How Canadians Are Veering Billion-Dollar Industries Towards Preserving Children’s Rights
In recent years, Canadians have become increasingly conscious about the sources and routes their clothes, coffee beans, jewellery, chocolate and countless other every-day items take before it reaches them. But they haven’t just stopped there; more than ever, they are actively using that knowledge in driving billion-dollar markets and industries across the globe towards the most ethical directions that best preserve the rights of children and their families.
This year, the Buy Good Feel Good Exhibition at the Enercare Centre in Toronto is just one such example of such efforts. The annual expo connects consumers with businesses that do not exploit the rights of children or employ them and instead shape their business and profitability strategies that contribute towards the betterment of healthcare facilities, renewable energy, school-building initiatives and much more for children across American states and other countries. It also invites teenagers and adults who themselves were once exploited child workers to speak about their experiences and share with Canadian shoppers how they can help protect the rights of children across the globe through changing their buying habits. This year, between 20,000 and 50,000 participants attended the expo to view more than 500 fair-trade, environment-conscious and human rights-propelling business exhibitors.
One such Canadian brand presenting at the expo this year was Brave Soles, a company that produces premium hand-crafted leather shoes, wallets, purses, passport-covers and other accessories by recycling used tires thrown into waste land sites in the Dominican Republic. To date, the company has upcycled 1,201 tires and donates 20% of all of its profits to Green Schools Green Future, a Canadian not-for-profit that works towards developing and introducing a new and progressive green education system in developing nations and teaching them about environmental issues. Another brand that was exhibiting was Me to We, a social enterprise that donates 90% of profits to WE Charity (which is a part of the WE Organization, the largest NGO of North America).
The enterprise features a wide range of products that help children who require it the most, such as their Chocolate That Changes Lives that is handcrafted using Ecuador’s most prized cacao bean, Fino de Aroma and whose sales help provide education to children by supporting projects of building schools and classrooms and empowers cacao farmers in Ecuador. They also have numerous lines of handcrafted traditional bracelets made by female artisans, including the Health Sunshine Beaded Bracelet from the Kusi Collection, which supports in the construction of health clinics and health education programs for children. Also, their line of Impact Collection Notebooks includes the Water, whose purchase supports water projects such as community wells and boreholes.
Additionally, individuals like Nasreen Sheikh, a world-renowned advocate against child labour, have spoken about their experiences in Canada as a child being exploited by companies. At the age of 9, Nasreen was forced into a garment sweatshop and began working 15 hours a day and earned $2/day or often less sewing clothes for fast-fashion brands. Destitute and desperate, she asked a stranger, who taught her that what she was experiencing was not right, to help her acquire an education – the main thing that a child should be concerned about. After escaping the cycle of child labour, receiving an education and support, Nasreen founded a fair trade sewing collective in Kathmandu, India that empowers disadvantaged women with skills, education and fair wages. Today, she speaks at various ethical and environmental expositions and has appeared on TEDx, Jay Shetty, Cosmopolitan and the Chicago Tribune, among many others, educating purchasers of their impact and how they can use their buying power towards good. Similarly, recent research have revealed that the mining of minerals such as mica – commonly found in countless everyday products, such as toothpaste, glitter pens, electrical cables, paints, and makeup – as a source of child rights exploitation in some cases, namely through child labour. That is why companies like Lush, a popular beauty outlet in Canada, have removed natural mica as an ingredient in their products and its production and instead use synthetic fluorphlogopite – more widely referred to as synthetic mica – that is made in a laboratory (and therefore avoids the exploitation of children) and is an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic mica.
Despite the wide range of opportunities for people to purchase ethically-sourced items that do not exploit the rights of children, there is not much awareness of such measures. In fact, according to the WE Organization, 20% of Canadians say they don’t know where to get an ethical gift, despite the fact that 65% of Canadians (and 73% amongst women) would be happy receiving an ethical gift during the holidays. Moreover, an Ipsos poll discovered that seven in 10 Canadians agree they would spend a few extra dollars for clothing to improve worker conditions.There are over 900 fair-trade, ethically sourced, Made in USA/Canada brands and businesses, but the number of such brands is incredibly low (and often unknown to the public) compared to the millions of other companies.
The lack of sufficient importance that is given to purchasing items that are ethically sourced is concerning, given that the exploitation of children during the production of goods, particularly through forced child labour, and the repercussions that follow this are clear violations of the rights guaranteed by the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. Articles 3 (guarantees that adults must take into consideration how their decision will affect children), 4 (guarantees the government will help protect your rights and create an environment for children to prosper), 6 (right to be alive – conditions of child labour result in 22,000 deaths annually), 19 (right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, in body or mind), 24 (right to healthcare, safe drinking water, clean & safe environment), 27 (fulfilment of basic needs in order to not be disadvantaged compared to other children), 28 (quality education – child labourers often cannot continue their education for work), 32 (right to protection from work that harms children and is bad for their health and education. If they do work, they must meet reasonable age requirements and have the right to be safe and paid fairly), 36 (right to protection from any kind of exploitation and being taken advantage of), 39 (right to help if hurt, neglected or badly treated), and 40 (right to legal help and fair treatment in the justice system. Eleven essential rights guaranteed by the UNCRC are violated every day to 152 million victims of child labour, constituting over 5.9 million children who are from inter-American nations that have signed the UNCRC! Thankfully, with the passage of time, more companies are beginning to listen to the concerns and complaints of consumers, human rights groups and national governments and are actively working towards resolving serious ethical issues, especially those surrounding children, and dedicating portions of their financial profits that work towards helping children across inter-American states and the world achieve the rights guaranteed to children by the UNCRC.
While such efforts are increasingly made by companies, governments and human rights groups, the real power for change is driven by the most important group that is constantly considered by all parties: children and youth! According to Chron, younger people under 35 are often the first consumers to purchase high-tech products like cell phones, electronic books and video games. Teenagers also constitute one of (and are often the largest group) among consumers of athletic equipment, clothes and apparel items, and shoes. This information is especially important for companies to consider, as 16.5% of Canada’s population consists of individuals between 14 and 24, and 4.6 million Canadians are between 15 and 24.
So what can you do to help protect the rights of children while shopping?
- Try to purchase locally-produced items and things that are produced in your home country or province/territory. This significantly reduces the amount of emissions these products produce, their carbon footprint, and they are often fair-trade and ethically produced.
- When giving a gift to a loved one or a pick-me-up item for yourself, buy ethically produced items in stores and online that contain a barcode for you to scan and track your product’s impact or trace its route before it reached you.
- Attend trade shows and exhibitions that showcase businesses selling fair-trade and ethically sourced items and purchase items from there
- Find a cause you love and encourage your family members to purchase items regularly from them that donate portions of profits towards it.
- Research online whether your favorite brands are already helping causes and/or ensure the protection of the rights of children. If they aren’t, write a letter to them highlighting your concerns and suggestions as a consumer.
Whatever you choose to do, know that the possibilities of using your buying power are endless!
By: Shia H. Sarker
CORIA Representative of Canada
- Living Me to We: The Guide for Socially Conscious Canadians. Written and published by Craig and Marc Kielburger