Chocolate

Many of us have a weakness for chocolate. I do. I try and eat local as I can, but I have not even considered giving up chocolate. Could you?

I do keep my eyes open for organic fair trade chocolate and buy a bunch when I see it. But it is not widely available and I usually have to go to specialty stores like Planet Organic to even find it.

Sometimes when I am feeling hungry in the afternoon at work, I will go down to the corner store and pick up a chocolate bar. Not organic, not fair trade, just a regular chocolate bar. Sometimes I will look on the back label, and see “palm oil” listed and feel another stab of guilt. I know that massive rainforests have been ripped down to plant palm oil trees, biodiversity and climate change be damned. Most high quality chocolate does not have palm oil, but most of the regular stuff does.

But there is even more to the story.

Several months ago I started thinking differently about the things I bought. So much so, that I had a mind-blowing experience in Wal-Mart that bordered on a panic attack. I looked all around me, and just saw boxes and boxes of stuff that seemed to go on forever. I looked up at the fluorescent lights, the rafters of the ceiling, down at the polished floor and wondered what I was doing there. What was everyone else doing there? Why did we all need all this stuff, and more importantly, where did it all come from? We have no idea about the story behind a toaster, or a blender or coffee maker or our next pair of jeans. If we knew, if we really and truly knew about the lives of the humans that touched these items, and how they lived so that our toaster could only be $15.99 at Wal-mart, would we buy it? If we saw the parts of the Earth that are now forever changed, forests peeled back, mines left open, would we reconsider? If we knew the true carbon footprint of the item, in the context of the specific lives that will be forever damaged due to climate change, would we stop and think?

It is with this context, that I watched a “Chocolate: The Bitter Truth“, a BBC documentary that aired on CBC tonight, also available on YouTube:

The long and short of it is – most cocoa farmers are so poor, they use child labour. These children are not paid, they are trafficked children, taken away from their mamas and sold. They work as slaves, long hours, using machetes, with no family, no one to love them, no one who cares. It is estimated that the area in West Africa that produces 60% of the world’s chocolate, employs 15,000 trafficked children.

As a result, the cocoa is cheap, and my chocolate bar down at the corner store is only $1.25. Is it worth that or should it be worth a lot more? What is the true cost, the human cost?

When you buy a chocolate bar that has the fair trade logo, there is a better chance that your chocolate did not involve child labour. But it is not guaranteed. To get the certification, the cocoa dealers have to keep records on the farmers that they get their beans from, and then these farmers are periodically audited to make sure that there are no children working.   The entire system is much more transparent.  However, sometimes the farmers fail the audit, and are suspended from the certification.

The International Fairtrade Certification Mark

Put another way, if the chocolate bar you eat does not have the fair trade logo, it is pretty likely that child labour was used to produce your chocolate bar.

In the backdrop of a cocoa farming village in West Africa, the narrator of the film sums it up the best:

“Do we pay a fair price for our chocolate? And there has been a lot of number crunching about it in the West. But actually the answer lies here, in the reality of the situation in West Africa in the cocoa farms here, and the grim reality of life where they don’t have shoes to wear, they don’t have electricity, they don’t have running water. And all that begs another question – are we in the West prepared to pay a little bit more for our chocolate, so that they can enjoy a decent standard of living?  And more importantly, so they don’t have to use child labour?”

I can’t eat that kind of chocolate again; I just cannot be a part of it. Why is this happening? Why don’t we demand better? Chocolate is a luxury item, a decadent item, something we like but do not need. Why can’t we pay more for it, why can’t we pay a fair price?

Sometimes the world we live in just makes me so angry.

How dare the chocolate companies let this continue. How dare our governments in the West not hold these chocolate companies to task for selling products that involve child labour. Why is it even sold here? Why does this seem like yet another example where corporate profits and low consumer prices take precedence over human lives?

Now for Halloween – do they even sell fair trade Halloween candy? Time to find out!

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Let #OccupyEdmonton Stay

So, as luck would have it, #OccupyEdmonton is facing its second eviction threat from Melcor Developments. The first time around was 2 days after the encampment began (which was averted!) and now they are threatening them again with a deadline of Sunday at 11 pm.

#occupyedmonton

Image by Ian McKenzie via Flickr

Wanting to support the local movement in my city, I just fired off this email to Melcor (info@melcor.ca) and to the mayor, Stephen Mandel (stephen.mandel@edmonton.com).

To whom it may concern,

#Occupy Edmonton is a movement by some people, for many people. They have a broad base of support across Edmonton, that goes deep and wide. These are people who are sacrificing their time and comfort to stand up for democracy on behalf of all of us.

It is not right that oil companies get a break on royalties because they are cozy with the Alberta government. It is not right that Alberta is allowing foreign workers to stream in to work in the oil sands for much cheaper wages, leaving some Albertans unemployed. It is not right that the Alberta’s environmental monitoring of the oil sands is catastrophically lacking, such that even the Federal Environmental Commissioner agrees. It is also not right that Canada lags the developed world in doing something serious about climate change, and that much of that policy is for the emission requirements of oil sands companies.

Alberta has banked it’s future on being the peddler of dirty oil, and the Alberta Government is right behind them, funding oil PR campaigns in the millions.

