Traditional love tokens are anything but lovely
// Lindsay Howe

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, many of us who are lucky enough to have that special someone find ourselves scrambling to think of a romantic Valentine’s gift. With most of us leaving it to the last minute, people tend to stick with the traditional idea of chocolates, roses, or diamonds. While these gifts may be easy to acquire and can almost guarantee a smile on your sweetheart’s face, have you ever taken a moment to consider how these items are produced and come to be sold in our local retail stores? In some cases, the realities of these industries aren’t quite as sweet as those cinnamon hearts.

Chocolates have long been a staple in the celebration of Valentine’s Day. Whether you are buying for your significant other, your children, or just friends at work, small packages of heart-shaped chocolates have always been the go-to choice. These seemingly innocent goodies get consumed by the masses every Valentine’s Day, with MSNBC reporting in the US over 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold in the days leading up to Feb. 14, putting a smile on the face of many people in North America.

Unfortunately for child slaves of the cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast of Africa, the world’s largest supplier of cocoa, a smile is not in sight. According to investigative research done by the CNN Freedom Project, child labor is an everyday reality for some in this location. CNN discovered that many children working on these cocoa farms were getting paid only in food, the ripped clothing they wore on their back, and the occasional tip from the owner.

These children, some as young as eight years old, were not enrolled in school and were often brought to the Ivory Coast to work when their parent passed away. Although CNN does make a point of explaining that only a few chocolate companies are able to trace the exact location that their cocoa derives from, BBC News suggests that companies may just use that as an excuse, explaining, “Chances are, it [the cocoa] is [from] the Ivory Coast, which produces almost half the world’s cocoa.”

Another common way to let your significant other know they’re on your mind this Valentine’s Day is to send them a bouquet of roses. With the majority of cut flowers in the Canadian market coming from Ecuador and Colombia, it is important to consider the labour rights violations and potentially harmful pesticides that may find their way onto our beautiful flowers.

According to the Georgia Straight, labourers in these countries who work in the flower industry are often forced to work up to 62 hours per week without receiving overtime to meet the demands of popular holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. The Straight also reported that “to ensure perfect blossoms, greenhouses are fumigated with pesticides and fungicides that cause cancer, dizziness, skin and respiratory problems.”

Not only is this a concern for labourers who must work in these greenhouses shortly after fumigation, but also for consumers who purchase these fumigated flowers and make a point of enjoying their scent.

Now, for those of you who have saved your pennies all year in hopes of purchasing a piece of diamond jewelry for your significant other, I, unfortunately, once again, have some bad news. As with the other traditional forms of Valentine’s Day presents, unfair labour also occurs in diamond mining. According to BrilliantEarth.com, roughly one million small-scale diamond diggers in Africa earn less than $1 per day, forcing them to live below the extreme poverty line.

Labor Rights Violations are not the only controversial issue that come along with diamonds: Global Witness, one of the first institutions to bring the public’s attention to the reality of conflict diamonds, describe them as “diamonds that are used to fuel violent conflict and human rights abuses, and have funded brutal wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone … that have resulted in the death and displacement of millions of people.”

According to Amnesty USA, due to a government-run initiative in 2003 called The Kimberly Process that “imposes requirements on participants to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict-free,” conflict diamonds are thought to be an issue of the past. However, there continues to be speculation as to whether or not the issue has permanently ceased.

If you suddenly find yourself not as excited to go Valentine’s Day shopping, not to worry. If the guilt-free traditional route is what you’re looking for, try local manufacturers of chocolates and flowers, and search for diamonds with a certificate of origin to be confident in where it came from.

If a sense of humor is something you and your partner share, try opting for funny Valentine’s Day gifts; for example, items such as his-and-her tongue scrapers, or light switch covers that indicate whether your partner is turning you on or off. If you desire something a little more risqué you might consider underwear made entirely of heart candies or edible bacon frosting (apply anywhere you like!).

At the end of the day, we all know that the only meaningful present we can give one another which actually fits our student budget quite well, is our love and devotion.

//Lindsay Howe, writer
//Graphics by Lydia Fu

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com