When Mars Inc, one of the world’s largest chocolate companies, announced a couple of weeks ago that their most famous candy–M&M’s–would become more gender-neutral, people lost their minds. All over Fox News and Twitter, people have been lamenting about how this incident plays into the fact that every remote expression of gender is being scrutinized nowadays, claiming that “woke” people are working towards the point of androgyny where, according to Tucker Carlson, people “would no longer want to take (any of the M&Ms) out for a drink” (his words not mine).
Because of this decision that was made by Mars, coupled with the reactions that countless people had to this decision, this company is suddenly being labeled as “woke.” By redrawing cartoons, Mars is trying to be seen as striving to accomplish social justice, rallying behind all people to be able to live as their truest selves.
The truth is, though, what this company is doing is just optics, nothing more, geared towards pleasing progressives, the same people who would look for ways to hold this company accountable. This optics display is not only meant to please progressives, but it is also meant to distract them from horrific human rights abuses that the company has carried out far too recently.
Last year, eight former workers sued Mars, as well as a few other of the world’s largest chocolate companies, for them using child slavery on cocoa farms that supplied for these companies in Ivory Coast, a country in Africa. Oftentimes, children of struggling families would sign contracts to work on these farms, promising pay, but years would go by before they would receive their first paycheck. Not only were they forced to work without pay, but they were also subjected to deplorable working conditions, having to work for innumerable hours using tools that are not safe for children, such as machetes and dangerous chemicals.
Mars’s, as well as other chocolate companies’, treatment of these children violates the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017, but it also flies in the face of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which was an agreement made by the world’s major chocolate companies, including Mars, that sought to eliminate all forms of child slavery on cocoa farms by 2005. That’s right; Mars is still using child slavery at its affiliated cocoa farms that it had promised to eliminate 17 years ago. Not only did the company use optics in the past in the form of the Harkin-Engel Protocol in order to appease and distract progressive audiences, but it is using the same tactics today by redrawing cartoons.
Mars is not the first company to be this two-faced with their handling of human rights and social justice. In 2018, Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, was featured in a Nike ad campaign that celebrated him for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against black people, a sign that the company was embracing the Black Lives Matter movement. This sports clothing brand still expresses strong support for the movement with their Black Community Commitment, donating $140 million over the next ten years to several initiatives helping black people in the U.S. The move by Nike triggered infuriated responses by people similar to what is happening right now in response to the redrawing of the M&Ms, including countless videos online of people burning their Nike apparel in opposition to the company’s embrace of the social justice movement.
Meanwhile, a 1990s documentary Behind the Swoosh showed the horrendous conditions of people working for Nike in one of the company’s factories in Indonesia. In response to this exposé, the company eventually vowed to improve the conditions of their factories, but the actual improvements that were made are questionable. It was reported in 2013 that a factory where Nike apparel was being made had contracted members of the Indonesian military in order to intimidate workers to not protest for higher wages after the country had raised its minimum wage. In 2017, about 500 workers in a Cambodian factory that produces Nike products were hospitalized within a span of days due to overheating and other unsafe working conditions.
Regardless of what travesties have happened to people working for Nike, many people remain unaware of these events. Whether it be abused Nike workers in Indonesia, or child slaves in Ivory Coast, these issues are happening on the other side of the world from American consumers of these goods. Black Lives Matter and gender identity are more pressing issues for most Americans than labor exploitation that is occurring thousands of miles away, and because of that, Americans are more likely to notice when a company is making a stance on these more pressing issues. As long as companies appear to be “woke” on these social issues, progressives, the same people who would hold these companies accountable for such grotesque human rights violations across the world, will unintentionally turn a blind eye to how its workers overseas are suffering.