Everyone loves a bargain, but not everyone thinks about how so many cheap goods are made by children enslaved in sweat shops. World Vision Canada is calling on Canadian consumers to use their purchasing power to help kids stuck in "3D" jobs — those that are dirty, dangerous, and degrading.
"Too often we're thinking of saving a few cents and not the plight of children toiling in factories, farms, mines, and sweatshops a world away," says Caroline Riseboro, World Vision's vice president of public affairs.
More than 115 million children are doing hazardous work around the globe, according to the Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization. Many kids exposed to pesticides, chemicals, and carcinogens while others are forced to operate dangerous equipment or do heavy lifting, working 12-plus hour days; seven days a week.
Kids are forced to work in a range of industries, such as agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, domestic labour, and mining.
"Unfortunately, issues facing children living in poverty are still fairly hidden and unknown to people here," says Cheryl Hotchkiss, the World Vision's advocacy campaign manager. "For those kids, there's not a lot of choice involved; they're doing these jobs just to survive, just to get the basics in life.
"In sub-Saharan Africa, we're seeing an increase in the number children doing 3D jobs," she adds, pointing to higher rates of poverty as well as food insecurity, political conflict, and weak social systems as contributing factors.
Be an ethical consumer
To help combat so much exploitation, World Vision is challenging Canadians to adopt "ethical consumerism".
"Ethical consuming is thinking about what you're buying and where it's coming from," says Hotchkiss. "It's about using resources available to you to be more informed about what you buy and potentially buying products that may in some way be certified as 'ethical'."
An example of a certification system of ethically produced products is the Fairtrade Foundation's Fairtrade label. The London-based based organization works toward sustainable development and the alleviation of poverty in developing nations. Others include UTZ Certified and Rainforest Alliance.
"The more ethical that products are out there, the more their prices are going to come down," Hotchkiss notes. "You can opt to buy fair-trade bananas that might be 10 cents more [per kilogram] than the others. We're hoping Canadians will make that choice because the purchase they're making isn't just benefiting themselves but is benefiting people down the line."
As part of World Vision's End Child Slavery campaign, it has established five small steps Canadians can take to become ethical consumers, steps it hopes will become habit.
1. Buy only Fairtrade or other ethically sourced products for a week, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, produce, and clothes.
2. Do a Fairtrade scavenger hunt with a friend or group to find the most stores that sell Fairtrade products and the most unusual Fairtrade product on the market.
Check out the Fairtrade Foundation's Fairtrade Finder, which pinpoints stores, cafés, and restaurants that carry ethically produced items. You might be surprised to see how commonly they can be found everywhere from major grocery chains to mom-and-pop coffee shops.
3. Educate your own kids about becoming responsible consumers. Check out the Family Shop for Change Activity Guide, which has fact sheets, videos, and ideas to engage kids in learning and discussion about 3D jobs and ways to improve working conditions for children forced into those jobs.
4. Instead of buying new, buy used clothes or household items for a week or a month to start with. Another option is to hold a clothes swap with your friends. Or ask yourself if you really need that new top or vase in the first place.
5. Read up.
Knowledge is power, and there are all sorts of resources to help you help others when you shop.