It’s February and love is in the air… Valentine’s day is just around the corner and many millions are looking for that perfect gift to show how they feel for their special someone. It is clear that much of the day’s meaning is lost to heavy commercialization. This year, American’s alone are expected to spend a total of $15.7 billion this Valentine’s Day; two of the most common items purchased are chocolate and flowers, two industries fraught with human rights violations, including modern slavery and child labor.
Those sweet heart-shaped chocolate boxes often begin with a children enslaved to pick cocoa pods. UNICEF estimates that some 200,000 children are victims of trafficking each year in West and Central Africa alone, for the purpose of working in the supply chain of products such as cocoa and coffee. Child trafficking continues to plague the cocoa fields of West Africa, which is the source of 70% of the world’s cocoa. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) there are an the estimated 215 million child laborers around the globe, and two-thirds of children aged 5-17 and work in agriculture. These children are placed in hazardous working conditions in order to ensure that we have our sweet treats, it is truly a bitter story.
Valentine’s Day is a flower seller’s dream, but it is a daily nightmare of exploited workers, many of whom are women. Americans will buy more than 189 million stems of roses this Valentine’s Day, the majority of which will travel all the way from Ecuador and Colombia before they’re sold to doting beaus. According to the US Labor Education in the Americas (USLEAP), women comprise 65% of those working in the flower field, nearly a third are single mothers, working long hours (12-16) for around $2 or less per day. These slave-like wages leave young mothers unable to cover their families’ basic monthly expenses, while the flowers they picked that day will sell for between $600 and $800. Aside from the long workdays and impossible quotas, flower workers are exposed to high levels of toxic pesticides and fungicides, which are sometimes sprayed on workers bodies while they are in the field. This has left women flower workers with high rates of birth defects, miscarriage, and sterilization. These mothers often pass on the legacy of exploitation to their children as the cycle of slavery continues generation after generation.
How do you ensure your Valentine’s gifts are free from modern slavery?
Become a conscious consumer and search for items labeled ‘Fair Trade’. Fair Trade works towards greater transparency in both industries and helps to ensure that workers in the fields receive a fair wadge and human rights protection. So buy Fair Trade, especially products known to be associated with worker exploitation. These include agricultural products like cocoa, coffee, coconuts, cotton, fruit and vegetables, jasmine, palm oil, rubber, sisal, sugar cane, tea, tobacco, and vanilla.
Flowers: Fair Trade Certified roses can be found in-store at Whole Foods Market. Just look for the green Whole Trade Guarantee sticker in the floral department. If you are ordering flowers online try One World Flowers and schedule the delivery of beautiful Ecuadorian roses. In addition to traditional red and pink roses, you can select themed bouquets like “Helping Haiti” and “Honoring Japan” that support much-needed relief efforts in those countries. FTD also offers Fair Trade flowers including their Go Green Living collection. 1800Flowers also offers organic roses, as well as a line of Fair Trade mixed bouquets, certified by TransFair USA. Try local flowers like California Organic‘s. Organic Bouquet, has flowers certified through the VeriFlora program, which sets standards for worker rights, water conservation, recycling and organic production. Also search for Florverde Certified flowers, which requires better treatment of workers and more sustainable farming practices. Chocolate: More and more retailers carry Fair Trade chocolate so just keep your eye out for the Fair Trade label as you shop. You can also purchase special valentines gifts online including heart-shaped chocolates from Divine Chocolate, the sweet and spicy chocolate sampler from Equal Exchange, the Valentine’s Day Heart Box from Sweet Earth Chocolates and a full tub of chocolate hearts of cherry or dark chocolate with raspberry bar from Sjaak’s. Sweet Earth Chocolates Classic Red Velvet Box, ChocoDream Spreads, Kopali Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, TCHO “My Heart’s Desire” Adigard 12-Bar Sampler, Alter Eco Dark Velvet Chocolate and sweetriot riotous riotBar gift set. Why not reach outside the box and try Kopali’s Dark Chocolate Covered Bananas. Ice Cream: Frozen desserts also make a sweet treat on Valentine’s Day. Look for Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Macadamia and Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss Dark Chocolate. Wines and Spirits: Fair Trade Certified beverages are available at Whole Foods Market and other retailers. Try these wine favorites: Fairhills’ Bus Stop Red and the Live-a-Little Really Ravishing Red, Heritage Link One World Shiraz. Shop online at; JugShop.com, 67Wine, Marketview Liqueur or Cask. In addition to wine, why not try a delicious “Gogipolitan” made with the recently certified Fair. Quinoa vodka and Fair. Gogi liqueur? Tea and Coffee: Coffee and Tea are also easy to find in retailers. A few tea favorites are; Tea Forte’s Cherry Cosmo, Numi ’s Ruby Chai, Rishi’s Cinnamon Plum Set, Choice Organics’ Rooibos Superfruit, Rishi Tea Pu-erh Gift Set, Choice Organic Tea Rooibos Chai, Art of Tea Vanilla Berry Truffle or Zhena’s Gypsy Tea Pomegranate Rose. For that after dinner coffee try; Newman’s Own Coffee, Green Mountain Coffee, Caribou Coffee, Global Exchange , Equal Exchange, Dean’s Beans , Larry’s Beans, Just Coffee, Higher Ground Roasters, Grounds for Change , Fair Trade Coffee Co.