When you think of Valentine’s Day gifts, you probably think of chocolate, jewelry, or flowers. You may have heard about the questionable ethics of the global supply chain—from child labor to mercury poisoning. Your buying decisions can make a more significant impact than you might think! Read on to learn about the perfect ethical gifts for you and your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is Big Business
Around the world, Valentine’s Day is becoming a more prominent and more meaningful holiday. But nowhere do consumers spend to profess their love like in the United States. Valentine’s Day spending is expected to total $27.4 billion in 2020, which is up 32 percent from 2019. In a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, participants said they plan to spend an average of $196.31 this year on Valentine’s Day gifts!
One of our listeners asked us about sustainability in chocolate production and what the major chocolate producers have done to end child labor in their sourcing of cocoa. Have the major chocolate producers like Mars, Nestle, and Hershey done anything to make chocolate a more ethical product?
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the answer isn’t pretty. In 2001, the three big chocolate companies came together and promised to put an end to child labor in their cocoa supply chains. The goal was to do so within four years, but it still hasn’t happened.
About two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. According to a US Department of Labor study in 2015, more than 2 million children work in the production of cocoa. Sadly, Nestle and Hershey can both trace less than 50% of their cocoa back to the originating farm. For Mars, the maker of M&M’s, Milky Way, Snickers, Dove, and Twix, they can only trace 24% of their cocoa supply. That means that none of them can guarantee that the chocolate you eat was not produced using child labor.
Fair Trade Brands You Can Support
Thankfully, conscious consumers can support companies that are certified as Fairtrade. Divine Chocolate has a cooperative structure, meaning that cocoa farmers own 45% of the company, and sells only Fairtrade chocolate. They use zero palm oil in their chocolate bars, which is excellent for the environment, too! Other chocolate brands that are Fairtrade include Equal Exchange, TCHO, Alter Eco, Endangered Species, and Tony’s Chocolonely.
If you aren’t a chocolate fan, jewelry might be more your style. Whether you’re talking about diamonds, gold, or other metals, there’s no escaping the problems in the mining supply chains. There are always labor issues when mining metals.
Diamonds might be a girl’s best friend, but they aren’t the planet’s best friend. It takes an incredible amount of time, manpower, and energy for diamonds to develop and for mining companies to find and extract them.
Those who work as artisanal miners are often doing so in unregulated conditions. Not only is artisan mining back-breaking work, but it is often performed in dirty water that breeds disease. Artisanal miners usually make less than one dollar per day and live in extreme poverty. Without any other economic options, there are also children doing this dangerous work to support their families.
Another popular choice for Valentine’s Day jewelry is gold, in any of its many hues. Gold comes with its own problems, however.
In the process of mining gold, mercury is added to the extracted slurry. Mercury and gold settle together and separate from the other particles. Then the gold and mercury amalgam is heated, the mercury vaporizes, and pure gold is left in its wake.
Mercury is highly toxic to both the environment and humans, causing nervous, digestive, and immune system issues. Miners and millers are exposed to dangerously toxic levels of mercury, and because mercury is vaporized, it lingers in the environment too. Whole towns are affected by the environmental impact of gold mining.
Solutions: How Consumers Can Make a Difference
If you’re interested in buying diamonds that are ethically sourced, you can look for companies that buy from suppliers who adhere to the Kimberley Process. Major diamond distributors like De Beers are starting to track the provenance of diamonds using blockchain technology, which can prove that the diamond on your ring didn’t come from the hands of a child in a war zone.
But what if you want to avoid the chance of a war-zone diamond mined in unsafe conditions altogether? You can! Choose to buy from a synthetic diamond company that grows diamonds in a lab, such as our sponsor Diamond Nexus. You’ll not only pay 30-40% less, but you’ll receive a diamond that looks like the real thing. Although lab-grown diamonds were only 1% of the 80 billion dollar diamond industry in 2018, continuing to vote with your dollars will only help this sector grow.
