Thanks for hanging with me as we explore Modern Day Slavery and what Governments are doing to put a spotlight on this issue. This post is about the steps we can take in reducing our own Slavery Footprint, becoming a more Compassionate, Ethical Consumer!
When we learn about such an immense problem our first thought is, “What can little ole I do??” We can feel helpless. Well, chin up my friend! I’m going to share with you some tangible ways we can start to combat the issue of Modern Day Slavery in our every day lives!
But first I want to recognize that there are two camps. One camp stands for reducing our own consumption and consumerism. The less we buy the less of a chance we are ‘employing’ slaves. Live minimally. Reduce, recycle, repurpose. So good!
The other camp says, “Hey, buying is good for the economy. It employs people. It helps families put food on the table.” Helping people make a living wage. That’s good too!
I hear both camps. Living with less is good for the planet and our psyche (not as much to organize, maintain and manage) but buying keeps workers employed. So what about a compromise? Live as simply as we can (or want to) and when we do buy, make our purchases from companies that don’t employ slave labor? Whatever tent you live under, I think you’ll find some useable ideas that fit your convictions and help you become an Ethical Consumer which I term Compassionate Consumerism.
There are millions of men, women and children enslaved to make the products we purchase and the food we eat. As my friend Rachel Goble, co-founder of The Freedom Story says, “Poverty is the real trafficker.” If people were paid a fair wage to sustain a living, they wouldn’t be so vulnerable. If women and teen girls had opportunity to provide for their families they wouldn’t go into the sex trade by choice. (Not all women in the sex trade industry are trafficked. Some do it by choice to survive. Read my past post How Far Would You Go to Feed Your Family? ) If governments were fair and just, poverty could be eliminated. Meager wages hold people in a cycle of extreme poverty. By supporting companies that pay a living wage and reducing our demand for goods coming from slave labor, we can help reduce our Slavery Footprint and become ethical consumers.
We all have to make daily decisions, and at the end of the day, the only one we’re responsible for is us. And luckily for us, for most of you reading this, we have a choice in where and how to buy. I know we will need to fight apathy, laziness and convenience to change our shopping habits. We won’t do it perfectly, but in encouraging each other, we can take the steps to do it at all! Let’s raise our glasses in tandem….Here’s to a better world, one dollar at a time!
When you Buy:
- Do your research. That can be as easy as reading the label. If there is a Fair Trade symbol then fair labor practices were used when making that product. Or it can take a bit of work. Google ethical shopping, social impact companies, sustainable companies for a start. Check the websites of your favorite brands and look for how they comply with the THE CALIFORNIA TRANSPARENCY IN SUPPLY CHAINS ACT. Or check out their score on Know the Chain or Project Just Also Google them. You might be surprised of the difference between the two! Make a list of the companies that shoot for a zero-tolerance policy and patronize them in the category of food, coffee, clothing, shoes and other items. When you have your list of companies, this will simplify your shopping, save you time when you shop and you will feel good when you actually do buy. Here’s a list to get you started.
- Hold Companies Accountable. Supporting or withholding your dollar says a lot to companies. If your favorite companies aren’t making strides in reducing their Slavery Footprint, write, call, petition or lobby them. Conversely, if you like how a company is behaving in this arena, send them a Thank You note! Your voice, not just your dollar, is important. If they think we don’t care, they probably won’t care.
- Check for Disputes: Has the company been involved in any labor disputes or unfair business practices? If so, this could indicate un-ethical procedures and you may want to shop elsewhere.
- Companies that Give Back. Not all companies are equal in their give-backs. Some donate only a few percent of their profits so it’s more gimmick than helpful. Some may give back but don’t account for their supply chains. Look for companies that give back in the way of employing the poor at a living wage, supporting vulnerable communities (in health, education, women’s rights, financial stability….) or offering scholarships or job training as a way out of poverty. Good examples are 31 Bits, Sseko Designs , and Women’s Bean Project .
- Skip the Fakes: How many of us have have bought the Faux-lex watch or Louis Vuitton knock-offs on a street corner or on Ebay? While it may be fun to fool your friends, slave labor may have been involved in making it. Counterfiets also show up in stores, so google how to spot a fake before you buy!
- Buy Fair Trade or B Corp Certified . This is your best assurance that workers are being paid a fair wage in a safe environment. In Fair Trade communities the workers have a say in how the money is spent in their community. Buying Fair Trade gives farmers and artisans a dignified way to earn a living, provide for their families and stay out of poverty. On a budget? Commit to apportioning a percentage of your budget to Fair Trade items. Or commit to always buying Fair Trade coffee, tea, chocolate, or sugar… (Here’s my story about Fair Trade (and how its like watching baseball!) Start small and work up to buying more items that are Fair Trade as you have means.
- Check the Labels. What is it made of? Organic materials such as cotton, linen, wool, silk, hemp, jute have a higher standards put on them than non-organic.
