In Memory

 

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. Banks, schools and government offices are closed. Parades have marched the streets of our cities. Families gather for a picnic or meet at the cemetery to leave flowers on the graves of loved ones.  For many, it is a day of honoring those who gave their lives for this country. For others, it’s just a day to sleep in and hang out with friends over juicy burgers and potato salad.

As a young girl in a long line of Conscientious Objectors who refused to pick up weapons in times of war, I  personally knew no one who had died in the line of duty. It was pretty much a day of picnics for me. As an adult, however, I’ve come to realize that today is not a picnic.

May 30, 1868 was the first official Memorial Day. It was originally called Decoration Day, and was set aside as a time to decorate the graves of those who had died in the war with flowers.

Three years after the end of the Civil War, we decided to decorate the graves of those who died in the war between us. The war between the North and the South. The war that threatened the collapse of an empire. The war that turned brother against brother, that was really about keeping the South in the Union and protecting an economy built on the backs of slaves than it was about freeing those slaves. This did not begin as a day to honor soldiers who died “over there” but, rather, the ones who died here.

But there is another version, an unofficial version, of how Memorial Day started. David W. Blight, a Yale historian, has found a list of commemorations initiated by freed Black Americans. The largest took place on May 1,1865, less than a month after the end of the war, when more than 10,000 of them gathered to dig up a mass grave of what had been hundreds of Union prisoners. These Black Americans dug up the bones that represented their freedom and lovingly gave them each a proper burial and built a fence around the new cemetery. Then they marched, lamented, honored, and sang with crosses, flowers, wreaths and anthems.

Later, the South hushed the voices of the Black Community and made the day about the reconciliation and sacrifices of White America, completely leaving out the voices of Black America. Mississippi,  South Carolina, and Alabama each have their own days to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day as State Holidays, in addition to the National Memorial Day.

153 years after the end of the Civil War and we are still fighting each other, still shushing the voices of Black America, still making things about us.

I’m going to fire up my grill soon and throw on the burgers. Then I’m going to sit my boys down and tell them about some pretty brave folks who dug up a mass grave, and honored the bones of those who had suffered for their freedom.

Isn’t it time we stop making everything about us?

Isn’t it time we stop telling Black America what patriotism looks like?

 

 

Fair Trade on a Shoestring – 10 Tips For Your Tool Box

Tool Set

Let’s be honest here for a second. A lot of people want to support Fair Trade but struggle because of the higher price tags. Trust me, we know! For more than twenty years now, we have been either students, volunteers or bootstrapping entrepreneurs. If there is a crowd that shouldn’t be able to afford Fair Trade, we’re definitely a part of it. That being said, I want to tell that crowd, “You can’t afford NOT to buy Fair Trade.” There are more slaves today than there were during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade. This is not okay with me.

Most slavery today happens because, simply put, people are poor. This is not just living-below-the-poverty-line-poor, but a poverty so desperate that some choose to become bonded laborers with little hope of ever gaining their freedom. Others send their child to work on a plantation where the child’s freedom is taken away and he or she ends up working without pay. Some migrate to another city or country in promise of a job that turns out to be a hell on earth that they can’t escape. MBA Central has an eye-opening article with statistics and info-graphics that unpack slavery in our times. You can see it here.

