317 – Just Choices: Is it Too Complicated?

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Dr. Sandie Morgan looks back at episode #110, with founding co-host Dave Stachowiak, as the two discuss the importance of making just choices with our purchasing power.

Key Points

  • It’s important to understand that as consumers, we all have a purchasing power that we can use, and it all begins with awareness and consideration of what’s good for those who were behind the production of a product.
  • The Bureau of International Labor Affairs provides a list of goods produced by child labor or forced labor and can be found below.
  • The Bureau of International Labor Affairs takes a research based approach to creating this list, using information that is available to the public and can be replicated.
  • Being aware of the good that are produced by child labor or forced labor is a start to individual and collective action. It is an opportunity to become educated in order to change the quality of life for a child, an adult, a human being.



Sandra Morgan 0:14
You are listening to the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. This is episode number 317. We’re here at Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice in Orange County, California. My name is Dr. Sandie Morgan and this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Today, we are bringing back my founding co-host, Dave Stachowiak as we revisit a previous episode. You’re going to be listening to Episode #110: “Just Choices: Is it Too Complicated?”. I was reminded of this episode as I saw all of the chocolate in the stores as we celebrated Easter. This episode opens the door for more reflection on our personal ethics in our fight to make a difference in ending human trafficking. With the passage of time, I’ve come to value a personal ethic that builds empathy and bleeds into other spheres in our lives where we have influence: your business, your office, your place of worship. Take a listen to this conversation between Dave and me.

Dave 1:50
Sandie today, we are looking at a topic that is one that actually pretty much all of us are dealing with, whether we understand that or not, are aware of that or not. That is some of the choices we make in sourcing supplies and working with forming partnerships with organizations that supply things to our organization, and to businesses, and to nonprofits and thinking through that, or not, as the case may be. We’ve got a lot of tools and resources to look at today, in order to help us all to be more effective.

Sandra Morgan 2:28
I tell you, Dave, I’ve had so many conversations of late, where it’s part of who I am. We’re having a conversation and I hear people say, “Well, that’s too complicated.” Because I explained, during Ensure Justice preparation, the idea was to order a little cotton tote bag, and someone had found a really good deal, and I said, “Well did you check the supply chain? Because here in California, we have the Supply Chain Transparency Act.” The person looked at me and said, “That’s kind of complicated, I don’t have time to do that.” I said, “Well, it’s out of my department, I’m going to do it.” This is something I really want listeners to pay attention to. If the people in your company, in your organization, in your church, if you’re a pastor, you’re the CEO, and the buck stops here. If decisions are made, to not follow through on something that looks a little complicated, ultimately, that’s going to be my responsibility. So I stayed a little later, I went online, I checked out the website, and according to the law, they needed to have certain information. When that information was not transparent enough, I made phone calls. We did not give out tote bags that year, because I couldn’t find one that I felt was done ethically and I knew for sure there was no child or forced labor in it. So I’m very committed to this and I wanted us to look at the tools that are available to us whether you’re in California or anywhere. The US Department of Labor in 2005 was mandated to develop the Office of Child Labor, forced labor, and human trafficking. As a result of that, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, the ILab is conducting research on child labor and forced labor in order to produce a bi annual report. We’re going to talk about how that report helps us do our homework. It is a little bit complicated, but it’s not nearly as complicated as if we didn’t have these tools and resources.

