When I read stories or hear news about the brutal violence that laborers in the fields suffer, I am horrified. Although conditions in most US agricultural areas have improved, pockets of inhumane conditions still exist. But this is not the case in Mexico, South America, China, and other parts of the world. For many of these countries and regions modern slavery is the norm, not the exception. In October 2014, 43 Mexican students were disappeared and murdered by an extremely corrupt political system in partnership with a local drug cartel. The more I read the CIW’s story “Fear and Fair Cannot Coexist,” the more I wanted to vomit. The phrase “man’s inhumanity to man” doesn’t even begin to describe the gruesome acts of violence committed against ordinary people who simply want to work, raise their families, and live their lives free of violence, fear, and injustice.
How is it that, in the 21st Century, we still have slavery and a seemingly never ending supply of people willing to commit such acts of violence? How is it that we have not grown in a more positive way as a society? Poverty is certainly part of the problem, but I have come to believe that we consumers must also share in the blame.
As with any complex issue, we cannot expect to find a singular solution, and I am not interested in finger-pointing. Many factors contribute to the problem of modern slavery and a culture of violence, fear, and intimidation. A solution to this systemic problem will happen only when all the contributing factors seek change, but we must begin somewhere. I cannot hope to change the corrupt governments of foreign countries; that’s just unrealistic. But, I can use my personal “power of the purse” to affect change. We all can.
As consumers we hold the keys of change in our wallets. We must stop demanding lower prices for everything from produce and meat to clothing and manufactured goods. Our addiction to stuff is out of control! Statistics show that most Americans throw away food at alarming rates, and change our wardrobes with the seasons or according to the latest trends. We consume far more than our share of the world’s resources, we are #2 (China’s #1) in our production of greenhouse gases, and we demand products that cost next to nothing. Our very lifestyle is not only unsustainable, it is what drives modern slavery and encourages unsafe working conditions in factories and fields. It is also what is contributing to Climate Change and the destruction of Earth’s land and water, but that’s a whole other topic!
So I started this year by asking myself (again), “How can I change my patterns of behavior to help create a society that is both fair and sustainable?” For starters, I have re-committed myself to eating as much local and seasonal food as possible. I’ve gotten pretty good at putting-up fruits and vegetables, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Some staples such as coffee, flour, olive oil, and coconut oil are not available locally, so I make sure I purchase Fair Trade and organic as close to home as possible. I am also stepping up my game in the clothing department. My sewing skills are basic, but I do enjoy learning new tricks (I just learned how to make continuos bias tape!). Besides, sewing my own clothes using US organically grown cotton just feels good on so many levels! I know what your thinking: “But your creative, Maria! I’m not!” My mother says that a lot! With Pinterest, YouTube, and all the technology out there, I believe anybody with a passion for sustainability and justice can discover ways to do just about anything. There are no excuses in this modern age. We can do better!
As always, personal actions help, but getting friends and family on-board is necessary. The more people are aware of injustices in our world, the more impact our buying power has. As consumers each of us has a voice, and we voice our opinions and express our values every time we make a purchase. Eventually places like Mexico will be ready for justice in their fields and factories, but we consumers will have to take the first step using our buying power.