I just finished reading an article on child labor in cotton fields in Burkina Faso. You can read it here. Sad does not even address the issue. Heartbreaking would be accurate. Child labor and its awful relative forced labor are not news unfortunately. It’s a terrible shame that’s been around for a long time and there’s no end in sight unless we’re all doing something. It’s fair to say that we’re all sharing the load. Sure I am the poster child for built-in guilt in general, but this is something we’re all involved in. Enabling slavery. Sounds terrible because it is.
I thought, naive I know, that fair trade commerce really is a creature with a spine of steel. If you’ll read the article mentioned above you’ll suffer the same disappointment crisis. Is nothing sacred anymore then? Tough question. I believe there’s still a lot of good people out there. The fact remains, my trust in how I choose my products is shattered for now. I did not purchase any of the above-mentioned items nor do I plan to, but what a let down. I logically wondered how many of the things I am buying fair trade are actually fairly traded. Made me shudder. What’s next? Inquiring about every product that’s sold as fairly traded and not taking a nice smile for an answer anymore. That’s a small contribution though in the big picture.

You see, the problem is much bigger than one could possibly imagine. There’s approximately 130 products made by child and forced labor according to a document put together by the U.S. Department of Labor. Think bananas, cocoa, cotton, chile peppers, rice, onions, tomatoes, coffee, sugar, carpets. Many of the typical Christmas ornaments are a result of forced labor. Merry Christmas it may be but only to those on this side of the fence I guess. Oh, don’t forget gold, diamonds and rare metals used in high tech products. Keep counting until you reach 130 or so. The reality is screaming at us: We are relying heavily on slavery! There’s no two ways about it. Nothing will change overnight, but if we ignore it further nothing will change, ever. The pillow we rest on at night might become harder then rocks, because of the wrongness of it all.

If you’re thinking these are exaggerated statements, please take a look at your kids or other kids you know and imagine them set off in early morning to work on the field or in a mine. With barely a bowl of cooked millet to it, if that, at the end of the day. See how hard it is to finish the thought? I could not finish mine either. And I didn’t even mention the physical punishment many of the child laborers get. The hopelessness and fear they feel.

There’s ways to alleviate the pain. Start asking where your products are coming from. One by one you can make better choices. I’ll do the same. Been doing so for a while but today’s reading made me think I was too gullible perhaps and took someone’s word for it without checking twice. Cannot afford that when there’s human suffering involved.
I promise to inquire about a possible policy regarding child and forced labor for the goods that are imported to Canada and I will get back to you.
I think it’s time people who have it better do something about the issue. Time to pull the head out of the sand and see what it is to see. You in?