Planning to buy chocolates or diamonds for your valentine? The National Retail Federation expects the average American to spend about $134 on his or her sweetheart, or some $17.3 billion in all, with nearly half planning to buy candy and 19 percent buying jewelry. These classic gifts may be romantic, but they also have supply chains riddled with slavery, torture and violence.
So how do you show your valentine you care about him or her and your fellow humans? Take the time to shop for a conflict-free gift.
Here's a quick guide:
The problem: Nearly 2 million children harvest cocoa beans under brutal and sometimes forced working conditions in West Africa, where 70 percent to 75 percent of the world’s chocolate comes from, according to the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative. Journalists have documented cocoa farmers abducting children from West African villages or buying chidren as young as 7 from their relatives to work on the farms with hazardous chemicals and machetes to cut down cocoa bean pods from trees.
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What you can do: Buy brands under Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance or UTZ certified labels, which are meant to guarantee slave-free goods. Hershey's has a Rainforest Alliance-certified brand called Bliss. An organization called Slave Free Chocolate identifies companies with ethical production practices and recommends a list of brands to buy: Newman’s Own Organics, Trader Joe’s Organic Chocolate Bars, Denman Island Chocolate, and Green and Black’s are a few.
"By buying gifts marked with one of these logos, consumers can feel confident that there are better conditions for workers and the risk of child trafficking in the supply chain has been reduced," Kate Dangerfield, global campaigns and communications coordinator for Stop the Traffick, told IBTimes. Stop the Traffick has pushed the largest candy companies to source chocolate responsibily since 2007 and routinely evaluates Hershey's, Mars, Nestlé and others.
Since there is very little organic growing capability or interest in West Africa, buying organic chocolate is one way to reduce the likelihood that enslaved people worked for your sweet treat, according to Gene Tanski, a supply chain expert and CEO of Demand Foresight. Finding out where the chocolate is made also reduces that likelihood. Chocolate coming from South America and Asia likely involved what Westerners consider poor working conditions but not slave labor, while chocolate coming from Africa most likely involved slave labor.
The problem: Sixty-five percent of the world’s diamonds come from Africa, according to Diamondfacts.org, but the diamond industry has long indirectly funded violence, torture and slavery by rebel armies on the continent. The World Diamond Council formed in 2000, and the Kimberley Process in 2003 reduced the sale of “conflict diamonds,” but the definition is narrow. Conflict diamonds are defined as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements to finance armed conflicts aimed at undermining legitimate governments,” so diamonds mined by slaves or workers suffering human rights abuses are technically not conflict diamonds.
What you can do: The Kimberley Process recommends asking jewelry businesses three questions:
1. How can I be sure your jewelry doesn’t contain conflict diamonds?
2. Do your diamond suppliers participate in the industry’s System of Warranties?
3. Can I see a copy of your company’s policy on conflict diamonds?
Brilliant Earth is one company that promises its diamonds can be traced to their origins, which are environmentally friendly and free of human rights abuses, and that it gives back 5 percent of its profit to education, environmental restoration and economic development initiatives in the mining communities.
Zale Corporation (NYSE:ZLC) and Kay Jewelers, owned by Signet Jewelers Ltd. (NYSE:SIG), have policies detailing their efforts to sell only conflict-free diamonds, and Tiffany and Co. (NYSE:TIF) finances its own mines in Sierra Leone and South Africa.
Many jewelers also sell diamonds created in laboratories, which are about 10 percent to 20 percent cheaper than mined diamonds.
So there you have it. Go out and shop without leaving your conscience behind.