By “Rage against the Minivan”
The connection between most major candy bar manufacturers and child slavery is one of the world’s best kept secrets. It has been going on for years, but I only learned about it last year. The US government is currently being sued by the International Labor Rights Fund for failing to enforce laws prohibiting the import of products made with child labor, and the chocolate industry has failed to meet numerous deadlines set by Congress for regulating. A few major chocolate companies have done a great job in the last year with some smoke-and-mirror campaigns . . . either offering an obscure fair-trade chocolate bar or making a show of giving to charities that support farmers. But these actions do not change the fact that they don’t want to take the necessary steps to avoid the human rights abuse of children.
But honestly, what concerns me even more is that we, as consumers, are not demanding that this be stopped. People continue to buy chocolate even after learning about the harm to children in Africa. I’ve heard excuses from people in my own life that sound pretty similar to the ones I made in the coffee post. We rationalize that we can’t afford fair-trade. We joke about how addicted we are. We justify that we can’t change everything. And I think secretly, we don’t relate because these are kids in a far-off country, and not our own. It’s okay as long as we don’t have to see it happening right in front of us.
Well, I’m here to ruin it for you. Now you know. We can’t keep looking away. If we choose willful ignorance on this one, then we are no better than the people who are directly forcing children to work. I’ve embedded a BBC documentary about this issue below. Even the first ten-minute segment is eye-opening, but the whole thing will wreck you . . . and you will be better for it. Bookmark this and watch it later. Watch it with your kids. Jafta saw this last year and despite his love of chocolate, he is the most fervent fair trade advocate I know after seeing this. Share it with your friends. Blog about it. We’re breaking up with commercial chocolate, or buying fair trade. I hope you will, too.
On January 31st 2012, in what was likely a response to the growing bad press about child labor practices, Hershey’s made an announcement regarding child labor in their supply line. You can read the entire statement here. Two points worth noting:
“Over the next five years, The Hershey Company will expand and accelerate programs to improve cocoa communities by investing $10 million in West Africa and continuing to work with experts in agriculture, community development and government to achieve progress with cocoa farmers and their families”.
While $10 million dollars over the course of 5 years sounds like a lot of money, it is still a far cry from what has been recommended by the Payson Center for International Development at Tulane University’s report on Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector, an independent international academic study that offered recommendations for reducing child labor in the chocolate industry. Hershey’s claims they want to comply, but to do so it really should be closer to $8 million a year. Also, this is still not a commitment to going fair-trade, or any other third-party mechanism for assuring just labor practices. It’s a step in the right direction, but I won’t be buying Hershey’s until I’m convinced that they are making real and drastic measures to cut out labor abuses, rather than trying to smooth over some bad press.
“Later this year, U.S. consumers will be able to purchase Hershey’s Bliss® products with 100 percent cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. Rainforest Alliance Certified farms have met comprehensive sustainability standards that protect the environment and ensure the safety and well-being of workers, their families and communities.”
Again, it’s great that Hershey’s is creating a fair-trade line, but why not apply this standard to all of their products? Fair trade shouldn’t be a specialty item, and many international rights groups are still skeptical. You can read more about that here.
Now let’s look at the strides Nestle has made in 2012:
Earlier this year, Nestle announced they were submitting to a study by the Fair Labor Association to determine if child labor actually did exist in their supply chain. This was a bit of a PR move since Nestle signed the Harkin Engel Protocol and vowed to remedy the child labor issues in their company over ten years ago. Very little effort was made by the companies involved which resulted in only about 5% improvement over the last 10 years. So I’m slightly unimpressed that they are now making a public show of “getting to the bottom of this”, but again – it’s a step.
The findings of the Fair Labor Association? There is indeed child labor in the Nestle supply chain. Reuters reported: “Child labour is still widespread on Ivory Coast cocoa farms supplying Nestle, an investigation by a workers’ rights group has found, prompting the world’s biggest food group to pledge a redoubling of efforts to stamp out the practice.” Nestle has made several public statements about their commitment to stopping this and their strategies include producing an illustrated guide to the supplier code and educating their farmers not to employ children. Still, Nestle is not willing to submit to fair trade certification, which would be the best way to insure compliance. The International Labor Rights Fund names Nestle as one of the top 14 companies behind the worst labor abuses.
