Mrs. Deidra Goins’ fifth grade class recently petitioned Food Lion with concerns about child labor practices of the companies that contribute to some of the products that the stores stock.
In a relatively rare move, the national chain’s corporate office responded by not only addressing the issue but also sent the students free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for their trouble.
“I am very impressed to see you guys be active and make a difference in your community,” Food Lion’s Jessica Jaco told the students.
Goins added that it was an important learning experience.
“These students … learned that they have a voice, and that they can use their voices to bring about positive results,” she said.
Goings said that some of her students have taken it upon themselves to become responsible consumers.
“This project grew in scope because of the passion the students felt about the topic. They have embraced the idea of becoming responsible consumers. Some students have eaten no chocolate since October.”
The students discovered through a local survey that fair trade certified products were not available here.
They decided to write to Food Lion to see if management could be persuaded to stock some fair trade products.
“This began as a way to make the issue of slavery relevant to the students as we started our study of the Civil War,” Goins said.
“Students were surprised to learn that slavery still exists in the world today. They were even more shocked to learn that some of the products they enjoy can be traced to slave labor through the supply chain.”
The students’ learned staples like cocoa, sugar and coffee are often grown and harvested in Third World countries using what could be considered child slave labor.
What brought the lesson home were videos about children their age being forced to work in cocoa fields at slave wages and are not allowed to attend school.
The project left a lasting impression on the youth.
“They discovered was that when Fair Trade goods are purchased, consumers are buying goods that have a certified supply chain that relies on best labor practices.”
Fair Trade is a global trade model and certification allows shoppers to quickly identify products that were produced in an ethical manner.
According to Fair Trade USA, purchasing fair trade certified products “offers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their everyday shopping.
“For farmers and workers in developing countries, fair trade offers better prices, improved terms of trade, and the business skills necessary to produce high-quality products that can compete in the global marketplace.”
Proponents of fair trade suggest that companies like Hershey save money and maximize profits by using non-certified products.
Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is one of the national products certified fair trade. Others such as Hershey chocolate, the largest cocoa purchaser in the world, are making commitments that they are working to certify their vendor chain.
But for many, the promises equate to inaction.
In a Huffington Post op-ed by Dana Geffner, executive director of Fair World Project writes, “The tangible fruition of any improved anti-child labor policy at Hershey’s will come far too late for today’s child workers.
“A 12-year-old working on a Hershey’s supplier’s cocoa plantation in October 2012 will be 20 years old in [by Hershey’s proposed deadline].”
Called to action, the grocer introduced Ben and Jerry’s products locally.
Manchester Food Lion customer service managers, Tonya Rogers and Jessica Jaco, delivered word to the students and brought with them an ice cream party.
“Hundreds of people send requests to home office,” Rogers told the fifth graders. “It’s a small number of people who receive responses from that – much less those who receive product from that.”
She said that the store had never stocked fair trade chocolate.
“We got fair trade chocolate in ice cream form. This is the first thing, but that doesn’t mean that it will be the last.
“You have accomplished something that a lot of people don’t even get a response from.”
Goins said the class was excited about the success.
“[My] students were thrilled when they received a response letter that stated Food Lion would start stocking Fair Trade products. This project grew in scope because of the passion the students felt about the topic. We were shocked that their letters went all the way to Food Lion’s corporate offices in North Carolina.”