When we buy Fair Trade products, we are ensuring that fair wages are paid and that working conditions are safe. Families are kept together. Entire communities grow and flourish. Human trafficking and slavery are prevented. That’s something I am willing to make a sacrifice for. Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Be Aware – Be willing to research the source of the products you buy. Visualize the conditions of the workers who made the items as you consume them.
  2. Consume Less – When a friend told me he no longer bought chocolate because of the slavery issues, I was shocked. That was the first I  knew about modern day slavery. We couldn’t afford Fair Trade Chocolate at the time, so we began eating much less chocolate and, when we did, we were aware of the hands that produced it.
  3. Be content with what you have. One of the reasons slaves are “needed” today is because we consume so much. Middlemen utilize slaves so that the cost of the products we “need” or feel we deserve is affordable to us. An awareness of where products come from can lead to contentment with what I have vs. the knowledge that I may be contributing to the world’s current slavery crisis.
  4. Shop second-hand – By the time a product reaches a thrift store, the resale no longer supports a large manufacturing company with unethical principles. It also is much more affordable to you. Don’t go crazy though, and over-consume just because it is “cheap”.
  5. Start with one thing and make it your thing. Buy it only when you know it has been ethically sourced. Research it. There are many options you could choose from to start with. These include cocoa, coffee, sugar, rice, rubber, mica (the glittery stuff in makeup), cotton and garments, shoes, gold, diamonds, tobacco, bricks, coal, electronic devices, palm oil, sea food, cut flowers. The list is endless and can seem overwhelming, but start with one.
  6. Buy local – I was horrified to learn that a significant amount of the sugar in the US market is processed in slave-like conditions in the Dominican Republic. In 2014, more than 100 tons of sugar from the DR was imported into the US. As a family we had already cut back on sugar consumption for health reasons but I wanted to do more. Fair Trade Sugar is still not something that fits in our budget, so I was thrilled to find a local source of sugar, Pioneer Sugar. Cut flowers are another industry where child labor is often an issue. Pick up a fresh bouquet at your local farmer’s market instead.
  7. Buy in bulk Equal Exchange offers coffee and cocoa in 5lb. bags and is more inexpensive than buying in small packs. Chocolate chips and chocolate bars can be bought by the case and split with a friend. One of our favorite coffee roasters, Hemisphere also sells ethically sourced coffee in in 5lb bags. They roast it right before shipping and I couldn’t be happier with the results!
  8. Shop Around for your favorite Fair Trade brands and ask to be put on their mailing list. I am emailed frequent coupons from Ten Thousand Villages. Other companies email me about sales they are having.
  9. Look for ethically sourced products – There are many great brands out there that are not Fair Trade Certified but still pay their workers fair wages. The key is to do your homework.
  10. Make a wish list and let your friends and family know about it. Not only does this help to avoid receiving junk that you will pass on to a resale shop in a few months, it gives you a chance to tell your family and friends about modern day slavery. You just may get the coolest birthday gift ever, enhancing not only your life, but changing the life of an artisan on the other side of the world. The chain reaction is real and inspiring!

Is There Finally a Sensible Prostitution Solution?

 

Pebble's Limited Edition Rag Doll

I heard a modern day abolitionist state that, “The effort to end modern day slavery and the fair trade movement, are not two separate things, they are Siamese twins.” I could not agree more. In Bangladesh women receiving a fair wage for their work will seldom resort to sex work.

I believe that there is only a fine line between prostitution and human trafficking. In many cases, that line has ceased to exist. The sex workers I have been privileged to know have been victims of horrific crimes. Not one of them woke up one morning and said, “Hmm! I could make a lot of money selling my body. This is what I want to do with my life.” No, it’s been a result of being victimized… of being so bloody beaten down, sometimes literally, that there is not much left for them to do or be. The whys behind prostitution are much deeper and complex than I can put into words but what I have seen in my experience makes me agree with something I read last night in an article entitled Sweden’s Prostitution Solution – in it Marie De Santis states that, “prostitution is a form of male violence against women.” In 1999, Sweden made it illegal to buy sex and, instead of punishing the one selling sex, now offer help and alternatives. Not only has this greatly diminished prostitution, it has had a huge effect on human trafficking. An estimated 200-400 women and girls are being trafficked into Sweden yearly, compared to the 15,000 – 17,000 being trafficked into Finland every year.

Dignity is priceless. That has become a mantra in my life. Something is twisted when a woman feels she has no options but to sell her body and is then criminalized for doing so. Her dignity was lost long before the arrest, long before she sold her body and yet, the one who bought the sex can walk away from her with his dignity more or less intact. This is seriously twisted! Words cannot do justice to how wrong this scenario is. If Sweden’s government can “get it” and make real, lasting changes, maybe there is hope for the the rest of us.

I’m enchanted by women’s stories and love uncovering the ways in which they connect. I’m a bit of a mystic, and see these stories as threads spinning the issues of fair trade and sex work together. Pebble addresses sex work by creating a compelling alternative and preventing it in the first place. Our goal as Kahiniwalla (which means “storyteller”) is to tell Pebble’s story and create a market for Pebble products creating even more opportunities for employment. We want to use the stories that we spin together and turn them into warm blankets to soothe the cold, desperate and hungry that have been wounded and left out in the cold.

No Dark Secrets Please!

 

Fair Trade Chocolate Chip, Pecan Brownies

Fair Trade Chocolate Chip, Pecan Brownies

The shelves at the store seem to be sagging these days with the load of candy piled on them. From one store to another, one holiday to another, one ad to another, there’s not much difference. Oh the color of the wrappings change and the words used to lure us to buy lots of sugary “goodness” change according to the theme of the holiday, but underneath all the wrappings, there’s not much difference. I don’t know about you, but I get a little weary of it all.

