On a recent trip to Florida, our family spent an afternoon at Disney Springs. We ducked in and out of the air-conditioned shops to escape the blazing sun, humidity, and 90-degree heat. We came upon the Coca-Cola store. I remembered that my nieces had mentioned it was an interesting store to explore. Indeed it was! Directly inside the main doors to the store were displays filled with items that have been re-purposed from pull tabs and sliced-up Coke cans: handbags, Christmas ornaments, and animals such as giraffes, elephants, and dinosaurs. They absolutely commanded the attention of everyone who entered. Once I learned how they had been produced, I couldn’t have been more delighted!
You see, I am an activist against the criminal enterprise of human trafficking. Poverty is the number one risk factor that makes a person vulnerable to being trafficked for sex or for labor. Those who are desperate to feed their families often succumb to attractive offers from traffickers to provide them with work and a better way of life. Once the traffickers draw the innocents in, they use them instead for their own profit. The victims of this crime (largely women and children) end up enslaved and endangered.
Coca-Cola has partnered with a number of Fair Trade companies such as Escama Studio in Brazil, and Upavim Crafts in La Esperanza, Guatemala. Ironically, the word “Esperanza” means “hope” in Spanish. Handbags are fashioned by Escama artisans using pull tabs from the soda cans. These and other accessories, which are crocheted using a traditional Brazilian technique, have the appearance of a wave of metallic fish scales. “Escama” means “fish scales” in Portuguese. The Upavim artisans, a group of 80 self-supporting women, create handmade crafts that generate income that is used to establish healthcare clinics, daycare, schools, afterschool programs, tutoring programs, and scholarships.
Along with many other of the Coca-Cola artisan partners, Escama and Upavim are focused on green production, Fair Trade practices, and sustainability. Their mission is to support women in their fight for better economic, healthcare and educational opportunities for themselves, their families, and their communities. They seek to obtain fair wages for their work and respect for the work that they do, which results in alleviating poverty and promoting economic justice.
We must be mindful that our purchasing decisions directly affect the lives of people around the world. If we buy consumer goods from companies in which workers and their communities are not valued and respected, we actually add to the inhumane treatment of these people. When we show our support for companies that treat their workers humanely and safeguard the environment by shopping for the Fair Trade Federation logo, we can be instruments of change. We can make a difference in the lives of the workers as we empower them to be self-sufficient and help them to be less vulnerable to human trafficking and other injustices.
I have a new-found respect for the Coca-Cola company, and I hope to see many other of our leading corporations becoming more socially conscious and displaying their support for Fair Trade and justice for all; right up front, in their stores, as Coke is doing.