Stop Slavery: How We Can Help

This week, I attended a screening of the new documentary, “The Dark Side of Chocolate.” The screening was held at Theo Chocolate here in Seattle and sponsored by Equal Exchange. So as we munched on Theo’s o-so-yummy-slave-free chocolate, we watched this documentary that exposed the use of child slavery in producing the chocolate of major brands like Nestle and Hershey’s.

After the film, we had a discussion about what can be done to prevent these atrocities. We were really given only one option: Buy Fair Trade. At one level I agree. Consumer demand is probably the most effective way to get companies to prevent child slavery. If consumers refuse to buy their products, or begin choosing ethically sourced products, these companies will change their ways. Think for example of the impact that the success of Whole Foods has had–they’ve helped change the behavior of big chain grocery stores. In order to remain competitive, Safeway has started providing healthier and organic products that customers want.

We must change our behavior as consumers! Or so the argument goes. Certainly this is true. Yet this isn’t our only option and it may not be the one that will bring the quickest change. Here are a few other options for creating change:

1. Socially Responsible Investing.  Through socially responsible investing, the investment dollars that you are saving for retirement can be working to simultaneously create slave-free and socially responsible companies. Investment companies like Trillium Asset Management and Newground Social Investing or organizations like the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investing (NWCRI) and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) work to change corporate behaviors as the OWNERS of companies. They file shareholder resolutions and engage in shareholder dialogues to change corporate behavior. Thanks in part to a shareholder resolution from NWCRI, this past January Delta Airlines became the first US Airline to sign The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism.

2. Advocate for Anti-Trafficking Legislation. Last year, the governator signed the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act into law. This law requires companies with gross receipts of over $100 million to demonstrate to the public that they are not using slave labor to produce their products. Washington Anti-Trafficking Engagement has engaged in legislation to prevent human trafficking and has already been successful in advocating for the passage of two anti-trafficking laws by organizing grassroots advocacy efforts which persuaded legislators to vote in favor of the bills. If you’d like to join exciting initiatives to address human trafficking in Washington state, you can contact WA Engage.

3. Participate in NGO Campaigns. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this statement from corporate responsibility professionals: “We need NGOs to raise these issues in order to create change within our companies.”

Here’s how it works. With regard to issues like human slavery, companies seek to balance risk and profitability. It’s often more profitable for these companies not to do anything about child slavery in their supply chain. It costs money to create transparency and to pay farmers for fair labor. IF, however, the risks to reputation, to branding, to consumer loyalty, or to threat of lawsuit exceed a certain threshhold, these companies will change their behaviors in order to remain profitable. This is where NGO campaigns come in: they create the bad press that increases risk for companies.

So when NGOs like Greenpeace start a campaign to prevent deforestation of the Amazon by having participants dressed up like chickens protesting McDonalds, they saw a change in corporate behavior. While such campaigns are not always so successful, you’d be surprised how effective they can be at changing corporate behaviors. And you don’t have to dress like a chicken to participate.

4. Support the News Media and writers that cover these issues. If our news media finds it profitable to cover these topics, they also increase the risk for companies to engage in unethical behaviors. Nike is now one of the most ethical companies in their industry –thanks to the 1996 LIFE magazine cover article by Sydney Schanberg that exposed Nike’s use of child labor in Pakistan.

If as consumers, we read, twitter, and comment on articles that educate and expose child slavery, we are communicating to these media outlets that we want them to keep up their work. Writers like Nicholas Kristof are doing some wonderful reporting and it costs us nothing to follow him on Twitter. The CNN Freedom Project is another great resource.

5. Tell Your Friends and Family. A lot of people don’t know that slavery still exists. Yesterday I chatted with a CSR professional who is kind, well-educated, and socially aware–who didn’t know what human trafficking was. Let’s keep talking and raising awareness and bring the change we’re hoping for.

Okay, so there are a few suggestions for you. If you’ve got more ideas for bringing an end to human slavery, please share them!

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2 Responses to Stop Slavery: How We Can Help

  1. David Stearns says:

    Great post Mar! I had read about such labor conditions in the production of sport apparel, but I had never heard about it in relation to chocolate. I haven’t purchased Nestle or Hershey’s chocolate for some time, but I am a fan of Green & Blacks. Do you know anything about their production?

    • ProjectCSR says:

      Green and Black’s is 100% fair trade — they source from the Dominican Republic and have worked hard to keep slavery out of their supply chain. Eat on!

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