A few weeks ago my husband and I attended a viewing of a film called Sex+Money. It is a documentary about the sexual exploitation of children in the United States. The group that made the film had also traveled the world and put together a book about human trafficking in general. The church that hosted this event has a ministry called Abolition! Ministry which works to bring awareness to the fact that there are over 27 million modern-day slaves in the world and 80% of them are women and children.
In addition to working in the sex trade, many of these individuals work in sweatshops and plantations, unwillingly giving their health and their lives to produce products that make our lives easier. Things like coffee, tea, and chocolate are products that are often produced by these slaves, many of them children. Much of the clothing we wear in the United States also comes out of these conditions.
If we heard that a neighboring community was enslaving children to produce our consumer goods, we would be outraged. We would refuse to buy those products and would fight to put an end to the cruelty. Yet every day, in far away places, that exact situation exists and we aren't doing anything about it. I used to hear about "fair trade" products and thought that it would be nice if I could buy it but they don't carry those items in the stores where I live, blah, blah, blah. However, now that the proverbial curtain has been pulled back, I must do something about it. Many of those items that are produced are luxuries - we don't need tea, coffee, chocolate, the latest fashion...you name it. By refusing to purchase those items unless they are fair trade means helping to free those slaves.
To get you started, go to Sweatshop Hall of Shame to find out about companies that employ slaves. Learn about coffee and chocolate (and vanilla and sugar) here and here. Then go to the Fair Trade Federation's web site to learn about fair trade.
And I'll leave you with the following facts on annual salaries for the coffee industry in 2000:
Child slave: $0
CEO of Philip Morris (owner of Maxwell House): $45,000,000 plus $71,000,000 in unexercised stock options
(Photo source: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1153852)