Fair Trade: An Issue of Humanitarian and Environmental Justice – January 2012

What thoughts or images come to mind when you hear the words “environmental issues”? A polar bear stranded on a melting icecap? Wind turbines and other forms of sustainable energy? Reusable BPA-free water bottles? What about modern-day slavery – would you consider this to be an environmental issue? Although slavery, human rights, and Fair Trade are largely viewed as humanitarian concerns, as an Environmental Studies major and Anthropology minor at Bates College, I would argue that particular strands of human trafficking and modern day slavery are environmental as well as humanitarian concerns that we must take into consideration while assessing “green” and “sustainable” issues in today’s environmentally conscious society.

Last winter I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. In one of my classes, “Sustainability: Corporate Social Responsibility”, we watched a video called The Dark Side of Chocolate to aid in our investigation of Fair Trade issues within the global chocolate industry. This 2010 film directed by award winning Danish journalist Miki Mistrati investigates the ongoing allegations of child labor in the Ivory Coast – one of the world’s largest areas of cocoa production. Because slavery is no longer institutionalized – and therefore it is extremely difficult to locate the traffickers and the peoples being exploited – Mistrati and his crew went undercover to ascertain the truths of human trafficking and child labor in the chocolate industry. It is sufficient to say that the hundreds of children (as young as seven years old) Mistrati witnessed and documented working against their will in cocoa fields proves the horrendous conditions in which much of the world’s chocolate, that is not Fair Trade, is produced.

Amidst the various “green” innovations and recommendations in today’s society, I feel as though the phrases “buy organically” or “buy Fair Trade products” have become buzz words that have lost their deeper meaning. This article was not written with the intent to depress you, but rather, to remind you of the larger significance of buying Fair Trade products in today’s global economy. We cannot forget the political and social consequences behind each purchase of a non-Fair Trade product. While it may seem like a hassle to look for a “Fair Trade” label on products in the grocery store, remember that each time you choose a Fair Trade product over a non-Fair Trade product you are aiding in the mobilization against human exploitation.

Georgia Doucette



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