In terms of gold, you can buy jewelry made of recycled materials from specialty brands. Be on the hunt for exceptional second-hand jewelry, too—family heirlooms and thrift store finds alike can be refitted, refashioned, or recycled to match your personal style. And if you’re buying for your sweetheart, think of how individual and unique a remixed piece will be!
Everyone loves flowers—that’s what science says, at least! Flowers have been shown to elicit positive emotions and social behavior in both men and women, and can make someone’s mood better up to three days after receiving them!
The roughly 100 million roses grown each year in the United States for Valentine’s Day produce 9,000 metric tons of carbon emissions. Flower production has enormous effects on not only carbon emissions, but also water usage, land degradation, and fossil fuel emissions from transporting flowers.
There’s also a human cost to flowers. As the demand for flowers skyrockets around holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, workers are forced to into long days and compulsory overtime. Even Fairtrade flowers come from areas where horticultural industry workers have reported unsafe working conditions.
What To Look For When Buying Flowers
If you still want to give flowers as an expression of your love, you should look out for the Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance symbols. Even though these flowers won’t be perfect, they are still better than flowers that aren’t certified Fairtrade.
Another option is to gift a potted flower or plant. The flower’s vessel can be a beautiful adornment, and your sweetheart will have a pleasant new addition for their space. Succulents and cacti are also a popular and appealing choice for gifting! Look for companies like Bloomscape and The Sill for chic potted plant options.
Lastly, Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!
Taking these small steps, like considering the origin of your gifts and looking for environmental certifications, can go a long way. Make sure to tell your valentine why you’re giving them a potted plant instead of a bouquet, or a lab-grown diamond versus a traditionally mined one. Even small actions can make a big difference on the grand scale! Being informed is just the first step. Here at Brightly, we’re wishing you a happy, eco-conscious Valentine’s Day.
In This Episode of the Good Together Podcast:
- [1:30] This episode was sponsored by Diamond Nexus, a sparkly & ethical synthetic diamond option. They also cost up to 40% less than traditionally mined diamonds. Use the code: GOOD at https://diamondnexus.com/goodtogether 5% off your purchase!
- [4:00] Why we need to talk about Valentine’s Day & how much we spend on it each year in the US
- [4:48] Did you know that Brightly has an ambassador program called Brightly Scouts? You can apply to be one here!
- [5:47] Question from a listener: What positive changes have bigger chocolate companies made in their sustainability & to end child labor? And what can we as consumers do to make positive changes year-round with our chocolate buying habits?
- [7:36] What Mars, Nestle, and Hershey promised to do to make chocolate production more ethical in 2001
- [10:20] Liza’s personal experience in Ghana with men trying desperately to find work
- [11:09] The good news: there are Fairtrade chocolate options where the entire supply chain is ethical and sustainable
- [12:14] For more information about the chocolate supply chain, check out Rotten on Netflix
- [13:03] Jewelry might be your go-to gift, but it’s got its own issues
- [14:18] Diamonds aren’t necessarily an ethical girl’s best friend
- [16:50] The gold dilemma
- [18:14] Certification processes to buy better diamonds
- [20:41] Why synthetic diamonds are the answer
- [22:37] Recycled gold & buying second-hand
- [25:15] Flowers sadly aren’t great for the environment, either
- [29:00] What to look for when buying flowers
- [35:00] The importance of being informed and making the best choice you can for a Valentine’s Day gift
Resources We Mentioned
- Diamond Nexus
- Divine Chocolate
- Equal Exchange
- Alter Eco
- Endangered Species
- Tony’s Chocolonely
- Rotten (Netflix, 2019)
- Blood Diamond (available on Netflix)
- Blue Nile (Liza’s husband purchased a gift for her from this company because of their conflict-free diamond policy)
- Tracr (blockchain program under development by De Beers in order to track the provenance of diamonds)
- The Sill