The number of fair trade products is growing. The fair trade Federation Interim Report claimed there was a 102% growth in US and Canadian sales for Fair Trade between 2004 and 2007. How and who are these sales helping? In 2008, 7.5 million individuals directly benefited from Fair Trade Certified production, according to the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International. Fair Trade is a consumer-driven market mechanism, enhancing the power of every person and every purchase.

Fair Trade USA aims to empower people to be 'conscious consumers.' "We can vote with our dollars," Paul states. It is time for consumers to harness the power of the market. With each Fair Trade purchase, consumers can ameliorate global slavery and poverty.

The next time you consciously scan the long isle of bananas, or any goods for that matter, stop to think about what your purchase is supporting. Paul calls everyone to action: "Look for the Fair Trade Certification and buy it." People no longer have to feel helpless, fighting against the colossal giants of slavery and poverty; we can help in a direct way through altering our everyday purchasing practices. As "conscious consumers," our purchases will be convenient and powerful.