The bottom line is this: profit margins are likely going to take a dip if these companies really step it up, and it’s likely that chocolate prices will go up, too. But I think that we, as a society, need to be willing to see this through, even if it costs us something. Because no bar of chocolate is worth robbing a child of their education and childhood.
Halloween is a holiday with pitfalls for feminists: We want to simultaneously encourage the rejection of outfits that reduce women to nothing more than sex objects, while also respecting the women who may choose to err on the more risque side when they trick-or-treat. That line can be difficult to walk, and even harder to explain to people who aren’t well-versed in slut shaming and women’s empowerment. So here’s a simple guide to how to have a feminist Halloween without missing out on the fun:
Why Women Shouldn’t Be Reduced To Sexy Objects
At this point, it’s common knowledge that Halloween is the holiday that inspires increasingly ridiculous promiscuous costumes. Every year, there are countless articles devoted to rounding up the top offenders — like sexy Mr. Potato Head, a sexy remote control, sexy Big Bird, a sexy nun, and a sexy hamburger. It’s often difficult to find any store-bought Halloween costumes intended for women that aren’t tight, skimpy, and designed to play up her “sex appeal.”
This trend is trickling down to children’s costumes, too — inciting criticism for contributing to the over-sexualization of young girls. Walmart sparked controversy this year for stocking a “naughty leopard” costume for toddlers.
It’s not hard to see why feminists would protest this type of objectification. Women are more than their bodies and their sex appeal, and the “feminine” version of a costume shouldn’t automatically have to emphasize cleavage. Feminists have worked hard to make the point that women are just people — and if they want to dress up as a hamburger, they can wear the same kind of hamburger costume as a man would, without feeling the need to show a lot of leg.
Why You Shouldn’t ‘Slut Shame’ Women In Halloween Costumes
While it’s important to recognize that women don’t need to be sexy to have a good Halloween, it’s also worth acknowledging that some women simply like looking a little steamy, and that’s fine too. Demonstrating sexuality can actually be really empowering for women when they feel they can do it safely and without pressure or judgement. There are three things that society needs to understand, though, in order for women to get to this point:
1. “Sexy” doesn’t have a singular definition. Is cleavage sexy? Sure, for you. But not for everyone. Different people think different things are sexy and that’s okay. Your judgement of what’s attractive isn’t always someone else’s.
2. A woman who puts on a provocative outfit is not asking for moral judgement. There’s nothing morally wrong with looking good or dressing in revealing clothes. A woman who does so isn’t s slut, she isn’t necessarily sleeping around and, if she is, that’s fine too. You can’t determine who a person is from what they wear.
3. Being sexy does not equal an invitation for sexual advances. A woman wearing a sexy outfit is not ‘asking for it.’ Period.
Just like there are round-ups of “sexy” costumes every year, each Halloween also brings the inevitable rush of articles lamenting our society’s lack of a moral compass and imploring slutty women to cover themselves up. That’s not exactly the right approach to the holiday, either.
This doesn’t mean you need to be a feminist killjoy who can’t enjoy Halloween. It’s very possible — easy, even — to navigate these issues and to have a more progressive holiday. First of all, if you’ve decided you don’t want to dress up as a sexy object, you have a responsibility to remember that you don’t have the license to look down on other women who make different choices. You’re not morally superior to the “sexy” hamburger, and you don’t really have the right to police her expressions of sexuality.
If you are looking for non-sexy Halloween costumes, the project ‘Take Back Halloween‘ has some great suggestions. And here’s a fun song that gives some good suggestions for creative costumes that don’t involve showing a lot of skin:
If you want to look sexy, well, the world is your oyster.
Ther are other ways, too, to ensure you’re not using Halloween as an excuse to perpetuate stereotypes or undermine progressive ideals. Every year, some partygoers inevitably don costumes that rely on racial stereotypes, and controversy always emerges after some people decide it’s a great idea to dress up in blackface. There’s no reason the holiday needs to rely on offensive depictions of people from other races, cultures, or sexual identities — take a few minutes to read through the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign from students at Ohio University and make sure you avoid it. And don’t perpetuate class stereotypes, either.