Dave 5:04
I think you’ve mentioned something Sandie, here that all of us bears responsibility for. When I think just to my own experience here, is that there are times that I have gone online to purchase something or been influenced in making a decision to purchase something from an organization, and I have thought through this. Like, “Okay, where’s this coming from? What’s the supply chain and done some research on that?” I will say more often than not, I’ve gone on, especially if I’m looking for something that could be purchased potentially different places or more of a commodity item, I am as guilty as anyone of going on and finding the lowest price and like, “Oh, this organization has it cheap and we can get it even cheaper here, and not really thinking of the implications of that.” I think it’s sometimes easy. This is one of those things where, what do they call it in psychology? Diffusion of responsibility, it’s very easy to just kind of mentally offload the responsibility somewhere else. It’s like, “Oh, well, it’s already for sale here. It’s cheap. And this is a great dea,” and yet, we all bear the responsibility for if we only look at price, if we only look at getting the cheapest product. Then we’re part of that process. We are part of, potentially, a supply chain that is not really doing the things that would be in alignment with the values and with looking at what are things that might be risk for trafficking, or forced labor and the things that we’ve talked about on the show a lot. So I think one thing that we can all take away, whether you go and use this tool immediately, or looking these resources or not, is just I think a starting point for all of us is when we’re trying to purchase something, or we’re looking into where we’re going to spend our money, is just stop and think for a minute. Am I only making this decision on price? Or would I be willing to take a few extra minutes to look at what the supply chain looks like? And we’re going to give you a bunch of tools in this episode to do that. But I think just changing that mental attitude, and I’m saying this as much to myself, Sandie, as much as anyone else, when we’re going online searching for something, or looking for something for organization, just to take a moment to stop and think, “Okay, what else can I ask in addition to price? Not that we’re going to ignore that, but what else can I ask in addition to that, so I’ve got more data points to make a good decision that supports the things we’re talking about.

Sandra Morgan 7:32
And anytime you’re you’re involved in a conversation, where ethics is the bottom line, it is messy, because we don’t live in a perfect world, and it is very difficult to be completely sure that any particular product is 100%, slave free. But that doesn’t excuse us from making the effort and making choices that will be more justice oriented choices for the people whose labor has gone into that. And we could get diverted from the toolkit, just talking about the ethics of making choices that are based on what’s good for me without any consideration of what’s good for someone else.

Dave 8:18
Yeah, no, exactly. It’s tough. So awareness is one big area. Just one example, and I may have mentioned this on the show before, we’re recording this in October, so Halloween is coming up. I remember a couple of years ago, we had talked so many times in the show about Fairtrade chocolate, and I was thinking about, “Oh, it’d be great if we could hand out Fairtrade chocolate to kids on Halloween.” And I went online and did some research, and I think I figured out it was going to cost like $300-400 with the amount of kids that come to our house, and I was just like, no. We’ll figure out something else. But that’s just an example. Just because you go into the read doesn’t necessarily mean that you spend the money or that’s always the right choice, but thinking about it, being conscious of that decision that you’re making, versus just blindly doing the price shopping.

Sandra Morgan 9:11
And that’s a great segue back to the ILab efforts with the report that they produce bi-annually, called the “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.” One of their key objectives is awareness, public awareness. And we’re going to talk just for a second about how they produce this report, because it is a research based report. They don’t use secret information that only these special people have because there’s lots of challenges. What they have done is they’ve used publicly available primary and secondary sources. Now in a research based approach, you want to be able to replicate the research. So that means other people have to have access to the same information that you did. And it gathers the information using qualitative and quantitative data, and then the list of goods is made available to the public. The list of goods are from countries that ILab has reason to believe, are produced by forced labor or child labor, in violation of international standards. So the standards are not just what we’re looking at here in California or in the United States, but these are international standards.

This is almost a, this is not the best term, but a clearinghouse of information. They’ve assembled the information that’s out there, we could go find it on our own, but they’ve put it all in one place, and provides an easy way for us to access and to get that information quickly.

And, for instance, in the most recent report from December 2014, there are 136 goods from 74 countries on the list. And if you wanted to have a lot of detail, there is a link to the procedural guidelines. If you look at the report, there will be a bibliography for the products and how it was arrived at that it was put on the report. So it’s a very carefully produced report.

Dave 11:31

Sandra Morgan 11:31
Now they also, in December 2012, created a Reducing Child Labor and Forced Labor: A Toolkit for Responsible Businesses. I’m pretty excited about this, because businesses say to me often, “Wow, you’re in a an academic institution, reading all of this and learning about this as part of your job. I have to actually produce a report that shows a profit, and I have to conduct business, it’s commercial, it’s for profit. So how do I do this?” Well, this toolkit is available, it’s online for companies who want to develop, and this is a quote from their document, “robust social compliance systems in their global supply chain.” So Dave, take a look at that and tell me what you see when you open that up.

