Bargains Galore! But Who Pays the Price?

Published on
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CommonDreams.org

Bargains Galore! But Who Pays the Price?

by
Bama Athreya and David Batstone

When is a bargain not a bargain? When someone else's child pays for our kid's gift.

This holiday season not every child will be free to play with new toys; an estimated 211 million child laborers exist worldwide, with no access to education and no option but grueling work. Traffickers lure many millions of the young away from their families, while millions more are born into debt bondage and forced to work as slaves. Who among us would deny that forced child labor should cease to exist in the 21st century? Though not many of us are capable of undermining the trafficking rings that exploit children, we can change the demand for the products these children make, in no small part fueled by pressure from global retailers and their price wars.

This past week the US business media treated the price war between two retail behemoths, Wal-Mart and Amazon.com, like it was no more than an exciting boxing match. Sure, we appreciate the terrific consumer choice and great bargains that these retailers make possible. What we don't see, however, is that someone else is absorbing the cost that brings us these savings. The relentless downward pressure on suppliers to deliver products at ever lower costs means that producers in hidden corners of the world, from Brazil to Bangladesh, turn to extreme forms of exploitation to produce those goods. That's something to consider as we stand in long lines fighting with other shoppers to grab a great bargain gift for our kids.

Independent investigations document without a doubt how slave labor is being used in the products we buy. A repressive government in China forces prisoners to make Christmas lights in their labor camps. The cocoa in our hot chocolate mix may be harvested by trafficked children in Ivory Coast. Even the cotton in our underwear likely is tainted with forced child labor since hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren in Central Asia are forced into the fields each year to pick cotton for global garment factories.

You no longer have to participate in the supply chain of broken dreams and trampled lives. We are equipping consumers with ethical shopping tools this holiday season. Want to know the story behind the labor it took to produce that iPhone or sweater you are buying for your loved one? Go to Free2Work.org and turn yourself into a socially conscious consumer. Our online tool gives shoppers information about forced and child labor so that they can drive positive change. Our researchers are good, but they could not find out every detail about the companies you patronize, so we also urge consumers who visit the site to tell us more about what YOU know. We all need a credible source of information that empowers us to make informed choices - and avoid companies that exploit forced and child labor.

Don't be the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Be an ethical shopper, and demand that the companies you patronize behave ethically. No consumer wants the ‘choice' of a gift made in slavery. We can give holiday cheer to others in the world by patronizing companies that employ adults at living wages so they can provide some freedom to play for their kids, too.

Bama Athreya is Executive DIrector of the International Labor Rights Forum. David Batstone is President of the Not For Sale Campaign.

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