It’s Time to Start Shopping for Change
“There, on the label of my clothes, were the words ‘Made in Bangladesh’ … I may have supported child labour.”
By Donna White
I must admit, my first encounter with any real understanding about Fair Trade, child labour and sweat shops, did not occur until I was in Bangladesh when I saw the scores of women and children leaving a dilapidated building late in the evening as I was heading to our hotel. Leaning his head in the direction of the crowd, our driver nonchalantly remarked
“Those are the sweat shop workers. They’re finally done their day and heading home.” I looked at my watch and saw that it was after 9:00 p.m. and then looked into the crowd to see the young bodies of several children, dragging their feet, listless and tired. I couldn’t help but feel the weight that they carried on their shoulders. Young children that should have been tucked securely into their beds at that time of night, but were instead already “employed” and working to earn a wage to help sustain their families.
Later, when I got to the hotel, I decided to wash my clothes in the bathroom sink and noticed something I had not paid any attention to before. There, on the label of my clothes, were the words “Made in Bangladesh”. I stopped my scrubbing and took in a deep breath. The words were like a finger pointing at me, accusing me of a great evil. I may have supported child labour. I had bought a product that could very well have been produced in a sweatshop, and therefore, in a way, allowed the very children I had just seen, to work in horrid conditions, earning next to nothing in pay. This was all because I wanted my clothing to be cheap. I was ashamed.
At that moment I decided that I would do anything I could to get rid of my indifference. “The greatest evil we can do to our fellow man is not to hate him, but to be indifferent, for that is the essence of inhumanity”. The quote I had remembered from George Bernard Shaw rang in my ears. I did not hate these children, but I had inadvertently become indifferent to their suffering, and that was just as evil.
So when World Vision asked me to research the businesses of Thunder Bay, Ontario that supported Fair Trade or ethically produced products, I jumped at the chance. It was an eye opening experience, and I must admit, not a difficult task at all. Many businesses were pleased to report that they were proud of supporting Fair Trade. Read on. And may your shopping habits start to reflect your attitude towards humanity.
I found a number of small shops who promoted Fair Trade products. The Nutrition Corner, Steepers, The Bean Fiend, and Bloomers and the Brown House Chocolates all stocked a range of Fair Trade products. In my search, I came across Fair Trade coffee, tea, brown sugar, sucanat, organic sugar, molasses, and a variety of types of flowers in one or more of these small stores. But Fair Trade can also be found in larger businesses as well.
Our local Safeway, Shopper’s Drug Marts, Metro and Starbucks Coffee offered Fair Trade options. Metro sold Fair Trade coffee, tea, hot chocolate, chocolate, long stem roses and other flowers. Shopper’s Drug Mart and Safeway sold Fairtrade Kicking Horse Coffee. And Starbucks sold a variety of Fairtrade coffee, cocoa and, tea options.
Global Experience offers a variety of women’s clothing produced by companies who strive to provide ethical working environments for their employees.
Stepping outside the Fairtrade label, there are also a number of stores that are striving to provide ethically sourced goods. At Amos and Andes Import, I found intricately fashioned and brightly coloured dresses, shirts, skirts from Coco International whose tags stated “No Child Labour”. Global Experience offered a variety of women’s clothing produced by companies who strive to provide ethical working environments for their employees. Jeff Paxton from The Great Northwest Coffee, personally buys directly from the plantations and after 20 years of work and travel, conferences and trade shows, Jeff can honestly guarantee that his coffee sales contribute to the ethical well being of each and every employee that brings the coffee from the plantations to the tables. Red Earth stands by their labels ensures products are made in safe working environments with workers receiving fair pay for their work. Lastly, the Caring Hands logo is a familiar sight in Thunder Bay. Whether it’s at events such as the Folklore Festival or Benny Birch’s Birthday party, volunteer John Grabish is always there to promote and sell the wonderful and beautifully hand crafted beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings from Uganda.
And this, so far, is just some of the businesses I have found in Thunder Bay that promote Fair Trade in one way or another. I’m sure that now that I’ve got my mindset focused on Fair Trade products that I’ll be seeing the familiar blue and green logo again and again. This time, however, I’ll be making the more ethical choice. After all, when we support Fair Trade and other ethically certified products, we create a demand for goods that are produced in safe conditions, where adults can earn enough to support their children and keep them in school. And that’s a good thing.
- Join the Help Wanted campaign: Sign the pledge to end child slavery.
- Participate in the Fair Trade Photo Contest: Post photos of Fair Trade products and win great prizes.