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Sunday, 7 April 2013

Nothing sweet about this unfinished business

Sorry to publish without a purpose, but I need some help to pin this down. I read this over a week ago, and every day it gnaws at the back of my brain, needing me to process it and compartmentalise it, find my stance on the issue, if you will. But I can’t. It’s flummoxed me, and I can’t remember when I last read something that challenged me this way.
So the very, very brief version:  I was reading the very interesting Bitter Chocolate by Carol Off. She covers the long and horrific history of abuses that makes up the cocoa bean industry. I had seen a documentary on it a few years back, so as I read, was tut-tutting along at the lack of humanity in the world. I got up to the part when Congressman Engel tacked on a rider to the bill before congress saying that big chocolate had to prove they weren’t exploiting children and labels were to state they were ‘slave free’.  I thought to myself “Well, about time. How easy was that!” yet a few paragraphs on, I came to this, and was literally stunned, as it had never occurred to me that it wasn’t a simple solution and my boycott came at a price.
“even the threat of such a boycott sent a chill through industry worldwide and had devastating consequences, particularly in Bangladesh, where the country’s garment manufacturers abruptly dismissed about fifty thousand child workers. Most of the children had been supporting families and were subsequently forced to turn to other more dangerous and less lucrative employment – some in rock crushing and many others in prostitution.”  It had never occurred to me there were terrible unintended consequences in a seemingly straightforward move to make things ‘right’.
Later in the chapter, it is pointed out, that we need to face facts that in some parts of the world, children need to work. Anita Sheth of Save the Children said “What we wanted to do was take the hazards out of the work and not the child out of work.”

This is the crux of what has led me into confusion. I don’t know where I stand on it. I’m confused about what is the right thing to do. We in the West live very sheltered lives, and make decisions sometimes that are not based in the reality of the rest of the world.
I’d be interested in anyone who has an opinion on this, as I need to box down my thoughts, which I realise may not be possible, due to the complexity of the issue.
There is something so terrible that these abuses go on in the world, and yet poverty may be a worse existence.
I guess ultimately everything is not black and white, but my brain needs it to be, and I swing back and forth over this issue, confused at my own naivety and the lack of sense in this world that we’ve created.
I’d love some clarity, so all opinions, or views are welcome, for me to mull over and decide...
This is a fascinating book with engrossing stories from around the globe. It was quite an education for me and I really enjoyed the thought provoking issues. 



31 comments:

  1. I'm am completely intrigued about Bitter chocolate, you have written about it before and I really must get a copy. Nothing is black and white - that is the one thing you can safely assure yourself with. Trying to understand all perspectives is not possible. I think the best we can do is have compassion and leave judgement out - being righteous and headstrong can be good, but it can also be destructive if you can't see what you are crushing in your path. Sorry if this offers no clarity, but I'm sitting in a state of grey too xx

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    1. righteous is a good word - I think I was a bit misguided in my righteousness

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  2. I'm afraid I don't know the answer either. I feel very lucky to be raising my kids here in Australia.

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  3. I'm not going to be able to help with the answers either (sorry Lydia!) but I think being aware of the issues, and reading more on child exploitation, and doing research on the companies/charities that are trying to help is the best way forward, to learn more about where you stand on it and what you can do. I like to organise my thoughts too and unfortunately sometimes this takes time (which is frustrating, when I want to know now!, and incredibly so when you think other people need support right now - it seems like such a lazy and privileged first world position) but at times it's all you can do. I'll be reading that book :)

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    1. I liked the book but at book club we decided she needed a better editor as it seemed a bit rambling at times (I wondered if some fo the back peddling was fear of lawsuits?) So interesting read but not saying it's a brilliant must read...(lots of interesting ideas though)

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  4. Sorry but I am in a state of grey as well - what appears to be a simple solution opens up a whole other can of worms.
    Have the best time away - take care and look after yourself !
    Me
    PS - don't worry about checking on the color run - I was just teasing !!

