How Harry Potter fans won a four-year fight against child slavery
January 21, 2015 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Right before Christmas, Warner Bros. quietly gave “Harry Potter” fans what was, for some of them, a long-wished-for gift. In a letter to Andrew Slack, the founder of the Harry Potter Alliance, Joshua Berger, the company’s president for Harry Potter Global Franchise Development, announced, “By the end of 2015, and sooner when possible, all Harry Potter chocolate products sold at Warner Bros. outlets and through our licensed partners will be 100-percent UTZ or Fair Trade certified.”
When Slack and his co-creators founded the Harry Potter Alliance in 2005, they were animated by the idea that J.K. Rowling’s novels, inspired both by her own experiences with poverty and her work at Amnesty International, could be a powerful source of moral precepts and ideas about how to build a more just world. They made videos about Walmart, comparing the corporation to Voldemort, the “Harry Potter” novels’ totalitarian villain, and started a large book drive. But over time their ambitions grew, applying a similar approach to Suzanne Collins’s dystopian exploration of inequality, “The Hunger Games,” and considering how alliance members might be convinced to move from what Slack refers to as “charity and acts of service” to more direct advocacy.

“It’s all well and good to send the silver parachutes,” Slack told me in an interview last week, referring to the care packages that “Hunger Games” characters can send participants during televised fights to the death, “But the Games are still the Games.”
posted by Elementary Penguin (12 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
50 points to Gryffindor.
posted by Foosnark at 9:28 AM on January 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

UTZ refers to this certification board, not the makers of these chips that many Americans are being confused about right now.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:02 AM on January 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Aww hal_c_on don't be petty. Presumably there are supply chains to reconfigure, contracts that need to be closed out, etc. That stuff takes time. I'm not saying this is going to save the world but it seems like a pretty unambiguously good thing and a good example of thoughtful activism actually getting something accomplished rather than generating a week or two of social media outrage and hot air and then fading away.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:39 AM on January 21, 2015 [14 favorites]

I agree that it's a good thing, but there are other companies willing to actually take a hit to stick up for what is right. For example, Chipotle has limited pork at a bunch of locations because one of their suppliers was found to be skirting their guidelines for raising the pigs. They didn't say, "We'll work this out with our supplier, but in the meantime here is less humane pork," they just pulled pork off their menus when they could no longer obtain enough to meat (sic, sorry, etc.) demand.

If Warner Bros really cared, they'd stop selling it now. In the meantime, if people care, they shouldn't be buying the products.
posted by papayaninja at 10:57 AM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

To be fair, pork seems to be an outlier with Chipotle because they do serve "less-humane" beef when their certified beef suppliers can't meet demand.
Chipotle occasionally runs into this issue with beef as well, substituting meat from conventional farms when there isn’t enough available from suppliers that meet its standards.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:01 AM on January 21, 2015

Presumably there are supply chains to reconfigure, contracts that need to be closed out, etc.

Or just old stock to sell off before the claim that it's 100% New Thing could possibly be true.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:04 AM on January 21, 2015

All the Kings markets and all the Queens warrants
Could not put chocolate dumpty
Back to the people

-w wonkaa
posted by clavdivs at 11:05 AM on January 21, 2015

However heart-warming the story, I find "Harry Potter fans won a four-year fight against child slavery" to be extremely overblown, if not misleading. What they actually achieved is that only certified cocoa is sourced for Harry Potter chocolate anymore.

If that counts as a historical win these days, then God help us.
posted by sour cream at 12:12 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

To take misleading a step further, it's not even a proven thing that Behr chocolate has been guilty of bad practices. According to the score card:

"The company has no public information available concerning any policies related to labor rights or monitoring its supply chain. The company was also not responsive to requests for additional information"

Basically a refusal to plead.

But the score card does not provide for unknowns, so it defaults to "They have no policies in place." Guilty until proven innocent.

This lack of conclusive evidence one way or the other has not stopped the press from claiming that they are definitely using slave labor.

None of the above should be read as an endorsement of Behr chocolate (much less a call to ignore Fair Trade practices, of which I heartily approve), only an observation that, strictly speaking, this write up is a mite tendentious, not to say dishonest.

And if you think I'm being flat footed and insensitive, all I can say is that long term, scrupulous honesty serves the righteous better than cutting corners.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:51 PM on January 21, 2015

Sweat shops and industries that make use of child labor ("enslaved" or as willing workers) isn't a good thing obviously. However from my understanding (and perhaps I am mistaken?) that too many times as bad as the conditions/wages are, they are often the best option available.

So if the product is certified fair trade, the farmers get paid more, the certifying company gets paid, the consumer pays more to support the company and farmers but what about the employees?

Do they get paid more? If so how does that effect the local economy when the Fair Trade certified farms are paying vastly more than other employers can?

The Fair Trade certifying company forbids child labor period. What happens to the families who depend on the income of the children? Presumably the farmers children are exempt from the no child labor requirements so they're okay but what about the other families? What happens when their income disappears?

Please understand I am not defending child slavery practices. I am not saying the current method is better. I am just sincerely wondering how Free Trade certification effects the poor worker as opposed to the less-poor (or well off) farmer ?
posted by 2manyusernames at 3:14 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

2manyusernames, when we talk about child or other slavery, we mean people who are enslaved, not "enslaved".

Here is an explanation of the distinction between child work, child labour and child slavery.

As for your question about whether the conditions are the best available in a bad situation, here is an explanation of child trafficking in the cocoa industry in West Africa. Of the 100,000 children who are working in "the worst forms of child labour", 10,000 are described as victims of "enslavement".

For the 100,000 children whose situations don't necessarily meet the criteria for "enslavement", their conditions are like this:

"Significant numbers of young people from Mali and Burkina Faso work on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. They came from extremely poor families and have been recruited by traffickers on the promise of good wages and assistance for travel.

"Many are forced to live in poor conditions where no one looks after them and they are forced to forage for food.

"Some children are held on the farms against their will, and those that attempt to leave are beaten. It is not uncommon for pay to be withheld for an entire year and when the children complain or try to leave, the farmers inform them that they had not yet worked enough. Those that do manage to get paid after two to three years of work received much less than expected with some receiving little more than the cost of a bus ticket home, or nothing at all."

Now, I don't have any facts about what happens to the families who depend on the income of the children if child labour is forbidden, but presumably they also don't benefit from the labour of a child who never receives the wages they earn. So instead of being confronted with a child who just got off the bus home after three years with no money to show for it, the child wouldn't have gone away in the first place.
posted by tel3path at 8:53 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Now, I don't have any facts about what happens to the families who depend on the income of the children if child labour is forbidden

The whole point of child labour is that kids are cheaper than adults, and more disposable, and they don't know about basic human rights, let alone labour unions, and even if they did, are too powerless to do improve their situation. Where child labour is allowed, it is much preferred by employers, which greatly limits employment prospects for adults.

When child labour was finally (mostly) outlawed in the US, child labour was swiftly replaced by adult labour, which played a pretty significant role in ending the Great Depression.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

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