Emancipating My Own Plantation

It would seem that I have 89 slaves. Most of those slaves are working to keep my babies’ butts clean. No matter how many times I do the Slavery Footprint Survey, the number came out about the same.

Let’s be clear about a few things: I consider myself to be a pretty “normal” middle class American mom. I’m not super granola crunchy. I buy new stuff when I need it, and not generally from small businesses. I’m not shopping at Walmart either, I don’t believe in the way that they treat their employees, women especially. I shop at Whole Foods when I can afford it, Stop and Shop otherwise (thank you, Jesus, for gas points). And while I spent obs and gobs of money at Babies R Us when Ursa Major was born, my husband and I have been able to get just about all of our baby supplies from Amazon Mom (thank you, Jesus, for Amazon Prime) (and yes, I realize that there are problems with Amazon, too. They aren’t known for treating their warehouse workers terribly well). I wish I could say that I am a localvore. I’d love to be, really. I wish I could afford to shop at the crazy stupid expensive small business shops that cater to God knows who and sell very fancy toys and clothes for children. I wish I could say that I bought clothes from “responsible” stores, not the Gap, Old Navy and Ann Taylor/Loft. But listen, I do.

I do try to do my part: We recycle, we try to buy meat that has been produced responsibly, we buy organic veggies (when possible…e.g., when I’m feeling flush), we don’t buy bottled water, we support to local coffee shop around the corner. You get the picture? I’m trying… I’m just not perfect. And I’m not evangelizing about the small things I do: I find such behavior to be pretentious and obnoxious.

But I was taken aback by the survey and the results. I taught an intensive Slavery unit to my students every year that I was teaching, and that included snippets about modern day slavery. I was that crazy liberal Black teacher when I taught that unit every year. Much fire and brimstone. White teachers on the hall knew to steer clear. My unit was good, it was deep, it was empowering, it was education for freedom. Liberation.  To think that I left all of that behind, and now  have such a large slavery footprint is really sickening to me.

What’s worse, is that I don’t know why. I don’t know why or how diapers utilize forced labor. I tried to do some research about it but found very little. Same thing with wipes. These, according to the survey, take up a lot of forced labor. Stuffed animals, too (though the majority of the stuffed animals in this house were my or my husband’s handed down to the boys). The website does not get specific about which brands are particularly on the naughty list when it comes to forced labor. Proctor and Gamble, the makers of Pampers (my baby butt products of choice) has a website about sustainability, forced labor, and evaluation of their product supply chain. This is one of those things where it feels like a small blip on their radar, and the website is clearly written more for government compliance than it is for consumer reading and reassurance. So, as it stands, I have no idea to is making the diapers that my sons wear. This is one of those cases where I would get a little granola crunchy and stop what I’m doing in order to stop contributing to an abominable ecosystem.

I am going to try to get my hands on more fair-trade coffee, including keeping up the pressure on Starbucks to sell and brew ethically grown coffee. I don’t mind paying more for something I’m drinking anyway if it means that what I’m drinking is good for the planet and good for the people who are growing it. I wish I had more control over where the jojoba oil and other fine oils for my loc’d hair came from. I’m very concerned that Limited Brands, the makers of Bath and Body Works (and 2 of my favorite scents) isn’t more open about their suppliers, after their huge outing a few years ago about forced labor in their supply chain. Moreover, I wish there was more and better information out there by companies to reassure me that they are doing the right thing when it comes to modern day slavery. Maybe there should be more people out there outing companies, like what happened to Foxxcon and Apple last year.

The other thing is that I’m not trying to switch my kids over to cloth diapers. I’m really, really not. I don’t have the time, the patience, or the nose for it. I mean, I would switch, but not without good, solid evidence that all manufacturers or all diapers are utilizing forced labor.

So the bottom line is: I want to be a more informed American, to “emancipate” the slaves utilized on my American Ignorance plantation, but a merely shocking survey isn’t enough. I need more information. Someone tell me who is  doing good and doing bad so that I can make better informed decisions. I want to be part of building a better world if only someone would lend me a good set of tools!

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