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    1. will be looking on Sunday for the tweets....(pressure is now on!!) And it is truly the simple solution opening another can of worms...

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  5. Sorry, this is all too much for my little brain to bend around! It is such a grey area. I too like it black and white but get too caught up in the grey.
    What a very sad state of affairs. Reminds you once again of how lucky we are.
    Becc @ Take Charge Now

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  6. I guess complex problems require complex solutions. It's great that people like Anita Sheth at Save the Children recognize this and are working on behalf of children everywhere to find resolutions. My feeling is that the solution will be a different compromise in each country, and I guess that is better than nothing. But it does make me glad to be living in the western world.
    x

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    1. There are a number of very outstanding people doing things (or were trying until they got murdered) but it seems very much individuals against a big moneyed system full of power and corruption...(also tried to visit your blog but google wouldn't link me?)

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  7. Hello there, I am sure that ideally we would all love to see children being able to be children, with access to school, water, food and medical treatment. That's a long way off and the process is gradual. I believe child poverty is improving but very slowly. So I must say I would be all for children working safely and then moving to not working.

    SO... I better put my money where my mouth is and check for fair trade and slavery-free products. Jeez, we are SO lucky to have our families here, it does drive me nuts when people whinge about life in Oz, it's a doddle.

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    1. It truly is a doodle...compared to a lot of countries.

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  8. This is not publishing without a purpose, Lydia. This is a caring and enquiring mind looking to find a way. The wisest of the wise already know there is no black and white, only what is the best outcome for everyone concerned- whatever that may be. Thank you for sharing this, although it makes my brain hurt too, applying Western beliefs and value systems is not always the cure. There are so many things our sheltered lives do not consider because we simply do not see them. #teamIBOT

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    1. To be honest, I think I want to be able to lay it to rest so I can stop thinking about it - I felt I was doing something to help (but it was the easy way and not really an inconvenience to me). This requires a different action (that I think may actually make me have to do something real). Your last sentence sums it up perfectly.

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  9. I don't know the answer. But I do know that every positive action in the world helps create an energy that creates more positive action creating more positive energy. While it may not be possible to do something concrete to help this particular situation, there are plenty of things we can do. I was empowered after reading "half the sky" (about the bad stuff that happens to women and kids around the world). Rather than feel saddened by it,it empowered me to start contributing solidly to KIVA so that I could help a few women move forward and create a good life for themselves. I couldn't help the women mentioned in the book necessarily, but I could help other women elsewhere. It gave me hope that we, as individuals, can make a difference to the lives of someone. A bit like that Hawaiian starfish story ...
    Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit

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  10. We are very privileged to be raising our children where and how we do. Sadly there isn't an easy solution to the problems of child exploitation in countries that don't share our wealth. Solutions are never as simple as they seen. It's like giving a dollar to a street kid in an impoverished country. It FEELS like the right thing to do but in reality often the only person benefited by it is the visitor who gets to feel virtuous for a while. Short-term solutions often mean that long-term answers are more difficult to implement. The best we can do is make ourselves aware, buy as many fair trade and ethical brands as possible and support those charities who are doing their bit to help. x

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    1. And that was what my boycott was probably doing, making me feel virtuous, it's probably the charities on the ground that can do the most...

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  11. I am with you on this, completely undecided. I was only having a similar discussion the other day with my mother. I have a friend who refuses to buy new when she can pick up so many bargains at op shops. For me though it is easier to go to KMart or wherever every few months and grab a couple of $2 bargains that can generally easily be found. Sure it might not be the greenest of ways to live but it does in some what help an economy and give somebody a job so surely it is not all that bad.

    Great food for thought in this post, I can't believe you felt you were publishing without a purpose

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    1. When I said without purpose, I meant it just seems messy or lazy that I haven't a point that I'm trying to get across. I'm sort of wanting someone to do the thinking for me.

