Sunday, August 19, 2012

When did slavery get a pass?


All of us are raised in a society that indoctrinates us to believe that animal consumption and, in fact, many forms of animal exploitation (animal testing for cosmetics or keeping animals in captivity for human amusement, for example) are acceptable.  So, I tend to give people some latitude if they haven’t thought about these issues and don’t really know the details about them.

However, none of us have been raised to believe that slavery is acceptable. In fact, most of us look back at slavery in the US and abroad as a scar on humanity – as something that we later learned was reprehensible and inexcusable.

And yet, it seems that slavery today gets some sort of pass. Now, is that because much of the slavery taking place (and here I am specifically speaking about commercial slavery) is done at the hands of corporations? Is it because some feel it is too inconvenient to make changes in their lives so they don’t contribute to it? Is it because people just don’t know about the issue? Or is it because much of the slavery is happening abroad? 

In this blog post, I am specifically addressing slavery in the chocolate industry, as that is something that Food Empowerment Project is working to expose.

How can corporations talk about how they are working on this issue? Here is what Hershey has to say:
“Over the next five years, Hershey will also expand and accelerate its programs to improve cocoa communities by investing $10 million in West Africa…”(http://www.hersheycocoasustainability.com/)

Is that supposed to make my jaw drop? Unfortunately, it makes my stomach turn.  While Hershey’s $10-million investment sounds magnanimous, it is $600,000 less than their CEO made in 2011!
(WSJ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304724404577293340278881890.html)


But we are talking about slavery here, people – we are talking about kids working in the fields, forced to carry heavy loads and dangerous tools and not being able to leave.

How can a company say they are working on it? Why don’t they say they are outraged and will ensure these farmers are paid a living wage so that they are not forced to enslave children to do the job?  Is it the extra house? The yacht? What is it?

Is chocolate addiction so serious that they know people just can’t give it up even to make this world a more just place? Do they know that people simply accept that the corporations are “doing their best” and leave it at that?

And why is a company like Clif Bar getting a pass from everyone? Why doesn’t our petition have more than 100,000 signatures by now? All we’re asking is for Clif to disclose the country from which they buy their chocolate.

Being an animal rights activist for more than 25 years, I have heard the phrase “Animal liberation is human liberation” more times than I can count, and I see buttons, t-shirts, etc., with the paw and the human fist. So why is it that vegans and vegan organizations can’t get behind this effort?  If nothing else, I hope that vegan organizations can at least not list or promote companies that have not responded to us about the source of their chocolate. 

We don’t need to give up our mission to show solidarity with other causes. 

I am sure you can tell my exasperation is overflowing, but as someone who believes strongly that oppression is oppression and we must work to stop it, I am confused. Very confused.  With something as simple as our food choices and as simple as speaking out to corporations, I just can’t believe that we will give slavery a pass. We aren’t asking people to give us $1,000; we are just asking for a signature that could make real change.

If we can’t get a company like Clif Bar to disclose if we can’t get people up in arms about child slavery in the chocolate industry what are we saying about ourselves and what we can accomplish?

I strongly believe in the power of the individual. I strongly believe that we can encourage corporations to be more ethical because it matters to us and we can make it matter to them. And most of all, we can tell those people around the globe, whose exploitation we are contributing to, that we will not be silent anymore.