Naughty and nice

Following on from yesterday’s responsible shopping post, here are a few more sources to help you have a slavery-free Christmas:

A brand and product directory giving slavery-mark ratings and background information to the consumer: http://www.free2work.org/home Gap, Barbie, Lindt…they’re all there.

Christmas shopping continued…

This is, ashamedly I admit, the first Christmas that I have been mindful of where the things I am buying come from. As I buy gifts or enjoy a meal out or look forward to festivities to come, I can’t help now but think of where the products I am using are from, what they are made of, who made them, what that person/those people are doing now, how they were treated when making them…

A useful and startling resource in this is the http://www.productsofslavery.org/ website. On it you will find highlighted the countries whose sold products are made using child or forced labour, and a list of these products as well as short summaries of the situations surrounding these. A gruelling read, it reminds me of just how much unfair and unethical labour is happening in our world.

It is impossible to trace everything back and I do not intend to become someone who avoids buying things because of the fear of buying something with a ‘slave mark’ on it. Rather, I believe that there are brands out there who are actively working against using forced labour or associating with other forms of trafficking, the following and encouraging of which will help reduce modern day slavery.

One such business is The Body Shop. I was so impressed at the service and the quality of the products during a ‘stocking filler shop’ earlier this week; but more than that, I believe that what they are doing in their social justice awareness and actions is outstanding. The pioneers of ‘Community Trade’, they aim to responsibly source all of their ingredients. They look to respect the earth and its fruit as well as treat the people all the way throughout the production chain fairly and ethically:

”We ask all our suppliers to sign the Code of Conduct which supports our Ethical Trade Programme, developed to improve conditions for all workers in the supply chain and to uphold their human rights. This code is strictly enforced and monitored to ensure standards are met regarding child labour, discrimination, and employee pay, hours and working conditions.”

The Body Shop also fights to stop child sex trafficking, with their ‘STOP sex trafficking of children and young people’ campaign, which ”aims to raise awareness of the scale of the issue, raise funding for vulnerable children and young people, and inspire those with decision-making power to effect change.”

We so often feel powerless in the face of such a great evil: my suggestion is that the power is in our hands to be responsible buyers, especially this Christmas. Look out for brands committed to ethical and fair standards for all, and get us one step closer to ending modern day slaver

Christmas shopping…

When walking through the town centre today after uni, I was amazed at the number of shops offering special offers and snowflaked windows, the number of gloves, hats, and scarves clad shoppes and the number of their stuffed parcels and shopping bags. This means one thing: Christmas is just around the corner!

I can’t help but feel so unbelievably cushioned in luxury. I, too, have gloves, hats and scarves, I can walk into one of those ornate shops and buy something, I was walking home to a warm house where I would be greeted by smiles and have a choice of what to eat for dinner. Later I would ring a friend, use my laptop to research a topic for a dissertation that is part of a course I have chosen to study, leading to a profession I have chosen. I would then log on to read messages from my friends and write this blog, listening to my favourite music. Then, I might paint my nails, make some hot chocolate and go to bed with a good book.

Conservative estimates place the number of people whose night will be drastically different to mine because of slavery at 27 million. 27 million too many.

How can you and I live the lives we do when others, people just like us, are trapped in a brothel, or locked in a factory for another night’s work, or trapped in the house of someone who is taking advantage of us, or being smuggled across a border in a suffocating truck with 70 other people, or being taught to kill children just like ourselves…, without doing something to reach out to these ”others”? Our others?

Because we are unbelievably wealthy and comfortable, not much on our Christmas lists is actually going to be of necessity to us. Sure, it might be nice to receive another bottle of perfume or a pair of warm socks – and I believe that we are to enjoy these gifts – but what if, instead of indulging in excess, we agreed to honour each other in contributing to the work of anti-slavery organisations?

One organisation facilitating this is International Justice Mission – “a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression” working in 12 countries. Check out this page: https://secure3.convio.net/ijm/site/Ecommerce?store_id=1481&JServSessionIdr004=f4wcxubi72.app306a and fund an aftercare package, investigative equipment, an undercover investigation, one day of legal representation, aftercare or training.

