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Posted By Hastamorir Artists Society

tainted love

Flowers, jewelry, and chocolate:  collectively, these are the modern-day linchpin of Valentine’s Day.  Yet lurking in the shadows of these industries is a myriad of highly-contentious labour issues.  In order to produce larger quantities of products at a lower price, many companies knowingly or unknowingly use supply chains in which child or forced labour, poor environmental practices, and appalling working conditions exist.  Unfortunately, many consumers are unaware of the breaches of human rights that occur during the trajectory of production, before a diamond necklace or box of chocolates reaches its final destination on some store shelf.  

This February 14, the National Retail Federation anticipates that U.S. consumers will spend $17.6 billion on gifts for their significant others.  But how much of this will be spent on ethically-sourced products?   

In the U.S., an estimated $1.9 billion will be spent on flowers alone for Valentine’s Day 2012—but most of these dollars will go to products harvested by workers under exploitive working conditions.  Would we still purchase flowers if we knew that they were produced at the expense of a sexually harassed flower worker in Ecuador?  Or by a Kenyan labourer who was paid less than a dollar for a 12-hour day of work?  Or by a flower worker in Columbia exposed to 127 different pesticides on a regular basis, including ones known to be extremely toxic or carcinogenic?

Like flower sales, jewelry purchases fuel labour-related injustices where regard is not paid to how the products are sourced.  Of the $4.1 billion that shoppers are projected to spend on jewelry for Valentine’s Day 2012, a percentage of these sales will be propagating child labour.  For example, Surat, India—which cuts and polishes 92% of all diamonds in the global trade—relies heavily upon the labour of children under the age of ten.

Chocolate has been flagged as a sweet industry that’s acquiring a sour reputation for its pervasive use of forced and child labour.  Over 109,000 children work under atrocious conditions in the cocoa industry of the Ivory Coast, and an estimated 10,000 of these children are enslaved.  With Ghana and the Ivory Coast producing around 70% of the world’s cocoa beans, it is more than likely that each of us has consumed chocolate produced at the expense of a child’s freedom.

This Valentine’s Day, remember that your purchase is your advocacy.

Written by Katie Bergman

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