Dave 12:30
I believe I’m on the correct page here. So we’re at the Department of Labor (dol.gov), and I’m on the ILab site for Reducing Child Labor and Forced Labor. There is a graphic on the front, with the eight steps of ‘select a step for the process.’ If you click on any of these, it kind of goes through the process of explaining these. What I’m not sure Sandie, looking at this, is how you pull up that report or what pieces are here. Let me see, learning objectives, key terms. It just kind of guides you through, it looks like the process for how you would go about this on each of the steps.

Sandra Morgan 13:14
Now, in California, because we have the Supply Chain Transparency Act, there are a set of of legislated guidelines for reporting social compliance of supply chain and sourcing. So this toolkit is aimed at people who are not necessarily required to do this, but there is a sense, and I was in a meeting recently where a marketing expert was speaking to leaders about the idea of cause-based marketing. So there is a sense that today’s consumer, and especially with the rising influence of millennials, are much more interested in social responsibility and their purchases. So how would a company begin to align themselves with that expectation? This toolkit provides some of those resources. So for instance, the…

Dave 14:18
Now that I looked through here, it’s actually way easier.

Sandra Morgan 14:21
It is pretty easy?

Dave 14:22
It is. So if you start out here, on the page, and we’ll put a link to the page in the notes, there’s a graphic with the eight different steps. You click on the first step and then you just click ‘continue’ at the bottom of each page. And it walks you through exactly what the process is to do this, of how to engage stakeholders, of how to assess where your organization is, of how to develop a code of conduct, how to communicate effectively. I mean it looks very much in alignment with some of the organizational change models that I’ve seen, Sandie. So I think that it’s a great starting point on thinking through this as an organization, if this is important to you, or if you are partnered with an organization that you’re working on starting to think about these things. What a great place to start.

Sandra Morgan 15:12
Well, as soon as I opened it, I thought, this is giving me some benchmarks, vocabulary for having this conversation with people in other departments that I partner with in my environment, but even more importantly, I do so much community education and awareness, and there are people who listen and look at me and say, “Wow, I wish I could do something but this is way beyond me. It’s too complicated.” Here’s a step by step toolkit that makes it clear there is a place to begin.

Dave 15:49

Sandra Morgan 15:50
And we can all do something. I think I’ve heard that somewhere before.

Dave 15:55
I have heard that somewhere before, too. Yes.

Sandra Morgan 15:57
So the list of countries and goods that is produced every two years, added two items to their list, this last report. They added alcoholic beverages and they added meat. And for me, it’s like, I hadn’t really thought through how they decide what to study. And as I did that, and looked at one of the early lists that I had downloaded, and then at the latest list, there are 353 items on the December list. That’s a lot of items.

Dave 16:36
And these are items, again, that the Department of Labor is identified, as they’re reasonably sure, based on the information and the research and the observations, that there’s a correlation there with forced labor or trafficking.

Sandra Morgan 16:53
Absolutely. And one of the things when I listen to people, and when people ask me questions, standing in the lobby of a hotel, I write it down, and it keeps me awake at night sometimes, because I want to find an answer. To have someone say, “Well, it’s too complicated,” that happened in a lobby, in a hotel in Nebraska, last week. It just made me want to go and figure out how to make it more streamlined.

Dave 17:20

Sandra Morgan 17:20
I can’t tell you what to do if you’re online shopping, and you’re looking at a particular product, but I can tell you go to this report, and you have 353 items that our Department of Labor has done research on that can be replicated, that are most likely being imported and stocked on the shelves of our stores. So then, I can reasonably assume that there is going to be some information on those products. So I don’t have 1000 products, but I have 353. And so I can be responsible with what I do have.

Dave 18:01
And how specific does this get, Sandie? Would it make sense to pull up the list and just to look? I mean, does it get specific to like a brand or particular item? Could you give us an example?