I am not a hippie or some wing-nut clinging to the next cause. I am a professional, I am an accountant, I have a business degree from the U of A. I am also a mother to two young children who deserve a better future – one where climate change remains a threat and not a reality, and one where the people decide in the direction of this province, not the corporations, not the oil companies.

Let them stay.

I am begging you, for the sake of real democracy in this province, let them stay.

They are peaceful, they are respectful, they are non-violent. They represent the opinions of many Edmontonians.

Please – as a citizen of Alberta, Canada and the world, LET THEM STAY.

Sincerely,

Sherry

99%

Image by bulliver via Flickr

Want to help?

1) email info@melcor.ca

2) email stephen.mandel@edmonton.ca

3) sign this petition

Occupy Earth

Building communities
Realizing we are all in this together
Realizing we all have a shared stake
Standing up for what we believe in
Knowing in our gut, what is right and what is just wrong
Hoping for a better world
Standing behind those who dare to demand it
Knowing that this might be our last chance to get it right
Wanting a world where people come first
Where the life giving properties of this planet are protected
Where the rights of the children and future generations are heard
Where we don’t let greed and money and power get in the way
Where we love one another
Where we save each other.

Occupy Earth.

"The Blue Marble" is a famous photog...
Image via Wikipedia

Occupy Wall Street

All I can say is WOW.

In a previous post, I wondered and hoped, if the kind of uprising that we saw last spring in Egypt would ever come here, in the name of climate change. When would people draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough? When would they get off the couch, turn off the TV, and take an active role in their democracy? When would the companies and governments of the world stop for a minute – and listen to the people?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is not about climate change, not really. It is about standing up to corporations who seem to have a relationship that is just a bit too cosy with the government. The government should not be looking out for the best interests of corporations. The government is for the people, it is supposed to represent the people. It is supposed to keep the people safe, by ensuring there are regulations on products and work practices and environmental destruction. It is supposed to protect and maintain the basic infrastructure of our society – roads, bridges, education, phone service, internet, electricity, and yes, banks. It is supposed to do things that are in the best interests of the people. It is not supposed to put corporations first.

Along the way, somehow our capitalism has got mixed up with democracy. Democracy should always be the most important thing. The people, not corporations, must decide what is in their best interests. The people must decide what are the best policies for them. They must decide what regulations protect them the best. It is should be by the people, for the people.

But somehow we have gotten to a place where capitalism is the most important thing. Democracy has been demoted. Now the economy rules supreme. And who runs the economy? Corporations. So what does the government do? It tries to create an environment where companies can thrive. It reduces business taxes, putting more of the tax burden on the middle class. It keeps minimum wage pretty low. It has regulations that are relaxed over time, in the name of competition (look at America’s banking system and how that turned out). It keeps environmental regulations pretty lax.  It disregards what 97% of climate scientists are telling us about climate change.

But is this a race to the bottom?  To have lower minimum wages, lower standards, lower business taxes, and a blatant disregard for climate change?  Are all these things the best thing for people?

Here in Alberta it is about oil. The oil royalties in Alberta are some of the lowest in the world – this is good for corporations, as they can take it out the ground and not have to pay as much to the government for it. This royalty regime has caused rapid development of the oil sands, and so the companies are up there, pulling it out, faster than the environmental agencies can determine the long-term effects, faster than the town of Fort McMurray can grow, and faster than the Woodland Caribou can adapt to their reduced habitat, putting them on the endangered list. Why so fast? There is so much development in Alberta that workers are coming in from other provinces, and foreign workers are streaming in. So why so fast? For the people of Alberta? I don’t think so. To please the oil companies so they keep growing the economy quickly? Now maybe we are on to something…

So how does the Alberta government score on environmental monitoring? Well, for starters, it uses an agency that is self-funded by the oil companies to do the monitoring. Independent scientists like Dr. Schindler’s team have said the monitoring is sorely lacking.  The formal federal environment minister, as well as Canada’s environmental commissioner, have even said it is lacking. So it is definitely lacking. Why? Well tighter regulations make it harder on companies and then the economy doesn’t grow at such a high clip. But the economy is for the people of Alberta, who already have enough jobs. And the people of Alberta, are sick of being the world’s peddlers of dirty oil.

So yeah, you can say that the Occupation Wall Street movement has really got to me. I now can see change more clearly on the horizon.  People are standing up for democracy, putting it ahead of capitalism. They are standing up for each other, for me and for you and for our shared lot in this world.  This is so inspiring and amazing.  It is exciting how fast this has grown. I can’t help but wonder how it will all unfold.

Tomorrow it starts in Canada, in 15 cities. In my own city of Edmonton, they are meeting at noon at Churchill square to march and then settle in for a longer term encampment. Can you believe it? Occupy Edmonton. It is amazing to me really. Camping here is no small feat, with temperatures dipping below freezing at night, and winter quickly upon us. It will be interesting to see how long they can last.

Occupy Wall Street is occupying my mind. As those occupiers chant, all over this continent:

We are the 99%.

We the people will never be defeated.

…I think of them with love, hope, and optimism.  Indeed.