Ethical Consumption

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14

Recently I had an opportunity to talk to a group of kids about the idea of ethical consumption. Of course I didn’t call it ethical consumption because that would have been a weird phrase to use with young kids that might have gone over their heads, made them look at me strangely and go back to their snacks.

No, I explained to them that most of the chocolate they eat is made with cocoa from West Africa which is, in all likelihood, harvested by child laborers or child slaves.  This got their attention and as I explained the process by which these 7-14 year olds are forced to produce the cocoa which eventually produces our favorite treats, even breaking out a machete for good measure, we talked about how our economic relationships can have both positive and negative impacts on people we will likely never see.

Next, we talked about what we might do about this. The progression of the conversation became – We know that slavery is wrong and that our buying the chocolate it produces helps perpetuate this system so how can we change this?

On some giant sticky notes I began to write their ideas.  Right out of the gate one young woman suggested that we can just stop eating chocolate.

Whoa … this might not seem so radical but honestly in our workshops with adults no one has yet come up with this suggestion.  The idea that in order to remove ourselves from the evil of slavery and to help hasten its demise we would be willing to give up entirely the sweet sweet luxury of chocolate?  But these kids went there right away!

So “No Chocolate” went up on the sticky and we kept brainstorming. Their ideas continued to impress (and at times concern) me.  One young boy thought we should shut down all the chocolate factories in a less than ethical manner (violence was involved) and while I affirmed his enthusiasm I tried to channel it toward more legal activity. A similar suggestion came with regards to the chocolate companies! They came up with boycotts, protests, telling friends (the old fashioned way and on social media), switching our buying power to Fairtrade and finally we talked about writing letters to our government, the chocolate companies and stores that sell slave chocolate.

Most of the ideas we came up with were similar to the ones we discuss in our workshops with adults.  What stood out was their quick willingness to believe not only that they could make a difference but that they should.  The kids did not need to be convinced that they had a role to play in eradicating the greatest evil of our time.  They heard that it existed and less than five minutes later were deep in discussion about how they would stop it believing they could, feeling they must.  The other distinction from our adult discussion was that many of their suggestions, indeed almost all of their initial discussion involved group action – boycotts, protests and social media.  They panned to act together.

These kids inspired me.  It’s so easy after all of these years of studying slavery, supply chains, ethical consumption, cocoa plantations and Fair Trade to lose sight of the simple truth – slavery exists because of man’s greed and apathy.  Kids don’t need to be convinced of anything once they hear it exists they don’t argue about how much of the cocoa might be harvested by slaves, or how little an impact their actions would have.  They accept the knowledge and want to move directly to action.

I walked away with a humbling sense of what I should be like but have lost in some ways.  That urgent belief that I am responsible to do good and to work to right the wrongs of which I have been made aware.  Beyond the belief that I should is also the belief that I can. As adults I think we have become too cynical – we see only the obstacles, the reasons not to act, not to move.  That morning a group of homeschool kids reminded me that despite the presence of very difficult obstacles between us and real change in the fight against slavery the first step in making a difference is the belief that we can and the belief that we should.

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