Another way to support this Christmas while giving gifts is through LOVE 146. (http://www.love146.org). Send an e-card http://love146.org/ecards and help support their work, or buy Christmas cards handcrafted by survivors in their aftercare programme https://www.kintera.org/AutoGen/Simple/Donor.asp?ievent=452136&en=jfIGJLPpF5KBLMPuEbIDLRMFJjLMJTOrE9LMI2OIKtH.

Thanks for reading!

Santa’s slaves…

Chocolate. Something you and I will probably enjoy this Christmas. Maybe more than we usually do. Chocolate advent calendars, hot chocolate, chocolate stocking-fillers, chocolates in a bowl in your hallway, chocolates to say thank-you or goodbye, chocolate in front of the TV…

Indulgent. Delicious. Luxury. Relaxing. Gifts.

NOT – Labour. Tears. Pain. Sleep-deprivation. Death.

Sadly, our reality is simply not…realistic. The cost of our luxury is the lives of children and adults caught in forced labour, of which the cocoa industry highly is a regular customer.

Slaves are often sent to the Ivory Coast, a leading cocoa-producing country, to work in absolutely abysmal conditions. ”…children, usually 12-to-14-years-old but sometimes younger, are forced to do hard manual labor 80 to 100 hours a week. They are paid nothing, are barely fed, are beaten regularly, and are often viciously beaten if they try to escape. Most will never see their families again.”

“The beatings were a part of my life,” Aly Diabate, a freed slave, told reporters. “Anytime they loaded you with bags (of cocoa beans) and you fell while carrying them, nobody helped you. Instead they beat you and beat you until you picked it up again.”

This life is unimaginable to most of us. How could this happen? The truth is, it could have been you. Your child. Your brother. Your cousin. Your friend. Trapped in this life.

Anti-trafficking campaigns have been working tirelessly to stop the slave trade and many have zoomed in on the cocoa trade. STOP THE TRAFFIK is one of these; check out http://www.stopthetraffik.org for press releases and updates on their campaigns. On the ‘hit list’ are many of the world’s leading chocolate-producing companies. There are signs of improvement – Hershey’s has recently been in the news for their involvement in child labour and has promised to investigate and make changes; this does, however, remain to be seen. In December 2009, Nestle announced that Kit Kats would be slavery-free from January 2010. Cadbury launched its Fair Trade Dairy Milk in 2009 and whilst it has now been taken over by Kraft, slavery-free intentions are still expressed.

This leaves you and I in a position of power. Let’s NOT buy into the slave trade. It is fairly impossible to lay out for you a list of ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ chocolate products. However, brands standing up for fair trade certainly make themselves known. Actively seek out brands which ensure you that their product is slavery-free. You may need to rethink your Christmas shopping list…a few more Kit Kats perhaps?

Being a drop…

Dear Blogosphere,

I must first apologise for the very much failed attempt at regular blogging made evident by the posts on this page…oops! There is no excuse – perhaps other than feeling that a 23 year old student teacher may not have an awful lot of helpful input into the world! Despite this, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of people who have said they visit this site and so I feel I must…eh….blog on, at least to highlight some important things I feel people may be interested in!

So for tonight – COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS. Anyone who knows me even just a little bit knows how much of a fan of Christmas I am. The hope, the story, the music, the smells, the sights, the events…love it all. So I have teamed this with my passion to see the abolition of modern day slavery in organising an anti-trafficking initiative you may be interested in.

Christmas is a time when most of us get a few days (or weeks!) off work or school/university. Sadly, trafficking doesn’t take a holiday. In fact, there are ways in which it will worsen over this period. People facing job loss, relational difficulties or other distressing situations will find themselves more vulnerable to being picked up by traffickers or even lured by the ‘attraction’ of the trade. Our Western increased consummation of all things luxurious creates more of a demand in factories and trades that involve slaves and unfairly treated labourers.  We will have more time on our hands and the demand for prostitution and pornography will increase over the holiday period.

