Spare a Rose, Save a Child… From Slavery


Last night, I donated to the Spare a Rose Save a Child campaign. Spare a Rose Save a Child, which is in its third year, collects donations to fund insulin, blood glucose meters, and test strips for children with type 1 diabetes in the Global South. Many of those children suffer from diabetes complications earlier, and have higher rates of early mortality relative to people living with type 1 diabetes in the US and other Global North nations because they don’t have access to insulin and BG supplies, which are lifelong medical necessities for people with type 1 diabetes.

There is tremendous love, energy, and collaboration invested in Spare a Rose Save a Child, an initiative developed and organized by many of my peers in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC). Of all the DOC initiatives I have witnessed, and in many cases, joined, over the years, this one is arguably the most successful, and rightfully so in light of the end result. According to the International Diabetes Federation, “last year’s campaign raised over US$27.000 and this year the aim is to do even better and reach the target of US$50.000.” Considering this is a grassroots effort that began with a bunch of patient advocate bloggers brainstorming about how to make an impact in the world, this has exceeded everyone’s initial expectations by leaps and bounds by improving access to insulin and BG supplies for thousands of children with type 1 diabetes.

The thing is – and if you know me, it’s no news flash that there is always a thing – I’ve been thinking about the enthusiasm in the DOC for Spare a Rose Save a Child, versus the apparent indifference towards the issue of child slavery in the chocolate industry. I’ve been sharing links on Facebook about the widespread use of slavery and human trafficking to harvest cacao by all the big chocolate candy makers for most of the past several “chocolate” holidays – Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. These posts don’t garner very many likes or shares, and inasmuch as I can tell from looking at FB, no discernible interest in choosing slavery-free chocolate. I am deeply saddened and concerned to see posts about big name chocolate candy shared in my FB news feed, especially during the chocolate holidays, not because I give a shit about PWD eating candy – I loves me a delicious slavery-free chocolate bar as much as anyone – but because I get really riled up when someone’s fundamental rights are negated because someone else thinks they deserve a fucking Snickers. Mind you, FB impressions are far from scientific, but it’s not hard to discern between the things that come to life on social media, and those that no one gives a flying fig about, and in my experience, posts about slavery and human trafficking to make Kit-Kats, Butterfingers, and M&M’s aren’t a blip on anyone’s radar.

I’m not sure what to make of this peculiar disconnect. The DOC really wants to save poor black and brown children with type 1 diabetes in the Global South, but my efforts to compel anyone to save impoverished, marginalized children of color and their families from slavery and trafficking have gone largely ignored, even though I consistently also share a link to the Food Empowerment Project’s amazing free ethical Chocolate List app that makes buying slavery-free chocolate relatively effortless. Not that I expect everyone to publicly swear off chocolate from companies known to use slaves, and become vocal food justice advocates, but something, anything to reflect some iota of give-a-shittedness doesn’t seem like a lofty expectation given the efforts to provide diabetes medication and supplies to these same Global South children. So I’m left with a lot of questions.

Why will people in the DOC fund insulin, but not spend more to buy slavery-free chocolate?

Does prioritizing one, but ignoring the other, have something to do with the ease of using PayPal, versus the perceived inconvenience of locating and paying more for slavery-free chocolate?

Is the experience of continually confronting one’s privilege by regularly considering where one’s food is sourced more visceral and uncomfortable than the experience of privilege when making a single donation to fund insulin and BG supplies?

In the absence of addressing the systemic socioeconomic-political issues that contribute to lack of access to insulin and BG supplies, does funding insulin maintain the historical colonialistic framework of white Westerners saving poor indigenous people, and ultimately maintain the very power structure that leaves these people in continuous need?

What is the purpose of reducing death and disability for these children if they and their siblings end up victims of slavery driven by imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and consumerism?

Are we providing insulin and BG supplies so they are healthy enough to labor as slaves so Westerners can keep eating cheap chocolate?

What if we stopped buying the chocolate made from cacao harvested by Global South slaves, and instead, bought slavery-free chocolate, so the people who harvest the cacao are paid enough to buy their own insulin and BG supplies?

These are difficult, but important questions. By asking them, I’m not suggesting to not contribute to Spare a Rose Save a Child, lest anyone think that is my intention. The need of Global South children with type 1 diabetes is dire. As a person with type 1 diabetes, it pains me that anyone, anywhere, no matter their age, race, income, or other status goes without insulin and supplies they need to live. However, the fact remains that there are systemic reasons why people in the Global South do not have access to insulin and supplies the way people in the Global North have access, and we have a responsibility to understand the mechanisms that keep this system in place. Advancing money towards it year after year does not begin to address those deeper issues, and isn’t a solution rooted in critical theory that shines light on why this problem even exists.

If people are genuinely interested in changing the system that allows Global South children with type 1 diabetes to suffer and die without ready access to insulin and supplies, then it’s time to stop reducing the problem to that of digging into pockets. If those children with type 1 diabetes remain captive to our willingness to buy insulin and BG supplies because we can’t be bothered to pursue a more nuanced, deeper understanding of how colonialism, imperialism, capitalism and consumerism function to keep them in a constant state of need, then we are no better than Hershey, Nestle, and Mars, who want to maintain the status quo, and keep those children in their current trapped positions. Is it good enough to feel good about doing something, or is it preferable to confront privilege, learn about intersecting systems of oppression, and make some different lifestyle choices in a conscious, committed effort to dismantle the power structure that leaves these children in continuous need?

Please donate to Spare a Rose Save a Child, but put your mouth where your money is, and buy slavery-free chocolate this Valentine’s Day.

Young boy rakes cocoa beans on a drying rack.
Young boy rakes cocoa beans on a drying rack.

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