Without having met you, I know three things about you.
1. You care about animals
2. You care about people
3. You buy things
The last one I assumed because most people in the United States do some sort of shopping for what they need. The first one I assumed from the fact that you are reading this blog on the website of Maine Animal Coalition. And the second one I assumed from the first one. For, in many ways, the movement of animal rights is just an extension of the movement for human rights. Animal rights rests upon the same values as human rights, but just recognizes those rights apply to more than just the species homo sapiens. At the very core, both animal rights and human rights assert that sentient beings have value and should be treated with respect. And, just like animals, many humans are demeaned and treated as property, instead of the autonomous individuals that they are. This often comes in the form of human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor. And so, if we want to end animal exploitation, we must also want to end human exploitation. Once the world recognizes that profiting from the suffering of others is wrong, it will seek to end it in all forms.
Besides being a volunteer at Maine Animal Coalition, I also volunteer at a non-profit called the Freedom Café, which seeks to end human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor through education, outreach events, and through donating what it makes from selling café goods to human rights organizations. I research specific at-risk commodities like sugar and tea for our conscious consumer guide, which helps inform the community about the industry they are purchasing from and which companies in that industry are making the greatest strides to reduce their human trafficking and forced labor footprint. The idea is that, just as we try to purchase vegetarian and vegan foods in order to avoid supporting animal suffering, we can make conscious choices with other commodities as well in order to avoid supporting human suffering.
We often think about slavery as something that happened in the past, but modern slavery still happens in many places around the world today, including the United States. Those who are trafficked and the victims are forced labor are disproportionately the most marginalized groups: ethnic minorities, migrants, and those who live in poverty. The problem is that companies want to be able to sell their product at the lowest cost they can, because we as consumers want to buy it at the lowest cost we can. As a result, behind the $5 t-shirt, there is too often a child weaving the garment. Behind the nicely wrapped tea bag, there is too often a mother who has no access to healthcare or clean water on the plantation that she cannot leave. Big companies make billions of dollars while those at the bottom of their supply chain, the workers, make less than the minimum wage.
So that you can better understand what life is like for a worker at the bottom of a supply-chain, I will give an overview of the life of a sugarcane worker. Forced and child labor in the sugarcane industry is known to take place in at least 19 countries worldwide. The majority of the sugar that the U.S. imports comes from countries that use forced and child labor. Children work in dangerous conditions cutting cane while being exposed to pesticides. They are taken out of school because their parents do not make enough money themselves to support them. Adults work long days in the scorching heat with little water or breaks. Workers often cannot leave the plantations to get a better job because their identity papers that would allow them to get another job have been confiscated by their employer, or because their employer has tricked them into debt and made it extremely hard for them to pay off that debt. Many workers are paid far below a living wage and have little access to healthcare. On sugarcane plantations in South America, there have been reports of chronic renal failure, severe kidney disease, and even death, simply as a result of workers doing their job.
The next time we look to buy products like sugar, we have the choice to empower these workers. Buying products that are certified Fair Trade, UTZ certified, Rainforest Alliance certified, or certified by the B Corporation will help support the livelihoods of those who are the most vulnerable in the world. If enough of us start choosing products that are committed to human rights, it will show other companies that Americans care about how their product was made and how those who made it were treated.
As consumers, we have the power to change industries. Just as we are now seeing an increase in meat and cheese substitutes at supermarkets and more vegan and vegetarian options in restaurants, we can put more Fair Trade products on the shelves. When consumers demand it, it becomes profitable for companies to supply it. By simply making more conscious choices about the things we purchase every day, we can fight back against a world in which the autonomy of some is sacrificed for the mere profit of others. So, if you’re already a food fighter for animals, consider being one for people as well and in doing so continue to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Consider purchasing these products that are vegan and support fair labor standards:
Sugar in bags:
Wholesome Sugar (Fair Trade)
Tate & Lyle (Fair Trade)
Florida Crystals (produced in the U.S.)
Bob’s Red Mill (produced in the U.S.)
Wholesome (Fair Trade)
UnReal (Fair Trade)
Maine Root (Fair Trade)
Equal Exchange (Fair Trade)
Trader Joe’s (Fair Trade)
Honest Tea (Fair Trade)
Ben & Jerry’s (Fair Trade, B Corporation company)
Green Mountain Coffee (Fair Trade)
Starbucks (Fair Trade- look for label)
Trader Joe’s brand (Fair Trade- look for label)
Equal Exchange (Fair Trade)
Download the Sweat and Toil App or visit this link:
https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ilab/ListofGoods.pdf to see which countries and which products are at risk of forced labor and child labor- it can help you make the simple choice, for example, to buy bananas from Guatemala instead of Ecuador