I have often found myself in tears of despair over this darkness – how can something so evil exist in our world?

I know many of you feel the same way and I have been overwhelmed by the response from so many of you wanting to know more, wanting to get involved, wanting to join the fight. There are countless ways to do this; talking to our families, friends and colleagues and thus raising awareness is a massive tool in the abolishing of modern day slavery. Using our platforms where we are, in our offices, our schools, our staffrooms, our mums and tots clubs, our gyms, etc… is vital. Similarly, using the gifts we have been given is so important – writing songs, producing films, bringing this into politics, writing about it, organising fundraising events, using visual art, caring for victims, breaking them free, educating future generations…the list goes on and it has been wonderful to see how you are lengthening it!

Something that those of us who are so privileged to have roofs over our heads, food to eat, people around us to call friends, and Christmas celebrations to look forward to can do together is supporting anti-trafficking organisations.

http://www.love146.org has been instrumental in forming my own knowledge and passion concerning human trafficking and so I have decided to organise a fundraiser for them.

What’s the deal? From the 1st of December until the 24th, we are each giving something up that is part of daily or weeky lives, a luxury – grocery product, a cinema habit, a shopping habit, take aways, etc… and giving the money we save to Love 146 to save the lives of trafficking victims. Some people are giving up their morning coffees, some are giving up eating out, some are giving up buying new clothes…it can be as big or as small as you’d like it to be. There is also no pressure to join for all of the 24 days – whatever you can do is SO very much appreciated.

So simple, yet if a lot of us get on board, we can make a difference. Nearly 120 people have joined so far – and I am confident more will! If you are up for it, please send me an email or contact me over Facebook. Would LOVE to hear from you!

“We feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” – Mother Teresa


Be a drop!

Modern day slavery, part 2.

I can’t think of anything worse than the trafficking of children for exploitation. Although doing nothing comes close.” Steve Graham

But it is so easy to feel helpless in the face of such a great evil.

Thankfully, there are many organisations working in researching the problem, in the prevention of human trafficking, in the freeing of its victims, and in their rehabilitation.

Not all of us, however, can be involved in these operations. Nevertheless, Betty Reese was right when she said ”if you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”

What we CAN do is be aware. ”There is but one coward on earth, and that is the coward that dare not know.” (W.E.B. Dubois). How I wish I had known about this sooner. Take the time to be informed about this tragedy. And then, help raise awareness by telling the people around you.

As well as this, these organisations need financial aid. Consider a monthly donation to one of your choice – there are most likely organisations working in or from your own town. Buy your e-cards from www.love146.org. Give to your local taskforce.

A few of my friends and I have decided to give up things that are financially significant for 4 months, from the 1st of September. Our aim in this is A. to raise awareness and B. to be, in a very small way, helpful financially to an organisation we are in the process of choosing, having contacted a few to see how best we can help.

Therefore, we are giving things up that cost a good bit in our budgets; and giving things up which will cause conversation – in giving up things that are so obvious, we hope people will ask questions and allow us to talk about the issue. I very much enjoy clothes shopping, but have decided that if a little girl somewhere only has 1 t-shirt to choose from, and another is being given clothes that are far too mature for her child’s body, I don’t deserve the clothes I have, much less anymore; as well as Diet Coke…why should I be able to spend money on a drug when people are being drugged in order to be taken advantage of by monsters? Another friend takes great pleasure in eating out but is giving that up as sign of solidarity and to raise funds, as well as awareness. Another is giving up luxury items in his weekly shop.

We don’t want people to get caught up in a ‘movement’, and we want people to be convinced it is something they want to do. Do consider joining us…it won’t change the problem overnight, but it is a small contribution that, hopefully, will create a ‘sting in the bed‘. Although we are starting this on the 1st of September, a date that is coming up very soon, it is not too late for you to join in this, if you feel so led.