Halloween is a holiday about glorifying all things spooky and scary, a day to dress up in a costume for the sake of having fun.
Unfortunately, sometimes the “fun” comes at the expense of others, and the scariest thing is how rampant racism is on Halloween.
Before you give me an eye roll and say, “Relax, it’s just a joke,” listen up. Because I used to be you.
If you’re anything like me, then you go to your nearest Halloween store and innocently pick out a costume, never with the foul intention of hurting anyone.
But regardless of whether your costume selection was done with innocent intentions or not, your costume can still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas, which then welcomes more aggressive racist attitudes.
That is: Even if you don’t think you’re vehemently racist, you can still perpetuate racism.
For example, in the past, I was a “Sexy Indian Girl” and a Geisha. I picked these costumes out because—well—I thought I’d look hot in them, and isn’t that what Halloween is all about for us ladies? (Sigh. One topic at a time.)
Why would I ever have thought about the implications that my costume would have on Native American or Asian women? Why would I think that deeply about the implications of a costume?
Well, it’s simple: Because these implications don’t affect me.
And it never occurred to me that an establishment would openly sell racist (or otherwise offensive) costumes. Why would they?
But if you’re anything like how I used to be, I have some news for you.
Racism is deeply ingrained into our history.
And “pointing out racism is not a witch hunt or an attempt to make you feel bad.” It’s done to better our society and ourselves.
Many racially, ethnically, and culturally based costumes are intended to be one of two things – humorous or erotic. Just check out which categories these costumes are listed under on costume sites: Funny and Sexy.
The question is: What about these groups of people makes them exotic or humorous?
And the simple answer is: Nothing.
But our society equates Whiteness with normalcy, and therefore everyone outside of that category is foreign, weird, or joke-worthy – perfect for a costume.
And since manufacturers don’t put much thought into how offensive costumes can be, this year let’s try asking ourselves some thought provoking questions before purchasing or making our costumes to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and racist attitudes.
1. Is Your Costume Racially, Ethnically, or Culturally Based?
If it is, then it’s probably racist.
And if you’re thinking “I don’t see race,” then consider yourself a very privileged individual who has never had the misfortune of experiencing or witnessing acts of racism.
Check your privilege.
And if you still “don’t see race,” just read the names of the costumes that you are considering purchasing. Because I assure you that manufacturers make it very clear:
- Arab Costume
- Oriental Disguise
- Mexican Serape and Hat
- Sexy Native American Girl
- Adult Dragon Lady Geisha Costume
Question why you are choosing to dress up as another culture, ethnicity, or race.
What message are you sending?
What is your intent by wearing that costume? to have a good time? to be funny? sexy?
And if so, at whose expense?
2. Do You Belong to That Group of People?
If your answer is no, remember that you can’t just borrow someone else’s culture or race for a day. It doesn’t work like that.
Perhaps unlike yourself, you don’t have to live with the stereotypes and stigmas associated with that “costume.” Because you can take it off.
But for many people, it’s not just a costume. It’s their everyday lives.
For example, you can wear an Illegal Alien costume, but you’ll never have to go through the emotional journey of the 11.7 million undocumented (not illegal) individuals in the United States. Your costume is making light of the difficult lifestyle and journey of undocumented immigrants.
“Relax, it’s not like I’m doing blackface.”
Well, I’d like to think that the majority of us understand how deeply offensive and racist it is to do something like Blackface for Halloween (or ever). But the truth is, Halloween has brought out the worst in many people:
- Florida University
- UC University
- Assemblyman in Blackface
- Colton Haynes of Teen Wolf
- Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader
I can keep going, but I think we get the point.
And the point is: Don’t be fooled.
Blackface isn’t the only thing that is racist.
The natural hair movement rejects European beauty standards that have been force-fed on People of Color, and particularly African-Americans, for centuries.
So while you may think it’s “fun” to wear an afro or locs for Halloween, your silky straight hair will never be deemed as “unpresentable,” and you’ll never be forbidden to wear the hair that naturally grows out your head to school like seven-year-old Tiana Parker.
How will locs and afros ever be seen as “presentable” when we are making a mockery out of the hair by selling and wearing them as costumes?