Sandra Morgan 18:10
Actually, it does not list brands. For me, that is a really important aspect. I do think that people who get involved in just researching one brand, end up getting themselves into some serious quagmires. I’ve had students, you mentioned Fairtrade chocolate, and Fairtrade is a certified trademark, there are other trademarks as well. It isn’t like a generic term, a more generic term is ‘slave free.’ When they looked at a particular product, and they said, “Well, this company has made this product,” and then they paint the entire company as all bad, there were other projects that were socially responsible by the same company, and they actually produced one of their chocolate bars that was entirely Fairtrade and had the certification. So it gets very messy. Leave out brand names. A lot of companies are doing work. They’re going to this website to have more social compliance, and if they’re doing business in California, they’re being held to a higher accountability, but it is not good practice to list the actual brand names.

Dave 19:30
Got it. And that goes right to our philosophy. We’ve talked about on the show many times, that business and organizations are partners in this effort, not adversaries by any means.

Sandra Morgan 19:40

Dave 19:41
All of us, many of us work in businesses and organizations that produce products. So how can we partner with those businesses and organizations to do that more effectively? Like you said, we could cite so many examples of organizations that are doing that fabulously in some areas and maybe not as well in other areas, just like people. Right?

Sandra Morgan 20:03

Dave 20:03
Some things we’re doing well as people and at any given time or situation, other areas we’re falling short on. How do we partner to help everyone to be more effective?

Sandra Morgan 20:12
We’re trying to do better. Being perfect is kind of an illusion, but we are trying to do better.

Dave 20:18
Well, let me ask a follow up on that. Because I am still curious, though, as far as just the practical use of this list. So when you say something like alcohol, that’s, that’s too broad. If I’m going to the store and thinking like, “Okay, what would I purchase and not purchase?” How specific does it get as far as the direction that it provides to me as a consumer? What would be the kind of alcohol or meat that I’d want to watch for to maybe make different decisions?

Sandra Morgan 20:42
It would probably, and I haven’t looked at the alcohol list, but for instance, blueberries. If the report indicated that blueberries from Southern Argentina are often harvested by children who are not getting an education, and who are not being compensated appropriately. Then if the store I’m in has a little label and says, “Wow, you get to have these off season blueberries at this great price,” I’m going to think about that and do a little homework before I decide that I want to have blueberries off season.

Dave 21:21
Got it. That’s a great example because they always say on the package, at least, where it’s from. That’s interesting. Okay, so for fruits and vegetables, that’s the kind of thing you’d look for. Are there other things that you know of, off the top your head that you’ve looked at?

Sandra Morgan 21:21
I’ve at chocolate, I’ve looked at cotton. If a t-shirt says that it was made in a particular country, I can go back and look and see where that cotton came from. And in fact, the little episode I talked about with buying cotton tote bags really cheap, the company when I called them said, “We have a zero tolerance policy for child labor.” I was like, “Well, so do I. But show me how you implement that. How do you enforce it?” And ultimately, after a couple of emails, a letter, and two phone calls, they finally said, “We don’t actually know where the cotton to make them comes from,” and they wouldn’t tell us. I’m sure they didn’t want us to know, but I know that if the cotton comes from Uzbekistan, that there are kids on cotton plantations who don’t get to go to school because that’s what they are doing instead.

Dave 22:31
So looking at the source, and when we say source, like literally the source, where the ountries are, where certain products are coming from. That list would help with perspective on that, as far as if I’m looking at two different shirts in a store, and I look at the country of origin and the materials, I might make a different choice based on that information. It’d be really interesting to grab that list and download it on your mobile device, and next time you’re in the store and you’re looking for a particular kind of thing, you’d just pull up, see if anything’s on the list as far as direction.

Sandra Morgan 23:06
Oh yeah.

Dave 23:07
It almost reminds me Sandie, of those really neat cards that they have where when you go out to a restaurant, on seafood, they have that watch list of, “Yes, okay to eat.”

Sandra Morgan 23:17

Dave 23:18
Have you seen that red light, yellow light, green light?

