Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Buy our chocolate! Save the world!

Image by Salina Hainzl. For illustrative purposes only; I have no idea what brand these blocks are.
But they're making me long for one of Willy Wonka's reach-through-the-screen-and-grab-it contrivances.

Have you seen the posters accompanying the display shelves for a certain Big Brand of chocolate lately?

A grinning, headscarfed woman with a basket, surrounded by a field of green plants. Below that, a sparkling blurb on how Big Brand's signature chocolate product is now Fair Trade certified.

"By buying [Big Brand's Big Chocolate Product] you can help guarantee a better deal for Third World Producers," gushes the copy. Evidently, they want to get across that the money you spend on this one chocolate product that has the Fair Trade mark on it will go towards helping Nature Girl and her family, and we all love the thought of helping others, don't we?

Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of the poster before it got covered with the Next Big Thing in pillar advertising so I can't quote it verbatim. But I remember that it mentioned better schooling, housing and living conditions.

Of course, the Fair Trade certification applies only to this one product, which is essentially plain milk chocolate bars. Do you see the double-speak in action here? If they manage to convince me that purchasing their plain milk chocolate has an altruistic benefit, then they've also succeeded in convincing me that all of their other products do not offer a better deal to Third World producers, because not a single one of those other products -- which, by the way, probably sell much better than plain old boring milk chocolate -- has the Fair Trade seal.

Dear Big Brand, you cannot draw my attention to the poor working and living conditions of cocoa plantation workers one moment and then, in the next, expect me to become magically unaware of them when looking at your other chocolate products.

The Fair Trade movement has been accused of selling out to big money and making it too easy for major manufacturers to exploit loopholes in the production line, so that in the end they're still turning a huge profit buying large amounts of non-Fair Trade raw material -- but get to enjoy the public kudos of electing a Fair Trade "poster product" to proudly bear the movement's stamp.

With advertising campaigns like this one out there, it isn't hard to see why such accusations exist.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

That nameless warp

I've tried to write this post, or one like it, for weeks. The words run into themselves, the paragraphs turn into miniature treatises on the importance of treasuring life, and I end up giving up in disgust for what feels like pretentious, worthless words.

The last Monday of June, I had a routine workload discussion with my boss and referred offhand to our office manager -- something about asking her for help the next time she was in the office. She was, in addition to managing the office, the database software guru and general go-to person. The sort who was always On Top Of Everything, the type you'd resent if it weren't for the fact that she was nice.

His face, which I realise I have come to file next to my definition of "British deadpan", instantly fell. "You didn't know?" he said, and in that moment I felt something in existence change. You know what I'm referring to? That nameless warp or blip that occurs neither in the temperature, nor the ambient noise, nor the light, when you are being given some unfortunate news. A change that you can't describe or quantify, and yet for just that briefest of times it's as obvious (and odoriferous) as the elephant in the room.

What I "didn't know" due to my not working at this office full-time, and which my boss proceeded to tell me, was that she'd been behaving strangely at work the preceding week, and they'd finally persuaded her to go to the doctor. NOW, not when this onslaught of conferences had ended. No, not this weekend. NOW.

And it turned out, there was a reason for her increasing forgetfulness of the past few weeks. For the usually sharp-minded database manager to have needed hourly prompting to complete the simplest of tasks. For the woman who knew the entire company's operations by heart to have to be told what day it was.

Brain tumour, my boss said. Surgery, away from work, not sure how long, wish her the best, will update you. I nodded and went back to work. Every now and then there would be a staff briefing about her progress -- or, more accurately, the progress of the tumour that was rampaging its way through her consciousness, her wit and, eventually, her life.

It was at the end of June that she was last at work, keying in photocopier access codes and hiding her big stapler from the stationery imps that seem to plague offices around the world. The end of June.

It's now the end of August. And they'll be burying her Friday, four days after she slipped away quietly in the hospice bed where her family had resignedly installed her. How much can change, even when we think we're on top of everything.

I am thankful that I made, and have for the most part fulfilled, a commitment years ago to live a life of purpose and integrity. Not necessarily a life of no mistakes, but certainly one of little regret. Because we never know, do we, when and how we'll next experience the warp?
Related Posts with Thumbnails