It wasn’t always this way; I used to to be charmed by chocolate in any way, shape or form. I was pretty shocked, about 5 years ago, when a friend told me he didn’t buy chocolate because of the slavery issues surrounding it. I had no idea that such a sweet little item had such huge controversy behind it. It was appalling to me there were indeed many cocoa plantations in West Africa, in particular, which were run by slaves, often children. The more I researched, the more I became convinced that this was something I could no longer turn a blind eye to. For starters, our family simply began by eating a lot less chocolate. At the same time, I discovered a growing number of fair-trade companies who are sourcing their cocoa from farmers who are paid a fair wage and producing amazing chocolate. It was not a difficult decision to make the switch!  I fell in love with the baking cocoa from Equal Exchange. Not only can I feel good about my purchase, I believe the quality is far superior to other brands making it well worth the price. The most difficult thing to make the switch in for me was chocolate chips. Fair trade chocolate chips are hard to come by and are costly. As a compromise, I opted for organic chocolate chips for a time, since organic farmers are subjected to a lot of screening and it is less likely that slave labor is used on these farms. This past fall, I was thrilled to discover that Equal Exchange had begun selling chocolate chips! And are they good! A friend of mine didn’t believe me until she tasted what I’m about to share with you.

Fair trade, chocolate and baking are big passions of mine. I’ve combined all three and come up with a recipe that I want to share with you, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

No Dark Secret Brownies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup fair trade baking cocoa
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 – 1 cup fair trade chocolate chips

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the oil and baking cocoa. Cook for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Beat eggs and vanilla. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla, mixing just until combined. Sift the flour and gently stir in. Add the pecans and chocolate chips. Avoid over-mixing. Pour into a greased 9×13″ baking pan. Bake at 350 for 30 -40 minutes, until a toothpick an inch or two from the edge comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting.

Don’t fight over the corner pieces!

Disposable People

IMG_1743
He was just a stump of a person. Swept along by a surging wave of people, I nearly stepped on him as I descended an overhead foot bridge at one of the busiest hubs in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He had no arms or legs to propel himself to safety. Left alone, lying under the merciless sun with only a begging bowl. Alone, in a city of more than 10 million, with no one beside him to give him a drink of water or relief from the sun. I wish I could say that I did something heroic that day, something that would have altered the course of his life for the better, but I kept walking, pulled by the throng around me, my stomach churning from the sight. It’s been years ago, but I’ve not been able to forget him. The lines of his face are but a vague memory, but the clarity of his dented aluminum begging bowl still haunts me. It screams at me, informing me that there is someone in his life, someone watching from the shadows, listening for the plink of coins dropping into the bowl; someone who would pick him up at the end of the day, empty the begging bowl of its takas. Hopefully this same person would feed him and give him some rest before dropping him off again in the light of another cruel sub-tropical sun. A person who is content to use the unbearable suffering of another soul to fill his own pockets.

They say that slavery ended with the Civil War. They couldn’t be more wrong. Today more that 30 million people are held in slavery, in one form or another. 30 million disposable people. That is more than all the slaves trafficked during the years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Human Trafficking is second only to drug dealing, and is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, netting a profit of over 32 billion dollars every year. Nearly everything we own and love is tainted by this industry. From the cotton in our clothes to the sweat shops they are sewn in. From  diamond mines to florist shops. From cocoa plantations to sugar refineries. From covert transactions of forced prostitution to blatant pornography. Even components of the electronics that seem to define us in the 21st century, that mark our “progress” as humans, are tainted by the industry.

President Barack Obama said it well,

It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.

The CNN Freedom Project defines it like this:

Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence, to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they cannot walk away.

It reminds me of the garment workers killed in the recent collapse of the factory in Bangladesh. Though they sensed danger that morning, they could not walk away. Financially they had no other options. Twenty two cents an hour does not let you save up, should you need to take a day off if your building is condemned.

While the scale of modern day slavery is staggering, I firmly believe that each of us has a voice and an important role bringing an end to slavery. If the world has modern day slaves, it requires modern day heroes. In the coming pages of this blog, I want to introduce you to some of those slaves and some of those heroes, but for today, I want to challenge you to make one change. One change that will impact one of those 30 million people. One change matters. You could decide to find ethically sourced sugar or coffee. You could buy a fair trade product. You could write a letter to Hershey’s. You could search for agencies in your area working against trafficking – because human trafficking is not limited to other countries, it’s right here among us. If you need more inspiration, you could watch movies like Human Trafficking, WaterSlumdog Millionaire, or The Dark Side of Chocolate. Do a search and find countless sites working tirelessly to stem the tide. Take a survey to discover how some of how unwittingly you may benefit from slavery. Pick some spring flowers and put them on your windowsill as a reminder of those who lost their lives in the industry. Say a prayer for those still trapped. The options are endless. There are at least 30 people enslaved. Pick one thing. A place to start. A place where you dig your feet in and tell the world that there are no more disposable people.