January: National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

I know I've let the whole month slip by, but the new year brought a lot more changes and stress than I anticipated.  I've been taking it day by day, trying to find motivation to improve myself, my writing, and my life.  I hope to stay accountable to my goals by sharing my progress and thoughts here.

January was declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  The majority of Americans would agree that slavery is wrong and are glad it has been outlawed, but that same majority may not know how prevalent forced labor and human trafficking are in modern times.

Photo credit: Powerhouse Museum Collection

It is estimated that between 12 and 27 million people globally are victims of human trafficking or forced labor.  It is hard to pin down since most of these cases go unreported.  This includes not only manufacturing, but also labor in nail salons, restaurants, agriculture, and domestic servitude.  Many of those workers are forced into sexual exploitation.  Even more unnerving is that half of forced labor victims are children.

Slavery doesn't just mean unpaid workers that are tied up or chained down, physically unable to escape under pain of death, as was taught in history classes.  Sometimes forced laborers get paid, but not paid nearly enough.  They feel trapped due to threats on their families and have been defrauded by labor brokers promising a better life.

Labor brokers facilitate the connection between workers and the industry.  These operations are often very informal and brokers can charge exorbitant recruitment or placement fees, misrepresent terms, withhold important documents, or even give out fake licenses to a vulnerable and unwitting migrant worker.

In September 2012, the US Department of Labor reported that 134 goods from 74 countries were produced with a significant incidence of forced labor, child labor, or both.  That is up from 122 goods in 58 countries reported in 2009.  Forgive my concern when vague company policy and sketchy counterfeit goods make me wonder if an 8 year old's legs were broken so she couldn't play outside and could instead finish the garment.

From fires in Bangladesh apparel factories to labor on cotton fields and cocoa fields in Uzbekistan and West Africa to tomato and citrus fields in Florida, to Burmese migrants in the seafood industry in Thailand, it is clear that forced labor is a global issue.  But what can be done to stop it?

Change can happen by consistently taking small steps.

Next time you go shopping, keep an eye out for fair trade labels or at least try to avoid brands that have been known to break the rules.  As much as I love a low price point, Forever 21 has broken labor laws and skirted intellectual property rules over and over.  They keep getting away with it because people keep shopping there.  Free2work has a breakdown of the supply chain and eco-conscious decisions of other popular brands here. They even have a mobile app (for Android and iPhone) to assist you in making better choices while you're on the go.

Petitioning for more transparency in the supply chain is another way to make change.  ChainStoreReaction allows you to send messages to different companies inquiring about their supply chain policies and the responses get posted.  California has passed laws requiring a public display of the commitment to evaluate and address risks of human trafficking and slavery, that audits are performed to evaluate compliance with standards, certification by suppliers that materials used comply with slavery and human trafficking laws in the country or countries in which they do business, that they maintain internal accountability standards and procedures for employees or contractors that fail to meet standards, and that they train employees on human trafficking.  While the system isn't perfect, it is a step in the right direction.  One of my favorite brands, BCBGMaxAzria follows this.  

If you see something, say something.  It may be difficult to tell but if you suspect forced labor or child labor at a neighborhood restaurant, nail salon, or wherever - report the incident to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) 888 - 539 - 2373.  They can look into the incident and work with law enforcement to sort out the problem.

Most importantly - remain informed.  I've shared some information here but there is a lot more out there - check out the International Labor Rights Forum, Humanity United,  or any of the links I've cited above.

Spotlight On: A Scarf #worthwearing by Indigenous

     Following Kelsey Timmerman's suggestion of wearing "one story a day",  I'm sharing a recent outfit of the day.  This scarf, sent to me by Fair Trade USA Certified eco-fashion company, Indigenous as part of their #worthwearing campaign, is made of 100% organic cotton.  I love the rich red-wine color (called Zin) and the funky fringe makes it a unique item in my closet. 


     Over the weekend, I had to run a bunch of errands including dropping off eBay items at the post office, grocery shopping, picking up lunch for my family, and Christmas shopping.  I paired the scarf with jeans and a white tee during my trek around town.  Luckily, the weather here in Vegas is pretty mild during the day so I was able to make it more of a fun, off-the-shoulder accessory.


Tassel Scarf c/o Indigenous, Tee Shirt by James Perse, Forever Skinny jeans by Jessica Simpson, Cally Moccasins by Minnetonka, Hawthorne Wallet by Hayden-Harnett

     The scarf also looks really great worn around the neck for warmth!  It's also very comfy and warm - I wish I had this scarf during those frigid Chicago winters in college.  I'd probably pair it with my favorite leather jacket and black booties in the evening, for something warmer and dressier. 

     Each garment produced by Indigenous comes with a QR code on the tag.  This QR code can be scanned to find out more about the origin of the garment.  The tag on my scarf took me to this page:  http://www.fairtracetool.com/profile/innercityopportunity/.  I learned about Berta, an artisan in Peru who assures that my garment is made by workers who enjoy their job.  She loves design and is truly an artist, as simply producing isn't enough.  I really appreciate how Indigenous keeps the consumer connected to the producer.