By wearing cultures that aren’t yours as a costume, you are subjecting those very people to the threats associated with those stereotypes and belittling their experiences.
If you are a part of the group of people your costume is intended on representing, you can still be guilty of perpetuating a negative stereotype and opening the door to racist attitudes.
Make sure ask yourself how your costume connects to the larger issue of identity and inequality.
Are you, yourself, perpetuating a stereotype of your own race, ethnicity, or cultural background? If so, why? What are you saying with your costume?
3. Why Is Your Costume Funny or Sexy?
A harsh majority of humorous or erotic costumes are of marginalized and oppressed groups of people.
This is an action of taking advantage of people who are already in a marginalized position and continuously dehumanizing them.
When a costume’s “humor” or “sexiness” is solely based on race, ethnicity, or culture, those people’s human elements are being extracted for the sake of bringing us laughter or making us feel more “exotic.”
For example, Native Americans are one of the most underrepresented minorities in all of North America. The media has done a successful job at misrepresenting Native Americans and depicting them as only existing during Colonization and Western Expansion.
So it’s no wonder that so many individuals feel that a Native American costume can’t be offensive – because they’re non-existent!
But actually, there are 310 Indian reservations in the United States all consisting of different nations practicing different traditions.
And please don’t think that you’re paying homage to the Native American culture by wearing your mass-manufactured $29.99 costume one day out of the year.
It isn’t a sign of respect – just a lack of creativity and ignorance. There is a huge difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation.
Also think twice when you buy a Sexy Indian Girl costume because the fetishizing and eroticizing of Native American women doesn’t help the fact that 1 out of 3 Native women will experience rape in her lifetime.
Okay, so perhaps your costume isn’t hyper-sexualizing one group of people. But maybe your costume wins funniest costume or it’s getting the biggest laughs at the Halloween party.
Ever question why your costume is considered funny? Why are some costumes literally in the category of Funny?
Sometimes what makes a costume funny is the fact that a White individual is wearing another ethnicity or race. And let me tell you, that is straight racist.
Those ethnicities and races are not yours, so while you think it’s a funny costume, it’s other people’s lives you are wearing.
And sometimes it’s not only that someone is going outside of their race or culture for the sake of a good laugh, but it’s how exaggerated the costume (stereotype) is.
Like this Hey Amigo Mexican Costume.
When’s the last time you’ve seen an actual Mexican wearing a sombrero, pancho, and riding a donkey?
Oh right, never!
These are caricatures of people.
4. Would You Wear That Costume Around That Group of People?
If a Japanese family were to welcome you into their home, would you wear your Geisha costume? What about wearing your Arab Terrorist costume within a group of Muslim Americans?
I’m hoping that you would be at least a little hesitant to do such a thing since, ultimately, you should know that it’s disrespectful.
Halloween is not an exception.
It’s not the one day out of the year when you get to be disrespectful to others. It’s not a Get-Out-of-Cultural-Appropriation-Jail-Free Card.
It isn’t enough just to say that you’re not racist. Your actions have to reflect that, too.
Because we don’t live in a post-racial society.
As always, you should actively question and challenge many of our social norms, including the costumes that we deem acceptable.
Take responsibility for the messages that your costume can be sending out.
You’ll quickly realize how difficult picking out a non-offensive costume can be – which only speaks to how prevalent the problem is.
But if you’re like me and really want to stand out from the rest of your friends, then this may work in your favor.
We all know how played out many Halloween costumes can be, so challenge yourself this year.
Take this opportunity to be more creative and bring some originality to Halloween.
Last year, I used my newly cut hair to my advantage and was Mitt Romney – With His Binders Full of Women for Halloween. The best part of my costume was not only how much people loved it, but how it didn’t offend anyone!
Well—besides Mitt Romney and his binder full of misogyny—I mean women.
And if you don’t have it in you to be creative, you can always be a strip of bacon.
Kat Lazo is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a self-proclaimed social commentator, media critic, and overall, a woman who questions everything. Having studied Advertising and Marketing Communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology, she’s ready to add some feminism to the ad world. Check out more of her writing at TheeKatsMeoww, watch her videos on YouTube, and follow on Twitter @TheeKatsMeoww, Facebook and Tumblr. Read her articles here.