      The book also raises that consumers drive all this, as they want to do the right thing, but they don't want to pay more to do so. There is also that personal effort involved. We composted like crazy things until a rat started to live in the bin. Gross. Ashamed to say that I only occasionally take it to the learning garden at school now, because it required effort...but that is for another post...

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  12. This issue does my head in. I was approached by a chocolate company (well - their PR anyway) not too long ago, offering me some samples but I declined, because I remember only too well the boycotts on this company during uni days, and while they're turning things around with fairer practices and all looked well on paper, I couldn't shake the feeling it was done to salvage reputation rather than an actual desire to effect change. Your insights into the knock-on effects in Bangladesh were the types of things I'd feared but been unable to pin down myself, in my head. Thanks for letting me learn about this Lydia (without forcing me to read a badly-edited book!!!!! ;)

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    1. Ah, but I am Machiavellian in good and evil - does it matter what their motivation if they are doing the right thing in the end? (I'm one of those people that finds a stack of money and stands there for a bit then has to grudgingly stomp in and surlily hand it over - my son thinks it's hilarious)
      I admire you for standing by your principles - a lot of people rationalize these things by saying if it's not me, it will just be someone else...so may as well be me.
      I've yet to be offered money to see if I'm for sale (though I have a favourite expression, and I don't know where I got it, but I think Morgan Freeman said it in character) "Everyone has a price, you just need to find the right currency"

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    2. THey found my currency… it was CASHMONEY. And it was a very subtle ad for something I'm not very keen to promote. But subtlety was the winner on the day. If you can spot the ad anywhere in my words, I LOSE! But otherwise, I WON CASH MONEY!! :)
      If not for the Macchiavellian, we would all sit around knitting our belly button fluff. Me included.

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  13. Sounds like a really interesting and considered perspective. Sometimes the obvious choices aren't necessarily the right ones, as situations (like child labour) are very complex. There are heaps of issues like GM food production which affect so many people, but eradicating it would mean that 1000s wouldn't eat. I think it's important to read these books, think critically about the solutions (as you are doing) and make a decision based on the evidence. From this information alone, I would think that it certainly makes sense that a boycott is not necessarily the answer, now that infrastructure to support child labour exists. Maybe donating to bodies who are looking after the welfare of the children is more productive? Not sure but interesting questions. Thanks so much for linking in. http://mylittlesunshinehouse.com x

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  14. I know where you're coming from. These issues weigh heavy on me also. My heart bleeds for these children and knowing that there is no easy answer or solution. How are you feeling about Bitter Chocolate nine months now after first writing this story? Thanks for sharing, Lydia!

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  15. I haven't read Bitter Chocolate, but I can see where your dilemma is coming from. I recently needed to buy a part from my camera, I could buy the branded Canon part locally at $60ish or I could pick up a knockoff for $4.60 shipped via China on eBay. I agonised over it because while I well and truly would rather get the cheaper part, does that mean I'm supporting child/slave labour? Or does it mean I'm supporting Chinese workers to stay in employment and feed their families despite the fact that I might consider the pay and conditions abhorrent from my nice little Western/First World perspective? Damned if you do, damned if you don't I think!

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  16. Such a complex issue. I believe child labour unfortunately has to happen due to the economic inequalities that will always be around in our corrupt and unjust world. So for some problems we have to think outside the box for solutions and if that means making these poor children's working environment safer then we may just have to accept that as a way of helping them. It is a cruel world and it makes you depressed when you start thinking about these things.

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  17. What an important post, thank you for putting it out there. It would be interesting to know what progress has been made and yes in the interim the only real positive may come from buying fair trade.

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  18. Last year some of my postgrad study touched in these areas of development - there is, on paper, a realisation that programs need to not just stop whatever the negative "thing" is, but to support an alternative (preferably community directed and owned). The sad part is that this takes long and is more expensive so it doesn't make it past political budgeting and the need for a quick win for show. Obviously there are many more variables that impact on these program designs than just the political side but the influence of political needs on these situations is significant.

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