Sandra Morgan 23:21

Dave 23:21
Eat occasionally, don’t ever order this fish at a restaurant because they’ve been over fished and supplies are down. It sounds a little bit like that, you’d just have some sort of reference that will be helpful to you in the moment of thinking, maybe here’s some information I can use.

Sandra Morgan 23:38
There are some apps that are being developed. Free to Work is one of them. We can do some research and maybe post some of those on there. You mentioned seafood, there is a lot of research now on forced labor and slavery in the shrimp industry in Thailand and Southern Asia, to the point where it would be difficult for me to go and order scampi right now, because I just read that report. So, our choices end up when we’re out celebrating at a nice restaurant, doesn’t it?

Dave 23:38
Yeah, well, I know it affected my choices. When I saw some of those fish lists, years ago, when they first started to come out. I was like, “Oh, wow, I’ve ordered that a bunch of times at restaurants,” and I never knew that there was an overfishing problem, or an over supply issue with this particular fish, and so I stopped ordering that fish. I don’t remember which one it was, but I know I changed my behavior. It goes back to what you said earlier in the episode Sandie, of just awareness. Awareness goes a long way. If you know that there’s an issue with something, I can make a different choice now, and if enough people make that choice, then that affects what is purchased, and what’s supplied, and the choices that are made economically, and that’s huge.

Sandra Morgan 24:59
It happens for all of us. Let me give you a couple more little highlights from this report from Department of Labor. I want you to think about the definition for child labor, the international standard, because often people say, “Well, you know, it’s not like kids in America, kids in other countries are used to working.” But it’s not 18. The International Standard is work performed by a person below the age of 15, and it includes any kind of practice that is a form of slavery, the sale or trafficking of children, debt bondage, serfdom, forced or compulsory labor, and it includes forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. So, the definitions are international definitions, and they have five principles for evaluating the information. That kind of procedural guide, for some people, is really important detail information. Just quickly, it’s the nature of the information, the date of the information, they don’t use anything older than five years, they try to keep it very current, the source, whether the information indicates significant incidents of child labor or forced labor, and then the extent of corroboration from various sources. Corroboration is key. They try to limit single source references on their report, they want corroboration. So that’s really important. And their process is related to their goal, they want a transparent process using publicly available primary and secondary sources, so that this is something that is available for all of us, it isn’t something hidden. When I look at their uses for the list, that idea of raising public awareness about forced labor, and child labor, that is the real goal. This list isn’t included or intended to be a punishment, but it’s a starting point for individual and collective action. That’s why we wanted to spend some time here on this podcast, because we can take action as an individual, but we can also take action collectively, whether in our business communities, or beyond, in our advocacy work. Becoming educated on this and understanding how to use the list will be a significant stepping stone, something solid. It’s not people just making generalized statements, but you can pull this up and say, “Yes, cotton in Uzbekistan is a problem.” And if we address this, that means that we have to also go over there and see how are we going to get those kids into a place where they go to school? So it isn’t just about not buying a t-shirt, it’s about changing the quality of life for a child, an adult, for another human being. Our just choices.

Dave 28:22
Exactly. And the thing that really strikes me of what you just said is that this has been done well, and the research has been done well, there’s good processes, procedures, standards put in place to make sure it’s reported accurately. And I just pulled up on the website, neat info graphics, just a one page overview of the entire list, and it’s really neat. Sandie, I know this would be really easy to have when you’re shopping or just to look at when you’re looking for something, just a quick reference guide. It’s really helpful from that standpoint.

Sandra Morgan 28:55
Wow, there was a lot of food for thought there. We have more tools now and we’ll add a few to our show notes, like the Chocolate ScoreCard, and the Department of Labor Comply app. Now, I’m inviting you to take the next step if you’re a new listener. Go over to endinghumantrafficking.org. You can find the resources that I’ve mentioned in this conversation, and so much more. You can check out the anti-human trafficking certificate program here at Vanguard University, and if you haven’t visited the site before, it’s a great first step to become a subscriber. You’ll receive an email with the show notes when a new episode drops. And of course, I’ll be back in two weeks for our next conversation.

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