We have to make purchase decisions almost every day. That's a lot of decisions to make. Here is a 6 step guide to making ethical purchases that will love your neighbor.
Every Purchase Matters.
1) Look for strong labels: Buy FairTrade, FairWear, Organic, Global Organic Textile Standard, Bluesign, UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, NonGMO, etc.
If the purchase you are considering ensures the workers (garment workers, farmers, factory workers, etc.) a fair, living wage, and it will limit the negative impact on communities because of environmental damage and polluition, this is likely a purchase that loves your neighbor.
As consumers, we must not these things lightly. Even though a brand may have a sustainability goal or worker's condition 'code of conduct', this does not guarantee much and often is an empty promise. In fact, most American textile companies who publicly share 'codes of conduct' for safe and healthy working conditions do not welcome or require third party review for the conditions in the factories they source from.
Our guideline is: If you can't find information about who made their products and under what circumstances they made the product, chances are that company is hiding something ugly. Too often, products are found out to be worse than we could imagine. Let's take our neighbor's safety and well being seriously.
2) Buy something that meets most of the criteria in #1.
When you can't find something that meets all of the perfect criteria, endeavor to find something that is very, very close. It is worth your time to do the research. Understand what each label guarantees, and what its shortcomings could be. So much is at stake! Act as though your life depends on it - because someone's life does depend on it.
Don't give up or give in if you can't find something. Don't give in to discouragement when you have to make compromises. Use resources such as the Think Dirty app. Search using the GOTS search tool. Check out the other tools in our Dig Deeper section. Look for the certifications that protect the worker, the world, and your neighbor's wellness.
3) Buy used.
Embrace garage and estate sales! Get familiar with the resale and consignment shops (especially for fast growing children)! We use eBay all the time. Maybe something can't be found that is produced in a completely ethical way, (a baby monitor, for example!). Rather than giving up and just buying something new, try to use something that has already been created. It saves the item from going into the trash, gives the product a new life, and saves the environment from the destructive by-products of having to manufacture a new one.
Even better than your typical resale shop or online marketplace, there are specific companies that sell used versions of their products that were also sustainably produced, like Patagonia's WornWear. This way, you are getting an ethically produced product AND your impact is reduced because it has already been manufactured.
Its important to note that what is the most sustainable and most ethical may not always be universally agreed upon. Take a Nike hoodie from a resale shop, for example. Its good for the environment to reuse this item. However, if you care about the working conditions of garment artists worldwide who produce Nike items, you may not want to put a Nike symbol on your chest.
The moral of the story is, buying used is a great tool in the shopping arsenal. But its not the end-all be-all. There are still some negatives to consider. Be thoughtful about the products that you buy new vs. what you buy used. Put research, mindfulness and prayer behind what you do to seek the best option.
4) Don't buy anything! Creatively meet the need another way. Repurpose, rearrange, borrow....
I recently had an experience where I was looking to buy something at Home Depot for my house. Upon inspecting some of my options and finding that they were all made in China and included no labeling or information about how they were produced, I left the store empty handed. Inspired by MacGyver, I searched my garage and wound up repurposing something that was just laying around to do exactly what was needed. I'm now getting into the habit of asking myself things like:
Is this something I can borrow?
Do I already haves something that could serve this purpose?
What could I use to perform this function that I already own?
It is also important to consider the need for the product in the first place. Do I really need that hamburger shaper? (Couldn't I just use a cup?) Do I really need another black dress? (No one will really notice if I wear one I already have!) Do I really need that cord organizer? (Maybe the real problem is that I have too many appliances in one spot.) There are so many purchases that end up in a junk drawer, storage container, are duplicates of what we already don't use, or that solve A problem, but not the REAL problem. (Additionally, the by-products from the production of that plastic thing could really hurt my neighbor who made it. )
5) Make it yourself from sustainable materials or scrap.
When I can't guarantee that the worker was paid a living wage, I stop and think about whether I could make the item myself. For example, my toddler's physical therapist recommended a scooter for her to help with hamstring development. After searching resale shops and still not feeling good about our options, I decided to just make one. I bought some wood and a few coasters that were made in the USA and made my own. This was a good option to avoid another plastic item for my daughter.
6) Ensure that your purchase is made in a country with enforced labor laws, minimum wages, healthcare, etc.
In our global marketplace, goods are often not produced in the country we live in. When we can't certify the labor standards for a product because all it says on the label is "Made in China", we should think about abstain from purchasing that product. It would be better to find a product that says, "Made in USA", "Made in Germany", or "Made in Sweden", etc. These countries are known to have enforced labor laws, minimum wages, and some form of healthcare system. We should opt to support companies that produce their goods in these locations as an alternative to a FairTrade certification.
No company mentioned in this post contributed, supported, or endorsed any part of this post. The content and opinions are the author's alone and are his attempt to help everyone purchase better.