If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58: 2-4

Francis Chan writes…”Why is it that the story of someone who has actually done what Jesus commands resonates deeply within us, but we then assume we could never do anything so radical or intense? Or why do we call it radical when, to Jesus, it’s simply the way it is? The way it should be?

Let hope rise and darkness tremble…

Modern day slavery…an open sore of our world.

December 10, 1948 – United Nations – Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

“Slavery was, in a very real sense, the first international human rights issue to come to the fore. It led to the adoption of the first human rights laws and to the creation of the first human rights non-governmental organization. And yet despite the efforts of the international community to combat this abhorrent practice, it is still widely prevalent in all its insidious forms, old and new.” Kofi Annan

”Slavery was abolished 150 years ago, right? While it is true that slavery is illegal almost everywhere on earth, the fact is there are more slaves today than there ever were.” Robert Alan

2.5 million people are in forced labour, including sexual exploitation, at any given time as a result of trafficking. 600K-800K people are trafficked yearly. 56% are in Asia and the Pacific. Most victims are between 18 and 24. 95% experience physical or sexual violence.

What is a slave? A contemporary slave is a person held against their will, controlled by violence and paid nothing for their work — the same definition as slaves 150 years ago. Slaves are bought to perform physical labour, to be sexually exploited, to be used as mules…to be robbed of their humanity and freedom.

Some slaves are bought…some find themselves in debt bondage, at times involving generations of one family…some are promised a future if they trust the traffickers…and some are stolen.

In 1850, the average price for a slave was the equivalent to $40,000. Today, if any price is paid, it is $100. The trafficking industry reaps 800% in profit. Our wallets are ‘the temple of the 21st century’ (John Ortberg). There is no incentive to maintain even a low level of well-being for the slaves; they are ‘disposable‘. They are controlled, often through fear, violence and drug use, until they are no longer useful; and then are thrown away.

In some countries, though slavery is illegal, it is generally accepted. Other countries lack the ressources to stop the trade. In every country, it is difficult to determine if someone is working against their will. We often think of such issues only reaching impoverished or just ‘far-away’ countries…but human trafficking IS happening in your city. It is happenng all over Northern Ireland (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8675275.stm), it is happening all over the US (http://www.sexandmoneyfilm.com), it is happening all over the world.

Even after the slaves have been freed, they suffer immense psychological and physical trauma from something that often is the only way of life they have ever known – “It’s as if all identity has been stolen from them, except their identity as slaves.”Kevin Bales. Therefore the biological, psychological and social aspects of a life of slavery must be addressed in aftercare.

Please take a few minutes to read this interactive online leaflet…it contains very accessible information and a few stories that are, frankly, heart-wrenching. Be sure to watch Long Pross’ story. http://love146.org/slavery

”The worst disease is the disease of being forgotten.’ Mother Teresa… so we remember.

Summer goals

Having graduated in July and not starting up my PGCE course until September, I have had 2 months with lots of time on my hands. I wanted to make sure I used the time in productive ways, so I set myself 4 goals…to enjoy running, to move several steps closer to being able to drive, to explore the world of photography and take a good picture, and to write songs. I then added a research project: slavery.

Initially, I thought that this meant looking back to the Abolition Act in the beginning to the mid-19th century; learning about abolitionists such as William Wilberforce, Baroness Cox, Samuel Sharpe, and many other great men and women. Once I had researched many of their stories however, I found that there are indeed more slaves now than there were in the time of these giants – something I had never realised. I have since delved into articles and stories and mission statements concerning the issue…my heart has been broken over and over again…and I have become, quite frankly, restless.

Back to blogging…

After about 3 years of no blogging, I have decided to give it another go! A friend who is probably just tired of hearing me talk about a particular issue close to my heart (more on that later…) suggested that because I now had a cause, I had a reason to blog. It’s a scary world and I am somewhat naive and not very experienced…but even I have access to truth and to hope that shouldn’t be mine…that is worth sharing.