Are we putting convenience before people?

I wanted to write this blog about ethical consumption before Christmas, but I kept starting and stopping because I found it so difficult to write about this subject without feeling like a complete hypocrite.

Trying to make ethical purchasing choices is such a minefield. Should I focus on products that are plastic-free, with a low carbon footprint, that have not been tested on animals, that are organic or that are slavery-free? That is if I can even establish any of these things for certain.

Whenever I go to a supermarket to buy some fruit and vegetables – granted, I should instead be going to a farm shop, but sometimes it is really hard to visit three or four different food shops per week while bringing up two young children – I am inevitably faced with the choice of organic or plastic-free. It seems to be impossible to have both.

During the first lockdown, I tried to go plastic-free in the bathroom. I will not bore you with my trials and tribulations with shampoo bars, but I thought I had at least cracked it when I bought some Georganics dental floss in a glass jar. Disappointingly, I later found out that the charcoal version I had been using does in fact contain plastic. I understand that Georganics were unaware of this themselves and have now changed the product so that it is plastic-free and fully compostable.

One of the earliest videos I watched when I became interested in modern slavery was “Slavery: A Global Investigation” by True Vision. Many things about that video horrified me, but the part that upset me the most was when they interviewed a young man who had been a slave on a cocoa plantation. First, they asked him if he had tasted chocolate. He had not. They then asked him what he would say to the millions and millions of people around the world who do eat chocolate. He replied: “If I had to say something to them it would not be nice words. They enjoy something I suffered to make; I worked hard for them, but saw no benefit. They are eating my flesh.”

I did not go near chocolate for many weeks afterwards. I do not smoke, I do not drink coffee, I barely drink tea, I drink a lot less alcohol since I had children, but I absolutely love chocolate. When I struggled to kick the habit of eating chocolate, I was happy to find the following list of chocolatiers that use ethically sourced cocoa: https://www.slavefreechocolate.org/ethical-chocolate-companies

For the most part I stick to the list and I try to encourage the grandparents to stick to it when they buy us chocolate gifts – although I am less successful on that front!

My current favourite brands are Divine Chocolate and Tony’s Chocolonely. The biggest stake in Divine Chocolate is owned by a Fairtrade cocoa farmers’ cooperative in Ghana, who share the company’s profit. Tony’s Chocolonely builds direct long-term relationships with cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, paying them a higher price and working together to solve the underlying causes of modern slavery. They do this not just for their own chocolate, but for all chocolate worldwide.

Even though I do not drink coffee and my husband has given it up, I recently came across an amazing coffee company called Blue Bear Coffee, whose sole purpose is to raise money and awareness for the fight to end human trafficking and modern slavery. It donates 100% of its net profits to its charity partners, Justice and Care, Unseen and International Justice Mission. I would very much recommend their blog and their podcast, “Justice and Coffee”, accessible on their website: https://www.bluebearcoffee.com/.

Another podcast called “Focus on Modern Slavery!” and a set of videos, both presented by Debbie Huxton, have also really inspired me recently. Debbie is a modern slavery campaigner, working in partnership with the Mothers’ Union, The Clewer Initiative and the Lichfield Diocese. I would wholeheartedly recommend her video called “Where would Jesus shop?”, accessible on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDTHzYihQHg.

In one of the episodes of her podcast, Debbie interviews Amber Cagney, the Development Manager at West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network. I would like to quote Amber: “I think that sometimes when people don’t work directly in a sector they can just think ‘Oh, you know, what can I do or what contribution would this make?’ and even just buying something second hand instead of new is great, buying something from a more ethical supplier that’s great. Don’t underestimate your consumer buyer power. […]You don’t have to be opening a safehouse to be making a difference. The smallest steps are really important.”

Amber also mentions a quote from Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” That quote really resonates with me too. We all make mistakes, like mine with the dental floss, but we should not be disheartened.

Trying to shop ethically is very time consuming – time that sometimes I would rather spend with my family, helping a friend, exercising or even reading a good book. However, as consumers we have the power to change supply chains and free people from forced labour even if we never meet anyone trapped in modern slavery personally and that, I believe, is worth the effort.

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