The Cost Of Love – The Real Impact of Valentine’s Day
Oh Valentineâ€™s Day, how do we love thee, let us count the ways:
Well, apparently 16 billion ways, for starters. In the U.S., we spend $16 billion on Valentineâ€™s Day gifts.
Wow, we really do love theeâ€¦ a lot! Since consumer spending is a big part of how we currently choose to celebrate Valentineâ€™s Day, we would, ahem, love, to tell you how to harness that consumer power in order to make choices that take the environment, labor conditions, and other practices into consideration.
Photo courtesty of: Pink Sherbet
Stop to smell the roses, just check for labels while you are at it.
Valentineâ€™s Day is a big-time holiday for the flower industry â€“ $1.7 billion big â€“ for just this one day. Some of the concerns around the production of flowers include the damage to the health of the workers and the land due to heavy use of toxic pesticides, the carbon footprint of exporting flowers (80% of roses sold for V-day are from South America), andÂ the forced labor and child labor conditions that exist in the industry.
If you are lucky like we are in Southern California, you can buy flowers locally but nationwide you can look for labels when you shop for flowers to ensure that certain conditions are being met to protect the people and land involved in the production of flowers.
Here is a helpful summary we found on WholeLiving.com:
Fair Trade Certified
This label means the flowers come from sustainable farms that provide fair wages and safe, clean conditions for workers and also help fund community development projects.
USDA Organic Certified
No synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used at any time during the growing process.
A third party (Scientific Certification Systems) has determined that both the workers and the natural resources are protected during production.
Rainforest Alliance Certified
The green frog seal means that the farm follows Sustainable Agriculture Network standards for limiting pesticides and providing access to health care and education to workers and their families.
If consumers are diligent in seeking out flowers with these labels, more producers will have to ensure that their practices meet these standards.
Photo courtesty of: Carol Browne
What melts in your mouth and also enslaves 200, 000 children in West Africa?
If you guessed, chocolate, you are right. If you guessed popsicles, nice try but we are actually talking about chocolate.Â This daily decadence also gets a big boon from Valentineâ€™s Day consumption; we spend $350 million on chocolate treats for this holiday.
Since about 75% of cocoa comes from West Africa it is important to know that there is a serious issue of forced child labor on cacao farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast. This issue got world wide attention in 2001 with the release of the report titled A Taste of Slavery â€“ How Your Chocolate May Be Tainted.Â Still, the actions taken by leaders in the chocolate manufacturing industry were insufficient â€“ amounting to a â€śpledgeâ€ť to end forced child labor by 2005. Well, it is 2012 and child slavery is still a major issue in many industries and is still very prevalent in cacao farming.
That is just a taste of why it is important to buy chocolate that is linked to cocoa comes from farmer co-operatives and fair trade sources.
In Santa Barbara, we have a wonderful chocolate shop, Chocolate Maya, where you can buy fair trade, organic, and farmer co-operative sourced chocolate.
Photo courtesty of: Jeff Belmonte
So you want to buy a little bling?
Well, you are not alone â€“ we spend $3.5 billion on jewelry for Valentineâ€™s Day. While â€śconflict freeâ€ť has become a more well known term in the last few years, especially among brides-to-be, it is not just diamond mining that is conflict ridden. Many minerals, like gold and silver also come from mines in Central America and Africa where safe conditions for workers and environmental protections are not part of the business model.
Let’s look at gold mining. According to the New York Times, it takes 30 tons of rock to create one ounce of gold. Also, in the mining industry, cyanide is the poison of choice used to separate the gold from the rock. This is, of course, toxic for the workers, the land, and the water supply (where run off from mines often end up, if not deliberately dumped there).
The good news is that there are other options when shopping for jewelry for that special someone. There are designations of â€śconflict free goldâ€ť but look for recycled materials when buying gold and silver (and other mine-sourced metals). Or, choose jewelry that is made from other materials like recycled paper or recycled glass.
Once again, here in Santa Barbara we have a great store, Plum Goods, that offers ethically sourced and locally made jewelry options (as well as other unique Valentineâ€™s Day gifts).
Another option is the bright and beautiful paper-bead jewelry from Bead for Life.Â Not only are their offerings eye-catching, your purchase helps to support economic development programs for women in Uganda.
In the lead up to our Valentines for Good event and in the weeks following, our goal has been to give you reasons and options to make conscious consumption choices. However, we also want to balance that with the reminder that thoughtful gestures, kind words, or a home-cooked meal are also excellent ways of participating in this splendid but consumer co-opted holiday.