By Rachel Schrader, World Vision Canada
If there's a mall nearby, you'll likely find me in it. I'll admit it. I love to shop, and quite often I do. I don't tend to spend above my means, but I do purchase items based solely on how they make me look or feel, and rarely give a second thought to how that piece of clothing or shoes came to be.
Where were they made? Who made them? And under what conditions? Those questions have occasionally popped into my mind, but I'm usually in too much of a rush to stop and think about it. I'm a busy mom of two, after all. These days, if I'm not picking out clothes for myself, I'm shopping for my children, fulfilling their needs and of course, oohing and aahhing over how cute they'll look in whatever outfit I spotted on the rack.
Products made by children
However, it wasn't until recently that I reminded myself that perhaps the items I was purchasing for myself and my children were made by children themselves.
It's a stark reality for far too many children around the world. More than 85 million children are forced into jobs that are dirty, dangerous and degrading. That figure is almost 15 times the number of children living in Canada today.
This work can rob children of an education, as they leave school to work long hours in fields or factories. The work can also be devastating to a child's physical, mental, and social development.
Here in Canada, my children are free to be just that -- children. However, children who are forced into work that is detrimental to their well being grow up way before their time. Their childhoods are lost.
In Armenia, Liza (who can't be identified) helps make 500 pairs of shoes per day. The shoes are sent to Italy, where they're labelled "Made in Italy" and shipped to malls in countries like Canada. At age 17, Lisa gave up her dream of an education long ago. Photo/World Vision
A challenge to be a Conscious Consumer
It's a devastating reality, but it's also a reality that we can help change, one purchase at a time. That's what World Vision Canada's new "Conscious Consumer Challenge" is all about.
Those who click to accept will be challenged over a two-week period to take a closer look at their shopping habits and make adjustments. Participants receive an email every few days, each with a new challenge. Some examples:
- Buy a fair trade coffee instead of your usual
- Do an online ethical scavenger hunt
- Take a quiz and see how you rank as an ethical consumer
- Go online to goodguide.com and see how the products you typically buy "rate"
- Use social media to reach out to two major coffee chains on their ethical coffee sourcing
- Pick up vegetables from your local farmer's market, instead of the grocery store
Challenging myself to change
I decided to take up the challenge myself. Shopping required a bit more thought, but I was happy to check labels before I pulled out my wallet. I was certain I would fail the quiz that ranks how well of an ethical consumer you are, but it turns out, I scored better than I thought.
I mostly felt good about myself. But there were moments when I didn't. Like the moment a co-worker pointed out that a row of chocolate bars in the vending machine were all fair-trade - but that's not the row from which I had selected my afternoon treat.
It was disappointing that I hadn't made an ethical purchase, but a good reminder that I am, like many others who accepted this challenge, a work in progress.
Meeting a fellow traveler
As I moved through the challenges, I, found a World Vision colleague - Joanne Doyley - who was also putting herself to the test. Joanne was feeling the same way I was: "The challenge is something that I want to grow over time and I try not to be too hard on myself," she said.
Joanne shared that the challenge encouraged her to take a longer, harder look at labels. She wanted to find out what the supply chain process was and if the ingredients or materials used were free of child labour.
"I asked a waiter at an all-you-can-eat buffet where the shrimp had come from", she told me. "It was the beginning of a dialogue with my friends and colleagues about the whole business of shopping ethically - and the challenge of forming positive habits."
Those conversations and decisions can help improve the lives of children who are forced to go to work every day in unimaginable conditions.
In Mozambique, Yohane's dream of becoming an agricultural technician has been replaced by long days working on a small-scale gold mine. The 11-year-old child works all day under the hot sun, with no breaks for rest or food. Photo/World Vision
A step in the right direction
Joanne admits that the changes weren't easy. "The difficult part is putting in the time to make choices, budgeting and seeking out products that are ethically made. But I found that the Conscious Consumer Challenge allowed me to go at my own pace, and helped me understand the reasons why it was important to get started. It provided a strong foundation to make better choices".
It may seem daunting at first. But once you get going, you may be surprised to find that shopping ethically isn't as hard as you think. Each conscious decision you make moves us closer to a world where children aren't forced into child labour. And like Joanne, you may find that your habits are forever changed for the better.
"I want to be more conscious of the choices I'm making in the future," she said. "The connection between our dollars and children's lives is something we can't forget. It's important to be conscious and to think about those that are harmed".
Take up the challenge today
I invite you to take up the Conscious Consumer Challenge yourself. It's never too late to start. How have you changed? What did you learn about yourself and the world? Tell us about your experiences in the "Comments" section of this page.
Ask yourself the questions I forgot to ask myself for so many years. Click the link today, and take a small step toward making sure no child is for sale.
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