Tuesday August 3, 2010
- Tomatoes: The
delicious tomatoes you put on your sandwiches and in your spaghetti are
very likely picked and packed in conditions that are unacceptable to
anyone with even half a heart. During the winter and spring months, as
much as 90% of the tomatoes we eat come from south Florida. These
tomatoes are picked by an immigrant workforce,
who are paid little if at all and live well below the poverty line.
They are kept indentured to their bosses by a system that charges them
for even the most basic of daily necessities and many are threatened
with death or abuse if they try to leave. There are no days off, the
work is hard and backbreaking and many have nowhere to go even if they
do leave. Sound hard to believe? There have been numerous court cases and arrests made with stories just like this, and many more who get away with it because their victims are too scared to speak.
- Chocolate: Consumers
should research the kind of chocolate they buy very carefully as
there’s a good chance that even some of the major brands found in
supermarkets use chocolate that was the product of a system of slavery.
We don’t often associate chocolate with bad things or bad experiences,
but others around the world sure might. In places where chocolate grows
well, like the Ivory Coast, children and young adults are often tricked
or kidnapped into slavery. Children on these farms
work 80-100 hours a week, endure beatings and are given little to no
food in return, even at one of the largest cocoa producers in the world.
This slavery harvested cocoa makes its way into 43% of the world’s
chocolate and is in products from big names like Hershey and Nestle as
well. Chocolate lovers don’t necessarily need to give up their sweet
treat to avoid supporting slavery, just look for packages that are
marked as being fair trade.
If the soybeans and soy products you eat are coming out of Brazil you
might just be consuming legumes harvested by those without a choice of
whether or not they want to do so. While slavery was abolished in Brazil
in 1888, some estimate that over 50,000 people in the country may be
working under slavery-like conditions. Foods like soybeans are grown in
fields that are cleared out of rainforests, often by those who have
little means to escape from their captors, work at gunpoint and are
given little food or medical care. Additionally, consumers should watch
out for Brazilian processed meats as these can be packaged and
slaughtered in horrible conditions by enslaved workers as well.
Authorities in Brazil are working to counter the problems of slavery in the country,
but it’s often difficult to find the offenders within millions of miles
of rainforest and there are few repercussions for those working so far
out of the public’s sphere of interest and the reach of the law.
That orange might put a sour taste in your mouth when you learn a
little bit more about how it got from the farm to your table. Over the
past 20 years, over 1,000 slaves and indentured workers have been freed
through court-action in Florida. What were they harvesting? The very
oranges and tomatoes you buy in the supermarket every day. In one case,
workers were recruited from homeless shelters through promises of a
good wage then forced into labor harvesting oranges. They were kept
indentured through "company store" debt and those who tried to leave
were kidnapped and beaten into submission. It sounds like something out
of the 1800′s but it’s still happening right here in the United States
every day to workers who have little legal recourse.
- Sugar: Since it was brought to the New World along with Columbus, sugar cane has been a product that has been associated with slave labor
as it is notoriously hard to plant, harvest and process. Unfortunately,
little has changed today and slaves produce sugar on plantations around
the world. In Pakistan,
7,500 bonded laborers on cane fields have been freed since 1995. Yet
this is only a fraction of the 50,000 more that are estimated to still
be working in the fields of the Singh region. In Brazil,
more than 1,000 workers were freed from a sugar cane plantation in
2007, the largest anti-slavery raid in modern times. These countries
aren’t alone, with numerous places in Africa, the Caribbean and Central
America putting people to work in sugar fields against their will. Make
sure your sugar truly is sweet by finding out where it’s from and
whether or not it’s fair trade.
- Coffee: If
you aren’t aware of problems with slavery and coffee production you
might have been living under a rock. Coffee is a product that is
notorious for its association with slavery, something that’s responsible
for the growth of fair trade
and ethically produced varieties in grocery stores around the world. If
you don’t know where your coffee is coming from, there’s a good chance
it’s been planted and picked by a slave laborer, and an even better
chance that that laborer is a child. In places like the Cote d’Ivoire,
children wake at the crack of dawn to work in the field, are starved,
beaten and even killed if they don’t work long or hard enough. If that
doesn’t wake you up, no amount of coffee will.
- Strawberries: Strawberries
are tiny and hard to pick, so it’s hard to find workers who are willing
to work in the fields for the low wages farm owners want to pay. As a
consequence, many strawberry fields become sites of slavery, exploiting
the migrant workers who do the difficult but extremely profitable (for
the owners) job of harvesting the berries. During the strawberry season
you might enjoy the sweet, summery fruits, but for those who work in the
fields it’s a season of backbreaking labor, cruelty and often
starvation. Problems with strawberry harvests occur around the world,
and slaves have been found in the United States, Germany, Poland, and even Japan.Those
strawberries don’t taste nearly as good as not being responsible for
the suffering of others, so pay close attention to where you’re getting
- Poultry: Few
of us would want to work in a plant processing poultry as it’s a dirty
and often disgusting job, however much we love our chicken nuggets.
Because it’s such hard and unforgiving work, the jobs often go to
undocumented and unprotected immigrant workers. There is little
government oversight so workers often put in long hours, get little pay,
receive no medical care and are mistreated and abused. Some who do
speak out simply disappear. Think the poor conditions of poultry
processing are an exaggeration? In a case in Iowa,
a Texas-based turkey company was found to be paying mentally
handicapped workers a mere 44 cents an hour for their work, and housed
them in an ancient and unsafe bunkhouse. This went on for over 30 years
with no interruption or government intervention, and might make you
think hard before you buy any poultry.
- Tea: Much
like coffee, the tea industry has seen a lot of slavery over the years,
and with tea being the most popular beverage in the world, the demand
is there and the profits from growing and selling tea on the back of
enslaved laborers are high. Again, much like coffee, a good deal of this
hard labor is done by children
who are sold into slavery by their parents and work long, backbreaking
hours in the fields picking tea leaves. Make sure to look carefully at
the teas you buy to ensure that they are not produced under these
conditions. If it doesn’t say, don’t buy it.
- Seafood: Sustainability isn’t the only thing you have to worry about when it comes to buying seafood. The fishing industry in places like Southeast Asia and Africa is riddled with trafficked children, forced to work for little or no pay at jobs that are hard even for adult workers. In Thailand, the industry is largely supported by slave labor from migrant workers, children and those who have been smuggled into the country. If you think it seems farfetched that fish from such far flung destinations would make it to your plate in the U.S., do a little research. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, food from Asia or Africa could easily end up in a U.S. processing plant. So, think before you eat and by locally sourced and ethically produced seafood when you can.