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MODERN SLAVERY

Cristina Bernazzani- Italy

The choices we make in our daily lives have consequences that span the oceans: many consumers are not aware that some of the most exotic foods which belong to our breakfast plates every single day, such as coffee or chocolate, have a profound impact on the lives of many people. In Western societies, we are used to eating and consuming fresh ingredients which sprout on different continents, yet we are unable to see the very hands that carry a simple thing as a banana to our tables, as a consequence of a global supply chain. This alienation from the places and people involved in the supply chain leads consumers to ignore the impact of producing some foods and enabling them to travel to one’s table. What is regarded as a simple commodity is a result of the labor and exploitation of many families and crops on the other side of the ocean.

Modern slavery comes in many guises and is often obscured by the alienation of modern consumers from their products, an example of which includes the slave system that holds many people tied behind our food chains. As consumers, we unconsciously become commissioners of a system of inequality and exploitation which we ignore.

This includes many ‘fair-trade’ certified products, which are employed by multinationals as a psychological marketing tactic.

This phenomenon is described by the cultural anthropologist Richard Robbins as the ‘commodification of morality’, where even commitments to just, fair, or sustainable practices have been monopolized by economic agents. Within this framework, our moral choices are put on the market with a price that rarely returns or reflects the true cost of such products. This article begins by def ceding with a particular focus on forced labor in the current neoliberal regime. This is then contextualized in the case study of bananas as one of the most consumed, yet furthest grown, items of Western diets and analyses the ethical backdrop of economic practices, using the fair-trade movement as a synecdoche of the moral economy of our day.

The main question raised here is to what extent our moral choices can contribute to exploitation or social change, and how our way of eating can oppose the great inequalities that still exist in the present context.

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