Over 27 million are currently held in modern day slavery. Literally, they are forced to work for no pay, usually in deplorable conditions. Millions of others do get paid for their work, but are not paid enough to support their families, and are still in an unsafe working environment. This problem doesn’t need to exist for the global economy to work. And when this is the only option for these millions of people, they have no choice but to accept it in order to barely survive. If people were offered the chance at a fair job, they could lift themselves out of poverty, improve their well-being, and pay for their childrens educations, among other things.
Fair Trade Penn State is deeply concerned with this issue, and advocates for solutions that provide sustainable, long term answers to extreme poverty. By sustainable, we mean an answer that will solve the problem for the long term, unlike aid/charity, which only solves the problem for a little while. Ethical business/Fair Trade is one of these sustainable solutions. The more fairly made products are purchased, the more companies will supply them, and the more people in the developing world that will have a fair job for life.
Hundreds of thousands of children are trafficked into the Ivory Coast (in Africa) every year where they are forced to work on cocoa farms picking beans. They are not paid, not allowed to leave, and usually abused. American companies like Hershey’s, Nestle, and Mars buy these cocoa beans, and choose to ignore the issue. Buying fair trade chocolate puts more of these kids in school and makes sure their parents are paid a fair wage for their work. Read Drissa’s Story: drissas story.pdf or check out the Dark Side of Chocolate documentary.
Congolese rebels force children into mines at gunpoint to extract tin, tantalum, and tungsten. These minerals are bought by American companies to produce our cell phones and other electronics. They make over $100 million each year exploiting these children, and they use the money to buy weapons that fuel the deadliest war since WWII. Right now there isn’t an option to buy “conflict free electronics,” so the only thing to do is petition and advocate for change. Watch this video for a really great 1-minute overview. The Enough Project or Raise Hope for Congo provides ways to take action.
Thousands of children are forced to sit at looms for up to 18 hours a day in disgusting conditions – many times they sleep and eat in front of the looms as well. Organizations try to raid these factories and get the children out and are successful, but too many still remain. The Goodweave or RugMark logos mean that a rug is made without child slavery (learn more here), and retailers are beginning to offerthese rugs so look for this when you shop.
Over 78,000 children work on tobacco estates across Malawi, with some as young as five working up to 12 hours a day for less than one US cent per hour. This research on tobacco farms in Malawi reveals that child labourers are suffering severe physical symptoms from absorbing up to the equivalent of 50 cigarettes a day through their skin. Learn more here.
FTPSU is against sweatshops, however, we don’t outwardly recommend boycotting sweatshop goods. If a sweatshop is closed down, there is a good chance the workers will be forced into something worse, like modern day slavery or prostitution. The best thing to do is simply commit to buying fair trade – this sends a message to companies to clean up their factories without hurting workers.