The letter below from Oxfam, which arrived in my e-mail today, is self-explanatory. Reading it evoked much emotion. Even more than when I read a petition recently about making sure the people who bring us our food in restaurants are paid enough to eat similar food if they wanted to. We’ve assumed wait persons were all doing just fine, but no. The same is true of the peoples of the world who are the” hands” behind our colas and potato chips, our snacks. No less than the “hands” behind our crisp veggie salads of tomatoes and lettuce.
My own parents and grandparents were some of the” hands” (which is what they were called, literally) behind the inexpensive cotton clothing everybody in the South and everywhere else wore. Their ancestors before them. They were paid, as they phrased it “little or nothing.” As a child I thought this was only a phrase. But no. Little (one dollar or less a day perhaps) or nothing at all.
When I looked at the ten companies under examination for their policies (criminally exploitative of the poor) I was happy to see only one old friend appear. Lay’s potato chips. When left alone in a room with a package of these chips, only one of us emerges.
But what my emotion is about is US. Our awakening to our connection not only to the food we eat, but to where it comes from, and to what the diet is like for the people who are responsible for our sometimes “sinful” snack-time pleasures. They may well be eating roots and berries. Or almost nothing at all.
To care about the source of our good fortune, whatever it is, to protect it, is wisdom. We can simply refuse to buy the enslavement, the dispossession, the grinding hunger and poverty that underlies our “freedom” of diet. Or we can choose to work with the companies that endanger the planet – by their gross disrespect for land and water, for other humans – which is what Oxfam is brilliantly showing us how to do.
If we can believe in nothing else, we can believe in our numbers. We are the reason so much horrible treatment of others exists. We can also be the reason not one child or adult or animal is left hungry in a world where Nature’s theme song, from the beginning, is I Am Willing to Give You Everything If You Take Care of Us: You can believe in Me.
© 2013 by Alice Walker
The 10 biggest food companies in the world employ millions of people in poor countries to grow and produce their products. They have massive global reach and influence. And with enough pressure from consumers like you and me, they could make a powerful difference in reducing poverty, hunger and inequality.
Oxfam’s GROW campaign is kicking off a new initiative, Behind the Brands, to rank the policies of these big companies on important issues like transparency, equality for women, treatment of farmers, land, clean water, sustainability and climate change. For the first time, you’ll be able to see what the companies behind products like M&Ms, Crunch, Oreos and others are doing to help our planet.
You might be surprised at how some of these companies score on ourBrand Scorecard. The good news is that companies can change, and you can help! No company is too big that they can ignore the voices of their consumers.
We’re starting out by asking the world’s biggest cocoa buyers – Mars, Mondelez, and Nestlé, who make products like M&Ms, Oreos, and Crunch – to demand that they make equality for women cocoa farmers a priority. When it comes to women, these companies all score a 4 or lower on our Brand Scorecard, because:
The women who grow and pick the cocoa that Mars, Mondelez, and Nestlé put in their products deserve better: better pay, fair treatment, opportunities for training, the chance to own the land they work, and more. It all starts with consumers like you raising your voice today.
Together, we can change the way these companies do business – and give people in poverty the tools they need to thrive.
Thanks so much for joining us.
Vicky Rateau, GROW Campaign Manager