Friday, February 15, 2008

What you didn't want to know about Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is the fourth largest shopping day of the year for millions of American men and women. Although buying chocolates, flowers, and assorted other goodies for the people we care about gets pretty expensive, it seems that people in the developing world are paying an even higher price than we are. V-Day may be a holiday about caring, but the companies that provide us with ways to show someone we love them seem to have completely forgotten about the people that work for them.

Yesterday (February 14, 2008) the United Nations hosted a briefing to raise awareness about the suffering of farm labourers in Africa and Latin America, some of whom work in near slave conditions to supply goods to a ­predominantly western market. Here are some facts that they thought it was important for us all to realize:

1) CHOCOLATE- According to the International Labor Rights Forum the world’s leading chocolate companies, including Nestle, M&M/Mars and Hershey, had failed to meet a promised 2005 deadline to provide consumers with a “child labour-free chocolate” certification programme and now faced a new agreed deadline of July 2008.

2) FLOWERS- 90% of cut flowers sold in the US come from Venezuela and Ecuador. Most of the flower workers are women who suffer from sexual harassment as well as health problems from the toxic pesticides used.

3) DIAMONDS- Many of our diamonds come from West Africa where diamonds have been identified to fuel armed conflicts throughout the region (that's what people are referring to when they say "blood diamonds"). Although the diamond industry's contribution to such conflicts has decreased in the past few years since the creation of a new certification process, there are still massive problems in the Congo and widespread corruption in countries such as Angola.

So, what can you do...?

Although it is probably too late for this Valentine's Day, there are changes that you can make in your daily life that will ensure your money is not hurting people in the developing world. Fair trade products are everywhere. Although coffee is the most visible, there are also Fair Trade chocolates, bananas, and even flowers ( sells them!). There are also plenty of causes that you can support through organizations like Global Watch and Oxfam International (just run a google search).