Tags on my Tassel Scarf

     As I discussed in my last post, being Fair Trade USA Certified is a big deal since it requires both a monetary commitment, commitment to rigorous standards, and testing of ethical commitment.  The retail price of this scarf is more than some comparable looking scarves, but being 100% organic cotton makes it more comfortable and longer lasting than an acrylic or other synthetic scarf.  The price is about the same as scarves of similar material, but the clear commitment to using organic and cruelty free fabrics as well as fair trade practices make it #worthwearing to me.  

     Indigenous also makes luxe sweaters and coats made from cruelty free alpaca wool.  Learn more about why they choose alpaca wool from Christie at icanstyleu.  Check out the Indigenous website for more information and to shop their products - they are having a 30% off sale with guaranteed Christmas delivery if you order by December 19 and use promotional code "GIFT30" at checkout!  

An Introduction to Fair Trade

     There are some changes underway here at Urban Orchid.  I'm in the process of moving my blog from googlesites to blogger/blogspot and while I am working on my layout/formatting it may look a bit odd.  I'll also be working on adding more items to my blog sale and if you live in Las Vegas you will soon also be able to see some items for sale on Rumgr.

     Last week, I posted about the circumstances under which some of our clothing may be made.  Sometimes we forget that our clothes didn't just magically appear in the store and then home to our closets, but that there is a whole process in sourcing the fabric and turning that into the garments on store racks.  

     One way to ensure you are shopping consciously is by looking for fair trade items.  A brand or retailer that is committed to fair trade practices will sell products that support the producers and communities in which the items are made.  These items extend further than clothing but include chocolate, coffee, tea, soap, lotion, olive oil, and almost anything you can think of.  Fair trade items may be priced higher than a typical alternative, but that is because some brands that sell at lower cost do not ensure good working conditions or living wages for the manufacturers.

Fair Trade Panel at Greenfest Los Angeles
     The principles of fair trade are creating opportunities for economically and socially marginalized producers, developing transparent and accountable relationships between producers, retailers, and consumers, paying workers fairly and promptly, improving working conditions, protecting children against forced labor, environmental stewardship, and cultural identity.

     Many fair trade co-ops, organizations, and certification groups exist to make it easier to distinguish these companies that commit themselves to fair trade practices from those that do not.

     Fairtrade International (FLO) is a non-profit organization.  The members of this organization emphasize strength in the supply chain - 1.2 million farmers and workers in 66 countries are able to organize and have a voice through FLO.  Fairtrade International acts as a global agent for change by providing strong standards for the minimums, premiums, and labor practices for each item they certify.  The standards are different for each product, but are all available online so it is clear what is required for each product.  An independent certification body checks on each product to make sure the production standards are up to par.

     The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is a different membership organization that screens businesses committed to fair trade.  With members of the FTF, you won't see a stamp or sticker on a certain product in a store, but the business will be listed as a member of the organization.  The FTF provides third-party accountability to the business, as they do routine checks and tests to ensure the business is keeping up with membership rules.  They have a great page on the myths of fair trade here.

     Fair trade USA also provides third party auditing.  Again, this ensures that the company at hand cannot slap a fair trade logo on their product or description without really committing to being fair trade.  Zhena's Gypsy Teas was the first fair trade tea to be certified by Fair Trade USA.  Zhena (pictured in the fair trade panel photo, second from left) says that fair trade is a powerful way to connect people to products.  She is committed to a good quality product and having a good relationship with her workers.  During a time of drought in Sri Lanka, the farm from which her teas are harvested did not produce enough tea.  Rather than going to another supplier, Zhena and her usual farm made an arrangement with another farm to make up for the lack of product. 

Raise The Bar

     Consumer choice and organization can influence major corporations.  The "Raise the Bar, Hershey" campaign put pressure on Hershey to use more ethical practices in how they obtain their cocoa and manufacture their bars.  In October 2012, they announced that they will "source 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines by 2020 and accelerate its programs to help eliminate child labor in the cocoa regions of West Africa."  While the wording is vague, the commitment and intent is a step forward that was encouraged by consumer pressure.

     Until then, I'll continue to enjoy some of my favorite fair trade chocolates - Divine chocolate and Chocolove's Fair Trade Organic, Fair Trade Organic with Cherries, and Fair Trade Organic with Currants and Almonds bars.  

    Incorporating fair trade items into your home doesn't have to be expensive or happen all at once.  Next time you wear out an item, try to replace it with a fair trade item.  Make fair trade coffee at the office and see how many people would be encouraged to do the same.  Tis the season - give fair trade gifts from candles, soaps, lotions, jewelry, scarves, and more - a fair trade gift would mean so much not only to your giftee but also to the community of the producer of that gift.