- Buy Local. Support local businesses and artisans. Shop at Farmers Markets to eat fresh and in season. Smaller farms have a greater chance of paying their workers fairly. If you find Farmers’ Markets too expensive, join a community garden or check out Urban Farmstands. Buying furniture, art, ceramics, textiles… from local artists supports these craftsmen and they are most likely not crafted with slave labor.
The farther away something is grown or produced, it decreases accountability and transparency in our supply chains. Patrick Woodyard, CEO of Nisolo
- Eat Good Fish. Choose to dine at restaurants that don’t serve fish on the Seafood Watch List Many children are enslaved in unethical fishing practices.. There’s an App for that!
- Buy Blood-free or Conflict Free Diamonds and other precious gems. I get it, a girl needs her bling, just make sure its an ethical purchase!
- Give an ethical brand a try! Would you be willing to pay 1-3% more for a product if it meant giving someone a living wage?
- Share what you’ve learned. Share the press releases and documentaries that reveal the unethical side of companies and be positive by publicly praising ethical companies. Don’t just bash the bad, promote what you love. (In both cases, though, do your research to make sure its reliable information.)
With every dollar we spend we are actively casting votes about what we are willing and not willing to accept from companies and our markets Elephant Journal
When You Buy Less:
- Plan your shopping trips instead of mindlessly browsing. Yes, shopping is fun and a social activity, but it often makes you buy things you don’t really need or even want. When you need to make a purchase, be intentional about shopping for that and ignore the rest. (Easier said than done!) Here’s an idea: Go browsing but instead of buying ask the salesperson: Where are the brands made? Are they made ethically? What are the transparencies from the manufacturer? Are the materials organic? Now THAT would be an interesting shopping trip!
- Buy better quality and care for your clothes so they last longer. Learn how to mend or be creative with that torn pocket mending it into an art statement.. Find a good tailor to resize or modernize a garment.
You have 4x the amount of clothes in your wardrobe as your parents did. Educator, Designer- Clara Vuletich
Two million tons of clothing end up in landfills every year. Observer’s ‘Ethical Living’ columnist,Laura Siegle
- Sew your own clothes. My mother did it. Yet I don’t, even though she made me take sewing lessons! Maybe its your thing though!
- Shop on Etsy- Support an artisan or artist.
- Host a Clothing Swap. Fun way to get a new fashion find. Or swap online. Not just for clothing, think jewelry, accessories, childrens toys/clothing, books, household items….
- Buy Second Hand. This can run the gamut from Savers to upscale Vintage Design The hunt is half the fun!
- Raid your friend’s closet. I needed a dress for an fancy affair but didn’t want to buy something I wouldn’t wear again or didn’t know where it was made. So I put a plea on FB with my size and got several options for my party! For the price of dry cleaning it was a win win for me and my friend as she got one more use from her beautiful gown and I didn’t have another dress gathering dust in my closet.
- Hit a Yard Sale. While this idea makes my husband break out in hives, my boys still have fond memories hunting for treasures at Saturday Garage sales. I’d much prefer they spend their money there than buying at a discount store where I don’t know where that product was made.
- Use up what you have. I once had 67 tubes of lipstick! Did I really need to buy another color? I also have back up lotion, hair products and cornbread mix. Instead of buying a new one, use up what you have! Bonus: Think of the space you’ll redeem!
If the demand isn’t there for Fast Fashion then that will lesson the need for slave labor.
Compassionate Gift Giving
- Give a loan. Have the recipient choose who to offer a loan to. For as low as $25, micro-loan sites like Kiva can help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential. This is a way to alleviate poverty and helping families stay intact, not making them as susceptible to being duped by slave traders.
- Send someone to school. Organizations like The Freedom Story use education to help prevent vulnerable children from being trafficked. Give a scholarship in someone’s name as a one time donation or sponsor a child’s ongoing education.
- Give Justice. International Justice Mission has a unique gift catalog. In your gift recipients name you can help pay for legal fees, urgent medical care, aftercare for rescued children, a hot meal, help a widow start a business, and even help fund a sex trafficking rescue operation!
- Find unique, hand crafted gifts that are made by people in poverty as a way to self-sufficiency and freedom. Article 22, Krochet Kids, Lydali are such companies.
Well, that is a start dear reader! This is by no means exhaustive. Do you have some ideas on how to reduce your Slavery Footprint becoming an ethical consumer? Please share them in the comments! As a thank you for reading and commenting, I will give away 3 copies of the book A Selfish Plan to Save the World by Justin Dillon from those who comment and share. This book was very informative and inspirational to me!
Anyone can participate in ending slavery through the power of consumerism. Justin Dillon
My fingers are officially cramped! I’m going to need a hand massage! Thanks for reading and giving feedback during this series. It’s nice to know there are like-minded ethical consumers out there!