Fifteen years ago I started waking up. I was sitting on a dusty floor in a large hut where the smell of raw tobacco impregnated every wall, person, and thing. It was bright outside, but not inside the hut. The light penetrated like beams through openings in the roof, creating a beautiful contrast with the darker room. Though I expected to see sad faces, I was wrong and there were smiles, giggles everywhere with quick glances at us. To those girls I could have been a being from another realm.
The girls were sitting in groups of four or five masterfully rolling cigarettes, one after the other, as they engaged in conversation. Their bodies hunched over the tobacco leaves and their movements automatic. This was my first one-to-one experience with child labor: A primitive factory in the middle of a small town by a river. It was not a big factory though it was manufacturing things for brands we use without thinking twice. It was the reflection of a reality manifesting across the globe.
A group of Americans and I were traveling South East Asia and one of our stops was in this little town in Myanmar where somehow the visit to the tiny factory got arranged. I do not remember the reason for the visit, maybe it was because those people were proud of their manufacturing, or maybe it was to show us the reality of the people who live there.
Making use of our translator provided the opportunity to ask a few questions. What I remember is that they worked long hours and that they were proud to contribute to the family with what little they made. Obviously they did not go to school. Why were they smiling? Was it because we were there and they were nervous at being observed by strange people? Or were they truly happy with what they had? I could not stop thinking about our kids and the adults in our countries, myself included, who would have been terribly sad and depressed at the prospect of a life like this.
These girls were strong, but their circumstances are something we can all contribute to change. They seemed happy but unaware that a better reality is possible, that many of those kids could go to school and build a better future for themselves and their nations, therefore contributing to a better world overall.
Every time we buy products that are not fair trade, or products that do not have an organic label, we are contributing to the exploitation of kids around the world. When we make good choices, parents can be paid enough so that their kids can go to school. Maybe we do not need to have a lot of everything – when money is a concern we can have fewer things but with moral quality behind them. When you make informed choices, the money has a better chance of getting to the most beneficial places.
Fifteen years later my wife and I have started Jolly Dragons, an organic kid’s clothing company. There is likely more profit to be made with non-organic, but we need to feel that we have a business that is trying to make a change. As we get into this industry we are beginning to understand the many problems that growing cotton is associated with; dyes, water, pesticides, herbicides, pollution, deaths, and injuries. The more you know, the scarier it becomes and the bigger the need to do something about it. Have I always bought organic? No I haven’t, I am guilty. But now I am aware and I am making the change, you could too.
Read more from our amazing contributors:
- Lingerie Blogger, Avigayils: A Brief Introduction to Ethical Lingerie
- Read about Anita and her life in NYC as an eco warrior over 50: What About Us?: Do Women Over 50 Care About Slow Fashion?
- Talented designer, Sally Omeme shares her collection in a post:Knit together by a dream
- Read about Georgie’s love for fashion while still being an ethical consumer:City girl at heart
- Sam has her first contribution here for trusted clothes and it is a MUST READ:How did I get here and where am I going?
About the Author
Werner Price is a teacher and an entrepreneur who believes that a better world is possible. He became aware of sustainability, fair trade and organic farming while traveling to south east Asia. He is currently leading the foreign language department in Sandwich MA, and taking the Jolly Dragons Brand to the next level.