We tend to use military metaphors a lot. Our “war against terrorism,” the “war on poverty,” battles against cancer and other diseases. But NPR has reported a victory that seems worth calling a victory: the people who pick tomatoes for Taco Bell have gotten the mega-corporation that owns Taco Bell to buy only from growers who pay a decent wage to their workers.
Having spent many years trying to persuade Florida’s tomato growers to do the right thing, the pickers (who earned an average of $12,000 a year, here in the United States) realized that the growers didn’t really have the power in the situation. It was actually the company — Yum Foods — that bought the tomatoes. They set the prices, which determined what the growers — who were not themselves getting rich — could pay the farm workers.
So they banded together with college students, the Presbyterian Church USA, and other not particularly powerful groups to work on persuading Taco Bell to change their ways. After write-in campaigns (we all wrote to Taco Bell to let them know that we would happily pay an extra 15 cents per taco, which was the estimated cost to the consumer) and a four-year boycott, Yum Foods gave in.
Here’s why this matters to you, even if you are not a farm worker trying to support a family on $12,000 p.a.
Our government is not going to do anything about people working in poverty. They do not care. But we, the consumers, have a great deal of power. If, for example, we consumers refuse to buy anything produced with child labor, then the multi-nationals will have to give up child labor. It is that simple. The same force of the marketplace that has led to floods of “low-carb” items in the grocery could also lead to an end to child labor.
Now, if you have ever thought about slavery in the early years of American history, and wondered why people went along with it, here is the answer to your question. Take for example the chocolate industry. There are between 10,000 and 15,000 children of school age working on chocolate plantations on the Ivory Coast. They are slaves. They have been sold by their families in some cases, but none of them is old enough to have chosen to take these jobs. None of us would allow our children to do what these children are doing. If you buy things made by Nestle company, then you are supporting slavery. You, like many slave-owners and the people who benefited from their production, are supporting slavery because it would be inconvenient for you to do otherwise.
You might not have known this before today. But now you know. So if you continue to buy products made by Nestle, then you are now supporting slavery.
Nestle is not the only company involved, but they have a major presence in Cote d’Ivoire, and are also a major brand in the U.S. Persuading them to take this problem seriously — which means persuading them that American shoppers take this problem seriously — would lead to change.
You can get more information on this subject by going to stolenchildhoods.org. If you intend to watch the film clips, you should have your handkerchief handy, because they are heartbreaking. But the very good news is that you can help. Consumers — not rich, powerful people, but ordinary citizens who chose to be responsible consumers — helped the farm workers in Florida to force a rich powerful corporation to do the right thing. You and I, by refusing to support child slavery in Cote d’Ivoire, can help end this disgraceful situation. That would be a worthy victory.