Kelly Thorell ‘21 Opinion Editor
When buying a product off of a shelf in a store, the deeper origins of the product are often ignored. It is assumed that the product was built in a cute factory by joyful employees, or more often the origins of our products are not thought of at all. This utopian world of gleeful workers producing the products for western citizens, however, is not often true.
Some consumers may be aware of the unethical productions of products. However, many of these people only believe the fast fashion companies like Shein, Zara, and H&M are the only ones guilty of immoral practices. Arguably though, fast fashion is just the tip of the iceberg in human rights issues.
Now of course even for some people in western nations, such as the United States and Canada, going out of their way while shopping or spending significantly more money on ethical products may not be feasible. This list is not to shame those who buy these products and unintentionally support the trade, but for people to grasp a greater understanding of large corporations and globalism, raise awareness of these unethical practices, and dismantle the hypocrisy that many exercise while they shame others for buying products known to have unethical practices.
As you enjoy your Hershey Chocolate bar or buy your loved one a fancy chocolate box this Valentine’s Day, you should know that the chocolate most likely is not from an ideal, fantasy-like cocoa farm in a sunny and warm country. Instead, around 70 percent of all chocolate comes from western Africa, with a third originating from Cote d’Iviore (Ivory Coast) cocoa farms. In 2000, BBC filmed a documentary titled Slavery: A Global Investigation which uncovered the mass child labor that goes into the production of chocolate. In fact, in 2014, CNN reported that there are still 800,000 children working in these Cote d’Iviore cocoa farms, and in 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reported that there are two million children engaging in dangerous labor for cocoa production in West Africa.
We may feel detached from the ten, twelve, and fifteen year old western African children, though these children are directly harvesting our chocolate for our supermarket Hershey, Nestle, or Mars bars. These are real childrens’ lives being affected. A 2009 article by the Washington Post reported that the largest chocolate-producing companies still cannot trace the exact farms where the cocoa is from. For example, Mars, who produces M&Ms and Milky Ways, only knows the origins of 24 percent of their chocolate.
Within Each of your iPhones, computers, and laptops lies a lithium battery, which, on the surface, does not seem harmful. However, the cobalt required for lithium batteries is mined by child laborers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. According to The Guardian, The Democratic Republic produces 60 percenet of the world’s cobalt and is one of the most impoverished and unstable countries, leading to little prevention against child labor there. Though sometimes, these children “choose” to work in these mines as they may need to create an income for their family. Top technology companies such as Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla are guilty of this and in 2020 these tech giants filed to have a lawsuit dismissed against them for knowingly using child labor in the mines. These children do not only have their childhood and education taken away from them for low wages; sometimes, their whole lives are taken away. This is because regularly the mining children die due to mine collapses or accidents.
In Thailand, the world’s third largest producer of shrimp, men are often kidnapped to work on the fishing boats. Other men are lured in from neighboring countries, such as Cambodia and Myanmart, where they are promised a job much different than 20 hour work days. Sometimes the job that they’re promised is what they will be doing, however they are lied about the wages and work conditions In 2014, the U.S. State Department rated Thailand as a “tier 3” (the worst level to be ranked) in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report. More recently, the Thai government proposed a plan to end this human right’s violation by replacing the fishing workers with their prisoners which obviously does not change the working conditions, just the workers.
While children play with their new Crayola, Disney, Fisher-Price, and Mattel toys, there’s a good chance that they were previously handled by underpaid and overworked Chinese sweat-shop workers. As reported by the China Labor Watch (CLW), these companies have several human right’s violations such as poor living conditions, lack of fire safety, and excessive overtime. Toys made of plastic often release toxic chemicals into the air when they are being melted and constructed, though as reported by the CLW, sweatshop workers do not have any masks or protective equipment to protect them from the toxins. These working conditions can be so horrendous that in 2014, Mattel sweatshop worker Hu Nianzhen killed herself after suffering through two years of harsh working conditions and verbal threats from her supervisors.
Blood diamonds, also known as conflict diamonds, are diamonds mined in Western Africa, specifically Sierra Leone, which are sold by rebel groups to fund their military. These rebel groups set up “governments” that are not internationally recognized or legitimate, but are rather often forces that overtook their previous government or a portion of the country. These militia groups create further conflict in their own countries by harming civilians, fighting recognized militaries, and enforcing their own regime.
In order to mine these diamonds, the rebel groups use surviving men, women, and children as slaves after they massacre villages. Sometimes when people attempt to stop mining for these militia groups, their hands are severed by a machete to set an example to other freedom-desiring laborers. This fear-tactic of limb or hand removal was often used by terrorist groups during Sierra Leon’s 11-year-long civil war. Even more disheartening was that sometimes these fear tactics were carried out by child soldiers who were forced to or conditioned to do so.
The profits from these conflict-diamond mines can further supply these militia groups, allowing them to buy more weapons and thus have more power. This blood diamond trade is so large that it’s believed to make up 20 percent of the world’s diamond supply.
Thankfully, there are at least procedures to limit the unethical diamond demand. This was most notably done with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). This process was developed by the United Nations, European Union, and the governments of 74 countries to trace the origins of each diamond bought to ensure that the buying of diamonds is not funding these rebel groups in war-torn states.
Of course it is near impossible to rid all products in our homes of unethical production practices; however, it is important to at least be informed of the atrocities performed by these producers for the sake of profit and funding. Action can be taken to prevent these companies from continuing on with their unethical practices through boycotts, campaigns, and verbalizing to the companies directly their unacceptable behavior and human right’s violations.